Are You Afraid Of Your Own Thoughts?

You’ve heard the expression “A penny for your thoughts.” Well apparently many people don’t much like their own thoughts and even avoid them at all costs.

(c) IG_Royal/Thinkstock

(c) IG_Royal?Thinkstock

Michelle Fay Cortez had this to say in her Bloomberg News article:

“Being alone with no distractions was so distasteful to two-thirds of men and a quarter of women that they elected to give themselves mild electric shocks rather than sit quietly in a room with nothing but thoughts in their heads.”

Ms. Cortez cites a study from the University of Virginia where researchers asked participants to sit in a room without books, cellphones, or any distractions for six to fifteen minutes. They first tested college students, and then widened the study to include people from a church and a farmer’s market. The results were the same despite differences in age, income, education, or social media usage.

The article also contains a statistic from the Department of Labor – 85% of Americans don’t spend any part of their day just thinking.

The fruit of our hyper-connectedness is what Shawn Achor calls “cultural ADHD”. We so seldom take the time to even slow down, let alone stop. And when we do it takes a long time for our minds to catch up. Some other side-effects include:

  1. Lack of perspective
  2. Reactive decision-making
  3. Inability to focus
  4. Stress

Why are we so afraid of our own thoughts? Here are five possible reasons.

  1. Fear that we will miss something important. Social Media imparts a sense of urgency and importance. There is good content there, but it is neither all urgent nor all truly important.
  2. We are performance-oriented. This is definitely one of my weaknesses. We push hard to accomplish more and more. Our society stresses this, too.   Here’s the dirty little secret about that: it doesn’t work. Performance and productivity for its own sake is counterproductive. We are much better off taking some time alone to think and plan.
  3. Noise has become a part of who we are. There is music in stores, doctors’ offices, and at the filling station. We are so used to hearing things in the background that we feel uncomfortable when it is not there.
  4. Our thoughts are negative. If you listen to the thoughts in your head, you may find that they are negative. Rather than learning to renew our minds, we often choose to simply shut them off.
  5. Disconnecting takes time and practice. When I do take the time to be alone with my thoughts, I can feel uncomfortable for a while. My mind and adrenalin are still racing from all the activity. It takes practice and a good 10-15 minutes to get comfortable with the silence and get my mind quieted down so I can truly hear myself think.

Go ahead. Give yourself time and space to spend with your thoughts. It may be uncomfortable for a while, but it will yield much better fruit.

Question: How do you make time to spend with your own thoughts? If you’d like to share with the community, please click here to post a comment.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Thank you Kathleen for such an insightful post. Yes, it is such a part of modern life that we struggle to be on our own in quietness. It reminds me of a quote by Blaise Pascal in the 17th century ‘All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone’.

    • Kathleen Thompson

      The constant noise around us doesn’t help either. Amazing how Blaise Pascal said that so long ago. I wonder what he would think now, Sunil?

  • Paul Potter

    Kathleen, thanks for sharing the article. I use the Daily Office Lectionary in the mornings for my daily meditations before the noise happens.

    Even in a dark, silent room I’ve have difficulty quieting my inner “jumping monkeys”. But if I breathe deep, continue to pray a short repetitive, simple prayer eventually they calm down.

    • Kathleen Thompson

      It’s a great practice to quiet your mind and heart before the day begins. Do you ever have days when those monkeys don’t quiet? I do. What do you do then?