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Thoughts are Like Birds

Who hasn't had thoughts swirl around in our heads like a flock of those crazy birds that fly around in a pack, swooping and diving in the sky, around and around, in the same loop over and over again? Maddening, it is. Helpful, it is not.

One way to stop this thought flock from overwhelming us is to translate our thoughts into words. Recently I read The Extended Mind--The Power of Thinking Outside the Brain by Annie Murphy Paul, 2021. She describes one way of getting free from the flock is to "force ourselves to discriminate, judge, and select" from our streaming thoughts. Yep, write those whirling thoughts down. Use a real pen on real paper. Sometimes its called journaling, but it doesn't need to be that fancy. The process of writing down our thoughts helps us to see what is going on in our head more clearly, more specifically, one thought at a time.


This is called the "detachment gain"---the benefit we get from putting a bit of distance between ourselves and the content of our chattering mind. Then we are better able to recognize what doesn't add up to be quite true. Here is how this works:

The Flying Flock: "I am so stupid, I said that weird thing, EVERYBODY was probably thinking I'm a loser, why can't I ever get it right, I should just shut up and not put myself out there, I am so DUMB, Dumb, dumb, dum, dum..."

One Bird clearly described on paper: "Wow I can't believe I shared that idea. I've been sitting on that one for awhile, but too afraid to put it out there. I guess today I was just, well, either stupid or gutsy. I did notice someone looking at me curiously, maybe other people were curious, too, and thinking about what I said, and that was why it was so quiet after I spoke up. Hmmmm, maybe someone will ask me more about my comment? I'll wait and see.


The flock becomes individual birds as we practice this detachment. We can then better select what thoughts we will land on. Thoughts become still, perched on a branch, where we can better observe them. We might find a few of those "birds" to be non-threatening, normal, and interesting--maybe even brilliant. We can choose which thoughts we will let fly!



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