Do you experience “negative, unwanted thoughts” that may hinder your New Year’s resolutions? A new study in the journal, Psychological Science, suggests that writing down such thoughts, and subsequently discarding them, may result in a corresponding mental release. From a yogic perspective, releasing what does not serve invites deeper integrity and alignment with one’s intentions and self.
Spanish high school students participating in an eating disorder prevention class were randomly assigned by researchers to write down either positive or negative thoughts about their body during a three-minute period. Half the students were then asked to contemplate their thoughts and look for spelling mistakes. The other half were instructed to contemplate their thoughts then throw them in the trash can.
For students that kept their thoughts and checked them for mistakes, the positive or negative nature of thought about their bodies predicted their body attitudes. Those who wrote negative thoughts about their bodies had more negative attitudes about their bodies than did those who wrote positive thoughts. Yet among students who threw their thoughts away, no difference in body rating was observed between those who wrote positive and negative thoughts.
The implication? When recording thoughts, the nature of what you write and retain matters. Likewise, when you write down thoughts and throw them away, whether positive or negative, such thoughts are no longer considered.
According to yoga philosophy, thoughts relate to vrttis—the waves of mental chatter or activity habitually traversing the mind’s eye. Vrttis are the surface froth on the bottomless expanse comprising the self and its universality. The practice of yoga is intended to sharpen awareness of and soften these waves, thereby imbuing an embodied awareness of the deeper self and cultivating a more sattvic (harmonious, loving, and pure) orientation to one’s self and the external world.
In the practice of yoga, even negative thoughts are observed as they arise and pass with compassion and non-judgmental awareness. Paradoxically, when the inevitability of these negative thoughts is accepted rather than suppressed or avoided, awareness of the universal nature of “negative, unwanted thoughts” is bestowed. When humanity and fallibility are recognized objectively and with kindness through these practices, identification with such thoughts naturally begins to soften as self-knowledge increases.
This is a recursive and long-term process. In the short-term, recording intentions (positive thoughts) and releasing what does not serve you (negative thoughts) may be helpful, as this study suggests. A similar practice is employed in programs at Kripalu Center. A list of positive intentions may be kept in a safe place, or offered to a deity. Thoughts to release are recorded, contemplated, and thrown into a collective wastebasket for disposal, offered to the earth, or burned. Rather than being salient just for New Years resolutions, this practice may be helpful any time you need to realign with your intentions and let go of what may be holding you back.
Have you engaged in a practice of letting go of negative thoughts (or habits)? Has it been helpful?