How to Calm Your Mind and Cultivate More Presence

A Day in the Life of an Over-Thinker

Navigating the Human Mind: The Thinking Mind v. The Observing Mind

Let me introduce you to the human mind, a tricky, deceptive little devil, chattering away with no mercy. When was the last time you stopped and listened to the stampede of rambling thoughts stomping through the halls of your brain? It NEVER ENDS. This sounds terribly depressing and hopeless, but let me put that horribly busy mind at ease. There is hope, there IS a way to keep the incessant, unpleasant thoughts at bay- or at least weed your way through with some sense of navigation.


We have two ways of perceiving things. Perception via the thinking mind (often referred to as the “monkey mind”) and perception via the observing mind.

Which serves you better? I’ll let you be the judge. Here is a lay out, or map if you will, of what the thinking mind looks like v. the observing mind. This list will help you to determine when you’re thinking mind is at work, and will assist you in shifting gears to the observing mind.

Characteristics of the Thinking Mind:

MOST IMPORANT to remember- The thinking mind lives in the past and the future. It worries about the future and frets over the past.

1. Confusing the past and future:
The thinking mind does not live in the present – it lives in either the future or the past, which most of the time are both out of our control.

2. All or nothing thinking:
A good example of this is “I can’t miss a single yoga class or I am a failure.” Not everything is black and white, there is typically always a middle ground.

3. Mental filter:
Discrediting valid evidence and choosing to pay attention to the bad, rather than the good.

4. Jumping to conclusions:
Assuming you know what is going to happen or know what someone is thinking when it reality, this is very unlikely.

5. Emotional reasoning:
Associating a feeling with a fact or reality. “I feel scared, so all of life is scary.”

6. Labelling:
Categorizing or putting a negative label on others or yourself. “I’m a failure, I’m a loser, he’s crazy, she’s weird.”

7. Over-generalizing:
Assuming you know someone or a situation based on a single factor. “She was impatient with me last week so she must be a mean person.”

8. Disqualifying the positive:
Only recognizing the negative and not acknowledging the positives. In your yoga practice, this could be criticizing yourself for not being able to hold a particular pose, but not recognizing your progress in another.

9. Living in absolutes or blowing things out of proportion:
“I had a bad day so my entire life sucks.” “We got into a fight so we’ll never be friends again.”

10. Should’s, Ought To’s, Must’s:
Words that are used typically to insight blame or guilt in ourselves or others. “He should get a better job.” “You ought to follow a specific diet.” “I must accomplish ______ in order to feel worthy.”

11. Inappropriate blame:
Shifting blame from others to yourself or vice versa. Blame is useless and is typically used to deflect negative attention.

(Unhelpful Thinking Styles: Psychology Tools

Characteristics of the Observing Mind:





The observing mind is much easier to describe. The observing mind is non-judgmental and non-labelling. It recognizes without judgement and accepts what is. The observing mind lives in the present moment, it doesn’t focus on what was or what will be, it lives in the here and now, watching with acceptance. It is present, non-reactive, calm and objective. This particular mind generates thoughts like “I accept”, “all is well”, “I am calm”, and “I am open”.

The key in all of this is to observe your thoughts in a non-judgmental manner and recognize non-helpful, “thinking mind”-driven thoughts. Just recognizing and classifying the thinking mind thoughts is half the battle. Once you can recognize and classify, it takes the power away from a negative thought entirely.

I hope that this lesson on the distinction between the thinking mind and the observing mind has helped you to recognize some of the unhealthiness that occurs in your head. Remember, It’s okay, it happens to all of us. It is all about watching, recognizing, classifying and OBSERVING. This is a great starting point for incorporating meditation into your life.

*Meditation tip using the observing mind- Close your eyes, take some deep breaths, and when the thoughts start swirling, picture them as clouds in the sky passing you by, or floating by you in a river. Picture the thoughts outside of your body and watch them pass by, observing them in a non-judgmental manner. Use the mantra “all is well in my life”.

*Danielle shared this article as a contribution on


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