Programme: Learning to think differently

2. Observe your thoughts

Reading time 3 minutes

In this card, we will look at how we can separate ourselves from our thoughts. This is a very useful tool for learning to think differently.

It is easy to become so bound up with our own thoughts that we start to believe that we are our thoughts. “I think, therefore I am…” We need to distance ourselves from our thoughts and think of them as simply one of many processes taking place in our bodies. Only then can we create freedom of choice. 

It is not a matter of judging or resisting your thoughts. However, if you are aware of your  thoughts, you can simply acknowledge a thought and make a choice to let go of it. This video looks more closely at what thoughts are and how you can observe them from a distance.


Observation of thoughts is a useful technique for taking the lead yourself, instead of being guided by your thoughts. By observing from a distance, you will feel separated from your thoughts and you will be able to see them for what they really are: simply activity in your brain.

Aan de slag

The mountain meditation is an exercise that can help you to adopt a more observational attitude to your thoughts.

'Through it all, the mountain just sits, experiencing change in each moment, constantly changing, yet always just being itself. It remains still as the seasons flow into one another and as the weather changes moment by moment and day by day, calmness abiding all change…'

- Jon Kabat-Zinn -

Reflect & connect

If this exercise does not appeal to you, or if you don’t have time to do it, there are some other short exercises that can help you to observe your thoughts without getting caught up in them:

The cinema exercise: Imagine you are sitting and looking at a big, white screen. Wait for some of your thoughts to appear on the screen. Just observe the screen. What thoughts are appearing? And how do the thoughts develop? Take note of how thoughts disappear from the screen and are replaced by other thoughts. The thoughts are transient. When you look at your thoughts in this way, you can also choose which thoughts you want to put your energy into and which ones you can allow to slide away. 

Focus on your body or your feelings and let your thoughts be just that - thoughts. Shift your attention to the areas of your body that you are most aware of. Or focus on your feelings: which emotions, or stream of emotions, are released by your thoughts. Ask yourself this question: “How do I feel right now?” Shifting your attention can result in subtle changes in your thoughts. 

Write your thoughts down. This can also help to create distance between you and your thoughts.

If you would like to learn other ways to observe your thoughts, you can ask your online psychologist for some suggestions.

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