How to Observe One’s Thoughts During the Day


How can one observe one's thoughts while there are 70,000 (approx.) thoughts in a day? Observing all those 70,000 thoughts feels so annoying to me.

—Neeraj Pandey, India


Dear Neeraj,

This practice of observing one’s thoughts all day long is meant, on our path at least, in a more general way. It is not about tracking and spotting each single one of our often futile (and maybe even “annoying”) thoughts.

The question is rather (generally speaking) what kind of thoughts do I entertain? Are they kind, positive, life-affirming, energetic, wise? Or do I have a habit of thinking critical, negative, depressing, or egoic thoughts?

In other words, yes. We want to observe what kind of thoughts we habitually think in order to be able to change our mental habits but we do not want to focus on each of our 70,000 thoughts. There is no need to be that thought-focused.

Instead, what we are taught is to consciously engage our mind during the day in two specific ways:

1) Focusing fully on what we are doing. Concentrating on one thing at a time with all our mind and thinking of little else.

2) At the same time, one part of our mind remains a little detached – not in order to observe our thoughts, but to inwardly connect with God and to inwardly smile, remembering that everything is just a big dream. Yogananda taught: “Play your 365 roles each year with an inward smile and with the remembrance that you are only dreaming. Then you will never again be hurt by life…. In the motion picture of life, you may cry, you may laugh, you may play many parts but inwardly you should ever say, ‘I am Spirit.’ Great consolation comes from the realization of that wisdom.”

During the day it is useful to try to stop the chatter of our endless thoughts by mentally repeating a japa, a word of God, an inner song, an affirmation, or a mantra, if we can (mental work makes japa difficult, while manual work makes it easier). This is a better practice it seems than observing each one of our thousands of thoughts. They don’t deserve all that particular attention.

Here you have it: thoughts, thoughts, thoughts, all meant to make us think less!

Joy to You,