Thought Labeling as a Mindfulness Meditation Technique

There are many ways to practice mindfulness meditation. Each of them can lead to inner peace.
abu/ Getty Images

Mindfulness meditation is a highly effective stress relief technique that carries many benefits. Mindfulness can be practiced virtually anywhere at any time, as it does not require silence or a special meditation area or physical position. It simply requires a presence of mind. Mindfulness can be useful in detaching from the constant stream of thoughts, judgments, concerns, ruminations, and “clutter” of the mind, and getting to a place of inner peace.

Benefits like a sensation of inner peace may not be experienced immediately, and mindfulness does take practice. However, there is evidence that even one session of meditation can be effective at reducing stress, and even just a few minutes of meditation can make a difference, so practicing mindfulness or any other meditation technique can be helpful for any length of time.

Even experienced meditation practitioners find it to be more challenging some days than others, but benefits come regardless, so learning this technique is well worth the small effort it takes to practice.

As you become used to mindfulness and meditation, the process becomes easier and more automatic. It becomes easier to slip into meditation mode.

In the beginning, however, you may want to experiment with different mindfulness techniques and different types of meditation. The following technique enables you to observe your thoughts and and direct your attention away from them, which can allow you to create some space between yourself and the thoughts that trigger the stress response.

This technique allows you to examine your habitual thought patterns, take a step back, and get some perspective. It also simply breaks the cycle of rumination. And it’s simpler than some forms of meditation, so it’s great for beginners. Let’s get started.

Get Comfortable

Ideally, it would be great to have a quiet, distraction-free place, a comfortable chair, and a few minutes set aside to focus on this exercise. With practice, or in a pinch, you can practice this anytime you have some free time alone with your thoughts, like when you are at work, doing mundane tasks, or getting ready for sleep. Whatever your situation, make yourself as comfortable as you can.

Observe Your Thoughts

Within minutes, or even seconds, you will notice thoughts drifting into your mind. I’m cold. I need to make dinner tonight. I wonder what he meant when Joe said that thing earlier. The thoughts will creep in. The idea is to simply observe them and refrain from engaging. Simply notice them, and let them go.

Label Your Thoughts

While simply observing your thoughts and letting them go is an effective meditation technique, and can be practiced for long periods of time, it can be helpful to take things a step further and “label” your thoughts before you let them go. (You can do this by saying the word to yourself, visualizing it written, or whatever feels comfortable to you.)

Labeling your thoughts raises your awareness of the kinds of things you think about, which is especially helpful if you are trying to change your habitual thought patterns to become more empowering and optimistic.

It also allows your mind to engage somewhat, which can be helpful for beginners who are not used to simply observing their thoughts for long periods of time. It gives your mind something to do while still maintaining detachment.

There are several different ways that you can label your thoughts:

Useful/Not Useful

You can simply label whether a thought is constructive or not. This is a very simple distinction that can cover virtually all thoughts. Just label them “useful” or “not useful,” and let them go.

Types of Thoughts

You can label your thoughts with greater depth by classifying them according to their function. Thoughts that can be labeled as “judgment,” “planning,” “fear,” and “remembering,” for example, may drift into your awareness. Label them, and let them go.

Physical Sensations

Another type of awareness that may drift in is body awareness—you may notice and focus on what you see or feel. Simply label things what they are as sensations: “hard,” “warm,” “itchy.” Acknowledge them and let them go.

There are other ways in which you can label your thoughts, but this provides you with a starting place. As you practice, you may find methods that work better, one of the above techniques may become a favorite, or you can rotate. Whatever works for you is the “right” way.

A Word From Verywell

Just remember that regular meditation builds resilience toward stress, so it's worth trying, and sticking with until you find a style that works for you. Get started, and see what benefits this practice brings.

Was this page helpful?