So no one knows quite how many thoughts we have each day, but one recent and well-researched answer is seventy thousand.
It will do for us. However many it is, it’s a lot.
Another serious piece of research suggests that ninety seven per cent of these thoughts are the same as yesterday.
And they weren’t true then.
So for me, the beginning of wisdom, the beginning of mental health, is to acknowledge my own madness – with madness defined as being controlled by automatic thoughts.
This is the start.
When I awake in the morning, I am glad to be alive; but also suspicious of my perceptions. They may well be mistaken, the dismal flotsam of my unexamined psyche.
This is not a popular message; telling you to follow your dreams would go down better, it would sell more.
But it is true.
If I imagine I am sane, what is there to look after? I’ll wind myself up at the beginning of the day and off I go, unquestioning of my assessments, thoughts and perceptions.
Though ninety seven per cent of them are the same as yesterday and not fresh at all; and many of them mistaken.
In this state, I’ll be quite dangerous both to myself and those around me.
Once I realise I am crazy, however, once I allow that, I can begin the journey to health by noticing thoughts and feelings as they pass through, and drawing them into conversation.
‘So why are you here, my friend?’
Many – the vast majority, in fact – will be ghosts from way back and can be kindly released.
The departure of old ghosts is a huge relief.
Thoughts and feelings that could previously kidnap us will find now themselves less powerful, less convincing.
When a Harvard research team estimate that ninety six per cent of people are not in charge of their mental faculties, this is what they are suggesting.
They are suggesting that the vast majority of us live in the thrall of automatic thought, in a state of unconscious kidnap.
And ninety six per cent is a sizeable majority in the Cabinet, the board room and the family gathering at Christmas.
You may imagine you are one of the four per cent; most people do. And it might be true in your case, of course; if it is, I am full of admiration for the journey you have travelled.
But for me, I’ll start each day as one of the ninety six, aware that I am crazy…
… and make my moment-by-moment way to mental health from there.