If we pay attention, we’ll notice that our minds run all day long. We’re constantly engaged in self-chatter, judging ourselves and others, narrating our experiences, problem solving possible future scenarios, and replaying the past.
Some thoughts are intentional. Others are automatic, popping up out of our control.
Some thoughts are helpful, while other are just senseless and meaningless background noise.
Some thoughts bring us pleasant emotions. Some thoughts bring us intense and prolonged suffering.
In this article, I’ll address the thoughts that tend to cause us problems and bring us intense and uncomfortable emotions.
The Pink Elephant
We have control over what we do with our thoughts. We don’t have control over all the thoughts that pop into our mind though.
For example, close your eyes for 15 seconds. While your eyes are closed try to pay attention to the thoughts that enter your mind. At the same time, try hard not to think about a pink elephant.
Of course, you thought of the pink elephant.
Maybe it was front and center the entire time. Maybe you were able to force some thoughts to the front of your mind, but the pink elephant kept interrupting. Maybe you had a voice in the back of your mind repeating, “Don’t think about a pink elephant.”
There are two important points with this activity:
We don’t have control over the thoughts that pop into our minds
If we had control over the thoughts that pop into our minds, anxiety wouldn’t exist. And therapists wouldn’t exist. We would simply choose not to place a problem thought into our mind. Problem solved.
We can’t force thoughts out of our mind. The more we do, the more it’s reinforced, and the louder it gets.
Thought suppression, which is trying hard to get rid of a certain thought, doesn’t work. It’s the same as trying to force yourself to relax. The harder you try the further away you get from a relaxed state.
Our Reactions to Our Thoughts
Whether a thought causes us a problem is less dependent on the thought itself, and instead, dependent on our reaction.
Take for example the thought, “I