Let’s focus on one of the most important self-help strategies you can adopt: strategically deciding to only think thoughts that serve you.
This is a different idea from related ideas of cognitive therapy that you may already know. Here the focus isn’t on whether a thought is rational or irrational, positive or negative, or even true or false. The focus is laser-like on whether or not the thought serves you. If it doesn’t serve you, stop thinking it!
Here are two true, rational thoughts that may not serve you to be thinking:
In the mind of a painter trying to get on with her painting: “Wow, there are a lot of painters out there.”
In the mind of a sculptor thinking about approaching a certain gallery owner: “My prices are completely out of line with the other prices in his gallery.”
In each of these cases it isn’t the thought itself that is so dangerous and unhelpful but the underlying meaning of the thought. If a given thought is being held in one way it is no problem and may even be a plus. If the very same thought is being held another way then it is self-defeating and dangerous. Here’s what I mean.
Consider those two thoughts again. If each is being held in the first of the following two ways, it is no problem. If it is being held in the second of the following two ways, it is absolutely not helping its thinker.
- In the mind of a painter trying to get on with her painting: “Wow, there are a lot of painters out there.”
A: “Well, since there are indeed so many painters out there I had better be savvy, courageous, devoted and disciplined in my efforts!”
B: “I have no chance. And anyway I’m really too frightened and scattered to ever get my paintings painted.”
- In the mind of a sculptor thinking about approaching a certain gallery owner: “My prices are completely out of line with the other prices in his gallery.”
A: “I’m going to have to make a good case for my prices and let him know that having a few high priced items in his gallery is really a plus!”
B: “Where do I get off charging so much for my sculptures? Boy, is he going to give me an earful!”
Thoughts are made up of words and underlying intentions. They arise because of those underlying intentions. We think thoughts for reasons. A thought may arise so as to help you, because you are on your own side and motivated to live proudly and well. Or it may arise because you are feeling sad, angry, defeated, self-critical, or frightened. The words may sound the same in either case but what they mean and what they are doing to you are different. In the first case they are helping you and in the second case they are harming you.
A thought is not serving you if its underlying intention is to defeat you. Many true, rational thoughts are really self-defeating declarations like “Be scared now!” and “Don’t try that!” and “You don’t have a chance in hell!” A thought like “Wow, there are a lot of painters out there” only means what it means to you. If to you it means, “I have no chance,” it is not a thought that serves you. Don’t allow yourself to countenance a thought just because a given string of words sounds plausible or truthful. Discern why you are stringing those words together.
If you’ve a created a thought so as to harm yourself do not countenance that thought. Instead, have a serious chat with yourself about what’s going on underneath. You are much more likely to think thoughts that serve you if you get on your own side and feel adamant about working the project of your life. Today, if and when you think a thought that feels “off,” ask yourself the following simple question: “Where did that come from?” See if you can begin to discern the origins of the thoughts that harm you.
Today’s goal: Beginning to think only thoughts that serve you.
Today’s key principle: Our thoughts arise for reasons, including self-defeating and self-sabotaging ones. When you hear a thought that feels off, don’t ask, “Is that a true thought?” or “Is that a rational thought?” Instead ask, “Where did that thought come from?” and “Is that a thought that serves me?”
Today’s key strategy: When you think a thought that feels “off,” ask yourself the following simple question: “Where did that come from?”
Dr. Eric Maisel is the author of 40+ books including Life Purpose Boot Camp, Rethinking Depression, and Coaching the Artist Within. In 2015 he will be launching a Future of Mental Health initiative. You can learn more about Dr. Maisel’s books, services, trainings, and workshops at https://ericmaisel.com. Contact Dr. Maisel at firstname.lastname@example.org. And don’t forget to attend the free Future of Mental Health virtual conference in February: https://www.entheos.com/The-Future-of-Mental-Health/Eric-Maisel