A lot of people are going to try to “help” you by telling you you wouldn’t feel that way if you weren’t thinking those things.
There’s even a whole therapy technique, Cognitive Therapy, that emphasizes how depression and anxiety are exacerbated by “distorted” thoughts— and advises people to replace their distorted, distress-causing thoughts with realistic, adaptive thoughts.
The thing is, most people already KNOW it’s their thoughts that are contributing to their distress.
This isn’t news for anyone.
Most people who are struggling wholeheartedly agree that if they weren’t thinking what they were thinking, they probably wouldn’t feel the way they feel.
It’s frustrating when somebody’s recommendation to feel better is basically, “think different things!”
If only we COULD think different things on command.
But we usually can’t.
The truth is, we don’t select our thoughts from a platter of equally-easy-to-think options.
We don’t look at a distorted thought and a non-distorted thought, and say, “I’ll take the distorted thought that will make me depressed and anxious, please!”
If we’re thinking distorted thought that are causing depression and anxiety, it’s not because we’re “choosing” to think those thoughts— it’s because we’ve been CONDITIONED to think those thoughts.
We’ve usually gotten a lot of PRACTICE thinking those thoughts.
We’ve usually had a lot of MODELING when it comes to thinking those thoughts.
We’ve probably even been REWARDED for thinking those thoughts.
For that matter, thoughts don’t just occur in isolation. We don’t so much think thoughts, as we think in patterns of thoughts— and those patterns are directed by our attitudes and beliefs.
“Just think something different!” is one thing.
“Just BELIEVE something different!” is another thing entirely.
When it comes to changing our patterns of thinking, it’s not one decision point that makes the difference.
We don’t just suddenly decide “I’m no longer going to think this!”, and that’s the end of it.
If we want to change our thought patterns, we need to recondition ourselves.
We need to recognize how and when a thought pattern is triggered— and we need to have an alternative thought pattern ready to go.
It’s a lot of work.
It requires a lot of self-awareness and self-discipline.
The good news is, we CAN and DO change our thought patterns, and even our beliefs.
Beliefs change every day.
But for a belief or a thought pattern to change, we can’t just let it go on autopilot.
We need to be vigilant about recognizing when it’s getting activated, and diverting our attention and self-talk into the alternative we’re trying to condition.
We can scramble any pattern into which we’ve been conditioned. It’s as straightforward as scratching a record so it doesn’t play the same way anymore.
It just takes more effort and strategy than “think something different!”
Don’t stress when people oversimplify the process of changing your mind, brain, and emotions. They’re trying to help.
Ironically, though, anybody who tells you “just think something different” probably has areas of their own life in which THEY are struggling to “think something different.”
“Just don’t think that!” can be a type of wish-fulfillment. IF ONLY it was that simple.
Don’t get up in your head about “thinking differently” being a one-and-done DECISION.
Pay attention to the self-awareness and STRATEGY necessary to really change how you think.
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