Whose thought is it anyway?
Updated: Oct 3, 2019
By: Yordanka Garmenova, Registered Psychotherapist
We all have moments when we struggle with our minds, whether it’s our thoughts forcing us to travel to the past, ponder on the future, or just simply being the bully in our head. Have you ever wondered where these thoughts come from? Are they really yours? And how do they affect your decisions and daily life? Being curious about how your mind tends to operate may help us gain self-awareness and possibly work towards changing your mind’s patterns.
As children our minds are like a sponge. We have just come into this world, and now we have to learn how to navigate our way through it. We begin to explore our environment, and based on the feedback we get, we learn and adapt. Our family, our community, and our culture have a tremendous influence on what our minds absorb. We also mostly learn by watching - exploring the dynamics and rules around us by focusing on the overt and covert behaviours of others. Let’s say the message you learned was that openly expressing the feeling of joy is inappropriate and whoever does so is labelled as selfish and mean.
Fast forward to you as an adolescent or an adult, and the moment you so much as start feeling joy, your mind alerts for danger and shames you with thoughts like I shouldn’t feel this, I’m so selfish.
This thought right there - is it your thought or is it someone else’s belief living through you? We believe that our thoughts are true and that they define us, when in fact a lot of what’s going on in our minds is not something we chose to be there. Now you may be thinking, If my thoughts are not my own then who am I and what do I believe?
Here, I’ll ask you these questions: Who do you want to be? How would you want your mind to operate? How would you like to respond to certain situations? Once you begin to explore how your mind operates, you can start to challenge it by engaging in behaviours guided by your values and goals. How would you like to consciously respond, rather than instinctively react to that feeling of joy? Perhaps you’re working towards honouring your emotions and being more compassionate towards yourself overall.
That’s a great goal, and recognizing it is a good first step. But now comes the hard part - rewiring your brain. Unfortunately, you cannot completely erase experiences and learned behaviour from your mind. However, you can add new information and experiences to create a new neural pathway. This change can happen very slowly, and most of the time is a life-long practice that gets easier with time. The more the new behaviour (compassion) is practiced, the stronger the new neural pathway gets and the weaker the neural pathway for the old behaviour (shame) becomes.
So next time you catch yourself having a bothersome thought, get curious about its origins and its function. Without judging the thought as good or bad, explore how believing it affects your internal world as well as your behaviour. This practice alone is a step towards change because you would have already begun to separate yourself from your thoughts and seeing them as what they are - just thoughts, not facts.