You Are Not Your Thoughts
“You are not your thoughts.” Philosophers have been telling us this for centuries. In our modern era, this idea has often been overlooked. The problem is that thoughts are real as well as your body’s chemical response to them. Nice thoughts stimulate the secretion of reward chemicals and you feel relaxed and unpleasant ones create stress hormones and you will experience anxiety and fear. However, your thoughts are not your reality unless you allow it. It is critical to separated your thoughts from reality.
Daniel Wegner is a Harvard psychologist who did an experiment published in 1987. The study is often referred to as the “White Bears” experiment. Wegner found that if you try to think about something, you think about it less. If you try not to think about something, you think about it more. Wegner called this the “ironic effect.”
Anxiety is a survival reflex
We all need anxiety to survive. Although anxiety is a basic survival feeling, we hate it and do anything to avoid it. One strategy of dealing with anxiety is suppressing anxious thoughts. Well guess what? The more you try to suppress anxiety, the worse it gets.
Anxiety is al reflex to unpleasant mental or physical input. Like any reflex, the more anxiety manifests itself, the more it becomes ingrained. An athlete improves his or her reflexes by exercising them with repetition, making them stronger and more automatic. In the same way, the brain becomes adept in imbedding anxiety. As you age, unaddressed anxiety ALWAYS get worse. So what do you do? Neurophysiological basis of pain
Negating the “Ironic Effect”
Neurological pathways are created by associating thoughts with:
- Other thoughts
- Physical sensations
- External events
Dr. Wegner points out the solution in an essay, “The Seed of Our Undoing.” Simply writing down or saying negative, and often unspeakable, thoughts negates this process. It is also effective to say the thoughts aloud in a quiet room. Writing down thoughts is the one tool that inadvertently pulled me out of a serious tailspin. It turns out in more recent research that any writing, positive or negative is helpful.
Detaching from your thoughts
So let’s try the writing exercise. Get out a piece of paper and a pen; write down any of your thoughts. When you’ve written them all out, destroy the paper. Do this right now. I’ll wait.
Done? Great. By writing your thoughts on paper, you have created a space between you and the piece of paper.
- You have also connected yourself to the separation of those thoughts with vision and feel.
- Connecting the space between you and these thoughts with physical sensations creates new neurological pathways.
- With repetition, this separation from your thoughts allows you to see life more clearly.
Writing down thoughts and immediately discarding them should be a practice that every human being should do on a regular basis from the time they can write.
- The writing exercise isn’t just a psychological trick.
- It takes advantage of the way your nervous system works.
- Uncontrollable thoughts are universal, and no human escapes it.
- Trying to will yourself in control of your thoughts won’t work.
When you commit to writing, throwing the paper away allows you to write with complete freedom. The more specific the thoughts, the more effective the process is. Consider this a task you would do regularly like brushing your teeth. Consider it to be your “mental hygiene.”