Don’t believe everything you think.
To be a functional human in society, we’re encouraged to use our minds: it serves us well to know how to make decisions, plan for the future, and to think critically. Unfortunately, we can also often spend significant quantities of time analyzing, judging, reacting, planning, fantasizing, and criticizing ourselves or others.
Problems ensue when our minds go into overdrive: we automatically start believing everything we think. We’re continually crowding our psyches with addictions, compulsions, impulses, and reactivity so that we have no space to examine what’s going on upstairs. We’re too afraid of what comes up in the gap between feeling, thinking, and acting. So we spend our times occupying ourselves from listening to ourselves.
The danger in holding tightly to our thoughts
When we can’t sit with our thoughts and feelings and tolerate them ourselves, we project them onto the people around us, destroying our relationships and harming our communities. Projection ricochets everywhere, and reactions and sparks often follow. When our ego is in the way, psychological systems get blocked and stuck in an unhealthy and painful dynamic (see: the power-oppressed relationship.) We can see this in a collective realm, as well as interpersonal relationships. Under stress rarely do we reach for curiosity; we’d rather dig our heels deeper into our position, waiting for the other side to change. Neither party is trying to understand or consider another perspective. We are holding tightly to our thoughts and believing them to be true.
Holding tightly to our beliefs about ourselves, others, and the world around us causes huge systematic and interpersonal issues. It’s extremely dangerous when people in positions of power react on their impulses; believing and acting from the ego-drive mind leads to violence and war.
The news, the principal place where people pick up their “thoughts” and formulate their beliefs, skews towards the terrible. We believe what others say and align with the voice that gave us our “thoughts” (see: CNN or FoxNews groupies.) Drama and fear are far sexier, more enticing, and hold our attention longer. If we never question the story and believe everything others tell us, we can delude ourselves into thinking we’re acting consciously. We may adopt conspiracy theories, gossip, and decide who is right and who is wrong. Intending to be “right,” we push away from others who choose differing beliefs.
Driven by our emotions and impulses, humans end up reacting instead of responding. Society doesn’t encourage us to pause to question our thoughts or think for ourselves. It requires intentional restraint to challenge yourself.
Never questioning our minds can be dangerous and disastrous. When we don’t learn to challenge our thoughts, we believe everything our minds tell us. If you tell yourself you’re ugly and unworthy, you’ll eventually convince yourself and start to feel ugly and shameful. You let yourself think that you’re better than others, you might become convinced that you’re above the law, and your actions will follow suit.
When you find an adequate balance of observing your thoughts and choosing which ones to believe and from which to act, you will develop into a more self-aware human being, and you’d be in more charge of your own life, causing less harm towards those around you. Self-confidence is knowing and accepting yourself, and treating others with respect.
We inherit our minds from the world around us
In less than optimal environments, people may start to believe everything other people say about them. Movies and media send us messages of what makes someone acceptable, by who is portrayed in which sort of light. We mostly see thin, beautiful, white bodies in movies, so we start believing this is how we’re supposed to be and look. Only recently have these society-based scripts been challenged. Most media convinces us that everything should have a happy, conclusive ending. Whether through Hollywood, or our personal lives, we’re often unsatisfied if the story of our lives doesn’t go the way we hoped, so we throw our personal version of a fit.
We define ourselves based on the prescribed standards our parents and environments gave us. In U.S culture, young girls often receive messages about their worth and value rooted in their appearance and how they nurture others. Without exposure or other perspectives, or opportunities to question these scripts, we maintain these beliefs, brainwashed about their value and our life. The girl will grow up finding her value only in caring for others or prioritizing her appearance, dependent on other’s for her self-worth.
At some point, it made sense to adopt other’s views in childhood- it helps us survive to maintain attachment to others who had this view of us. If that same child becomes a woman who unconsciously neglects her needs by prioritizing others, she can become confused and depressed. Inherited scripts cause various problems later in life when they aren’t from your choosing. If we don’t choose to think about what we want for ourselves, we’ll take whatever is served. It’s like not truly knowing what you want to eat in life, so you let the chef send you yesterday’s leftovers.
If you never question things, you end up living unconsciously. If society, your culture, or your caregivers told you what you’re supposed to do to live a “good” life, it’s easier to follow that script. Not questioning life takes less work; reflecting, reviewing, and finding a way to discern our beliefs about the world and ourselves takes effort and patience. The work, however, is your ticket of freedom: peace of mind.
How to re-align with your mind
If we don’t question aspects about ourselves and our minds, we’re automatically subscribing to a personality we didn’t choose. If we never ask ourselves about our thoughts, we can’t honestly know ourselves. Our minds are steering us sleeplessly through life. We are often caught and identified with our thoughts. For example, if we have anxious thoughts about the future, fear impending doom, and we give our thoughts a lot of weight and power – we believe everything our mind says – we let our minds take over our lives. It’s as if our brain has the lease and is walking us.
Getting quiet and stopping with your automatic impulses creates a space. In that space is the gift of noticing. In noticing, you can examine, investigate, question, and decide to re-write. When we see clearly, we can stop reacting and start responding intentionally, getting into the driver’s seat on the road of our life.
Recently, a client told me that he needs alone time to reflect at the end of his day. He finds himself reviewing, thinking critically, and often wishing he had done a few things differently. Occasionally he’d toss throughout the night, thinking he truly fucked something up. I asked him if he believes everything his mind says- a nonstop talker, this question made him pause. He never put his mind on trial, keeping him in a mental prison, with a routinely harsh sentence.
The work towards mental freedom is by loosening the grip of our minds, and our thoughts. One can start this journey by asking better questions, steering yourself deeper into what you know is valid for you. Tune out the noise of the outside world and get quieter within. Stop listening to other’s voices and begin to create your own.
Your mind has insight and helps you regularly make decisions throughout the day, but on a deeper level, it’s not always steering you in the right direction. By deepening your self-awareness, you learn to discern yourself from your unconscious, change impulsive reactions, and free yourself. It takes time and effort. The benefits are in the freedom to think for yourself, separate from others, and live a more confident and fulfilling life.
Someone else gave you a script. It’s your job to challenge it.
What do you tell yourself about yourself? What have others told you about you? Do you believe these things to be true? If so, how does that affect your well-being?