Episode 56 – Involuntary Thoughts

Do you have weird and crazy thoughts pop into your head?  Guess what?  You’re normal!  Everyone has them! But what are you making them mean when you have those thoughts?  Are you taking them personally? Are you believing them?  What should do you do about those pesky thoughts that just keep coming up?

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Show Summary:

An involuntary thought is a thought that our brain offers to us that we didn’t purposely choose.  It’s important to understand that this is normal, we all have them, and they are just thoughts and do not reflect on you as a person. 

A lot of times we think thoughts and because we think them we believe that they are true.  We don’t understand that our thoughts are “just a thought” and they are not us.

Our brain loves to offers us some really CRAZY thoughts sometimes.  Then we judge ourselves for having those thoughts.  We think we are a bad person because we had a thought like that. But that is NOT true.

Here’s the little mantra that I want you to walk away with today.

You are NOT your brain.  You are NOT your thoughts.

One of the ways Satan influences us to work against ourselves, seeking to make us “miserable like unto himself” (2 Nephi 2:27), is by promoting the idea that our thoughts control us rather than that we can control our thoughts. This, of course, is a great deception. Bruce K Fordham


So understanding that this is NORMAL and that we all have thoughts that our brain offers to us that we didn’t purposely choose, what do we do about them?

  1. Learn to accept your thoughts.

Realize that they are just a thought.  They aren’t you.  If you are suffering from your thoughts, it’s because you are believing them.  You are accepting them as truth instead of “just a thought.”  This may cause you to want to try and avoid them…which usually doesn’t work.  When you think “I’m not going to think this anymore….” you just continue thinking it over and over and over.  You become obsessive on that thought.

Once you just accept them as a thought, it takes away the power.  The reason why they keep popping into your mind all the time, is that you shine a spotlight on them, trying to figure out what they mean, trying to avoid them, and then your brain decide “this is something we need to pay serious attention to” and it brings up the thought more and more.

  1. Take the thoughts less personally

Your thoughts don’t mean anything about you personally.  They are just thoughts.  They aren’t you.  Separate yourself from them.  Just because your brain offers you a thought, doesn’t make it true and it doesn’t mean anything about you.  If you are reprimanding yourself for thinking certain things you are unwittingly weakening your resistance to such thoughts and lowering your sense of self-worth and confidence.

  1. Take the fear out of your thoughts

Having an emotional reaction to your unwanted thoughts, keeps that thought alive in your mind.  The thought becomes a problem when it produces significant shame, anxiety or distress.  Very often the thought itself represents a fear or changes how you see yourself.  But when you are able to let a thought come into your mind, you recognize it for what it is, then your feelings are not affected, the thoughts start to lose their power.

For example: Let’s say you think the thought “I should be happy in my marriage.”  When you think this thought, you may experience sadness, or guilt, or shame because you think maybe you aren’t happy in your marriage and you should be.  But if you understand that it is just a thought and you don’t need to believe it, you don’t need to feel sadness, guilt, or shame anymore.

Most of the thoughts that stream through your brain each day are not invited by you.  You are on auto-pilot and they just happen.  But by paying attention to those thoughts you are making them be bigger than they truly are.  

The truth is, thoughts are harmless.  They are not a sign that something is wrong.  You don’t need to believe them.  You don’t need to worry about them.  

Everyone has unwanted thoughts.  The problem isn’t the thought itself but what you are doing with it.

For example, if I get a random thought that I could do something that I consider bad, if I just carry on with what I am doing and pay no attention, I won’t be bothered by the thought.  

Whereas, if I start to wonder why I got the thought, what does it say about me, what if I carry it out? Then I am adding ‘meat’ to the thought. I am started to create a narrative in my brain.

The only difference between a thought that pops into your head and then leaves, and a thought that is distressing, is how you respond to it.

You tend to latch on to unwanted and unintentional thoughts when they are about something that is important to you.  So if you have a thought like “I’m a bad mother” and motherhood is important to you, you latch on to it and it shakes you because it’s something that you value.

But if you had a thought that wasn’t about something that you value, it would probably go unnoticed.  So the ones you notice and pay attention to are about the things you value most.  Maybe your job, your marriage, your children, or your faith.

When you think that unwanted thought that goes against something that you truly value you’ll probably have a strong negative emotion come from it.  Something like fear, disgust, or alarm.  These negative emotions make the thought appear strong that it really is.

I like to think about thoughts like flowers.  If we have a thought that we leave alone, it will wither and die.  But if we have a thought that we spend a lot of time on, tend to it, water it, feed it, it will survive and flourish.  

So if you have a thought that you don’t want, you want to just disregard it and not add fuel to the fire.  Or, to get back to the flower metaphor, you don’t want to add fertilizer and continue to water it.

The thought isn’t the problem, it’s what you do with that thought that can create the problem.

We don’t want to resist thoughts that come to us that we don’t want.  We just want to allow them but pay no attention to them.  Just allow them to be.  

I like to think about these thoughts the same way that I do my emotions.  Say I am sitting in my office and a thought knocks on the door.  If I ignore or try to avoid the thought, it will just keep knocking.  It may eventually try to bust the door down and by resisting the thought it’s like I’m holding the door shut, leaning on it,  so it can’t come in.  But if I just open the door and allow the thought to come into the room, take a seat, and just be there while I work it’s fine and it will eventually just go away.

The most important thing to realize about unwanted thoughts is that the more you try to fight them, the more common they become. 

One of my favorite exercises to do to help me examine my thoughts is a thought download.  I sit down with a blank piece of paper and set a timer and just start writing.  I write down everything in my brain.  Just dump it all out.  There is no judgement for any of the thoughts.  No one is going to see it and so I just write down anything, anything at all.  If I can’t think of what to write, I write that down.  But I write and write and write until the timer goes off.  

Once it goes off I can then look at what I have written for what it is.  A bunch of thoughts.  There is no power in them when they are down on paper.  I am able to see much more clearly that they are just thoughts when they are not stuck in my head.

We tend to go into thought loops when we keep things just in our head.  But once they are down in paper, things become a lot more clear.   Then I can examine the thoughts that I have, decide which ones I want to keep, and which ones I want to let go of.  Which thoughts are actually serving me and which ones aren’t.

Sometimes I like to imagine that I’m standing on the edge of a stream and my thoughts are like leaves floating on the water.  I can just watch my thoughts.  Watch them float by.  If I find one that I like, I can grab it out of the stream and hold on to it.  But the rest I just let float on by.  

Sometimes those thoughts continue to float by over and over and I just notice that they are there, but I don’t pick them up.  I don’t react to them.  I don’t judge them.  I just notice them and watch them float by.

If you have thoughts that you are having trouble with, sign up for some coaching!  I’ll help you work through them and help you find thoughts that serve you better.

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