Our minds are like cities. Some blocks are beautiful, safe, open and pleasant. Others are imaginative, colorful, creative and fun. Then there are the blocks that haven’t been cleaned in awhile and therefore are cluttered, littered, and foggy.

And like every city, our minds have blocks that are dark and dangerous. They lead to harm. To turn down a block like this is a choice, and can be a form of self-sabotage.

Our thoughts are spontaneous. But you don’t have to follow them.

There is no doubt that we cannot control when thoughts enter our minds or what thoughts they may be. Like a dark alleyway, a thought may appear when turning one corner and can be unexpected, alarming, and at times, paralyzing.

We can, however, control whether to continue down the dark alleyway. We can choose to follow our negative self-defeating thoughts, or we can choose to step back and observe them, accept them for what they are, but then keep going. Thoughts can be like clouds passing by in the sky. We see them from afar, accept their presence, but let them carry on.

Engaging our negative thoughts can lead us to impulsive behaviors, self-harming habits, depressive thoughts, irrational beliefs, ineffective responses, isolation, sadness, anger, and self-sabotage.

When we follow our thoughts, we are essentially agreeing with them. When our minds receive a thought such as “I am disgusting” or “I don’t deserve to live,” and we immediately follow them down a rabbit hole of similar negative thoughts, we are saying “I agree. I am disgusting.” or “I agree, I am not worth anything. Tell me more.”

These thoughts allow us to judge ourselves and let our minds be our own bullies. Instead, we can follow the more positive thoughts, or challenge the negative thoughts and disagree with them.

For example, if a thought such as “you failed that exam” enters your mind, instead of letting it lead to “you are not good at anything” thoughts, it can be observed from afar, accepted, and turned into “yes, I failed that exam, so I can study more and be more prepared next time.”

We are all human. We all have dark thoughts. And we can choose to take a step back from them, accept that we are human and that it’s okay to have these thoughts, and then use our innate power and self-compassion to decide not to follow them.