Listen closely because what I’m about to share with you may help release years of unnecessary stress, confusion, and emotional exhaustion. Simply put: You are not your thoughts. Please repeat that to yourself three more times, as it can be an important realization on your path to emotional peace. Yes, the brain is a powerful thing and when we focus on our goals, we can make them happen. But… it’s not our thoughts themselves that bring things to fruition, it’s our actions.
The premise that we are our thoughts and that somehow just thinking (or even obsessing!) about something will draw that energy to us and magically make it happen is just that: magical.
If our thoughts, alone, were that powerful, then the world would have ended many a century ago (think about how long doomsayers have been predicting the end of time). Our population would probably be at most a quarter of what it is today (think about all the worries that plague the minds of most parents). And almost all of us would be dead or dying at this very moment due to concerning thoughts, which include deadly diseases, accidents, and, well, the fear of death itself.
Although Freud proposed that thoughts are innately related to who we are, the more modern system cognitive behavioral therapists follow is that thoughts are merely thoughts — not indicators that paint a picture of who we are. In fact, thoughts are often in direct opposition to the thinker. People who suffer from OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) and anxiety often ruminate about the darkest of fears, as they have been shown to actually be more conscientious than the average person and, thus, obsess about whatever horrid thoughts come to the surface because they are so horrified that they are having them.
In her piece, “Bizarre Thoughts and Me: Confessions of an OCD Therapist,” psychotherapist Stacey Kuhl Wochner shares this: “I am a therapist who treats Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and I have bizarre thoughts. Here is my big revelation. We all have them. It’s not just you. And I do not have OCD.” She then shares a long list of many bizarre thoughts that she had recorded in just a few weeks’ time. Here is a sampling: “I had a thought that I didn’t want to leave fibromyalgia in the search box of my phone, lest I get it; I had a thought about punching my husband in the face in bed… and I wasn’t even mad at him; I had a thought that I should tear up the paper with my parents address on it before throwing it away to keep them safe.”
Wochner states that there are still common misperceptions about thinking that include how thoughts are meaningful links to the inner being of the thinker, and how our thoughts are sometimes considered bad omens for the future. In other words, we’re all taking our thoughts too seriously — and need to learn how to let the negative ones float on by. An answer, by the way, to the misperception that thoughts can be considered bad omens, it’s imperative to remember that statistically, bad things are going to happen whether we think about them or not. On the other side of the coin, it’s also important to note here that our more positive thoughts can not only help us realize our goals but may be good for our health as well.
A New York Times article by Jane E. Brody titled “A Positive Outlook May Be Good for Your Health,” notes that in a study about participant’s views on aging, positive thoughts “can enhance belief in one’s abilities, decrease perceived stress and foster healthful behaviors.” Researchers have also found that positive emotions can boost the immune system, counter depression, lower blood pressure, and decrease heart disease. In this way, when our thoughts are focused on the positive, they can be seen as magical! But, just because some dark thoughts may intrude along the way, whatever healthy behaviors that may have stemmed from your more solution-based thought processes will continue to benefit you.
It’s all about being aware that the intrusive, scary thoughts are merely unsubstantial puffs of nothingness that we should learn to blow off, and that our intentional, positive thoughts can help shape our behaviors in productive ways. In conclusion, you are not your thoughts; you are the sum of so much more, including your intent and, more importantly, action.