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  • Writer's pictureDr. Christine Senn, PhD

Your Thoughts Are Optional

People say, “don't believe everything you read.” Fantastic advice. I'm going to say also, “don't believe everything you think.” Your thoughts are just suggestions and they come from your past experiences and, thus, your interpretations of what's going on around you. You can also then surround yourself with people who share that with you (or didn't) but now they do because you're all communicating and there becomes a bit of a group-think situation happening. So in science, how do we get to the truth? We have replicable studies (hopefully they're replicable; that's the idea). And you eventually get to a truth. And even then, not everyone believes it. So, why are you believing your own thoughts? They're just suggestions.

Here’s an example from work. Let's say that in an HR policy that came out, something was changed and you say it's unfair. As soon as you label something as unfair, you are setting yourself up to be unhappy about it. You could resent the company, you could take it out on your manager, or you could think that the company doesn't care about you. You feel negative emotion because it’s unfair. I would feel an unfortunate reaction from feeling something is unfair, and that does not feel good in any way. On the other hand, if you had someone you talked to who helped you put a different perspective on it, or if you did this yourself through thought work, you could say, “I see other possibilities for how this could feel. I don't like it, but that doesn't mean it's unfair.” That's different, right? That's a huge difference. If you don't like something, then the person/the company didn't do anything wrong. I don't know about you, but my friends, my kids, my partner—they all make choices sometimes that I just don't like at all. I just don't like them. That doesn't make them wrong. And that can be true from anything that you see is taking another perspective. Taking a neutral perspective, reading an email, or a text with a neutral tone... Just assuming that people are trying their best and we have truly different opinions.

In thought work, you have your unintentional thought, and the only reason you care to work on this is because it brought you an unhappy feeling. So, if I'm angry about this policy, my unintentional thought that led to this was that this policy is unfair. Now, we want you to have an intentional thought that brings a better feeling. The intentional thought could be, “I don't like the policy, period.” How does that make you feel? Mildly annoyed at best. Like, I don't like it. I don't like everything about anything, right? No one thinks exactly the way I do. And you're never going to like everything, and that's fine. But maybe, you want something more than neutral. How about I talk to people and realize that some people love this policy. That means it wasn't unfair to everyone at all. So this policy is good for some people, I just don't like it. Now I'm not even mildly annoyed that I have that as my possibility. It's now, “some people do actually like this policy.” So, now I'm super neutral about it. I'm glad it helped those people; I'm sorry it didn't help me. There are other things to die on the hill for, right?

So, that's the work of thought work. I will put some links below. Some people do a really good job of teaching this concept, but if you have a thought that does not serve you, you can create a new thought that does serve you, alright? Your thoughts are just suggestions.

Have a very interesting day, a wonderful day, a new type of day.

Primers on Thought Work:

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