Many people falsely believe that our thoughts are under our conscious control, and so we should be able to control our thoughts. Will positive thinking help? Can we change our thoughts?
The fact is that many of our thoughts—and some researchers believe that most of our thoughts—are not under conscious control. There are times when we welcome this fact. An insight or inspiration can help solve a problem. Ask a poet or songwriter how she finds lyrics, and she might say it just comes to her. Sometimes a thought just pops up, like a mental tic or hiccup. Ask anyone who practices meditation. We aren’t in control of it, and we aren’t responsible for it. Thoughts just happen. They wander. They jump around. They don’t take orders.
We Control Our Thoughts?
Occasionally it hits you in the face that you can’t control your thoughts. Everyone has a wandering mind when listening to boring talks. A noisy room can interrupt your train of thoughts. And when was the last time you thought about an argument at home when speaking to someone at work? How often do you tell yourself to think confident thoughts, only to be aware of self-criticism and worries creeping in?
Just because you can think some thoughts on purpose doesn’t mean that you are in control of them. You can’t make your thoughts go away at will. You can focus your attention on certain thoughts, but that doesn’t mean you have the capacity to make them go away.
Your Inner Voice Cant Change Your Thoughts
Worried Voice: I wish I could control my thoughts, especially when I get a bad thought. I think I am sick.
False Comfort: What you need is some mental discipline. Try harder!
Worried Voice: I’m trying, but I can’t seem to do it. I think I’m broken.
Wise Mind: Everyone’s mind goes everywhere. It could be interesting to watch. I have no need to stop any of it. Nor do you. Thoughts are just thoughts, and they just happen.
Positive Thinking will help? – change our thoughts?
Worried Voice and False Comfort both believe in the myth that control of thoughts, especially disturbing thoughts, is not only possible but necessary for mental health. They are quite wrong. Wise Mind knows better.
Belief in the myth that you are in control of your thoughts leads to the common but unhelpful suggestion that you can replace negative thoughts with positive ones and that this will help you control what you think. The facts indicate that you can deliberately think positive thoughts and distract your attention temporarily from unwanted thoughts to chosen ones. But the thoughts you are trying to replace tend to persist and usually return even more forcefully to your attention. How many times have you tried to push a thought away, only to have it pop right back up?