Choosing What To Think

Published in Mental Health - 3 mins to read

In This is Water DFW describes how he felt the concept of college teaching him how to think seemed a little insulting, given that he had passed a rigorous entrance process that supposedly demonstrated that he in fact already knew how to think. As I already touched upon in my previous blog, he instead says that the benefit of college is that it gives you the ability to chose what you think about, and that’s what’s been on my mind today.

Given his struggles with depression and ultimate suicide, I think DFW knew well that of course, it’s not as easy as just choosing what to think - thoughts are often forceful, unruly things. I know that my own way of thinking follows a very familiar, well-worn pattern, and have become more and more aware recently (thanks to the perceptiveness of others) of my own tendency to get stuck and to spiral downwards. I think and think and think, I catastrophize, I dwell on that which I don’t have and not that which I do, microscopically analysing anything negative in my life until the point that it has been magnified so much, it’s the only thing I can see in front of me.

I do have some choice what to think though. Even if I didn’t finish my college education, I think for me, all I need is awareness that the option of autonomy over one’s thoughts exists, in order to have it available, and I’m lucky that that’s the case. It’s not easy - I’ve been in the same pattern, all day every day, for many years - it’s had time to bed in. In those moments, shifting my thoughts first requires an awareness that they are toxic, and then a deliberate, conscious effort to not engage with them and instead with something else. And then three seconds later, another, similar effort, because I have already veered back into the whirlpool of destructive thinking. And then again, every 3 or so seconds, for the entirety of my day in which I am conscious.

The fact that it’ll be difficult is not reason not to try though. I think meditation is helping me a little (I think I’m on a circa 20 day streak currently), really it is practising doing exactly what I’ve described - thinking something, acknowledging that thought, and then choosing to think about something else instead. I think if I could break my old habit and form this new one, I could be a lot happier, and that means I have to try my hardest to do it.

So, from now on - all my thoughts are getting audited. Are they healthy? Are they productive? If not, then I’m evicting them from the space between my ears.

See other posts in the Choosing What To Think series