I recently realized that, on my Tumblr page, I've been reblogging quite a few things that read: "Don't believe everything you think." This seems like odd advice, perhaps, but it's incredibly useful. You see, our thoughts can be quite distorted at times and most of us can convince ourselves of something -- regardless of whether or not it's true. Lately, I've found myself battling this a lot. My mind will flip-flop from one idea to a completely opposite idea and, depending on my mood, both seem entirely true and worth paying attention to. When I choose to believe one of my thoughts, my mind works to find ways to support that idea with evidence that may or may not be based on pure truth. And I don't think this kind of thinking pattern is uncommon.
Many (most?) of us do this on a daily basis: we find a thought that we believe to be true and we build ideas around it to support or deny it. We don't always use facts or truth; often we rely on emotionally-driven concepts or feelings. This is not to say that emotions are not valid -- they certainly are -- but it's important to consider how large of a role they play in our lives. What concerns me most about allowing emotions to take hold of thoughts is the lack of truth that is sometimes present in them.
The concept of truth always makes me think of Bryon Katie's work (a must-read for anyone interested in living a more positive and present life!), Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life. The book's title makes a bold statement, but those four questions really did change my life when I read them for the first time. In her book, Katie looks at the meaning behind the four questions we should ask ourselves when we are unsure of whether or not to believe our thinking:
1. Is the thought true? Ask yourself if what you're thinking is really, honestly true. Look at the facts, not the thoughts in your mind. Do you 100% know that what you are thinking is the truth? This is the first step in knowing whether or not you should believe what you're thinking. If the answer is no, then you need to let the thought go. If it's true, move on to #2.
2. Can you absolutely know the thought is true? Though you might have determined that the thought is true in #1, dig a little more deeply now. Ask yourself why it's true. What facts do you have to support it? What emotions might be influencing your thinking? Is there any possible chance that you're not being honest with yourself. If you're certain it's true, go on to #3.
3. How do you react when you believe that thought? Consider what the thought does to you. Even if it is 100% true and valid, it's important to now look at whether or not the thought is worth having. Is it helping you in any way? Is it bringing you down? Is there any value in the thought? If not, you need to let the thought go -- or take action so you can let it go.
4. Who would you be without that thought? Often we attach ourselves to thoughts. We spend too much time defining ourselves by them. Consider who you would be without that thought. Would it be better to let the thought go? If there is nothing you can do about it, is it worth dwelling on? Remember: you are not what you think and you can let go of thoughts and still be you.
Though it's easy to accept our thoughts as absolute truth (who wants to think s/he is lying to him/herself?), more often there is more to our thought process then we realize. When you really start thinking about your thoughts, it's important to ask yourself these questions to evaluate what is really going on in your mind. Tempting as it is to believe everything you think, asking yourself these questions will help you to have a more honest understanding of the truth (or lack thereof) of your thoughts. The more you question your thoughts, the more in touch with reality you will be and the more opportunities you'll have to live a positive and present life.