You are not your thoughts. Have you heard this before? Maybe this concept makes some people uneasy because we are constantly thinking, analyzing, and planning our decisions using our thoughts to justify our proceeding actions. However, thoughts are not always productive. This is where I will use Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to explain my reasoning.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy was created by Steven C. Hayes who understands the power we surrender to our thoughts. There is a tendency to ascribe literal truth to the words that arise in our stream of consciousness. This is an issue as certain thoughts are destructive, and hurt rather than help us. Hayes, in turn, created a method called “Cognitive Defusion”, or deliteralization, to, “see our thoughts as what they are, not as what they say they are.”
Specifically, Hayes asks that we detach a bit from these messages and take a more observing role. In this manner, we can interpret the content of our thoughts as merely passing by in our awareness. We evaluate the thought when it enters and give it a new context. Instead of honoring the thought in a literal manner, “I am unintelligent,” for example, we can ascribe it as an event by noting, “I’m having a thought that says I am unintelligent.” This creates a healthy distance during deliberation.
As Susannah Cahalan, author of Brain on Fire writes, “The brain is a monstrous, beautiful mess.” We are all familiar with the fact that our brains are powerful processing machines that organize stimuli in our environment. Our conscious mind, in turn, attempts to makes sense of this intricate process and outputs observable language for us to shape to our discretion. Unfortunately, the porous mind is susceptible to extraneous messaging that only becomes problematic when we interpret it too hastily. Thoughts, feelings, and behaviors work in a triangular relationship. When our thoughts are not handled with care, irrational beliefs solidify, feelings become rooted, and corresponding destructive behaviors can all be speedy consequences.
You are not your thoughts. This is one of my dearest mantras that I have pedaled in my head countless times. For whatever reason, I have had many more unpleasant than pleasant thoughts in my lifetime. I am no longer troubled by this because I am equipped with the tools to not let the language of my mind stop me from living. Despite what logic may hold, I think this phenomenon has led to one of my greatest gifts. When my mind attempts to become my worst enemy, I have become adept at perspective-taking when unloading my mental baggage. I take a moment to be present and mindful of whatever is looming inside. Further, understanding my own identity feels so challenging at times that I have gained extreme patience for others in learning the intricacies of their personality. Additionally, I can be truly empathetic for people who are also troubled by their insecurities.
Appreciate the mind for its awfully magnificent capabilities and mystery. My greatest advice is to celebrate the thoughts that lead you to self-preservation. By the same token, accept the presence of thoughts that do the opposite but show them out the door after greeting them like the responsible host you are.