Shaping thoughts is possible

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Robert Maurer

Shaping thoughts is possible

Thinking can be understood as a behavior, as well as a belief system, and as such it is possible for us to model it.

Last update: February 18, 2022

Is shaping thoughts a possible challenge? Thinking is like breathing, we mostly do it without realizing it. Thoughts, however, also help us decide. Without internal mental processes, we would have a hard time getting by in uncertain situations.

One of the most important aspects of our thinking is how we explain events that affect us. The model developed by Martin Seligman analyzes how we are influenced by the permanence or duration of the impact of events; but also by the penetrability or extension we attribute to the effects and the degree of responsibility we are willing to assume for what happens.

The more permeable we are to these filters, the more we will tend to dogmatically maintain irrational thoughts and philosophy of life. This is the root of emotional and behavioral disorders. Paul Watzlawick, a psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University, in his book Instructions for making yourself unhappy describes with irony how negative the consequences that arise from some unconscious thoughts can be.

We forget that we have more power over ourselves than we think. It is not what happens to us that produces discomfort, but the thoughts that arise from it, the way we interpret it. For this reason, when we express a judgment on the situations that concern us, explanations that minimize the impact on our well-being and facilitate the acceptance of what has happened are preferable.

"I'd rather be a crazy optimist than a sane pessimist"

-Albert Einstein-

Is it possible to shape thoughts?

Thinking can be understood as behavior, as well as a belief system, and like all behaviors it is possible for us to model it. To do this, it is important to understand how thoughts arise. This is not something concrete that we can model directly, as they appear through the interaction between the individual and the environment. To change the way we think, we need to know the antecedents and consequences of our thoughts; to understand, that is, if they help us or if they make us stumble.

We cannot unlearn a certain way of thinking, but we can learn to do it differently. There are behaviors that we learn not to do, but that do not completely disappear from our repertoire. We just don't make them anymore. The same happens with thoughts. We learn to change what we think by exercising conscious control over our mind.

Avoid inappropriate emotions

If our thoughts are unyielding, dogmatic or absolute, and are expressed in terms of obligation, need or demand, they cause, in general, negative and inappropriate emotions (guilt, anger, anxiety, fear). These emotions can hinder the achievement of our goals and generate behavioral alterations such as isolation, avoidance and flight.

To shape rigid thoughts, we also need to accept that everything we are thinking right now will not completely disappear. We must abandon the strategy that leads us to completely suppress or replace thought; instead, it is better to be more flexible and interpretative, to reformulate our beliefs to create a distance from their content. This undermines the influence of irrational thoughts on our conduct and mental state. In other words, the solution is to distance what we think and what we are.

For example, to shape thoughts we can ask ourselves: what useful thoughts can I add to my repertoire? What thoughts pave the way for a rational interpretation and more flexible responses?

How to use our thoughts and prevent them from using us

Thoughts can be our greatest allies or our worst enemies. It depends on us what relationship we want to establish. We must also not forget that through these mental processes we can identify what causes us suffering.

Our thoughts have a lot to tell us if we ask the right questions. Why does an idea bother us so much? How much importance are we giving to a certain thought? Does it really have that much relevance?

The problem is that we have very limited control over them. It is impossible to decide not to go back to a memory or to refrain from doing so. The symbolic relationships that connect one thought to another require us to accept their possible return, even if we don't want to.

Thinking rationally means thinking relativizing, expressing themselves in terms of desires and preferences rather than absolute demands. If we think healthily, even if we don't get what we want, the negative feelings generated in these situations do not hinder the achievement of new goals or desires.

Thinking in a balanced way is within the reach of anyone, with a little will and commitment. Let us strive intelligently and thoughts will become our allies.

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