That’s Just a Thought: Keeping Things in Perspective

Our internal friendship is a reflection of our self-image, the opinion we have about ourselves. If we do not like someone, we are not likely to have a very close relationship with them. Why would we want to? Similarly, if we do not like ourselves, we are not likely to have a strong and vibrant internal friendship. “How we think about ourselves” (our self-image) is really no different from “how we speak to ourselves”.

Our internal communication is what constructs our self-image. Communication is what forges relationships. That is why the way we speak to ourselves is so important. Our internal language is always effecting our internal friendship. It’s constantly shaping who we are and how we feel about ourselves, constantly transforming our friendship with ourselves, either for the better or the worse. As such, we want to make sure that we’re transforming this relationship with ourselves for the better, and that means paying attention to our thoughts and correcting them whenever we realize that we’re not being objective.

When we judge ourselves or others, what we hear in our head is just a thought. When we feel justified to think what we think or feel how we feel, it’s just a thought that convinces us of this. We have a way of buying into our thoughts, a deleterious habit of accepting them as true and then reacting to them accordingly. Another way to embrace objectivity and develop emotional autonomy is for us to cultivate what I call results-oriented thinking. With results-oriented thinking, we pay less attention to what we’re thinking and more attention to the probable impact whatever we’re thinking will have upon ourselves and others.  It does not matter whether or not what we are thinking is true or how justified we believe ourselves to be to think this way. That’s not our concern here. Our concern, instead, is how our thought (and the emotion that arises from it) either helps or harms us and our relationships with others. We focus on results. Results-oriented thinking is about evaluating the effect a given thought has upon us and, through this evaluation, discerning whether or not the thought has merit. If it makes us feel worse, no matter how true it is, then we decide that there is no use thinking it. If it makes us feel better, then swell. We keep on thinking this way.

Most people think many things that make them feel worse about themselves. For example, let’s look at the thought, “I’m lazy”. We can hopefully, in the moment, catch ourselves in the act of being judgmental and aim to correct this unhelpful thinking. One way to correct such a statement would be to remind ourselves, “That’s just a thought”. Once we recognize “that’s just a thought”, we can ask ourselves what effect this particular thought has on us. Does it make us feel better or worse? In this case, of course, it makes us feel worse, just as telling a child “you’re lazy” is bound to make them feel worse about themselves. Remember, the child in us is always listening, and believing every word we say to him or her. But what if we genuinely feel this way? What if we sincerely believe we are lazy?

Well, it’s not about what is and is not true. The goal is not to evaluate the truthfulness of our statement, but to understand the impact this statement has upon us. Thinking this way, we might respond, “Maybe that’s true. Maybe I am lazy, but, true or not, that’s just a thought and that thought has no benefit to me. And, because it has no benefit to me, I am going to discard it.” We can actually visualize ourselves taking this harmful and uninspiring thought out of our head and chucking it over our shoulder like a pinch of salt. Whether we are lazy or not doesn’t matter. One thing we know for certain is that the thought “I’m lazy” is more likely to keep us lazy than inspire us toward becoming more productive. Understanding this, we realize that this particular thought is unhelpful and actually interfering with what we want and hope to achieve. So, rather than wasting any time legitimizing our opinion, we simply state, “Maybe that’s true”, and move on to thinking about what to do with this thought. We can keep it or chuck it. How do we chuck it? By recognizing that a thought being true doesn’t make it worth our thinking it.

This also helps us move closer toward self-embrace and internal friendship. We give ourselves permission to think what we think about ourselves because, “Hey, maybe that’s true”. The spirit of this assertion, “maybe that’s true” is incredibly permissive. It keeps us from getting stuck in the thought (or any self-judgment) and enables us to move onto something more constructive, like what to do with the thought itself. We start to realize that there is a difference between what we think about ourselves and who we really are. Since we can observe our thoughts, we must not be our thoughts. Since we can choose what to do with our thoughts, we must not be our thoughts. We begin to embrace that our thoughts are a matter of choice. We can choose to keep certain ones and discard others based on the results they produce.

Results-oriented thinking gives us some distance between ourselves and our thoughts. It enables us to transform the very nature of our thinking itself. Instead of feeling subject to our thoughts, thinking that we’re just being honest with ourselves, we accept our ability to choose our thoughts based on each thought’s emotional impact on our internal friendship. We stick with what works and abandon what does not. Very practical. Very non-judging. Very friendly. When we cease our judging, and begin to choose our thoughts according to what is and is not helpful to us, we nurture our internal friendship. As we nurture this friendship, our self-esteem and confidence grows. Then joyfulness arises. Recognizing “That’s just a thought” can be an invaluable tool in this process.