Have you ever tried to stop yourself from thinking about something, only to find that the more you try to avoid thinking about that particular subject, the more it pops into your mind?
This counterintuitive process really hit me when I tried to give up chocolate for a 40-day period, when I was preparing for Easter by observing Lent and wanted to fast from something that had drawn my attention away from God. Prior to that, chocolate had become almost an obsession for me. I’d thought about it so much that I actually planned my daily schedule around when I could eat some chocolate, to make sure that I got my “fix” several times a day. Usually, I wasn’t even hungry when I ate the chocolate; I ate it for emotional reasons (to reward myself for hard work or to relax) rather than physical reasons. My unhealthy chocolate habit wasn’t just bad for my body; it was also bad for my mind, because my thoughts about chocolate controlled me rather than me controlling them.
So, with good intentions and all the willpower I could muster, I stopped consuming chocolate of any kind and repeatedly reminded myself not to think about it.
What a joke!
The more I reminded myself not to think about chocolate, the more mental energy I ended up using to focus on chocolate. Even though I directed my thoughts about chocolate to be warnings against it, I was still thinking about chocolate — and more than ever before! Chocolate suddenly seemed to be everywhere around me, tempting and taunting me as I struggled not to think about it.
Then I discovered that if I didn’t remind myself not to think about chocolate, but simply used my mental energy to think about something else, chocolate thoughts started to melt away (:>) in my mind. When I saw chocolate and felt frustrated by my commitment not to eat it, I reminded myself that I’d made that commitment in order to focus on a greater goal than eating chocolate: drawing closer to God. Instead of scolding myself not to think about chocolate, I let the thoughts of chocolate that inevitably came into my mind trigger me to decide to think about God instead. By the end of the 40 days, my blood sugar levels were healthier, and so was my mind!
You can make unhealthy thoughts fade away in your mind by first identifying unhealthy thought patterns (recurring thoughts that you find yourself dwelling on despite not wanting to) and then replacing them by directing your mental energy elsewhere, to something healthy about which you do want to think.
What is one unhealthy thought pattern you’d like to change? Why is it important to you to work on changing that (because the thoughts fuel a bad habit in your life, perhaps, or because they negatively influence your relationship with someone)? What other thoughts can you replace those thoughts with that will help you grow?
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