The Easiest Way To Change Your Thoughts

thinker

he's doing it wrong

I’m just speaking from personal experience here, but I think that in general, trying to change people’s thoughts is a waste of time. This of course goes against the grain of just about every self improvement book I have ever read.

Most of them start with change your mind and the rest will follow. I think this is backwards, futile, and a waste of time. They preach that better thinking will lead to better actions.

A question. Think about a couple of your most cherished beliefs. Politics, religion, The Way Things Are…just think about the belief systems that you participate in. How easily could you change your minds about them? Could you do it through willpower alone? I say no. The inadequate phrases “change your mind” and “think positively” do not provide any useful direction that I can see.

Action

On the other hand, what about changing your actions? Is it easier to do something different, or to think something different?

I’ll use an example I always see in the fitness world. “My therapist says I need to change my mental/emotional relationship with food.” Oh, okay.

How often does that work? Not for everyone, that’s for sure.

But everyone can take an action. Everyone can go for a walk. Few seem to be able to change the way they think or feel without first moving. Taking action. Thoughts that are not coupled with actions seem completely inadequate to me in affecting any real changes.

If you have a goal that you cannot seem to move towards, I would suggest an experiment:

The first is to ask this question: is there an experiment I could use to test the effectiveness of taking action versus changing my thoughts?

The second is to take an action that you associate with progress toward the goal. Choose a time frame, execute, and reevaluate.

Are you now close to your goal or farther away? Better or worse?

So far, I am always better when I move while guided by positive associations, results oriented, rather than thinking real hard about how I would like to think differently about things.

The right movements and actions will lead to better thoughts and results. The only subjective part of this is how we each define better and the goals we choose to pursue.

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7 thoughts on “The Easiest Way To Change Your Thoughts

  1. I think there’s merit in your argument here, but you can’t discount the power of self-talk. A negative inner monologue is difficult to overcome. But, recognizing it for all it’s destructiveness is a step toward changing it. A dialog that says, “just sit on the couch and eat a bag of chips,” has to be countered with another positive one: “I don’t sit on the couch when I can go for a walk instead.” And, of course, it then takes action to follow the decision. Talk is cheap if you don’t follow through.

    • “I think there’s merit in your argument here, but you can’t discount the power of self-talk.”

      Oh yes I can.

      “A negative inner monologue is difficult to overcome.”

      Yes.

      “recognizing it for all it’s destructiveness is a step toward changing it.”

      What if the recognition starts with going for a walk, not with a mental confession?

      “Talk is cheap if you don’t follow through.”

      Agreed. So why not simply start with what you’re calling follow through and see if going for the walk doesn’t change your mind, regardless of the reasons why you might think you’re going for a walk.

  2. Do you think thoughts exist as words? Do thoughts exist in words? Could you think if you did not have language? Do you think in English? What thoughts would you have if you were never exposed to any language at all? And if you had them, how would you explain them?

    All those questions aside, I think I’m with you, Dunce One. Actions are easier to change than thoughts. Setting aside the concept that, before you can do anything, you must, on some level, first think it (e.g. before getting up to go for a walk, you must “think” “I am going to get up and go for a walk”) (and wouldn’t a pre-cursor to that be “I think I should get up and go for a walk”?) (maybe this is where the “self-talk” Dunce 4 references comes in), I think you are right.

    I have never understood those people that have Post-Its all around their bathroom mirrors, that quote aloud little feel-good affirmations every morning: “I am a good person,” “I am strong,” “I am beautiful.” If you want to be a good person, don’t tell yourself you are one, go be one. If you want to be strong, don’t tell yourself you’re strong, go lift something. If you want to be beautiful, find someone that thinks you are, because beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right? Everyone is beautiful to someone.

    Same for changing fundamental, cherished beliefs. Just sitting around and thinking about why you feel how you feel and think how you think about huge issues, like politics, or God, is not going to change anything. But taking strong action, either in support or opposition of your premise, will either solidify your current outlook or change you to another. But either way, either result, it will get you there much faster than just wondering about it would do.

    I think your theory lends itself well to exercise. Sitting around thinking about how much you want to want to get in shape isn’t going to do anything for you. A far better approach is to just do it, and results and endorphins will keep you coming back for more. I wonder if this carries over as apparently into other applications, though. Can you think of any?

  3. Self talk…why do we assume that it is we that are doing the talking? In other words why is it assumed that it is Me talking and Me listening to myself talk? If it was Me talking, why can’t I control it or shut Me up? Or think what I want?
    It’s not just a parlor trick: if you believe you are in control of what you think, think about nothing but pink elephants for the next minute. Bet you can’t do it. So if you don’t control your thinking who (or what) does?
    How to change negative thoughts? Ignore them and pay attention the thoughts you want to. It’s not will power, it’s simply attending to what empowers you instead of what disemposers you.

    • Do you assume that it is someone other than you doing the talking? I’m not calling you out, or calling you crazy (per se), but if not you, who?

      I think, to continue the discussion, we need working definitions of “we” and “Me.” You say you can’t control your thoughts, but what “you” are you talking about? I think you have to account for at least a conscious and sub-conscious self. Your thoughts may not all come from your active, conscious “you,” but I’m fairly certain they all come from some version of you. From somewhere/one inside. Are you saying you think all thoughts come from some other, external source?

      Just because they are not actively volitional does not mean they are not you (or “you”).

      I don’t believe that “I” (my conscious, volitional self) do/does control my every active thought, not necessarily because I couldn’t, but because to even attempt to do so would be intensely tedious. But I have a profound capacity for concentration. I submit to you that I could, if pressed, think about nothing but pink elephants for at least one minute (or, at the very least, think about thinking about pink elephants). Could you really not do the same?

      So I don’t know where to go from here. With you. You assume the premise “[s]o if you don’t control your thinking…” I don’t think I can take that as a given, though. Do we always think only what our conscious, moral, ideal selves would want us to think? Probably not. In fact, definitely not. But does that mean it is some one or thing completely external to us controlling those thoughts? Sending those impulses?

      I think it is comparatively easy to think or not think about pink elephants. But how about sitting in a room and not thinking about food? Or water? Or sex? This is where you really get into thoughts versus actions. If you want to stop thinking about something, don’t think about not thinking about it, or even think about something else. Do something. Leave the room and take some action that completely occupies and distracts you. Take some action that eliminates the possibility of thinking about what you don’t want to think about. Actions do get more and better results than pure thought. The best, I think, would be some combination of thoughts and actions moving towards a specific, attainable goal.

      • “I think it is comparatively easy to think or not think about pink elephants. But how about sitting in a room and not thinking about food? Or water? Or sex? This is where you really get into thoughts versus actions.”
        Then you probably haven’t seriously tried the exercise. But, if it is too easy for you then try not thinking any thoughts at all for 30 seconds or a minute. Or an hour. Good luck.
        You can control your actions. You can choose to type a reply or not, but in most cases you can’t simply turn off your thinking. It’s automatic. It’s always there. Most run of the mill thinking that people describe as self talk or inner critic or chatter or whatever is historically based and it is automatic. The Past is constantly intruding on the Present. And there isn’t much you can do about it.
        Identity, if you identify with your thinking, is thus memory. You are your past and all the thoughts you have accumulated over that time. It follows then that if you are your memory and your thinking then you are probably limited in your actions largely to those things that reinforce who your memory says you are. “I am not a dancer”, for example. That’s one of the ways I think of myself and I have a long history of being a non-dancer that I can provide as evidence. But is my self-evaluation really true? Or is it closer to the truth that I keep saying I am not a dancer because it “fits” with my history of me?
        On the other hand, if you identify yourself with your actions, let’s say you identify with your speaking, then you aren’t limited by your memory of who you have always been. There is room to create something new. (Historically, I’ve never been a dancer, I don’t identify myself as a dancer, but what the hell: let’s dance.)
        To me this is the juncture where action versus thought gets interesting. This is where art gets misunderstood by the public at large as endoresment. Art as a “schermo della verità” isn’t possible if we can only be or do what we think. Memory and identity and what one thinks and believes is true is where new ideas and calls for action go to die. There is no possibility of reinventing oneself. Memory persists, action is ephemeral.
        BTW, I’m not asking you to believe any of this is true.

        • Perfectly fine, Dunce 3. I am actually fascinated by your insights on memory and the role it plays. I agree, if you let your tendencies in the past dictate what you will or will not think or attempt in your future, you will find yourself in a significant rut for sure.

          Your exercise does sound challenging, make no mistake. Thinking about pink elephants for a minute I could do. Not thinking about anything for an hour or more; that would be tough. It is easier to think about something, or even think about thinking about nothing, than it would be to think about actual nothing. I don’t know if it can be done for even five seconds.

          Weren’t you suggesting in your previous post, though, that your thoughts do not come from you but from somewhere else? Is your past/memory that somewhere else? Is that not still “you,” by any definition?

          Yes, I agree, art requires a certain newness. A certain thinking outside the box. But what does “schermo della verita” mean in this context? Is this some sort of art reflects life term? I could come up with a literal translation, but what does it mean to you?

          Is action more ephemeral than memory? I wonder… Some memories are more ephemeral than others. I wonder why that is.

          As far as dancing, I think we can dance if we want to.

          We can leave your friends behind.

          ‘Cause your friends don’t dance, and if they don’t dance,
          well…they’re no friends of mine.

          (Sorry, couldn’t resist).

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