I have a client who came in highly distressed because she feared she was about to have an affair:
“I was at work the other day, and I was looking at a male coworker. I wondered what it would be like if I kissed him. Does this mean I secretly want to have an affair with him? I thought I loved my husband and wanted to be faithful to him. Why would that thought come to my mind? Does this mean that I really don’t love my husband and want to be married to my coworker instead?”
Another client recently told me:
“My husband asked me if I thought a certain stranger was handsome. When I said I thought he was cute, he accused me of wanting to have sex with that man! Now he’s accusing me of being unfaithful. I’ve always been faithful to my husband and have never even wanted to be with anyone else. How do I convince him?”
Thoughts such as these are not uncommon in my office. I will hear people confirm that if they have a certain thought, it must be true – otherwise, why would they think it? And if it was an unpleasant or harmful thought, then they believe they are guilty of having wanted to act on that thought. The truth is far from this.
Thoughts are merely thoughts. It is extraordinarily difficult to control the thoughts that come into one’s mind. Random thoughts, helpful thoughts, unpleasant thoughts, pleasant thoughts, strange thoughts. They just come. The thought is not the problem, it’s what we DO with the thought that matters.
James 1:14-15 states, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire, when it has conceived, gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” What I gather from this passage is that having a thought is like a temptation. Being tempted or having a thought is not wrong. But dwelling on the thought, ruminating on it, savoring it, feeding on it, or worse yet acting on it – those are the processes that “give birth to sin” which in turn can bring about pain and suffering.
But how does one stop dwelling on a thought? How do we get a thought out of our mind?
It is psychologically impossible to NOT think about something. The example widely used is that of green monkeys. If I were to tell you to NOT think about green monkeys, it would be nearly impossible for you to NOT envision little green monkeys doing whatever monkeys do. But, it is totally possible TO think about something – to put your mind ON something else.
Paul tells us in Phil. 4:8, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” It is 100% possible to put your mind ON something that is worthy of your better self, the more excellent self that you can be when you want to be. You must choose what you want to think about, and then intentionally put your mind on that thing.
Mindfulness experts tell us that when we are attempting to concentrate on one thing (like one’s breath, a scripture, a pleasant thought), that other thoughts will bombard our mind to distract us. This is the nature of the brain and how it works. These same experts strategize on ways of placing those thoughts to the side (on a cloud drifting in the sky, on a leaf drifting down a stream, on a car passing by on the highway) and refocusing the mind once again on the one thing chosen to concentrate on. I’ve heard even expert meditators proclaim they are not experts at keeping extraneous thoughts out of their mind, they are experts at refocusing their mind on the thing they were trying to focus on. It’s the process of bringing the mind back to what you wanted to think about that is the key here.
Thoughts are just thoughts. They are not necessarily valid or not valid, rational or irrational. They just are. Choosing which thoughts you want to put your mind on, those things you want to dwell on, that is the key to a healthy thought-life. You are not condemned by the thoughts that enter your mind, you are responsible for what you do with those thoughts. Choose wisely what you allow your mind to dwell on. Your thoughts have the power to bring anxiety and despair, or peace and contentment.
If you would like assistance with training your mind to focus on those things which you want to focus on, instead of being at the mercy of the thoughts flitting in and out of your mind, contact one of our counselors at Summit. We are each trained to help you become the person you want to be, both in your thought life and in your actions.