YOU AND I THINK STUPID thoughts sometimes.
We not only get them from others, but we think up stupid ones
for ourselves, usually when we're upset (mad, sad, or afraid).
The ol' brain doesn't think too clearly under duress and it can
come up with some dumb ideas. And when they're repeated a few
times it becomes easier to think them in the future. Given a
few decades, and boom: Stupid thought-habits. We all have them.
Every last one of us.
But we aren't stuck with them. If you want
to clean up your thinking a little, try this: Simply ask yourself,
Will it do me any good to keep thinking that? Then follow
that question with a second question: Is there a more useful
idea I could replace it with?
First, attach the first question onto the
end of a stupid thought, and it will act like a virus that eventually
destroys the stupid thought it is attached to.
Here's how it works. Let's say when I make
a mistake I think to myself, I'm such a loser. When something
goes wrong, that thought comes into my head, and it has for the
last thirty years, so now it comes automatically.
The first thing I'm going to do is repeat
the first question to myself many times every day just to get
familiar with the question. To make my brain comfortable with
it to make its path through my brain somewhat well-worn.
Read more about that
The next thing I'll do is start catching
myself thinking the stupid thought. Every time I think I'm
such a loser, I'll ask myself, Will it do me any good
to keep thinking that? If the answer is no, and in this case
it is no, then I go on to the next question: Is there
a more useful thought I can replace it with? Sure there is.
Of course there is. Hmmm, what am I going to think instead?
How about this: I made a mistake; is
there anything I can do to avoid making it again? This turns
my mind in a productive direction, and derails the old direction.
Fine. No problem. I forget all about the
loser-thought, and start thinking about how to avoid the same
mistake in the future.
But then what happens? Three days later,
I make another mistake, and what pops into my head? I'm such
a loser, of course! It's not going to go away from one try.
I'm in the habit of thinking it. It has been associated
(by repetition) with certain feelings, and now whenever those
feelings come up, that thought comes up.
Or maybe whenever certain kinds of circumstances
come up, those thoughts come up and then the feelings
come up. Whatever. The order doesn't matter. What matters now
is attaching the new questions to the thought I'm such a loser.
So when I notice myself thinking the thought again, I ask, Will
it do me any good to keep thinking that? And so on, and the
process comes a little easier this time.
And the next time it comes even easier.
And pretty soon, the loser-thought evokes that question.
The question becomes associated with the loser-thought, so they
start arising together.
Since the question keeps taking the thought
in a new direction, the new direction starts to become automatic,
and the mind will eventually streamline. It'll skip right over
the loser-thought, which will then diminish and fade away from
lack of use.
If this sounds complicated, it's not. Just
repeat the first question over and over to yourself for a few
minutes every day, or better yet, twice a day. While you're doing
this, remember situations when you felt negative feelings, figure
out what thought you had that gave you the feelings, and then
ask, Will it do me any good to keep thinking that? If
the answer is no, ask, Is there a more useful idea I can replace
it with? Think it through, right there when you're practicing
the question. Think up a more useful idea. Try it on in your
And the rest of the time (when you aren't
repeating the question to yourself), keep a lookout for non-useful
thoughts that come into your head. When they do, nail them with
the question. Follow it through. Take the thought-train to its
conclusion. This is a powerful question.
Even if you don't catch yourself at the
time even if you think of it later go through it
in your mind. Think it through. Mental rehearsal works.
experiments in recall
In experiments at the Institute of HeartMath
in San Francisco, people were asked to recall past events that
made them mad, and to keep those events in their minds for five
minutes. Their hearts beat harder and more irregularly, and an
easily-measured antibody in their saliva increased momentarily
and then dropped for six hours.
But when the researchers told the subjects
to interrupt their angry thoughts and to remember positive experiences,
their hearts calmed down, and the antibody in their saliva rose
and stayed elevated for six hours.
Will it do you any good to recall events
that made you angry? Well, on a directly physical level, it is
not in the best interest of your heart or your immune system.
Is there a more useful idea you can replace
it with? Sure there is. There always is. You can, at the
very least, remember past pleasant experiences.
Some of the "solutions" you get
with the second question can themselves become useful new thoughts
to practice. For example, a man is continually annoyed with his
teenaged son. He frequently thinks, "What a brat!"
The teenager doesn't really do anything bad, it's just an attitude
that infuriates the father.
Using this question, the man knows it doesn't
do him any good to continually get mad, so it's not doing him
any good to think his son is a brat. Is there a more useful idea
he could replace it with? Sure. He comes up with this: "He's
not a brat; he's only a teenager."
Ask anyone with a teenager. They all
get an attitude. It's probably Nature's way of telling parents
and kids it's time for the kid to be out on their own.
The father can use his new idea as a new
thought to practice he's not a brat; he's only a teenager
and it will change his thought-habits on that subject,
making him feel angry less often. He would do it the same way:
Repeat that thought to himself over and over for a few minutes
every day until the thought is familiar and comfortable and comes
to mind automatically when he needs it.
Use these two questions to take your stupid
thoughts and make them impotent. Use the questions to replace
them with more helpful thoughts. Make these questions come to
mind when you need them simply by practicing them every day.
Will it do me any good
to keep thinking that?
Is there a more useful idea
I can replace it with?