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We cannot control our thoughts, but we can respond to them in a healthy way that integrates our thoughts with our values and behavior.

Thoughts are harmless, right? Ideas and thoughts present themselves as harmless and many of us think, “The things that go on in the mind aren’t real, therefore thoughts shouldn’t concern us.” This line of thinking can be unhealthy. We must understand how our thoughts can impact our behaviors.

The Truth About Thoughts

Thoughts seem to pop up without any control. If thoughts seem to be out of our control, how do we deal with them?

What’s a major purpose of the human brain? It’s safety! The brain is designed to keep us safe and help us regulate our energy and resources. As powerful and amazing as the mind is, thoughts still seem to be able to wrestle free of conscious control because of our powerful survival instincts.

[Related: How Stress Affects Your Body]

Can Thoughts Be Controlled?

Is there any way to control thoughts? Not really. Thoughts are similar to background noise or banter. The subconscious churns, spitting out content constantly. Controlling our thoughts is much more about close observation and analysis than imprisoning dangerous notions. A best practice for the thought life is to quality check them, then purposely let them go. Don’t hold on to the bad ones, and do let the good ones help you on your journey.

[Related: How to Process Your Emotions]

Thoughts aren’t altogether dangerous, nor are they completely harmless. A bad thought can generate negative emotions which can in turn influence negative or even dangerous behavior. The same can be said for good thoughts spurring positive emotions and actions. The main point to take away from any discussion about thoughts is that you have the power over how your thoughts influence you.

You may never be able to control every thought that pops into your mind throughout the day, but you can control how you respond to them. If the thought is negative, let it go and don’t feel bad about it popping up. Let the good thoughts push you forward toward good actions and let the bad ones die out!

Talk About It
  1. What is your initial reaction to this topic? What jumped out at you?
  2. How do you deal with negative thoughts? Is it hard to let them go? Explain.
  3. In what ways can analyzing your thoughts be beneficial? Give one example.
  4. Are you able to let thoughts go? Why do you feel it’s difficult?
  5. How do thoughts affect actions? Give both a positive and a negative example.
  6. Write a personal action step based on this conversation.
David Johnson, PhD, practices at the Ogden Center for Change.