Many people mistakenly believe that thoughts can be controlled consciously.
Fact: many thoughts – and some researchers believe most-cannot be consciously controlled. Sometimes this is useful. A sudden flash of insight or inspiration can help in solving problems. Ask a poet or lyricist how they find the words, and they may say that the words just come to them. Sometimes thoughts arise of their own accord, like a mental spasm or hiccup. Ask anyone who practices meditation. We do not control this process, and therefore we are not responsible for it. Thoughts just appear, wander, jump here and there, do not obey orders.
Sometimes the fact that you can’t control your thoughts can come as a real surprise. During a boring conversation, the mind of any person begins to wander. Noise in the room can interrupt the flow of thoughts. When was the last time you thought about an argument you had with your family while talking to someone at work? How often do you tell yourself that you should cultivate thoughts that support self-confidence, but instead you have to deal with your own self-criticism and growing anxiety?
Just because you can think purposefully doesn’t mean you can control your thinking. It is impossible to get rid of thoughts of your own volition. You can concentrate on certain thoughts, but that doesn’t mean you can get rid of them.
Restless voice: I wish I could control my thoughts, especially negative ones. I think I have some kind of illness.
Voice of false calm: You just need discipline of thought. You should try harder! A restless voice: I’m trying, but it doesn’t seem to be working. I think it’s a failure.
Voice of wisdom: all people’s minds wander. This may be interesting to watch. There is no need to interfere in this process. Thoughts are just thoughts, and they just appear.
Both the Restless voice and the false calm Voice believe in the myth that controlling thoughts, especially disturbing ones, is not only possible, but also necessary for maintaining mental health. This is a real misconception. The voice of wisdom knows the correct answer.
Believing in the myth that you can control your thoughts leads to the common but unhelpful assumption that negative thoughts can be replaced with positive ones, and this will help control your thinking. The evidence suggests that you can deliberately cultivate positive thoughts and temporarily distract yourself from unwanted thoughts. But the thoughts that you are trying to replace often remain and return to your attention with even greater intensity. How many times have you tried to banish a thought from your mind, but it immediately returned to your consciousness?