Say what you will about algorithms and the mistakes/flaws they have (which they definitely do) but my Spotify account never ceases to recommend me podcasts that are EXACTLY what I want without me knowing such a thing exists. This is how I came across the concept of “thought work” and began doing my own thought work.
What is thought work exactly? It’s hard to find a precise definition but the basic principle of thought work is becoming aware of the thoughts you experience and making intentional efforts to change them if they are unhelpful thoughts. This definition works on the assumption that your thoughts cause your feelings and that can impact how you respond to any situation.
I really found it hard to wrap my head around the idea that when something I didn’t like happened, it was my own thoughts that made me feel bad, and that it was not the person or event causing the feelings I was having. I’ve heard this idea many times through several theory and psychology courses but it just didn’t seem like something I could really make sense of.
That is until I found the Unf*ck your brain podcast by Kara Loewentheil. Now, Kara is not the only expert on thought work but her podcast was the first time I had heard anyone explain the basics of thought work in bite sized content which my stubborn brain really needed to get me started. I highly recommend her podcast because unlike most types of “therapy-style” podcasts it’s not just her talking about theories, but rather how to apply these theories to regular life and she does so by taking questions sent in by other listeners of the podcast which I find extremely helpful and more importantly; more entertaining.
Thought work is all about working on your own thoughts and making decisions about whether those thoughts are serving you, because we have no control over what other people think and most of the time we don’t even know what they’re thinking. We might think someone was being rude to us when in reality they didn’t think anything they said to us was rude and they had no intentions of hurting our feelings. Notice how even though we might be aware that maybe the person didn’t mean to make us feel bad it doesn’t make us feel any better? That’s because what’s actually making you feel bad is a thought you had during the interaction. That’s why sometimes two people can be present for the exact same event and only one of them gets upset while the other person doesn’t think it’s a big deal.
Thought work takes a lot of time and you’re not going to simply listen to a podcast or read a book and poof! magically all your problems are solved but, it is worth investing your time in. Feeling in control of your thoughts helps you feel in control of your emotions and how you choose to react. It’s taking control of your life and making it what you choose rather than allowing yourself to be a victim of circumstances not aligning the way you wish they would. Of course there are things we cannot control about our lives such as where we were born, the colour of our skin, sexual orientation, things that have happened in the past, or even who our family is. But we are in control of how we talk to ourselves about those things.
Since a lot of us are spending more time at home due to the current health crisis, why not spend some time being kinder to yourself? This isn’t standing in front of a mirror and shouting “I’M AMAZING!” at yourself every morning ( though, if you want you should totally do that). This is a matter of reframing the stories we have repeated to ourselves over and over again that do nothing but slow us down or keep us from healing. The point is not to suddenly B.S. yourself into some great delusion of grandeur, but even moving from a negative story about yourself to a neutral one can make you feel immensely better. Investing my time into working on my thoughts has been incredibly rewarding for me and I definitely have a lot more work to do. These are steps towards true self-care that will pay off in the long run.
Here is an article I’ve enjoyed about a woman named Heather’s personal experience with thought work
Here is a book that goes more into depth of why thought work is so important
Have you ever heard of thought work? Ever tried it for yourself? Let me know in the comments so we can keep the conversation going!