ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Changing the Content of Thoughts

Jack Bragen
Friday April 01, 2016 - 10:12:00 AM

We can change our attitude, we can change our behavior, and we can change our mood, if we learn how to switch to different thoughts--by intent.

Intentionally changing the content of thoughts can be very powerful. Thoughts determine the meaning assigned to events and emotions. Thoughts are the "software" in our minds, are responsible for who we might think we are, what we think we can accomplish, our agenda in a given moment, and a multitude of other things.  

If our thoughts are telling us that things are good or that things are okay, we will probably not produce painful emotions. If thoughts are saying we had better worry about something, it can create a lot of anguish, anxiety, or anger.  

Thoughts are necessary. Otherwise, we wouldn't be able to function and accomplish basic tasks in life, nor would we be able to take care of our family, pay bills, or even go to the store and buy a loaf of bread.  

Thoughts often come in sets. A set of negative thoughts based on one or a few negative assumptions can cause mood problems. If you change a few thoughts in a set of thoughts, it can cause your mind to discontinue the entire set and switch to something else, usually something better.  

Some negative thoughts one's mind might produce, for example, could be self-trashing and/or obsessive. "I'm fat," is one of them. "I'm dumb," "I need to go get a job," "I hate this," or even, "my mind isn't working…" These examples are just the tip of the iceberg as to the negative thoughts that the mind can produce. Listing negative thoughts onto a pad of paper can help you identify them and possibly stop having some of them.  

Most emotional pain is produced by software in the mind, and is subject to being modified or circumvented. Circumventing pain through changing the subject matter in the thinking is what I am suggesting in this piece.  

The easiest and most effective way of changing the thoughts is to change the external environment.  

(Changing the external environment is accomplished not by forcing other people in your environment to change what they are doing, but rather, it is accomplished by getting up and going somewhere else, or could also be accomplished by doing something as simple as picking up a magazine and looking at the pictures.)  

Here are some specific examples of changing the thoughts: if you put yourself in surroundings that do not focus on mental illness, such as a job, a college class, or even a temple or church service, the thoughts are redirected from the predicament of being a "mentally ill person" and instead, the mind is digesting the material in front of you. If you read a novel or watch a movie, the mind is filled with the fiction provided. If you go to Starbuck's, you are in an environment that doesn't focus on your problems. These are ways of changing the thoughts that do not involve mental gymnastics.  

Focusing solely on therapy, and continually rehashing your problems within the mental health treatment system probably won't get you well. Changing the thoughts by putting yourself in surroundings that engage the mind or relax the mind, could make you feel a whole lot better, and this is worth doing.  

If enmeshed in mental health treatment, it is good for you to forget about being mentally ill for a little while.  

The other way of changing the thoughts is through self-analysis in which we discover the thoughts that are dominant in the mind, and intentionally replace those thoughts. In some instances, this can be a very ambitious and difficult path, it is not reliable, and often, trying to do this can make things worse. Trying to "replace the thoughts" for most people, I would advise you do this with the help of a therapist.