Thursday, December 21, 2006

Thought Control

At last! “Tomorrow will be 0m 0s shorter.”

It’s interesting that today’s Winter Solstice coincides with the New Moon. The Moon will begin to grow as daylight begins to grow.


On December 18 I listed some helpful truths. I want to add the most useful psychological technique I ever learned. It was taught to me by the only psychologist I’ve known who actually helped people change for the better – Dr. Leo Walder of Maryland. I sought him out because he was a behaviorist rather than a “talk forever” therapist. I felt behaviorism was a valid tool, and I wanted to get myself over something that was bothering me.

Dr. Walder said, “I’m going to teach you something called ‘thought control’. I know it sounds awful, but it really works. You close your eyes and picture what it is that’s bothering you – the thought that you don’t want. Hold it in your mind. Close your eyes. Hold it in your mind. . .”

When I was sitting there with my eyes shut, completely focused on what I did not want to think about, I jumped about two inches out of my chair when Dr. Walder shouted in a loud, sharp voice, “STOP!”

“There,” he said. “You do that every time you find yourself dwelling on what makes you unhappy, and you’ll stop thinking about it. You don’t have to yell out loud, but at least yell to yourself.”

It works. If you’re being nagged by something from the past – some resentment or jealousy or anger – or by some worry or fear about the future – confront it with a blast of “thought control” every time it raises its head and it will show up less and less often and eventually should go away completely.

It’s not a bad idea to actually shout out loud, but just a strong inner shout of “Stop!” will do. I find that it also helps simultaneously to visualize an explosion, or a “No Entry” sign – anything to dramatically disrupt the undesirable train of thought.

I’m sure one reason thought control works is that attention can’t be on two things at the same time. (“Another Unexpected Meditation”, Dec. 2, 2006.) If you stop the undesired thought, it will be replaced by another thought or image. (If the bad thought comes back, blast it again.) Shopping for a desirable replacement thought before you blow the bad out of existence is a good idea.

My mother lived happily and independently in her own home into her 90’s, and I’m sure she used a technique like “thought control” even if she never heard Dr. Walder’s term. She simply refused to entertain negative ideas. One of her own mother’s favorite sayings was, “The evil of the day is sufficient thereto” . . . meaning to me, “Never worry about the past or future.”

My mother often said to me when I told her about an upcoming trip or other pleasant plan, “Oh, good! That’ll give me something nice to think about for hours.” Her mind was always filled with happy news and happy anticipation, outings, plants and flowers, painting, music, decorating for every holiday on the calendar . . . even Florida Gators football games, when her driveway would fill up with the cars of guests who would walk to the stadium a few blocks away.

If something unpleasant came up in conversation, Mother would quickly change the subject. You might see her frown for a moment, and then the cloud would go away.

Some would label her a Pollyanna . My sister-in-law said (as a compliment, I think) that Mother was one person who could stand up and look reality square in the face . . . and ignore it completely.

“Pollyannaish” or not, I think my mother’s refusal to dwell on negativism, and her ability to keep beauty and fun in her consciousness, helped her enjoy a long and happy life. What alternative could have been better?

1 comment:

  1. There is something in this, when we know where to apply it. I'm a therapist myself of sorts - not the type who allows clients to wallow in clienthood forever but one who expects them to be completely well in less than ten sessions. They have to work hard.

    Unfortunately it's all too easy to apply a single remedy to all ailments, as this story from an old sage illustrates.

    A very competent healer went from village to village. In one place a young man called him urgently to see his camel, which was choking to death. The healer told him to get two bricks, then hold one of them against the camel's neck whilst he hammered the other side with the other brick. A peach stone which had been lodged in the camel's windpipe shot out. The young man was so impressed that he decided to be a healer himself.

    He went to the next village and asked who was sick. "My grandmother is dying!" said someone so he went to the house and performed the same miraculous cure he'd seen done on the camel.

    "My God! You have killed her!"

    "No, she is just sleeping," said the triumphant new healer and quickly went on his way.