In this article we will answer the question ”Can we control our thoughts?’’ and discuss the mental and emotional rewards of trying to control your thoughts when you’re facing life’s challenges.
Can we control our thoughts?
Yes, we can control our conscious thoughts. Which is a part of thinking itself, since much of it happens subconsciously.
On some occasions, and involuntarily, thoughts, images or impulses that are unpleasant or unacceptable appear in our minds, called “intrusive thoughts”.
Luckily, in most cases these thoughts disappear by themselves, however, in some people the intrusions become more and more frequent and intense, being very difficult to control.
In fact, a television commercial made by a well-known car company suggests that once we see the new model that they have released, we will not be able to stop thinking about it no matter how hard we try.
The creators of this ad have been inspired by the case of Tolstoy, who told his brother “stay in the corner until you stop thinking about a white bear”, it seemed easy, but the young Leon Tolstoy spent hours in the corner thinking endlessly about white bears.
Have you ever felt the need to “turn off” the constant stream of thoughts that invades you?
Speaking in scientific terms, the mind is defined as the set of processes carried out by brain cells (neurons), which are manifested in the form of thoughts. However, its operation remains unknown to most human beings, as is its potential. And it’s that the mind can manipulate us, enslave us or, on the contrary, liberate us.
Hence, understanding how thoughts work and how thoughts can be regulated is essential to create a balanced, serene and positive mental state, which will allow us to face more effectively the challenges and difficulties that arise in our day to day life.
What is ‘’thought’’ and how does it work?
There are so many aspects of thinking that give a definition is difficult.
Of the many definitions that could be given, some of them consider it as a non-routine mental activity that requires some effort, or as what happens in experience when a person faces a problem and solves it. We could also define it as the ability to anticipate the consequences of behavior without actually doing it.
Thought implies a global activity of the cognitive system with the intervention of memory, attention, comprehension processes, learning, etc.
It’s an internal and intrasubjective experience. Thought has a series of particular characteristics, which differentiate it from other processes, such as, for example, that it doesn’t need the presence of things for them to exist, but the most important is its function of solving problems and reasoning.
The concept of mind has changed considerably throughout history. The French doctor La Mettrie was the first to conceive of the mind as something completely material, the brain, provided with a series of cells (neurons), which interconnected with each other made the physical mass that is the brain function.
This idea gave rise to the information processing models at the beginning of the 20th century, which sought to establish parallels between the brain and computing.
All these theories obviously have serious limitations and that’s why another construct, consciousness, was included in order to understand how and why we act.
Although the term consciousness is somewhat confusing, there are some scientific studies, specifically on sleep, in which an attempt was made to reveal the different states of consciousness and unconsciousness that exist and that have to do with greater or lesser brain activity.
Currently there’s no doubt that all mental processes (thought, ideas, imagination, memories, memory, illusions or emotions in general) are brain processes, that is, they are a product of brain function. It’s true, however, that the brain mechanisms that generate these mental activities are still far from being fully understood.
Is it possible to control thoughts?
Barry Gordon, a professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said it’s difficult to control thoughts, especially because we may not be aware of much of the thoughts we experience.
But, he points out that we can still control the thoughts that we are aware of by directing our attention to them.
Bill Petit, a former West Virginia University psychiatrist, offered a similar suggestion.
Try to see the constant stream of your thoughts as a smorgasbord of food. You have the option of choosing a thought that feeds you. Otherwise, if you are not aware of this, you could end up allowing a thought that is harmful to you.
Some people may suggest that you have a responsibility to choose your thoughts. Reputable psychologists such as Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson are among those who support the discovery that thoughts create emotions and that thoughts are critical to our motivation and performance.
Indeed, the relatively new fields of positive psychology, mindfulness, and emotional regulation are based in part on understanding the power and importance of monitoring our thoughts and creating positive emotions.
It’s true that controlling what you think will not pay the bills when you don’t have a job. It also won’t end a mortgage loan. But controlling your conscious thoughts, says psychologist Susan Folkman, will give you greater resilience and the ability to deal and resolve difficulties and anxieties.
According to psychologist Jeffrey Nevid, it’s not widely understood that “behind every disturbing emotional state lurks a triggering negative thought”.
He also said that people are more aware of their feelings than of the thoughts that created them. They don’t make the connection between your thoughts and the resulting emotions, which leads us to another reason why controlling your thoughts can be difficult.
Our society gives priority to teaching people to think so that they can develop theoretical skills suitable for exercising their occupation; think like a doctor, engineer, chef, school teacher, etc. But it has not been a priority to teach people how to think to develop their personal skills, or how to think so that they can maintain their emotional stability.
Why do we tend to think negative?
By our mental structure, our beliefs and the scale of values of the system in which we live. Falling and enjoying the negative things is always easier. It’s an unconscious act and requires no effort.
We have created a way of life that prioritizes evasion and material gain above all else. With so much overexposure to the stimuli that surround us, our minds are saturated and we allow ourselves to be invaded by beliefs that limit us.
As Gandhi said, “We no longer have a choice between violence and non-violence. The choice of today stands between nonviolence or non-existence’’. But enhancing the positive, although it may cost more effort, is more beneficial for our emotional health.
Can these negative thoughts be controlled?
Without a doubt, but you have to promote “mental gymnastics”,and a lot of determination. Our minds are weak.
We have mechanized our responses so much that we barely leave space between the stimulus and our reaction. For example, if you are driving and another driver cuts you off, you generally say a four-letter-word accompanied by a loud honk.
You don’t consider that the other driver may not have done it on purpose, he has simply gotten lost, something that could happen to you tomorrow. Of course, creating this space of consciousness requires commitment and training.
Only in the last 20 years educators have recognized that personal skills may be the most difficult and important skills to develop. We finally begin to treat thinking as a fundamental skill that can be developed through mindfulness training.
Ancient sages and philosophers have guided people on how to better control their minds.
A modern curriculum for this training was developed based on decades of medical research by physician John Kabat-Zinn, creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society, University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Mindfulness training is designed to help you manage stress and prevent the unintended creation of unwanted emotions. Learn to pay attention to your conscious thoughts, stay non-judgmental in your thinking, and accept life’s challenges. Mastering these skills requires daily practice with simple but effective exercises.
But regardless of the attention the “mindfulness revolution” has received in recent years, not everyone cares about this issue. Even those who enroll in mindfulness classes are often bored, and many never complete the full eight-week practice regimen.
People assume that because they can think, there’s no point in spending time or money perfecting how to think. As their life evolves, these untrained people may even insist that it’s too difficult to control their thoughts.
They develop a habit of blaming their circumstances or other people for how they feel, not realizing that it’s their unsupervised thoughts that are responsible.
And how can we consciously direct our thoughts?
In order to change our thoughts, we must first be aware of what’s happening in our mind. For this we need to focus, be aware of ourselves and what surrounds us, observe and decide in which direction we want to direct our thoughts.
Human beings have no limits, only those imposed by our own thoughts. And through right training, we can consciously use and direct them, choosing what and how we want to think. This is how we can master the art of keeping the mind in balance and achieving true and sustainable well-being. The key word in this whole process is “consciousness”.
So, why control our thoughts?
To preserve our health, it’s important to control our thoughts because they cause emotions that, in turn, generate physiological reactions that affect our body, leading to disease in some cases.
For example, having a sad thought makes us cry. Thoughts generate emotions, which are nothing more than hormones and neurotransmitters that affect all our health, they go throughout our body, through all cells. And for example, stress, which comes from thoughts, is linked to heart disease. Like depression, which is also generated by thoughts.
Observing and working our interior. It’s important that we spend time each day with ourselves. Learning to control your breath is a good start, in addition to delving into relaxation techniques, visualization and, above all, meditation.
We invite you to ask yourself:
- What thoughts do you have when you wake up?
- What thoughts are the ones that steal your energy?
- What thoughts and feelings fill you with happiness?
FAQS: Can we control our thoughts?
How do you take control of your thoughts?
The first thing you must do is learn to stop your thinking.
Identify your negative thoughts.
Change the focus of your thoughts. Avoid talking about these thoughts too much.
Recognize the truth: you’re not your thoughts.
What is it called when you can’t control your thoughts?
Anxiety. It is characterized by causing uncontrollable negative thoughts.
Can we control our subconscious mind?
We cannot control our subconscious, but, we can learn how to stimulate the communication between the conscious and the subconscious minds.
How do I stop having bad thoughts?
Write down your negative thoughts.
Find an alternative to that thought.
Surround yourself with positive people.
Enjoy the positive.
How powerful are your thoughts?
Thoughts are very powerful. Conscious thoughts can manifest in our dreams, in our emotions and actions.
In this article we answered the question ”Can we control our thoughts?’’ and discuss the mental and emotional rewards of trying to control your thoughts when you’re facing life’s challenges.
If you have any questions please let us know!
Academic Mindfulness Interest Group, M., & Academic Mindfulness Interest Group, M. (2006). Mindfulness-based psychotherapies: a review of conceptual foundations, empirical evidence and practical considerations. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 40(4), 285-294.
Christoff, K., Ream, J. M., & Gabrieli, J. D. (2004). Neural basis of spontaneous thought processes. Cortex, 40(4-5), 623-630.
Feeling Your Thoughts. (2015). Retrieved September 25, 2020, from Psychology Today website: