By Lela Robinson
Thoughts have a tendency to run away with themselves taking a variety of routes, some leading us to creative, critical, or brilliant ideas, others taking us to no destination in particular, only to dull contemplation. There are certain courses, however, dragging us on uphill marathons, stealing the last agonizing breath from the lungs, and replacing it with an utter exhaustion completely enveloping every fiber within the body. Imbued in negative energy, these thoughts incessantly nag and berate us as they traverse our brains. It is when these streams of consciousness distract us from the positive or contemplative thoughts that they become “extra.” Often uncontrollable, they seek to harm and draw attention away from our more valued contemplations. Extra thoughts are personal, and ingrain themselves within the existing patterns of thinking we tether ourselves to as perpetual and recurring doubts. Some extra thoughts take up small chunks of our day, infrequent and sporadic lapses. Others flow steadily through our brains, doling out consistent torment, infesting our neural pathways, creating a fabricated state of disturbance. These thoughts interrupt one’s presence of mind, steal away self-esteem, and form a customized state of demeaning and humiliating abuse.
Extra thoughts commandeer a considerable amount of power and influence over our lives, but is it inevitable, and must we always succumb to these pressures? How can anyone find appreciation for anything, including themselves, when chained to an iron ball of self-doubt dragging capability and self-assuredness beneath the surface?
It is possible to distract ourselves from extra thoughts, which may help us to shift our focus onto caring for others when our own thoughts inhibit us from doing it for ourselves. Holding the door, looking someone in the eye, even feigning a smile—these small acts of kindness may in turn increase our own sense of security and temporarily wash away harbored negativities. This may alleviate the chronic effect of extra thoughts, lessening the amount of mental energy expended on them and derailing them so that we can focus instead on those around us.
Remember when that unreasonably practical and unrelatable adult in your life justified enduring hardships with the tiresome platitude that suffering builds character? Try and find it in yourself to see reason in this, as the cliché lends itself to an ability to build empathy and humility. When extra thoughts cause pain, they simultaneously lessen critical judgments we may hold against others. Not unlike a language or any other skill, it is with increased exposure and tangible and related experiences that we improve both our fluency and our ability to engage more meaningfully in troubling occurrences. Enduring self-doubt, even as it knocks us down, is a form of experiential learning providing the necessary skills to build compassion for others, to understand unhappiness on a deeper level, and to somehow work with rather than around the obstacles extra thoughts present.
Is it annoyingly optimistic to think we can avoid these extra thoughts? Maybe—but maybe there’s a way we can acknowledge the extra thoughts that will never completely go away while using them as tools instead of letting them rule our consciousness. It may take somewhat of a rebellious attitude, but viewing these thoughts as challenges to overcome could make us more resilient. Easier said than done, but maybe we can trick ourselves into thinking these thoughts are supplementary as opposed to extra.