Every time we log into Facebook , our newsfeed shows us various posts from our friends. The feed constantly updates and changes as new posts arrive. We see many different types of posts – photos, videos, articles, memes, and simple text updates.
Now, we don’t have any control over which posts show up and from whom in any given moment. Sure, Facebook allows us to “unfollow” or hide posts from a particular person or page, but we can’t really control the specific posts that show up when we log in, what type they are, or in what order they appear. For example, as much as we might wish we could, we can’t tell Facebook we want to see only photos or silly cat memes!
The algorithm Facebook uses to decide what to show on our newsfeed is very simple. If we engage with a particular person’s posts or a type of post (like memes) a lot through “likes” and comments, Facebook will show us more of those posts. If we don’t, Facebook will show us less of them.
Well, our mind works in a very similar way. Over the course of the day, our mind brings us a constant newsfeed of thoughts. It updates and changes moment to moment as new thoughts arrive. Despite what most self-help experts teach, we have no control over what thoughts show up, when they leave, or what type of thoughts we have. It’s safe to say that if researchers are correct in saying we have anywhere from 60,000-70,000 thoughts a day, they’re going to come in all shapes and sizes and all flavors and varieties!
Unlike Facebook, we don’t have the option to “unfollow” or hide our thoughts. We can’t tell our mind that we only want shiny happy positive thoughts and to never show us negative, “bad” ones.
To many people, it might sound discouraging or even depressing that we don’t have that ability. But the good news is: we don’t need to.
Remember the Facebook algorithm – we see more of the posts we engage with. Not because Facebook decides they’re cool posts we should see or helpful or better than other posts. Facebook itself doesn’t judge whether a post is good or not. Facebook sends us more posts like the ones we click on because it thinks we want to see them because we’re clicking on them.
The same is true for our mind. Our mind doesn’t judge whether a thought is good or bad, helpful or harmful. Thoughts are neutral by nature – we’re the ones who assign them meaning and value. And when we engage with a thought, our mind thinks we’re interested and want to see it, so it shows us more thoughts like it.
If we have thoughts that keep showing up in our head and we’re not interested in seeing more of them, the solution is disarmingly simple: all we need to do is stop clicking on the thoughts.
We don’t need to learn “thought stopping” exercises or other mental strategies. We don’t need to write our thoughts out on paper or challenge them. We don’t need to analyze them, get to the “root” of them, or find better, more positive thoughts to replace them with.
All we need to “do” is understand how the system works.
Remember, when we log into Facebook, it doesn’t scream at us, “YOU HAVE TO LIKE OR COMMENT ON EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THESE POSTS OR ELSE!!!” We always have the option to simply scroll past any post.
In a similar way, just because a thought is there doesn’t mean we have to engage or do something with it. And just because a thought is there doesn’t mean we actually think that or that it has any truth or value. It sure may not look or feel this way sometimes, but we are NOT being held hostage by our thoughts. We’re always free to scroll past, knowing that fresh, new thought is right around the corner.
Once we realize for ourselves that not clicking or commenting on every thought is actually an option, things get really cool. At first, they might still show up a lot, especially if we’ve been engaging with them for some time. But over time – and sooner than we often imagine – we get less and less of them. Like a bully, when our thoughts stop getting the engagement and reaction they’re used to, they just stop coming around as often.
Because we can’t control our thoughts (part of that whole “being human” thing), the unwanted or unhelpful thoughts will probably still show up here and there from time to time, just like I still see the occasional post from people I don’t engage with much on Facebook. But because we know how the system works, we know we don’t have to engage just because it’s there. We begin to see our self-doubt and negative self-talk for what it is. And we know we have a built-in, foolproof system for knowing when our thinking is overheating or starting to take us off the road. We’ll feel even less inclined to engage, and we can say to ourselves, “What else you got for me, Mind?”, knowing that we’re always a thought away from a whole new way of seeing and being in the world.
It really is that easy. Cool, huh?