Who Do You Let Inside Your Head?
By Beth Bracale
Someone knocks at your door. You open it to find your worst nightmare standing there, looking hopeful. The neighbor who’s on the registered sex-offender list. The blind date you narrowly escaped with your sanity intact. Or maybe your ex-mother-in-law - and she’s carrying an ax. Do you open the door?
Of course not. Just because they showed up, doesn’t mean you have to let them in. It might surprise you to realize you have the same control over what thoughts you entertain. I mentioned the idea to a friend one day, and I thought she was going to hit me. “That’s not true!” she exclaimed. “Thoughts just pop into your head!”
Well, yes, they do, for the most part. But you get to choose what you do with them. If you spent time mulling over each thought that showed up at your mental door throughout the day, you’d never get anything else done. You already, quite naturally, acknowledge some thoughts and then quickly dismiss them, often by taking an immediate action. An example might be, “The milk carton is empty.” You throw it away, and either open another one, or write it on your grocery list. Done. Other thoughts you simply ignore, like the random idea that your cat might benefit from a bath. (If you’ve ever given a cat a bath, you’ll know why.)
I learned about entertaining ideas from my mother. I don’t remember what less-than-stellar suggestion I had made, but she responded, “That’s not an idea you should entertain.” In other words, don’t even think about it.
I got to thinking about entertaining ideas instead. It implied spending time with them, getting to know them, going out of my way to get them to stay in my mind. Maybe there were different levels of thought entertainment. Some ideas I might invite to spend the night, so to speak, while others I would only take to the theoretical movies. Still others, like my ax-wielding ex-mother-in-law, I wouldn’t even give the time of day.
I created some questions to help me decide which thoughts to entertain, and which to just let glide on by. You might have different criteria, so you may want to create questions of your own.
1. Is it helpful, harmful, or neutral?
2. If I can’t think about it now, is it important enough to make a note to revisit it later?
3. Will it make any difference an hour from now?
4. Does it stress me out? (Some stressful thoughts have to be addressed, but if it doesn’t, out it goes. Life is stressful enough without adding to the discomfort.)
5. Does it make me happy? Or at least leave me feeling content?
Notice I didn’t list, “Is it realistic?” Some of my best ideas didn’t seem realistic at first, but I chose to invite them in for coffee anyway.