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Inviting A Great Idea In For Coffee

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.
 
Perpetuating thoughts is a form of entertaining. I noticed recently that when I get angry, I spend a lot of time working on staying angry. It was the morning my cat threw tuna up on the completed job application I was to take to an interview in less than an hour. Amazingly, I was able to get calm enough to notice the furious thoughts racing through my head. There was a chance I could still get this job, but not if I went storming into the interview in my current mood. I had fifteen minutes before I would be shaking hands with my interviewer. I needed to calm. down. now.

While I drove to my appointment, I observed the thoughts swarming through my mind like a bunch of angry bees. “I am so furious! Of all the places for the cat to throw up! Why did I put the application on the bottom stair, instead of on the table? Why did I feed the cat tuna today? What was I thinking? What was the cat thinking? Stupid cat! I bet she did it on purpose. She was probably mad because I locked her out of the bedroom so I could get dressed without getting cat hair all over my suit. I am so angry. Livid! Gosh, I’m angry. I am so stinking angry. I can’t believe that cat threw up on my job application. Now I’m never going to get this job. I’ll probably never work again. Stupid cat! I am so angry! Why did I feed her tuna? She will never get tuna again in this lifetime. Man, I am so ANGRY!” And on, and on, and on….

I realized I needed to cut the angry – and by this time, pretty boring - thought loop short and focus instead on how to deal with the problem. I could get through this interview, but nothing in my previous rant addressed how to do so. I stopped ranting and came up with a plan.

I’d love to tell you that I ended up getting the job. I didn’t, but I learned “a valuable lesson.” (Another Mom-ism.) I can control my thoughts. I can also control what I feed my cat on interview day.
 
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