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Some Food for Thought

The following is adapted from two posts done more than a year ago on my "New Ideas Blog," and it is intended to get you thinking. Both concepts have to do with mental habits that perhaps all of us have to some extent. We start with a look at how we dwell on the past or on the future, or on our ideas about these.

Worthless Mental Movies

Suppose a man went to the movie theater almost every day to see the same bad movie, even though he did not enjoy the experience. Most people would think there is something wrong or unhealthy about his behavior. You might agree. But despite seeing this as "crazy" or strange, you might also (like most of us) revisit our own terrible internal movies again and again.


What do I mean by this? I mean that we tend to mentally replay past events that we regret or imagine future scenarios that may or may not happen, but in any case cause us to feel stress. Often we justify this habit as a matter of "learning from our mistakes so we don't make them again," even though this doesn't seem to be the result. We might feel that by dwelling on our past we can "pay" some price that absolves our guilt, though simply not doing it again might be a better idea. We may even feel that we can somehow "fix" our problems by torturing ourselves with bad memories and imagined future scenarios, even though this doesn't seem to have worked previously.

In fact, for all of our excuses and justifications, we don't get many positive results from replaying scary or stressful memories and scenarios in our minds. You probably can't think of a single case where you've seen another person improve his or her life by focusing on such disturbing "mental movies." In fact, you might even discourage friends from such "dwelling on the past," or "imagining all the things that can go wrong." Yet, if you are like most humans, you probably still walk into that theater on a regular basis.

Here are a few questions to ponder as you think about this:

1. Do you ever run memories through your mind only to once again feel the pain that comes with regret?

2. Do you ever imagine all the bad things (or just some of them) that could happen if you try something new?

3. Is it possible that you can choose not to engage in these mental behaviors?

4. Why do we actually return to our disturbing mental movies, and what does that suggest about how we can stop?

Self-Image and Objective Thought

The tendency to create and defend a mental "self" gets in the way of objectivity (to the extent that it is possible to be objective). Consider the fact that we can often predict some people's behavior better than they can themselves. Jane will be late, though she thinks she'll be on time. Mike is excited about the new get-rich-quick MLM business he's in, but his friends all think he'll be out of it in a year–and they're right. The thinking done by Jane and Mike is essentially flawed when it comes to predicting their own behavior.

Of course this applies to all of us. We are subject to this process of ego-thought, and we don't see things as clearly (objectively) when they involve our self-image. Upon reading this, some people's first thought will be "that's not true in my case!" or something similar. That immediate reactive need to defend one's self shows how true it is. Wouldn't a more rational response be to say or think, "Hmm, do I have this problem? Do I distort things that pertain to my sense of self?"

Perhaps it is possible that you have investigated this thoroughly and found that you are indeed the rare individual who is truly objective at all times. But unless you have actually done this "interior work" and done it well, any quick "not me" is premature, and a great example of the forces that distort our view of reality whenever it touches on our view of ourselves.

Now, as I will often do with these posts meant to provoke thought, I will leave you with several questions:

1. In what areas is faulty or less-objective thinking due to self-image most likely to occur?

2. How can we recognize the effect and correct it in ourselves?

3. Is there some advantage to this thought-distortion?

4. Could we create a test to see who has a less-developed self-image, and if we then tested people in that category, would we find that they are more objective in their thinking about personal matters?

5. Meditation and other practices that are (in part) meant to help us "let go" of the created self, might result in clearer, more objective thought, but how would we test this hypothesis?

I hope that this food for thought is digestible and not too unpalatable. I also hope you can derive some "mental nutrition" from it. And I apologize for the overabundance of metaphors, but I am a writer, not a psychologist.

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