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
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
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 yearand 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
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
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
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.