Generated with AI ∙ 5 October 2023 at 7:15 pm
A small thought experiment. Place your mobile phone nearby. Look at it. Can you resist touching it for up to 10 minutes? If you succeed, you’ll receive 10 bucks. Easy-peasy… Obviously, anyone can complete that.
A new task. The same phone. But let’s simplify it a bit. Take it to another room. Your new task is to not think about this phone for 1 minute. If you succeed, you’ll receive 100 dollars.
Completing this task is practically impossible. Because how do you verify that you’re not thinking about the phone? Right, you’d need to… simply think about the phone to check if that thought is in your head. That means you thought about the phone and failed the task.
Regardless of the distance to the phone, regardless of the reward amount, you won’t be able to complete this task.
According to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), one of the sources of our suffering lies in our brain’s tendency to use external world laws in our inner world. Just as we can throw out our phones, we should be able to throw out all “negative” thoughts from our mind.
I believe that around 75% of all client requests are related to this desire: “Help me get rid of negative thoughts, low self-esteem, anger, fear, and anxiety…”. In other words, I have a thought, and I want to get rid of it, just like any physical object. I’ve been trying for a long time, but it doesn’t go away. I am sure, you folks in psychotherapy must have already figured out how to do it. Tell me, how can I get rid of it?
I hope it’s clear that the problem is not that psychotherapists are hiding secret knowledge and only sharing it with clients for a hefty fee. The problem is not that your brain has broken and stopped discarding thoughts, emotions, feelings, and memories at your will. The problem lies in the formulation itself.
To say “I must stop thinking about X, and then I will become happy” is possible. However, achieving it in reality is practically impossible.
This is a note/an exercise at attempting to capture thoughts as they arise. The note can change over time, have links to/from other notes, and grow into a full post. If you found it interesting, subscribe to the newsletter to not miss new publications.