Are Your Thoughts Useful?

Photo by Anthony Tori on Unsplash
“We suffer more in imagination than in reality.” 
― Seneca

For the past decade, negative thoughts have flooded my brain. They kept me stuck in the past and held me hostage thinking about all the negative things which may or may not happen.

These negative thoughts locked me into a cycle of depression and anxiety. My anxiety led to a deepening depression, and the depression led to increased anxiety. It became a never-ending cycle of despair and misery with a few good times mixed in just to tease me. And what kept me in this cycle had a lot to do with all the negative thoughts I experienced.

My life might have looked good from the outside, but I was miserable. I worked in a job I hated and had no self-confidence. I struggled with self-doubt and was going through life like a robot. On auto-pilot.

However, over the past year, my life has changed. I lost the job I hated. I sought help for my depression and anxiety. And now, my negative thoughts are no longer controlling me or my life. My mind is clearer and my thoughts more positive.

I’ve learned the mind is an incredible thing. It can be your greatest asset or your worst enemy. It can give you freedom or it can keep you trapped in the endless negative thought cycle.

The mind is a source of power or misery. It’s either your strength or your weakness.

“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” 
― Epictetus

I’ve also learned to recognize the impact of my thoughts and notice the type of thoughts I’m having — negative or positive.

So now when I think negatively, I look at and rationalize what I’m thinking about and ask myself, “Are these thoughts useful?”

Most of the time, many of the thoughts are useless. There is no purpose for them other than just thinking or worrying. If you find yourself thinking useless thoughts, recognize them for what they are and realize they are unnecessary. Unnecessary thoughts lead to unnecessary actions.

The thoughts that are useful are the ones that solve problems.

Yet, many of us allow circumstances beyond our control to influence our thoughts. We worry about what will happen and we are burdened by thoughts of the past.

Imagining worst-case scenarios in our head and getting into the habit of anticipating things which may not occur are also common. And we exaggerate past actions. We worry about things which are uncertain — and that literally means not certain. There is no way to tell whether it will happen — but we still obsess over uncertainties and what-if scenarios.

A lot of these negative thoughts we have are about ourselves. We struggle with self-doubt, self-worth, insecurity and a myriad of other negative thoughts about who we are. It is learned over time from others, and from our experiences.

The bad news is we can’t totally eliminate negative thoughts. You will always have these thoughts. It’s impossible to always think positive. But we can be aware of the negative thoughts and notice the negativity.

We also can’t eliminate feelings. You will feel emotions when something happens. But your thoughts based on those emotions are something you can control with practice. Everything is what it is according to how you judge it and how you think about it.

The good news is, with practice, you can learn how to recognize and begin to control your thoughts. Asking yourself, “Are these thoughts useful” is a good way to begin.

And once you start to understand how your brain and thoughts affect your daily life, it can be an awakening — an awakening which many of us need.

As with any mental health issue, there are always exceptions to any advice regarding learning to control your thoughts or brain chemistry. This is not a one stop cure for anything. It’s one tool in a large toolbox. For me, therapy, medication, running, and being able to recognize my thought patterns have helped me tremendously, but everyone is different.

If you liked this article, you may also like this one: