William Liao

November 6, 2021

Unsubscribing from helpful thoughts

Some thoughts are helpful: 

The belief that you can grow — i.e. growth mindset a la Carol Dweck— is helpful. 

The belief that the challenge in front of you and your team is solvable is probably helpful. 

There’s another class of thoughts, however, that are inconvertibly unhelpful: 

Worries about a situation that is out of your control — probably not helpful. 

Thoughts that are disproportionately concerned with what’s wrong versus how to make things better — again, probably not super helpful. 

Of course, no one wishes unhelpful thoughts upon themselves. If we could turn off counterproductive thoughts or feelings of frustration, worry, and angst when they arise, we absolutely would. 

So the question is, where is the power — if any — in knowing that some lines of thinking are more useful than others? 

In a word: recognition

When you’re able to recognize and say to yourself, “what I’m thinking isn’t helpful,” two things happen:

  1. The half-life of your thoughts becomes much shorter — instead of being along for the ride, you realize that nothing is forcing you to maintain your current line of thinking. 
  2. You give yourself permission to think differently.

Being able to effectively recognize the quality of your thinking is not easy and takes a fair amount of practice. 

In his book The Happiness Trap, Dr. Russ Harris suggests a useful technique for building distance from unhelpful thoughts by saying, “I notice that I am having the thought that…” 

The idea is that by inserting those 9 words, it becomes easier to recognize your thoughts as thoughts (as strange as that sounds) and to disengage from them when they’re not serving you. 

In summary: 

Some thoughts are unhelpful. When we recognize these thoughts, we can unsubscribe from them. In unsubscribing from them, we can choose to think in a more helpful way. 

Easy to say; often hard to do. 

But 100% doable (and worth it).