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By Brianna Wiest
The paradox of choice is never so fascinating as it is in the context of mental and emotional autonomy. For those unfamiliar, it’s Barry Schwartz’s theory that the more options that are available to us, the unhappier we are.
People fiercely reject the idea that their happiness is a choice, and ultimately, that’s a product of just not believing they’re actually capable of making it, and that’s a product of simply not knowing how.
So here, we’re going to talk about what the hell it means to “choose what you think about,” (and therefore, feel) in the simplest way possible.
You don’t choose what thoughts cross your mind, but you do choose what thoughts you assign meaning to.
Everybody with a brain experiences doubt, and occasionally has a disturbingly dark idea that they quickly brush off. Everybody struggles with unworthiness or confusion or thinking they’re “lost.” The difference is that some people take stock in these ideas, and others don’t. Some people base their actions, opinions, or long-standing perspectives on them, and others don’t.
In other words: You can’t control what thoughts come up, but you can control which ones you identify with.
If you don’t identify with something more, you will believe yourself to be the combination of your thoughts, feelings and traits. Those things are aspects, and expressions of who you are, but that’s all. Why? Because thoughts come and go, so do feelings. Traits shift and change. Yet the person experiencing them is a constant. That’s you!
Why is it important not to identify with your thoughts? Because when you think you are them, you attach to them.
Rather than “I feel sick,” it becomes, “I am sick.” When you attach who you are to how you think, you run the risk of becoming mentally intertwined with random thoughts that would have just passed if you let them.
So the moral of the story is: you can’t always choose what you feel, but you can choose what you do about that feeling.
Like thoughts, the way to choose a feeling is not to force your body into experiencing a certain sensation, or to suppress or reject anything you don’t want. It’s simply getting smart about what to do when different emotions crop up. Sometimes, the answer is just to let yourself feel, and allow them to burn through you. Sometimes, the answer is to take action. The point is that rather than your emotions controlling your life, with practice, they can become something that guides your life (which is their essential function regardless.)
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