How to deal with the 'junk mail' in your head
We’ve all experienced it.
That little voice in our heads which pops up from time to time: “I’m not good enough”; “They’re not going to like me”; “I can’t do this”. These kind of thoughts can not only impact on our professional lives, but our personal ones too. So, what can we do to with these thoughts and how does this all relate to junk mail? Well, this is where I’m going to share a simple technique with you that might help.
Now, a small change of tack, and bear with me here...I’d like you to think about the postal service for a moment. Imagine that we classify mail within three categories: good, necessary and junk. The 'good' mail is the material that comes through our door that we like...the birthday cards, the online orders that have finally arrived, or the rarely seen tax refund from HMRC. The 'necessary' mail are the bills we have to pay, that doctor's appointment we’ve been putting off or the form we need to complete. Finally, the 'junk' mail...it’s bright, enticing and asks us to open it. "You’ve won a million pounds!" it screams, "just open me up!" We’re intrigued and may open it up to look a little closer, but inevitably we realise it’s junk and have wasted our time.
So, how does this all relate to the way that I think and how can it help me? Well, we can think of our thoughts like the mail that comes through our letterbox. We have good thoughts - “I’m a great son”, “I did really well today”, “I’m good at my job”. We then have necessary thoughts - “I need to go to work today”, “That bill needs to be paid”, “I have to get some food for dinner”. Finally, there are the junk thoughts - “I’m a bad father”, “They hate me”, “I can’t do anything right”.
Just like the junk mail that comes through our door, we all experience thoughts like these from time to time. We may put a sign up outside our door saying “NO JUNK MAIL”, yet it still arrives through our letterboxes. We may try and control our thoughts, but this proves an impossible task. Here’s an example: try not to think of a pink elephant sitting in front of you right now. Do whatever you can to not think about a pink elephant in front of you. You’re thinking of a pink elephant aren’t you?
So what’s the answer? Well, firstly awareness. Just knowing this system helps us to start to classify our thoughts in different ways. We no longer accept that ‘thoughts are facts’. Just like we don’t believe that we’ve won £1 million, we start to doubt the junk that gets delivered in our head such as “you’re not good enough”. Knowing this technique helps us to sort our thoughts, just like mail. If we split the mail that comes through our door into piles of good, necessary and junk, it means that we can pay more attention to opening the mail we want or need and throw the junk away. Being aware of what is junk helps us to prioritise our time and focus on what we care about.
You may be thinking: “this doesn’t fix my junk mail problem.. it’s still coming through the door”. You’re right, it doesn’t stop the junk mail coming through the door, just like we can’t stop unhelpful thoughts from coming into our heads. Remember the pink elephant from earlier? The point is that we can’t control our thoughts. What we can do is have an awareness of those which are junk or, using a different word...unhelpful. We can choose not to open them and take away the power they have over us by classifying them as what they are - junk. So, what if I’m not sure whether a thought is necessary mail or junk? The simple answer is that, if it’s not helpful, then it’s junk.
This is a very simple technique to try and one that every single one of us can use. Next time one of those junk mail thoughts enters your head, see it for what it is - junk. Notice what happens to the thought and after a while you’ll notice less and less junk gets delivered. It may not stop, but just because it’s being delivered, doesn’t mean we have to open it.
If you’ve got any thoughts or comments, feel free to write below or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
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About Ilan Ben-Zion
Hi, I’m Ilan! I’m a Chartered Clinical Psychologist and Director of The Oak Tree Practice. I believe that as psychologists it is our duty to share our knowledge with the world via articles such as this.
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