Something to think about.
Dr. Amy Johnson, PhD
Your Thoughts and Feelings aren’t “About” Anything
by Dr. Amy Johnson, PhD
As much as it looks like your suffering is caused by something out in the world, it’s not.
Your drinking isn’t about alcohol, and your working-all-day-and-night habit isn’t caused by your type-A personality. Your insecurity isn’t due to your shyness or your weight or the fact that no one encouraged you as a child, and your worry isn’t truly about global warming or trying to fit everything in your carryon.
On the face of it, our inner experiences—our thoughts and emotions—certainly appear to be about the things we’re facing. We feel something + we see something out in the world, and in under a millisecond we’ve assigned the outside event the cause of how we feel.
But it actually works the other way around: the way we view the outside world (including our circumstances, habits, and ourselves) is a reflection of our own state of mind in that moment.
We don’t see something and have some thought about it as much as we have a backdrop of thinking that is always determining what we see.
It’s more like your mind is having an experience, and then justifying that experience by bringing in outside data. Your state of mind is what provides the context for what you think, feel, and do.
You’ll know this is true because a criticism aimed your way on the night the love of your life proposes is easily blown off, while a criticism right after your boss demotes you is crushing. Your feelings aren’t about the criticism, and they aren’t caused by the criticism.
Your feelings are simply what you experience given your state of mind.
This is important.
It’s important to know that your thoughts aren’t about anything because this understanding allows you to stop focusing outside of yourself, trying to solve “problems” around you.
It’s like the quote I shared in Being Human (2013): “Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over your body.”
It’s not going to work that way—focusing on the outside only isn’t going to directly impact the inside. And trying to feel better by changing things in the world around you isn’t going to work consistently or for any length of time either.
The stuff you feel is in you. It’s not you, but it’s occurring within you. It’s not from, due to, or about anything outside.
The more you see that we’re all on this human ride together, experiencing a flowing, fluid ever-changing range of stuff that isn’t necessarily about anything, the easier life gets.
All you ever have to do is relax and wait for your internal landscape to shift. The pendulum will swing in the other direction and you’ll be experiencing some different stuff (which also won’t be about anything in particular) before you know it.
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