Kemar Meaningful Directions

Kemar Meaningful Directions

There are parts of our mental experience that we can control, for example, we can think on purpose; like when planning a holiday, or needing to problem solve a situation, or when making an important decision. And there are parts of our mental experience that we have no control over; like when a past painful memory pops up, or when we give ourselves a harsh self-judgement (e.g “I’m such an idiot”), or we have unhelpful thoughts (e.g. “this won’t work, why bother”) – and usually these kinds of thoughts or memories just turn up in our minds uninvited and sometimes without rhyme or reason!

This time of year, as we head into the festive season and the social gatherings amp up, you might be noticing some self-critical judgements and thoughts arising, such as:

  • “Why did I eat so much Christmas pudding, I am so fat”
  • “My presents were so crap compared to what others gave”
  • “I’m so stupid for making that comment about Aunty Pat”
  • “I drank so much & probably made a fool of myself”
  • “How embarrassing – my kid is out of control”
  • “I don’t look as nicely dressed as others”
  • “My turkey was so dry, I knew I’d stuff that up – I’m so useless”
  • “I’m a horrible person for losing my temper with my sister”
  • “Why did I say that at the work Christmas party – everyone must be thinking I’m awful”.

Often harsh and negative thoughts about what we’ve done, our appearance or behaviours are pretty typical. These kinds of thoughts just show up automatically, without us even realising.

And what do we tend to do when these automatic thoughts pop up? We listen to them. And then we often get caught up in them and spend a lot of energy trying to make sense of them, find meaning in them, and perhaps over analysing them. We call this ‘getting hooked’.

The problem with getting hooked on automatic thoughts is that we can start to attach ourselves to them and start believing them to be true – and this is particularly bothersome if the thoughts are self-critical or unhelpful. For example, if you often get automatic thoughts about being a ‘bad mum’, then overtime you are going to start thinking this is true.

And even though this type of thinking is common and normal for all of us, it can be really hard to unhook ourselves from these negative thoughts, especially when we get so caught up in them. However, when this happens, we disconnect from our loved ones and our ability to engage fully in the world around us.

So, what do people normally do when negative thoughts arise? They often try to control them in some way in order to get rid of them. For instance…if we were to liken getting automatic thoughts to when your stomach rumbles; then imagine trying to stop your stomach from rumbling. A process that is occurring within your body that you have no control over when it will occur, and unlikely to be able to stop it just by spending time and energy trying to control it. The amount of time and effort used trying to control or stop your stomach from rumbling could have been better spent elsewhere. After all, even if your stomach rumbles from time to time it doesn’t have to interfere with your day. You wouldn’t beat yourself up for having a rumbling stomach, or feel bad, or allow it to ruin your day. So why do we allow automatic thoughts to do this to us?

The issue is many of us believe that we can control these negative automatic thoughts. That we can actually stop them, or distract ourselves from them, or frame them in a more positive light. However, if these approaches were so useful, then why do these negative thoughts still turn up?

Wouldn’t it be nice to know some really effective ways of managing these thoughts when they arise? Well a better alternative than trying to control automatic thoughts, is to not give these thoughts much time at all, then they can just pass on by, and you can continue on with your day and avoid wasting time, energy, and unnecessary suffering. Let’s go back to the rumbling stomach metaphor….it would be ridiculous if you tried to stop your stomach from rumbling. Yes, perhaps you might go and get some food because you’re hungry, but ultimately if you were in the middle of doing something important where you couldn’t go and get food, you would likely just accept that your stomach is rumbling and continue with whatever task you were in the middle of doing. You wouldn’t sit there each time your stomach rumbles and try to change it, or stop it, or think about it, or over analyse it. Your attention might be drawn to the fact that your stomach just rumbled, but you would likely just acknowledge it, and then be able to return to the task at hand, relatively quickly, without getting hooked on it, and without it ruining whatever it was that you were doing. And this is how we need to approach automatic thoughts that pop up.

This sounds easier said than done, but creating some distance and relief from negative and unhelpful thoughts is possible, and with practice you can achieve this!

The first step is to simply ‘acknowledge’ when you notice that you are getting hooked on your automatic thoughts. Then the next step is to ‘unhook’. You can do this in a number of ways, but a simple technique is just to say “thanks mind”. You can thank your mind for doing it’s job – after all it just wants what is best for you and is ultimately trying to protect you. Another technique is known as Naming the Story. You can do this by noticing if the automatic thought is a common theme that you tend to get hooked on (for example, thoughts about being a bad mum). If that is the case, you can say to yourself “Ah huh, there’s that good old story – ‘The I’m a Bad Mum Story’. Both of these techniques mentioned will help to create a little bit of distance from the thought and help you return to doing something more meaningful in your day, instead of getting all caught up in negativity.

Just because a thought pops up, doesn’t mean it deserves our attention or is in fact worth listening to. Knowing which thoughts to listen to, and which ones we shouldn’t listen to, can also be hard to decipher. Some questions you can ask yourself if you are unsure is:

  • Is this thought in any way useful or helpful?
  • Is this an old thought? Have I heard this one before? Do I gain anything useful from listening to it again?
  • Does this thought help me take effective actions to improve my life?
  • What would I get for believing this thought?


So, this festive season, remember that you are NOT your thoughts. You are simply an observer of your thoughts, you can ‘unhook’ from them and let them come and go as they please, just like a rumbling stomach. And as Dan Millman says – ‘You don’t have to control your thoughts. You just have to stop letting them control you’.