Amidst all my worries about everything, I ran into this book with a very catchy title “Detox Your Thoughts” at Kinokuniya, Siam Paragon. The claims of “Quit Negative Self-Talk for Good and Discover the Life You've Always Wanted” caught my attention right at the moment. Especially during this period, I have caught myself having an internal negative and pessimistic conversation many times. The thought of quitting this habit resonates with me even as I am writing this blog.
Skipping to the conclusion, the book delivered its promise. I have practiced some of the exercises and tips in the book, and I had one miraculous moment of finally being able to smile at a very sad and resentful experience that has bothered me for so long. I hope that through more practices, I can be more at peace with my thoughts.
The delivery of the book is, though not unique, very friendly and catchy. I love it when an author of these psychological self-help book writes things in a normal human language and lighthearted way. The analogies provided in the book were easily relatable for the human of digital age like me. The case examples in the book though were, at times, complicated, but also relatable – for me at least.
As usual, the best way to best present this book is through some key takeaways for me from the book:
Not giving the power to my thoughts
Thoughts themselves have no power unless I give it to them. To stripping the thoughts off the power is to recognize, visualize, where possible, and let it pass. It is also to recognize those negative thoughts have no power on their own, and once I give them recognition and tell them that they too shall pass, they will no longer hold the power to do you harm.
Recognize that body cues from negative thoughts are natural body reaction
Stress and frustration cause the body to react in a certain way, e.g., pit in the stomach, sinking heart feeling, etc. There were times that I experienced those cues and was bothered by them – pushing my depression and anxiety to the next level. The core idea of this topic is to recognize and realize that these body reactions were normal body reactions and let them pass in a similar manner to the previous point.
Draw the line and threshold where I would consider the thoughts “inaccurate and irrelevant”
Negative thoughts can be helpful at times when they make sense. However, it is important to ask myself some key questions when I face those thoughts:
1. Is this thought adding any insight?
2. Is this thought increasing my preparedness or strength?
It can also be helpful to just call out that the thought is INANCCURATE and IRRELEVANT to further strip it of its power.
There are also 5 common things/thoughts that need to be let go:
1. How things should be
2. Vision from the past about myself (how I should have been by now)
3. Past mistakes
4. Goals that no longer serves me
5. Physical artifacts
To make the process of recognizing the negative irrelevant thoughts for what it is, it is easier to equip me with the knowledge of the typical fallacies. I have learned this from many courses both at Chula and INSEAD, but it is always good to remind myself once more anyhow:
1. All or nothing: things can either be good or bad – nothing is grey. This is further amplified by confirmation and negativity bias which filter out the positive things and use the negativities to further confirm the pessimistic anticipation
2. Cognitive dissonance: twisting the reality and facts to the path of least resistance (e.g., making excuse for any good things or bad things that I am facing)
3. Sunk-cost fallacy: not stopping myself from “bad investment” when efforts have already been put in
4. Defense mechanism: when we are uncomfortable with negative thoughts or emotions, we can react to these in unproductive ways:
Denial – rejecting that we feel that way
Projections to others – saying that others are feeling that way
Suppression or repression – suppress the feeling and not thinking about it
Reaction formation – take a big opposite stance
The best way instead is to take a creative path by expressing these emotions through artworks (e.g., painting, writing, etc.) I tried this once as shown in the previous blog and it worked very well!
Don’t run away from discomfort
Instead of running away emotionally, it is better to face it. As we face and let go of emotional discomfort, we become more skillful at navigating emotion and strip the emotion off from any power. It is also important to realize that acknowledging or facing the discomfort or emotion is not the same as acting on it. Loss or anger will remain with us, but we can grow bigger emotionally to embrace them. Perhaps, one day, we will be able to look at it with a smile on our faces.
Happiness beyond just feeling good
We need two types of happiness – hedonic (feeling good) and eudaimonic (sense of autonomy, belonging, and greater-than-self). To achieve eudaimonic, we need to find our “core value” – deeper purpose of activities that energize us.
A few questions to ask myself:
1. What do I want to do in a totally free day?
2. How would I want my life to be summed up?
3. What do I most willing to put effort to?
4. What activities that put me into “flow”?
Opposite of depression isn’t pleasure, it is to engage with fabric of life. We have already paid to be on the road of life, so let’s choose to really live that choice.
Miraculous moment: reframing regret
One of the very cool exercises in this book was to rethink our past regret and try reframing it in such a way that it delivers special meaning to us. I was thinking of a story of my broken friendship that I had posted about so many times last year. When asked to think about the good experience from it, I could definitely recognize a lot of moments of really being happy and the moment that has brought me to painting, which I really still enjoy until now. When asked to think about the bad ones, I can also remember them very clearly. However, thinking through the lens of my value, which I had chosen as “growth – both in myself and others”, I realized that the overall interaction was really in line with my value. I grew as a person, and the relationship, which initially started as me being a coach to him, I had done my best at the time to coach him on the business side of things. Then and there, I could feel a smile on my face. I wish him luck. I was then freed from my regret.
Expressing negative thoughts through creativity
I have read many stories of great artists that have created great pieces of art by expressing their deep dark emotions through brush strokes, words, or vocals. Although I wouldn’t say that I am at the level of creating a world-renown piece of art through my brush strokes, I do believe that I have been able to unleash my emotions, stories, and deeper grunts through arts in any shape or form than just coping with it. The book has mentioned a few lines about this and I do believe that this is a much more productive and effective way – as a coping mechanism at the very least…
New leaf unfurling May not see it grow But glad to have cared for it
Haiku I wrote amidst reflecting on impermanence of life as I was feeling worried about my dad’s situation…
Authenticity – real connection involves imperfection
In the age of social media, creating real connections is much more difficult than before. This was mentioned in the book. On top of that, as I grew older, I also feel that creating a real connection with anyone is much scarier than in the past when I didn’t have to think so much. I realized that, as the book has mentioned quite correctly, to really show the real me, I have to show so many imperfections – the imperfections that I have hidden or misguided people away from.
However, I have learned a very important lesson from my previous depression. For some reason, at that point in time, I just couldn’t stop babbling about my depression. But by showing that side of me, I was able to engage with a lot of people and seeing the more authentic side of them in a way that I have never imagined before. Although I haven’t talked to them in months, I really do appreciate those conversations and the experience. Looking back though, that experience came at risk – but it’s the risk worth taking.
Because of the shallow level of interaction on social media, of course, unless you are a data scientist, it is super easy for us to be so pretentious. I admit I do that a lot. I show mostly my achievement and not my worries. I show only the final output without any failures. I show only the best photo that I look the nicest. This is not to say that all these are wrong, but rather to be aware that everybody else is also doing the same shit. Therefore, comparing our inside – the organic pre-filter side – with someone else’s filtered outside will eventually result in a distorted outcome.
Gratitude, Forgiveness, and Self-forgiveness
I don’t think there is any need to give a dictionary and typical definition of these three words. However, given the context, I think a more context-specific definition is necessary – at least for the first two:
Gratitude = recognition that all parts of life belong to the same whole – good and bad
Forgiveness = relinquishment of hate and revenge but not an abandonment of justice
I like very much the quote in the book that says
Broken hear nonetheless still beats and even has special depth in it
Through my heart-breaking experience and reflecting back in this book, it sure damn is still beating, but it definitely has more depth. I also have grown a lot as a person from that experience.
Both gratitude and forgiveness allow us to be released from the struggle of trying to make things become something else they are not and are not meant to be. This applies to both myself and others. By forgiving others and embracing the situation, I am released from the angst that things are not the way I hope it to be. By forgiving myself and embrace my own imperfection, I am released from the resentment and self-blame – and more importantly, being able to move on and grow from it.
Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that I’m off the hook. But after all the necessities are done, I am allowing myself to move on. So many times, people have already forgotten, but I am the one still stuck in the mud of my own guilt and resentment.
Present you are already enough
The book ended with a chapter that focuses on the importance of the present rather than putting too much emphasis on the future. The points that resonate with me the most are the procrastinations of self-worth and self-care. The procrastination of self-worth is to say that I am not worthy enough until I have achieved “something” or “getting there” in life. The procrastination of self-care is to put everyone else in front of me in terms of care and nourishment.
The truth is there is no point in life when we will suddenly arrive at a place of full comfort and fulfillment. Life typically gets more complex and complicated as we grow older aka as time passes. There will always be the next step. There will always be new people with new needs. Therefore, unless I believe that, I, at this present moment, am worthy and deserve care, there will never be any other future moment that I deserve. The present me is enough.
Satisfaction and self-worth should not be tied to a specific goal post.
The book’s conclusion is summed up very nicely with this quote:
Life is a constant flux. The only way to keep up is to truly listen to self and let self ride the ride – be with the moment
To add on to that, I say:
Allow yourself to feel, do, and live.