Authors : AMÉLIE SEIDAH PH. D. ET ISABELLE GENINET PH. D, PSYCHOLOGISTS
Have you ever noticed how many thoughts go through your head in a day?
“Am I going to be late?”
“Will I manage to hand in my assignment on time?”
Even though we can’t control the thoughts that come into our head, we can control how we react to them. Because not all our thoughts are important, valid, useful or deserving of our attention. Instead of believing everything our head tells us, we can learn to question our thoughts.
Distinguishing useful thoughts from parasitic ones
Want some examples of useful thoughts?
“I should start studying for my history exam that’s coming up in a few days’’ or
“I miss my friend Léa… I’ll text her tonight”.
These thoughts draw our attention to a need that exists in the “here-and-now” and motivate us to act. They encourage us to find solutions.
On the other hand, thoughts such as:
“I’m really dumb to have made such a mistake”, or “There’s no point in trying, I’ll never make it”,
only cause misery. They are what are called parasitic thoughts: they take over our mind and drain our energy.
These thoughts aren’t useful because they are based on an action in the past or a future situation that hasn’t occurred yet.
They don’t help us find solutions to problems. On the contrary, they tend to drag us down and paralyze us.
Controlling parasitic thoughts: 2 possible strategies
The problem with parasitic thoughts is that we give them too much importance. But not all our thoughts are important, valid, useful and worth paying attention to. Instead of believing everything our head tells us, we can learn to question our thoughts.
The idea here isn’t to force ourselves to think differently, but rather to train ourselves to ask questions about our thoughts.
We can do this by:
• asking if they are accurate, true and useful.
• becoming more nuanced in what we feel.
Doing this should become a reflex!
Questioning our parasitic thoughts
Here are examples of questions that you can regularly ask yourself to make your parasitic thoughts more nuanced :
• What proves that this thought is true?
• Are there elements that prove to me that the opposite is true?
• Is there another possible explanation?
• What would I say to a friend who had the same thought as me?
• What’s the worst case scenario?
• And if the worst happened, would I be able to get through it?
• How does this thought affect my mood?
• Does this thought help me feel better?
When faced with parasitic thoughts, we can also learn how to become an “observer” of our thoughts, and simply watch them come and go, without thinking about their content. To do so, you can do the following little exercise:
Learn about the contributors’ book
TOUT savoir pour composer avec les turbulences à l’adolescence – Isabelle Geninet & Amélie Seidah Ph. D Psychologists
This practical guide aims to help teens get to know themselves better, develop better critical thinking and improve their self-observation skills. Using concrete strategies and helpful advice, teens will learn how to cultivate a positive attitude (e.g. openness, curiosity, flexibility) and, above all, understand the importance of taking action. And this, in turn, will help them feel better equipped to deal with life’s ups and downs… and cope with the emotional turbulence of adolescence!