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The digital age has conditioned an increased frenzy in our social dynamics.
Information and misinformation spread faster than understanding, hit us harder than we are able to digest, and leave us in various states of anxiety and overwhelm.
When we focus on what’s causing our upsets, we are often told, “just don’t think about it.” Many times, in direct response to our visible and audible pain. I’ve heard it a million times and more, and I’ve also said it, because so often, it’s better to let bad energy go. Don’t feed it attention. Think happy thoughts. “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” right?
Except that a lot of the advice we receive to make us feel better is fundamentally flawed. “Don’t think about it,” as innocent as it is often intended to be, is a prime example.
In my experience, there are three types of people who will tell us, “don’t think about it:”
First are the friends and family who are protective of us, and simply do not want to see us suffering or in pain. Here, “don’t think about it” is a line that works like a pacifier. It’s meant to calm us down at that very moment, perhaps to halt our otherwise mounting pain or emotions, but it’s not meant for us to stay there. At best, it’s damage prevention, like a stop sign when we’re driving too fast.
But how do we become a better driver, if we are permanently parked? And what is life when we are parked at a stop sign?
The second type of people who will tell us, “don’t think about it” are those who, simply, aren’t equipped to advise us better. Emotions are often too raw, messy, uncontrollable, and delicate for the untrained to handle. This is why therapists, psychotherapists, coaches, and in some ways, artists, have the careers they do—they are constantly working in areas that most find uncomfortable. They get paid to think about the things we are told to not think about. Because, let’s be real, most people don’t explore territories they are not familiar with.
“Don’t think about it” is seemingly neutral, but what they are really saying is, “I don’t know what to tell you, so let’s just nix these thoughts altogether.” We shun and reject what we don’t know. Self-preservation has programmed us this way.
When listening to people who perhaps don’t know the right path to take us on, this might take years off of our lives. It’s not on us that they are not capable of offering better advice, but it’s on us if we choose to listen and follow people whose own life experience hasn’t afforded them the views and insight that we need.
It’s easier now than ever to choose to not deal with our pain, to choose to be distracted, to choose avoidance, to ghost. Most people have a difficult time dealing with their own pain, so telling us, “don’t think about it” also brings comfort to them because now they have company in not facing the hard things they should be facing.
Sadly, a lot of the advice we receive from nonprofessionals serve more to confirm and strengthen their own choices than it does to help or strengthen us. No one is to blame. We’re all just trying to figure things out, and no one has all the answers. But we can file this advice away, as “does not help.”
Would you think twice about taking someone else’s prescription pills? Think of receiving advice as these prescriptions; take note of where it came from, the doctor’s credentials, side effects, and how often it should be applied.
The third type of people who will feed us this piece of sh*tty advice are more sinister than the aforementioned. These are the people who want us to not think because they benefit from our empty minds, which they can then fill with whatever serves their interests.
Our minds and our feelings are what make us who we are—they feed off each other, and make us vulnerable, but also powerful. Where power is concerned, its distribution splits us into those who benefit versus those who are “owned,” bought, or controlled, in some way. Contrary to all the empowering campaigns we see, it serves more interests to keep us disempowered because we are better consumers and better workers this way. When we are whole and thinking, we become difficult to manage.
Brainwashing and mind control are all extremes of this practice. On the milder side, influencers wield power because they tell us what to think, or what not to think.
The way we think about things is what makes us interesting. It’s how we live and how we own the life we have. It’s how we discern what’s best for us in the self-help aisles full of book covers that tell us contradicting things. Doing more or less, saying yes or no, without truly delving into the psychology that explains our behavior, doesn’t help us heal or be fully present in the feelings that merit our attention and curiosity. “Don’t think about it” is literally the opposite of being mindful.
In fact, it undermines it, and pushes the mindful life further away.
How many times have we been told, “don’t think about it” but not thinking about it doesn’t remove the hole it’s left us with? In a dark room, we don’t see where there are gaps or holes in the house we live in, but the moment we have a bit of light, everything becomes clear.
“Don’t think about it” doesn’t heal us—it’s how we cripple ourselves. Imagine if we tasted something awful and the advice we got is to remove our taste buds. Thinking—the ability to reason—is what separates and elevates us from other animals. When we don’t think about things, we are practicing dissociation. We leave out loose ends to catch on fire. We don’t get the closure that, so often, gives us the peace we desire.
“Don’t think about it” is an easy cop-out. But are we aware that we are the ones putting blinders on ourselves and pretending pain points do not exist? How could we ever reach deep realizations when we avoid even the superficial? When we never truly confront what went wrong, how can we reach resolution? When we “don’t think about it” we are simply delaying our next mistake.
I’ve always been called an old soul, so I’ll cement that statement further by ending this piece with a repetition of what Socrates died for: “the unexamined life is not worth living.”
Some advice simply does the job of a painkiller, but true healing doesn’t come from a pill or a blinder. It’s hard to think about the things that diminish us and damage us. Believe me, I wouldn’t have numbed myself for years if it were easy to face it all. There were plenty of things I didn’t think about for years, but this path doesn’t lead us to a place of empowerment because emotions, like most organic things, don’t store well.
A dear friend introduced me to the book, Lucid Body by Fay Simpson, and this is the paragraph I reread often:
“If the mind stores grief, the body stores it somewhere, and emotions don’t store well. They fester and wreak havoc with your organs. What emotions do well is express themselves…When multiple suppressions eventually become habit, the contracted muscles actually pull the bones out of alignment.”
When we’ve trained ourselves to “not think about things,” our misalignment will show up in our bodies. There’s a price we pay for everything, including, or rather, particularly, the easy things in life.
Take time to reflect. Take time to locate our feelings and sources of pain. Take time to think. Take ownership of our thoughts. Refuse to let those who hurt us, make us less of who we are. Refuse to let our fear of pain turn us into an empty vessel. Refuse to forfeit our power.
These are all much healthier alternatives than shutting down and choosing to be numb or distracted. Because “don’t think about it” is the first step of forfeiting who we are, and imagine, just for a moment, what could we possibly perpetuate, when we are “unthinking?”
“Don’t think about it” doesn’t make us immune to pain—it robs us of the very human experience our feelings and intuition exist for.
Let’s do better than to repeat this onto others we care for. And let’s know better than to take this piece of advice and use it to cross out all our efforts to lead a mindful life.