This may seem like an odd title because we think all the time don’t we? However, it is a subject I return to time and again in my reflections about what is said to me during a counselling session. People say to me: “You tell me how important it is to think but I don’t know how to think and what to say. Even if I can tell you what I’m thinking how will that help me to feel better?”
This is a question I have had put to me in many guises in the room. Of course at times it is an attack on me, on the process of counselling. Often the idea of thinking about oneself, self-examination doesn’t seem important. A surprising amount of people I see find fault with others but don’t feel it’s at all important to understand their own motivation and feelings, what’s going on inside them. The very idea of it is rather frightening. It’s always much easier to blame others.
I want to run through a few ideas about how important thinking is in order to place it at the centre of the therapeutic process. I am not touching here on the obvious importance of feelings – that is for another time.
First of all, thinking is the opposite to doing. It is the way in which we get to know what’s going on inside us. The kind of thinking I’m talking about doesn’t mean what do we think about Boris Johnson or climate change (though that may be of huge importance). The thinking I mean is the thinking and curiosity about what’s going on inside us. Being curious about oneself is important because it means that we engage in a flow of ideas going on in our heads which means we can interpret and make connections to others and to the world around us.
Thinking involves us in a real relationship with ourselves, the person we often try to avoid. This is why we spend a lot of our time doing things because it cuts down on the amount of time we spend thinking. It means we don’t acknowledge our thoughts, we can ignore the doubts we have, the loneliness we feel about why we do what we do. Thinking can help us to organise and structure our experience and we can plan and learn from it. We can end up ignoring ourselves totally if we fill every waking moment with things to do. Constantly staying busy, without a moment to ourselves means that we find ourselves unable to process what’s happening to us. It’s a way of running away, of putting on a mask of busyness. It means often that we never experience real happiness because we can’t contemplate feelings of sadness, emptiness and loneliness that are part and parcel of normal everyday life.
People say to me often. But how do I think. How do I try to be curious about myself? I began to notice increasingly that it was difficult for people to know what to say, how to think, how to help me understand them. When we have spent years avoiding having to think it is very difficult to start.
Sometimes thinking can have a negative impact upon our well being but given the right amount of patience and time we can take ourselves out for a coffee and sit and think and daydream about the shape of our day. We begin to notice patterns, to challenge what we have put up with in our own behaviour. Why do I always say no to things, why am I always so ready to blame others or why do I always put up with feeling that I can’t be by myself, why am I always upset so much when people cancel on me? Am I trying too hard to be liked?
In order for these thoughts to be given the right attention we need to voice them. When we have made the decision to come to therapy thought processes often need a boost, a rewiring in order to look at something which we have missed. It’s easy to miss out on how to think, we’re all encouraged not to. However, it’s a magical thing when I see people start to think and feel in control of who they are. They stop looking confused and start to realise that they have what’s inside them to make themselves feel better. The examined life has got to be worth it. We all want the same things: love, feelings of self-worth but each of us has a different story which has taken us away from who we are. We have to tell the story first and then we can make our way to a more loving way of living.