The final word of that sentence has been burned into the hard drive of your brain from some of your earliest experiences. That is why learning to replace a thought is often impossible. Try it. Just repeat the phrase, “blondes have more…” and see if you can avoid thinking about the word, “fun.” You may notice it came to mind and then you replaced it with another word just to prove me wrong but, “fun” is still there and you cannot erase it. Barring significant damage through invasive surgery, a debilitating disease, or suffering a stroke your mind will retain every memory.
Why is it that so many therapies for addiction, depression, anxiety and other mental health concerns offer solutions like, “change your playgrounds, playmates, and playthings,” thought replacement, or thought suppression? I don’t know. You are going to expend a lot of extra mental energy trying to avoid a thought rather than simply recognizing its presence. Often that extra energy comes at the expense of getting better.
“Blondes have more fun,” is not a very troubling thought for most people but consider the other automatic thoughts that we have. “I am…” Complete that sentence and you will most likely notice some challenging thoughts and feelings even when you try to crowd them out with positive self-talk. What about troubling memories of abuse, abandonment, or loss? What of chronic pain and your work to avoid it through filling your mind with as many alternative activities as possible? Or how about those nagging cravings for food or other substances that you try not to think about?
Learning how your mind works and exploring your own personal values can go a long way in sorting through painful thoughts, memories, emotions, and other sensations. The power of human language has given rise to the most creative of souls. It allows for problem solving skills that are of such exponential power that humanity is far from the reaches of our potential. Language is also the source of our greatest suffering because within our mind we have messages that will never be forgotten. The neurological term is cognitive fusion.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT involves the process of learning to observe and accept all of our thoughts, feelings, and emotions without allowing them to lead our life. It doesn’t erase memories but it can help you to “defuse” (cognitive defusion) from them so that they don’t lead your life. A much more reliable map to guide one’s life is our own personal values. Those, you will find are sometimes or often at odd with what you actually think or feel. The “win” in therapy and in life is when we learn to expend our energies not on suppressing thoughts that we don’t like and instead learn to have them while using the energy we have to follow the values that we hold dear.
Thoughts are like advisers. In my experience, every adviser has a bad day meaning not every thought is accurate. Emotions should be followers; never leaders. Otherwise, you and I will get lost very easily. If you are struggling with emotions, thoughts, and sensations leading your life rather than the values that you hold most dear, maybe it’s time to pick up the phone and make that call. Having a thought that blondes have all the fun? Maybe it’s true that brunettes, gingers, black hair, or no hair at all can have just as much fun as a blonde any day.