Exploring a Better Way to Think About Your Thoughts

Tony shares his thoughts on how to think better about how you think. You think the thoughts you do because you’re the only version of you ever to walk the planet…so you think thoughts and feel feelings because, well, you do! You also need to stop telling yourself to stop thinking…don’t think about a green giraffe wearing yellow rain boots right now! And finally, he reveals why it can be detrimental to believe that when you think A, you just need to think B.

Get access to Tony’s presentation from Monica Tanner’s “Secrets of Happily Ever After” summit, which brings 32 marriage therapists and life/relationship coaches together to provide a wealth of tips to strengthen your marriage. You can sign up for the summit for free using the following link: https://tonyoverbay–onthebrighterside.thrivecart.com/shea-summit-accelerator/

If you are interested in being coached in Tony’s upcoming “Magnetic Marriage Podcast,” please email him for more information. You will receive free marriage coaching and remain anonymous when the episode airs. 

Go to http://tonyoverbay.com/workshop to sign up for Tony’s “Magnetize Your Marriage” virtual workshop. The cost is only $19, and you’ll learn the top 3 things you can do NOW to create a Magnetic Marriage. 

You can learn more about Tony’s pornography recovery program, The Path Back, by visiting http://pathbackrecovery.com And visit http://tonyoverbay.com and sign up to receive updates on upcoming programs and podcasts.

Tony mentioned a product that he used to take out all of the “uh’s” and “um’s” that, in his words, “must be created by wizards and magic!” because it’s that good! To learn more about Descript, click here https://descript.com?lmref=bSWcEQ


Hey, everybody. Welcome to episode 340 of the Virtual Couch. I’m your host, Tony Overbay. I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist, and I am going to speed through the business side of this podcast and get right to the topic because I’m kind of excited just to go on a little bit of a ramble today. I was going to call it a rant, but it’s not a rant. It has a negative connotation and this is just something I’m really fascinated by of what we do with thoughts and some of the things that I think that we do that are maybe not the most helpful when it comes to dealing with the thoughts that we have because we have so many thoughts all day long. So from a business standpoint, I would love if you would go to the show notes and last week I had Monica Tanner on and we talked about [00:01:00] a summit called Secrets of Happily Ever After, where there’s me, there’s Jennifer Finlayson Fife, there’s about 30 other marriage therapists and coaches, and we are providing a lot of information and it is free and go to the link that is in my go to the link that’s in the show notes are on my Instagram at Virtual Couch or on Facebook at Tony Overbay, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and just click on that link and you can sign up and get all of this wonderful data and information free and go to Tony over Macomb Workshop.

[00:01:31] There’s a $19 an hour and a half marriage workshop that I am very happy with. I was going to say, very proud of, and for some reason that sounded very arrogant. But I’m going to stand in that healthy ego and say that I really do feel like there’s a lot of good information there, and if you don’t like the information, just shoot me a note and I’ll refund that $19. And if you are interested in doing some couples coaching and it is completely anonymous, then you can reach out to info at Tony over Macomb and start to look at being on my Magnetic Marriage podcast, [00:02:00] which is going to be a paid subscription based podcast, which will be well under the cost of one therapy session for a full year’s access. There are a lot of episodes I’ve already recorded and it is just going to be a phenomenal thing that I’m excited to share where if you’ve never been to couples therapy or done couples coaching or wonder what that looks like, you’re going to see it in action. And it’s a really exciting or beautiful process that I’ve already I feel like I’ve talked to so many couples and we’ve hit on so many different issues and go to Pathbackrecovery.com. There’s my online pornography recovery program. So let’s get to today’s episode. I want to tell you a story. So I was sitting in a church Sunday school class a couple of days ago and the topic of change was brought up.

[00:02:41] So I was all ears and there were several well intentioned people sharing that. Yes, of course, change is hard, but it’s just a matter of learning to control your thoughts. And one guy even said that he wondered if when we get to those pearly gates of heaven at Judgment day, if God and all those just hanging around would [00:03:00] be able to hear his thoughts because his take was that unless he had fully repented and been able to stop and be forgiven of all of his thoughts, that everybody would be able to hear them. So the guy next to me who I didn’t even think was paying much attention said, Well, I’m kind of screwed. And I replied and said, Oh, we all would be. And then he and I had one of those whisper conversations where I kind of feel like post-pandemic One now needs to not only worry about whether or not our breath is bad, but are we spreading any germs and are we going to get the shock from those around us? But instead, several people around us started to join in and they started to whisper as well. And then I really felt like we were in this eighties teenage coming of age movie where I felt like the eyes of the instructor were on me. But instead of the instructor saying, Mr. Overbay, do you care to tell the class what is so important? I met his gaze and I raised my hand and I went on to give a really quick version of the brain as it don’t get killed device that it’s working off of a flawed premise that your brain and yes I threw [00:04:00] in the proverbial bless its little pink squishy heart thinks that it has a finite amount of electrical activity and that it’s trying to conserve energy and it’s trying to habituate everything it can in hopes of conserving this electrical activity.

[00:04:13] And so this fear of the unknown or a fear of change is part of our very core as a human being. And if something is new, then it might be difficult. If it is difficult, it may take more electrical activity. And if more electrical activity, then we may die sooner and the brain does not want to die. So then let’s just go with what we know. It takes the amount of brainpower that we’re aware of, which is whatever you’re doing currently. And if it’s something scary and new, then we might get that little bump of dopamine, but we’ll say we’ll do it later. And so that wondering what is wrong with me or trying to change our thoughts instantly, or doubling down on looking for certainty or trying to control everything around me, that all of those things are the things that the brain currently knows and it knows well. And [00:05:00] so anything new is scary. So then what’s the brain going to do that it’s going to continue to worry or do those things that it does because that is what it knows best.

[00:05:10] So when we’re talking about leaning into the discomfort of acceptance or that, Oh, well, that just happened, or now what do I do that the brain is absolutely going to say, Yeah, I. I don’t think that feels very safe. And so if we’re going to do that, we’re going to do it later, but I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing. So back to this story in Sunday school. And I, in essence, jump back into the talking about thoughts. Well, that thought just happened and I have plenty of more of them coming. So this is an opportunity to accept that a thought is a thought, and then let’s start leaning in or doing something a bit uncomfortable. And that can really start to lead to change and we can move forward. Even though we just had this thought. And I said, Nope, do not beat yourself up and please don’t spend too much time, if any, wondering why you had the thought that you did. You just had the thought. And I wish I could tell you that. [00:06:00] Then the class all started to nod approvingly and some inspirational music started swelling in the background. And I stood up and gave a speech that maybe it was something like, I always wanted this, by the way, one of these where you say, You know what, guys, maybe we’re all going to be okay. And I don’t know if it’s just the brain and it’s looking for a path of least resistance or if it’s Satan or a gremlin or my inner voice or whatever it is.

[00:06:17] But what if I’m okay and thoughts happen and feelings happen and heck, things happen, And now what direction do you go in order to start creating new patterns of thought and behavior? But then I think, here’s where I would insert that. If I’m going with this scene from a movie, the record Scratch. And instead, though, in reality, the conversation shifted across the room where one person and I feel like I wanted to say some old guy until I realized that in that class at my my ripe old age of 52, almost 53, I think I am that old guy. So some other guy says, Well, I don’t know about that, but I believe that we need to learn to control our thoughts and then eventually we won’t have them. And then there was some approval and I felt like it was almost now a battle. There were people that were [00:07:00] on my team and there were people on another team and that wasn’t the intention that I had. But I leaned over back to the people in my vicinity and I whispered, Okay, right now do not think of that guy wearing a pink robe. And then there were chuckles, and I realized that my work was done there for now. But I really do believe and then these are honestly my beliefs.

[00:07:17] I’m not going to try and Google some research to back me up, but I believe that one of the reasons why more people are struggling with their mental health, despite the fact that as a mental health professional, it is undeniable that we’re talking about our mental health far more often than we have in the past, which is a wonderful thing. But what if we’re teaching some of the messages that I won’t necessarily say are harmful, although I do believe in some situations they can be, but that we’re not necessarily teaching the best messages because I believe that there are inherently three flawed messages being thrown out there with regard to our thoughts. Now. First is that something is inherently wrong with me for thinking what I’m thinking. And you, my dear listener, are the first and only version of you that has ever graced the face of this beautiful planet with all [00:08:00] the wonderful things that make you who you are. And all those things, as I like to say, so often include your nature, your nurture, your DNA, your abandonment, your birth order, your attachment, the way you were raised, the friends you grew up around, the environment, all of it. So what if you started by There isn’t something wrong with you. But when you think things, when you feel things, when you do things, you start from a place of acceptance. So check out what I’m thinking or check out how I’m feeling.

[00:08:25] Or take a look at this. This is what I did. And I believe that when we start from a something as wrong with me stance, then we are in essence continuing down the path of wanting somebody else to tell us that we’re okay. And that is absolutely a part of growing up. When we are a kid, we have no sense of self and we need external validation. We play off of if somebody is happy around us, we must be doing something okay? And if somebody’s sad around us, then something’s up. We must be doing something wrong or we must be a part of something that isn’t going well. But that’s part of when you’re in your adolescence, your teenage years, and [00:09:00] unfortunately a lot of people carry that through for the rest of their life. But becoming an adult, becoming emotionally mature, starting to recognize, Oh, now I have an opportunity to take control of my own destiny. I’m captain of my own ship. So when we’re handing the keys to our internal, I don’t know, cars over to somebody else to drive, we are losing this incredible opportunity for growth and to take accountability for our own actions. Even if we’re going to hear that other people think that we should have done something different. But even more important, if we are wanting others to tell us what we should do or think or feel, then we’re still heading down that path of needing external validation or somebody else to tell us that we’re okay.

[00:09:40] So what if we start with we’re actually okay now? What do we want to do moving forward? And sure, we’ll now run into the brain looking for the path of least resistance, which is what I mentioned at the top of this episode. But we’re beginning to form the inner landscape of what it feels like to be you or me. [00:10:00] That is based off of my own thoughts and feelings, not what others think that I need to think or do or become. And as you become more emotionally mature, absolutely, I want input. I mean, it’s part of the human experience as well. But when you’re starting from a place of I’m och, I’m captain of my own ship and where do I want to go next? Then I can look at data coming in from other people. Is. Those are helpful suggestions, but I don’t have to then do those things in order to be loved. I am lovable. So the first thing that I think that we’re doing that maybe isn’t the most helpful is starting with the What’s wrong with me question. So let’s start with nothing. Nothing is wrong. You’re a human being and you’re having a human experience. And that can absolutely be a bit messy at times. Now, next up is the old I need to control my thoughts or I need to stop thinking negative things. And here’s where I will just simply say Don’t think of a white polar bear.

[00:10:55] Don’t think of a white polar bear wearing a green hat. Make that a baseball hat. Make [00:11:00] it a top hat. And now it’s I just want to say no. I told you don’t think those things. So I could go on. But thought suppression absolutely, unequivocally does not work. So don’t do it. You see what I did there? Now you’re going to do it because I told you not to. But the point is, we’re talking about one of my absolute favorite concepts of psychology, psychological reactance, or the instant negative reaction we have and being told what to do. It is absolutely built in within all of us. It’s a survival mechanism, a defense mechanism. We all do it. Our brains do it as a way to protect you from being overcome by a corrupt society or an alpha male or female human being. It is survival. It is built in some believe it is the concept of agency, of this survival. Of that. I will immediately say I am not doing that. But then as we grow into emotional maturity, then we have to then check our own reactance muscle and say, okay, ultimately I’m going to do what’s best for [00:12:00] me. But I but I see you brain, and I appreciate you jumping into that reactance mode because I know you’re trying to protect me. So check out those first two things. The first one, stop beating yourself up for thinking or feeling and start to just shift to that.

[00:12:14] I’m noticing that I’m thinking or I’m noticing that I’m feeling. And it will dial down the negativity, the intensity quite a bit. And there’s a couple of things I always love, just love what I get to do for a living. And I’ve been looking at a concept called the amygdala Hijack, and I’ll be recording an episode over on my Narcissism podcast soon about that. But when we are so used to going into this panic mode or what’s wrong with me, then often what happens is we hijack our own amygdala when our heart rate starts to elevate, and that can happen when we start from the What’s wrong with me concept, then if our heart rate starts to elevate, then what happens? Then we start to raise our cortisol levels and we start to go into fight flight, freeze that amygdala hijack takes over [00:13:00] who we are as a person. And so if we get ourselves into this amygdala hijacked stance, then we can’t access the the frontal lobes, our prefrontal cortex. We can’t even access the part of our brain that is thinking and that is tapping into those things that matter to us because we’re just going from this Neanderthal reptilian caveman level of I just need to survive. So I’ve been looking into this and how often do we just start from this amygdala hijack stance because we’re starting from a place of, Oh, what’s wrong with me? Oh, I thought this.

[00:13:33] That’s bad. I shouldn’t be thinking this. And you can just even feel I can feel my own heart rate start to elevate. So if we start to come from a place of acceptance or check out what I’m thinking or feeling, you can just feel the energy shift there to where it’s one of more acceptance, which does not start getting you into that elevated amygdala or hijacked. So to set the table for the third thing that I think we don’t do so swell with our thoughts, I’m going to pull the [00:14:00] old numbers metaphor from acceptance and commitment therapy. And I talked about this on it looks like episode 275 of the virtual couch. So that was a long time ago now, which is pretty fascinating. But I forget the context. But I just said that led me to a particular concept within the therapy model I love to use on a daily basis or act acceptance and commitment therapy. And I said that principle is best described by the following metaphor. So here we go. The metaphor is called the numbers metaphor. I’m going to I’m going to give you the stage directions and everything here, because this is from called Act for OCD and Abbreviated Treatment Manual by Dr. Michael Twigg from Utah State University, who I’m trying to get on the podcast, by the way, a wonderful act clinician and researcher. So the therapist says, Suppose I came up to you and I said, I am going to give you three numbers to remember, and it is very important that you remember them because several years from now I’m going to tap you on the shoulder.

[00:14:51] I’m going to ask you, what are these three numbers? And if you can answer them, I’ll give you $1,000,000. So remember, this is important. You can’t forget these things. Are you ready? And [00:15:00] again, this is worth $1,000,000. Okay, so here are the three numbers. Are you ready? Here we go. One, two, three. Now, what are the numbers? And the client would say one, two and three. And the therapist would say, Good. Now don’t forget them. If you do, it will cost you a lot. Literally $1,000,000. Now, what are the numbers again? The client laughs and says they’re still one, two and three. The therapist says Super. Do you think you’ll be able to remember them? And. The client says. I suppose so. If I really believed you that you were going to give me $1,000,000, I think I would absolutely believe them. And the therapist said, Well, then, believe me, I mean, we’re talking about $1,000,000. What are the numbers? And the client says, one, two, three. The therapist says, Right now, if you really did believe me, and to be honest, I lied. It’s quite likely that you might remember those silly numbers for a long time. And the client says, Sure. And then the therapist says, But isn’t that ridiculous? I mean, just because some therapist wants to make a point here, you might go round for the rest of your life with one, two and three stuck in your head for no reason that has anything to do with you.

[00:15:56] Just an accident that you happen to show up in therapy. And [00:16:00] this is the this is the metaphor that the therapists use. So just the luck of the draw. You’ve got me as a therapist, and the next thing you know, you have these numbers rolling around in your head for who knows how long. What are those numbers again? And the client says, one, two and three. And the therapist says right now, once they are in your head, they are not leaving. And here’s one of the keys. Our nervous system works by addition, not by subtraction. So one stuff goes in, It’s in. So the therapist then says, check this out. What if I say to you that it is very important that you have the experience, that the numbers are not one, two and three. So I’m going to ask you about the numbers, and I want you to answer in a way that has absolutely nothing to do with one, two and three. I don’t want you to even deal with the numbers one, two and three. Now, what are the numbers? What what numbers would you give me instead? And it’s funny, I’ve done this in sessions, and what three numbers are you thinking about right now? In this metaphor? The client says four or five and six. [00:17:00]

[00:17:00] And so I’m curious if those of you listening did the same thing. So the therapist said, okay, did you do what I asked you to? And the client said, Yeah, I thought four or five and six. And I just said them. And the therapist said, okay, did that meet the goal that I set? So let me ask it in this way. How do you know four or five and six is a good answer. And then the client laughs and says, because those numbers aren’t one, two and three. And the therapist said, Exactly. So four or five and six, though, still has to do with one, two and three. And I asked you not to do that. So let’s do it again. Think of any other numbers except one, two and three. Now make sure your answer is absolutely not connected to one, two and three. And the client says, Well, I can’t do it. The therapist says, Yeah, me neither. Because the nervous system works only by addition. Unless you get a lobotomy or something like that. Four or five and six is just adding to one, two and three. One, two and three is in there. And those numbers aren’t leaving when you’re 80 years old. I could walk up to you and say, What are the numbers? And you still might actually say one, two and three simply because some dope told you to remember them. But [00:18:00] it isn’t just one, two and three.

[00:18:01] You have all kinds of people telling you all kinds of things. Your mind has been programed with all kinds of experiences. Experiences like you are not enough or you’re unlovable or you’re broken, or you’ll never get ahead or you never stick to anything. But how do you know that this isn’t just another example of one, two and three? Don’t you sometimes even notice that these thoughts are in your parents voices or they’re connected to things that people told you? Because if you are nothing more than your reactions, here we go. Then you’re in trouble because you don’t always choose what your reactions would be. You can’t control what shows up and you have all kinds of reactions that are silly. They’re prejudice, they’re mean, they’re loathsome, they’re scary, and so on. But you’ll never be able to win at that game of trying to stop those reactions or judge those reactions. Seeing that reactions are programed undermines both the credibility of engaging in a successful struggle against an undesirable psychological content. Because these reactions are automatic conditioned responses and the [00:19:00] need for this struggle, since they do not mean what they say they mean of I’m bad is not inherently any more meaningful than one, two and three. And in his treatment plan. Dr. Twiggy says that then clients, when we go through this 1 to 3 numbers metaphor, they often report a strong sense of peace. And it should be pointed out that this exercise is not a method for making bad thoughts or feelings go away.

[00:19:23] Rather, if you did this properly, this exercise allows the client to fully accept their thoughts and feelings that any experience of peace is a byproduct of this process. The point is actually to make experiential contact with the place from where the thoughts and feelings and urges that they are not to be believed or acted upon or run from. This this metaphor is used to help you notice the different aspects of an experience that the lack of struggle or a visceral experience or anything else that you describe. So the point that I’m making with this third concept, I think we don’t do so well when we’re thinking about thoughts, is that if we are telling ourselves instead of this thing that it’s just [00:20:00] another example of the one, two, three, no, now think four or five and six metaphor. So we still are if we’re saying, okay, every time I think that I’m a huge piece of garbage, I just need to realize that that isn’t very helpful and I’m actually a really good person. Then I’m putting those I’m still dealing with one, two and three that I’m a huge piece of garbage to get to the part that I’m an okay person. So we need to take that negativity or take that emotional weight away from the piece of garbage, because that’s just numbers in my head. It’s one, two and three. It’s any thought, thoughts come and go.

[00:20:32] And why on earth are we going to give them significance? So we start with the premise of we’re okay, we’re not broken. How about we start there? The second one is don’t tell yourself to stop thinking the things you’re thinking. Just notice. Oh, I thought that I’m noticing that. I’m thinking that. And then that third piece, the numbers metaphor, is that instead of when I think one, two and three or when I think I’m doing something wrong, then I need to think. But I’m also this. I’m also doing something right because we’re still then associating [00:21:00] that I’m doing something right along with the but I also feel like I’m doing something wrong. So instead we need to just recognize, I’m noticing that I’m thinking that I’m doing something wrong. Well, that’s interesting. I’ll note that that’s a thought. I’m also noticing that I want pepperoni pizza at five in the morning. That’s interesting. That’s fascinating. I’m also noticing that I am worried about my 4:00 client that they may not show up today. Oc Why? I don’t know. That just popped in my brain. So all of those are just thoughts and feelings and emotions. Nothing’s wrong with me. Don’t try to stop them. I notice them and when I don’t give them those emotional calories or that energy or that negative energy in particular. Now I’m on to the next thing, which is I’m going to take action on something that matters, something of value, and that helps you change your entire experience with your thoughts and your feelings and your emotions.

[00:21:49] And then you start to realize I can have the most inappropriate, sexual, morbid, gross whatever thoughts in the world, and they still just fall into the. That’s a thought. There [00:22:00] you go. I see your brain noted, and there’s nothing wrong with this. We’re just having thoughts. People have them all the time. And the more that we try to fight those thoughts, oftentimes, the more intense they become because of the psychological reactance. And this is definitely a case of one of the we don’t know what we don’t know because we’ve been told our entire lives, I believe that you just need to control your thought or you just need to think. You just need to choose to be happy. You just need to do it. And so then when it doesn’t happen because life occurs, then we get to beat ourselves up and we have almost this net negative effect. So I promise you that starting to change the relationship you have with thought that nothing’s wrong with you. You’re a human being going through life and telling yourself, don’t think something is going to make it come back even worse. And then instead of saying, Well, when I think this thing, I need to immediately fill it back, fill it with some other thing instead, we’re still just doing it. I feel like we’re just taking the path of least resistance with the way we’re handling our thoughts.

[00:22:54] The great unknown might be just to say I’m okay, I’m all right. I think things. I feel [00:23:00] things. That’s interesting. Now I’m going to take action on things that matter. Our brains even going to say, Well, what matters? And I’m like, Well, that’s a thought, but I’m going to start to do. And as I start to go and do, I’m going to start to figure out what really matters to me. So I feel like that’s a great place to end for today. So thanks for going on this story time with me. I would love for you to click and click on the secrets of the happily ever after program in the show notes or go take the marriage workshop or send me your questions, Send me your show ideas. I’m getting a lot more podcast show ideas. I always love that and send me more of your questions. If you have questions about particular episodes or just the questions you’ve always wanted to ask a therapist in general, I’ve got my wonderful assistant, Naomi, who’s putting together a list of those as well, because I would love to do some more of the Q&A, that sort of thing. Hey, thanks for joining me on this journey and I hope you have an amazing week. Taking us out per usual. It’s a wonderful the talented now on Tik tok Aurora Florence with her song It’s Wonderful and I’ll see you next time on the virtual couch.

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