The Pink Elephant in the Room

A few days ago, I was prepared to diagnose myself with OCD. OCD is also known as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, essentially a behavior problem that prompts one to inhibit obsessive thoughts and habits that hinder their everyday functions. After recognizing my destructive habit of analyzing every little thought that came to my head, making reason for why it was occurring, and manically scribing away pages and pages in my journal for a full diagnostic report of one simple thought, it sounded like an OCD-type behavior to me. So, I began to read up on the disorder that can be crippling for so many. Ultimately, I realized my behaviors were very much in my control and nothing as serious as such a potentially debilitating disorder. I began to understand this was in my control.

As it was explained in a video I came across about OCD, the psychologist used the example of a “pink elephant,” an objectively bizarre yet meaningless image. She instructed the video viewers NOT to think of a “pink elephant.” Ok, try it for yourself now. Do NOT think of a pink elephant. Whatever you do, do NOT think of a pink elephant. What are you thinking about now? Let me guess… The damn pink elephant, of course! The point of this exercise was to make an example of how the more we think about our thoughts, the more they can consume us. We might even begin to question, “Why am I thinking of a pink elephant? Oh my gosh, it must mean something!” And again, be possessed by meaninglessness.

As the doctor went on to explain, WE are the ones who give meaning to our unintentional thoughts. Unintentional thoughts that just pop into our heads are really just the natural random functions of our brain, which we have no control over. Instead of accepting these thoughts as something we have no control over, oftentimes we CHOOSE to give reason and meaning to these thoughts, which in-turn drive our obsessive behaviors.

At the end of the day, it has been enlightening for me to realize that the majority of thoughts I experience throughout the day are not in my control and are completely random. I am the one who chooses to place meaning on the. As much as I love journaling, I decided it needed to be tamed, for it prompted full-fledged analysis of every little thing. Now that I understand, I have been working to allow my thoughts to come and go, not sticking with or giving meaning to the unintentional whims that might show up thought the day. You kind of just have to laugh about it and say, “Oh brain, you’re so funny. I don’t know why you would think that but I’m going to go back to what I was doing. Thanks for visiting.” And leave it be.

This is where the practice of mindfulness comes it, being able to recognize when the mind has drifted into possessive thought, and then bringing it back to the present. It is easier said than done and I am no expert in meditation or traditional mindfulness practices, but I have found that developing an ability to laugh off our thoughts and move on is a mindfulness practice in and of itself. This is what I encourage us all to do to live a more clear-minded day. Place no meaning on the unintentional thoughts that may pop up today, laugh at them and recognize that it is your mind doing its job. It is not you. J

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