Thoughts on Obsessive Thoughts: Nothing is as Important as You Think it is, While You’re Thinking About It

I still remember their names to this day: classmates of mine from seventh and eighth grade. I envied their athletic prowess and basketball self-confidence playing on the asphalt behind St. Rita Grammar School.  I’ll bet I thought about them and their talent nearly every day and probably wished as often I could be just like them.  There have been many times in my life that I have been so caught up as well by an idea (marketing employee assistance programs in 1985) or an event (not getting into DePaul University in fall 1973).  This kind of thinking has often struck me as merely and stubbornly obsessive.  I came across another explanation recently that I find more compelling and freeing.

Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist at Princeton University, describes this cognitive distortion as a Focusing Illusion, namely “Nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it.”  I invite you to recall two or three times in your life where you may have been so lasered in with concentration on something and test out whether it still matters to you today with the same importance.

In treating depression and anxiety issues, I have found this kind of sticky preoccupied thinking present.  Using Kahneman’s observation both respects the thinker and dislodges the thought.  I have not found successful ways to argue myself or others out of strongly held viewpoints.  I think intentionally remembering that whatever we obsess about as “true and forever” will be so until we think about something else.

On a minor note, if you have not heard The Moth storytelling radio show on NPR, I’d recommend it.  The show presents true stories told live.  I know when I hear it, it gives me something else to think about.

Till the next line…

David

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