If you’ve ever traveled abroad, you’ve had this experience: when you arrive at the customs checkpoint you have to declare or reveal what you’re bringing into the country. It can be odd to do a mental inventory of your luggage contents. Then it can even be shocking when you realize there’s an item of concern or significance. I mean, you’re the one who packed the stuff and it’s not like someone snuck it in there on you! And yet, there’s something about actually having to write it out on a form, or say it out loud to a customs agent, that heightens your awareness.

Evaluate Your Thoughts

The same phenomenon occurs within our own thinking. Lots of odd things that we have packed in our heads never get evaluated or questioned. So it never really occurs to us: this thought is explosive … that one is toxic and contraband … there’s way too much of this one … and that one is downright dangerous. So it’s easy for unhelpful thoughts to just keep rattling around, doing untold damage.

What’s in Your Thoughts?

Starting today, become the customs agent of your own thinking. You don’t have to charge a duty or try to confiscate anything. Just say to your mind, “What thoughts are you carrying around? You need to declare them.”

Two or three times today, particularly when you feel a shift in your emotional state, text out the thought you’re having to yourself or someone in your support network, or write it out on a sticky note or 3×5 card.

Getting Rid of the Thought Contraband

Hanging on the wall next to the TSA checkpoint of the Salt Lake City Airport there is a big display of contraband items agents have confiscated from the luggage of travelers: guns, knives, nunchucks, Chinese throwing stars and even a machete.

In a similar spirit, here is a display of some of the thoughts my clients have caught their minds casually carrying around:

• “I can’t get over this problem despite years of effort. Why bother even trying to stand up to temptation?”
• “That travel magazine in the waiting room rack has a woman in an infinity pool. I should browse through it and see if there are any other beautiful women I can enjoy checking out.”
• “Shelly wants me to get up with the baby this morning even though she knows I haven’t gotten much sleep. She doesn’t really care about what I need. I guess if my needs are going to get met I’ll have to take care of them myself.”
• “This is a pretty mainstream website. I can look at these images, no problem.”
• “My roommate goes to his night class on Thursdays so I’ll have the place to myself. I can get online and do whatever I want.”
• “This still isn’t working. The problems with this work project never end. And there’s always some new crisis at home. God is cursing me because I’m a sinner.”
• “Can you believe the material they’re comfortable putting out? I need to get a better look at just how low they’ve let their standards drop.”

Thought Exposure Through Expression

Simply exposing these kinds of thoughts by expressing them can be very powerful. Once they’re stated explicitly, we can see that they don’t make much sense. They’re not nearly as convincing when they’re dragged into the cold light of day. Language is the realm of logic and objectivity, and putting words to our thoughts helps restore our mental clarity.

© 2014 Mark Chamberlain