Have you ever considered why you think what you think? Does it seem like your thoughts are who you are? The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth. Your thoughts are part of you, but only a part of the much greater whole. Descartes, a famous philosopher, said, “I think, therefore I am.” This statement represented a step forward in the evolution of Western philosophy. However, in suggesting there is no separation between people and their thoughts, it also has done a disservice to our understanding of the relationship between our thoughts and who we are. Because they occur so automatically and seem so natural, we may become so closely identified with our thoughts that we believe there is no separation: Our thoughts are us and we are our thoughts. And yet, the reality is that thoughts are mental products generated in our brain. We also tend to believe in the inherent truth or accuracy of our thoughts, believing “I think it, therefore it is true.” Assuming our thoughts are facts—that they are all true and valid without examination—is one of the reasons we find ourselves out of balance. Before emotion or action takes place in any situation, a thought process occurs; but it can happen so quickly and automatically that you’re not consciously aware of it. These seemingly natural, automatic thoughts are also known as “self-talk”—the things you tell yourself about what is occurring that also define your beliefs about those events. While you may be powerless over the self-talk that first enters your mind, you are not powerless over what you do in response to it. You can detach from your thoughts—observe them, question their accuracy, dispute or talk back to them, and, ultimately, change them. In pain recovery, we learn that we are not what we think. We can observe our thoughts and we can dispute them by not buying everything they are trying to sell us. Paying attention to your thought process and consciously questioning and challenging your thinking is an indication of mental balance. The more consciously aware of this process you can become, the more you will be able to develop the capacity to intentionally adjust your thinking and self-talk to cope with your pain more effectively and improve your functioning. Progress toward healing and recovery from chronic pain also requires accepting that you cannot control your thoughts, but you can modify and redirect them. This requires the willingness to surrender, and the action of challenging and redirecting your thoughts in order to achieve balance. “Not everything you think is necessarily true or accurate.” Learning to view and respond to your thoughts differently will require going through a process of adjustment. The process is a lot like that of getting a new pair of shoes after having had the old ones for a very long time. The old shoes fit us like a glove; the leather has molded itself to fit the shape of our feet precisely. They have been so comfortable for so long that we don’t want to part with them. And yet, they no longer work for us. They are dirty and torn, and the sole has no grip left. It is clear to most everyone but us that our shoes are a mess and we need new ones. But we don’t want new shoes; we like the ones we have just fine. We think if everyone would just leave us alone and let us wear our tattered shoes, everything would be fine. But, deep down, we know otherwise. A part of us desperately wants to hold onto the old shoes because we are so used to them that we can’t imagine life without them, while another part of us knows that the old shoes aren’t working any longer and we really do need new ones. We fear what life will be like without our old shoes. We think that there is no way new shoes could possibly fit us as well or be as comfortable as our old ones. Finally, our feet become so battered, bruised, and blistered that we can no longer deny to ourselves that we need new shoes. Perhaps with the help and support of family and/or significant others, we get a new pair of shoes. At first they are unfamiliar and feel awkward; they’re stiff and somewhat uncomfortable. However, if we can tolerate the initial discomfort and we practice wearing them, gradually, over time, they begin to feel more comfortable. The process of breaking in these new shoes does not happen as fast or as easily as we want it to. Yet, by our continuing to wear them one day at a time, it does happen. Eventually, the new shoes become even more comfortable than the old ones. Moreover, they provide the support our feet need and keep them warm and dry. This blog post is an excerpt from Pain Recovery – How to Find Balance and Reduce Suffering from Chronic Pain by Mel Pohl, MD, FASAM, Frank Szabo, LADC, Daniel Shiode, PhD, Robert Hunter, PhD; Published by Central Recovery Press (CRP).