How do you clear your mind?
I’ve heard and read about people using yoga, running, riding, weight lifting – all good and noble things, but what to do during the other 23 hours in a day?
There are a few different ways to look at this question, and that can really confuse the issue, especially from one person to the next…add to that a multitude of degrees and we invariably wind up with, “well you just don’t understand, it’s different for me”.
There’s good news and bad news in the idea that “I’m different”. The good news is that I’m not; unfortunately that’s the bad news too. Now I’m not willing to sit here and dissect someone’s inner thoughts, we’ll leave that wonderful work to the professionals (who will promptly turn around and tell you the same thing and then charge you $125 for doing it – though they will make it sound a lot prettier). Before I get into the different types, let’s look at the why.
Why do I want to be different, or more properly stated, why do I want to be more f*cked up than you – or than you think I am? Why do I stick to the “you’ve never walked a mile in my shoes” bit? When you boil all of the crap down, nine times out of ten we want to be different because we want an excuse for our behavior, we want to be a victim. Don’t take my word for it, if you’re down, by all means go see a psychiatrist and prove me wrong. There’s a nine in ten chance you’re the one who says, “crap”. In that last case, I’m more than happy to say it. In short, our experiences influence who we are or how we view the world, sure – but they never dictate who we are or how we act, that is a choice. Let’s look at this simply. I just had about the worst Monday I’ve had in years. I had every bit of my glorious buttocks chewed to shreds before 8 that morning…and it proceeded to get worse. I’ve got two choices here. I can throw my arms up in disgust, or I can fix it (or do my best to repair the damage). Let’s say I throw my arms up and walk away, just for the sake of argument. Now I can come home and take this out on my wife and kids, three people who all greeted me with a smile and a kind word, because I had a tough day and dammit, if they’d walked in my shoes today, they’d be crappy to everyone who loves them too. When it’s put like that it should sound really stupid. It is what it is. If I project that out to the end, my kids are crying, my wife’s pissed and it’s all my fault because I brought that crap home. Fortunately when I’m on my game that’s just not how I roll. When I’m on my game I’m not different. The point here is that I’m just like everyone else, I have bad days just like the best of us. If I have an excuse, not only do I make life difficult for those close to me, I make my life worse by living in the problem rather than the solution… And this applies to bigger problems too, and I’ve had a bunch to get over without getting into a pissing match.
So, what are the few ways our minds get cluttered up?
First up we’ve got the random thought. You’re walking around and everything is sunshiny and the notion pops into your gray matter that you should do something detrimental to what, or who, you want to be – for me that would be sitting down with a nice cold beer whilst I watch the baseball game. Unfortunately, my idea of a nice cold beer is a “case” of nice cold “beers”. One in each hand and the case in between my legs. Beyond that, I have absolutely no control over that thought popping into my head, none. What I do have control over is the second thought. I can either dismiss the initial thought or I can entertain it – the choice is most certainly mine, but dismissal is a lot harder than it may seem until we’ve got some practice under our belt. If we go the entertain route, that usually ends up in a battle of the white angel and red devil on our shoulder, followed shortly by the white angel getting her butt kicked and then a distraught “us”, wondering just how the hell we got here again. I’ve written about this before. Let’s look at the motivation challenged: I know I should get my ride in today, but after a crappy day I come home and I’d just rather sit in my own s#!t, maybe kick the cat or something. At one point or another, the thought that I should skip it will just pop in there. If I entertain that thought it will fester. Before I know it, it’s been three weeks of misery and I have no idea how I got here. If I go back, invariably I can track it back to entertaining one bad thought… over and over again. The trick to sweeping that garbage out is to dismiss that thought before it can become a form of melon cancer.
The second scenario is a little tougher to deal with. I call it the hamster wheel. I’ve got a bunch of random thoughts that just keep circulating and I just can’t stop the hamster wheel. Thinking in this manner for too long is flat-out exhausting and rarely, if ever, productive because everything just keeps going around in a circle. If we’re caught in that revolving trap the last thing that will bring us out is the same perpetual thinking that we’ve got going… I have to step out of the hamster wheel, if you will. I have to deprive the wheel of its means of moving, and unfortunately this takes a lot of practice. I stop the hamster wheel thinking by first recognizing that it’s happening and then by blocking the thoughts from starting up again – effectively keeping the wheel from moving. A two second prayer is very useful here, “God please take this thought, I’m not doing well with it” works for me – or for the non-religious, I’d recommend some kind of positive reinforcement thought exercise: “I’m done on the wheel, I’m moving on to productive things”… Every time that thought process starts to turn, you’ll have to repeat this so make it good, you’ll be using it a lot. Think progress, not perfection. This is a thing that takes “practice”.
Finally is the barrage where you’ve got 25 competing thoughts all vying for attention all at once. You flip through one at a time and become overwhelmed by all of the work that each thought will require to “fix”…procrastination is moments away. I counter the barrage with a bike ride (though a prayer or positive reinforcement thought will work in a pinch). It shuts everything up until I can throw a little proper perspective at everything.
Once the thinking is under control, it’s time to change the tape that plays in your head to something useful…
Controlling the thoughts and changing the tape is not the be-all, end-all of the problem. I’ve just covered the short-term fixes to putting a leash on out of control thinking. The permanent fix to the last two, barring the odd thought that pops into your head, is action.
I feel like crap because I’m not taking care of everything I should be. Finding time is not always easy, but action is the answer. In other words, if the things in my life are a mess there’s a reason that I feel messy. I have to clean up, and that’s the only real way out. If I can honestly look at my life and say that I’ve got it right, then I rely on those few tried and true remedies. Otherwise, I have to get to work.