Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here. In part 1 I explain how I came upon the principles that took me from a mental wreck to happy and free. Part 2 is all about stopping the hamster wheel of thoughts spinning in the head…
Now, this gets a little bit tricky because stopping the hamster wheel takes a lot of practice before it’s mastered – well at least it did for me. Hopefully you’re a little luckier than I was (or maybe you have the benefit of having the whole concept explained and laid out for you while I had to make the whole thing up as I went along). Anyway, one doesn’t necessarily have to master stopping the hamster wheel before delving into changing the tape, it just helps to get the timing down and to get a grasp on how the melon works.
Changing the tape is a simple solution to a complex problem and it requires a little willingness to be honest about one’s own thoughts. This is problematic for many people because it’s too easy to turn our focus elsewhere rather than keep that focus where it can do some good. A simple enough concept to grasp is the old adage, don’t worry about the splinter in your neighbor’s eye while you’ve got a 2×4 protruding from yours. Where people find this tough is the semantics: “But what if I have the splinter and he/she has the 2×4”? There is no easy answer for this. For me, I decided that getting better was more important than being right.
We each have a tape that we play in our head for a given scenario:
I’m too fat. I’m too stupid. I’m not good enough… This can extend to “My wife/husband is cheating on me”, “the world is against me”, “I was meant to be a loser”, “I’m just a drunk”… These are truths exclusive to our personal experience. They are the filter through which we view the world. They are never perfectly correct.
Let’s go back to the “my wife is cheating on me” thought, because I’ve dealt with that one more than a couple of times. My normal tape, since I was a kid, has been to reinforce that thought, to look at her behavior through a microscope to see if she’s giving any clues to her infidelity. Before long, I’m angrier than a hornet’s nest and I’m taking it out on her because I must be right! Now we’re fighting and I’m punching holes through walls… All based on a thought that isn’t even verifiable.
Several years ago I ran into this thought again and I changed the tape. I thought, “What’s wrong with me that I think my wife would cheat on me in the first place?” An honest assessment of my behavior over the previous three weeks or so showed I would have cheated on me too! I was being manipulative, I was ignoring my wife, and I was giving her nothing that could be mistaken for love. I was being an asshole. I changed my behavior that day and it changed our marriage forever. Of course, the beautiful thing is my wife changed at the same time. At no time during our marriage have we been this close, have we been so in love, have we been so happy. The trick is, I have to be willing to change even if she doesn’t. Most people who go this route will find that the dynamic of the marriage changes so much, the other spouse can’t help but change as well. Try it, you just might like it.
This same concept works for staying sober. The thought pops into my bowl of mush that I want to go out and get drunk, say I miss the escape associated with the high. Before I sobered up, I’d have pondered that thought – after all, it popped into my head, so there must be some validity to it, no? Once I start pondering the plus side of getting drunk, I’ll be on a bar stool, halfway to pissing my life down the drain. It’s that simple. I had to change the tape that I played in my head. I had to skip to the end result of drinking one single beer. For people like me, one swig, one drop of alcohol will set off a mental obsession to get drunk that I am completely and entirely powerless over. I cannot fight it with reason, I can’t fight it with “willpower”. Once that first drop crosses my lips, I’m doomed to die or maybe, if I’m lucky sober up again. I had to accept this fact. Changing the tape looks like this: “I will never have to relive the pain and anguish of losing everything and trying to get sober again if I don’t take that first drink.”
Smoking applies the same concept. “I’ll never have to relive having to quit again as long as I don’t take that first puff”.
The point of all of this is, if I am in pain (mentally) I must look at myself, at the tape that plays in my head, as the source of this pain. Only when I change that tape will I be free. When people talk about happiness being an inside job, this is exactly what they’re talking about. If I believe I am a loser, if that’s my tape, everything the world throws at me will confirm this notion. There is nothing “out there” that can change my filter through which I view life.
The trick is figuring out which tapes are damaged goods and which are worth keeping.
When I put this concept together with stopping the hamster wheel, the end result is that I’m completely changing my thought process so that what used to baffle me, what used to stress me out to a point my nerves were fried so bad I was having panic attacks, doesn’t have the same effect. Couple that with doing the right thing at any given moment and I’m free. This is a compound affect on my thinking. Not only am I changing the way I think, I’m changing the validity of those thoughts with action as well and creating better situations in my life that won’t lead to stinkin’ thinkin’ in the first place.
If we look at this from a fitness standpoint, because this one’s easy to picture through words, say I’m overweight and I’ve got the stinkin’ thinkin’ working overtime. The thought enters my head that I’m not feeling well. I ponder that thought further and before long I know my overweight lifestyle is going to lead to a heart attack. Before I know it I’ve worked myself into a lather and I’m sitting in a hospital bed with heart palpitations and chest pain.
Now let’s look at that same scenario now that we’ve changed our thought process. The thought enters our head that we’re not feeling well. Rather than further ponder that thought, because we stop the hamster cage before it starts, we change the tape and think, “I’ve done all I can. I’ve met my workout regimen set up by my doctor, I’ve eaten well and I’ve dropped 20 pounds in the last month. I’ve had my checkup and the doctor says my shape is improving and, despite my weight, I’m on the right path to health.”
In that second scenario, the negative thought process cannot survive because you’ve built defenses against it. It’s only when we reinforce that negative thinking with our actions that it can win, or even survive. This is changing the tape.
Stay tuned… Part 4 should be ready for tomorrow.