“The mind is a monkey, hopping around from thought to thought, image to image. Rarely do more than a few seconds go by in which the mind can remain single-pointed, empty.” — Dani Shapiro
By now, it’s pretty common knowledge that our minds are incredibly powerful. The thoughts we think and the attitudes and perspectives we hold are what shape our lives. They can lead us down a path of happiness and success or doom us to misery and failure.
With such an important piece of equipment at our disposal, don’t you think it would be a good idea to know how to operate it?
Unfortunately, too many people let this wonderful piece of equipment run amok. It’s like having an outboard motor with 500 horsepower. Only rather than attaching this motor to a boat and grabbing the handle to steer it to their desired destination, they throw the motor in the lake and let it careen off going wherever it wants—often with themselves tied to it!
The sad thing is that these people can’t figure out why their lives feel so chaotic and out of control. They can’t understand why they aren’t able to reach their goals or create healthy relationships. They are surprised when they run the same destructive patterns time and time again.
It’s because they aren’t using their minds. Their minds are using them.
We’ve all experienced this at times. You see something on the news or overhear something at work that bothers you and sets off a string of thoughts. Two hours later, you realize that you’re still chewing on that same issue. Your thoughts have made you even more upset, and your mind has dragged your focus toward whatever set you off and away from your goals and positive intentions. Two hours of that powerful motor churning up water and getting nowhere!
Think for a moment about how many thoughts you think each and every day. Have you ever tried to count them? (Don’t worry, scientists haven’t had much luck with this either.) Some people believe that the average person has around 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day and they suggest that 80% of our thoughts are negative and 95% are the exact same thoughts we had the day before.
Whatever the number, I think we can all agree that we think a heck of a lot of thoughts through the day and, unless we’ve trained ourselves otherwise, a heck of a lot of those thoughts are negative or, at best, non-productive. We know that constructive thoughts are more beneficial and that positive thoughts make us feel better. Yet, every once in a while, it’s as if our thoughts have a will of their own.
If it’s only every once in a while, this may not be a big deal. But if your thoughts are running around like kids at a kegger most of the time, you’re wasting the precious power of your thoughts.
In the Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) I teach, we train students to use what’s called a “pattern interrupt.” Basically, this is just an action or a thought that disrupts whatever you’re doing. It’s like those times when you’re right in the middle of a story and someone interrupts you with an off-the-wall question. You often feel that second of confusion and lose your train of thought, right? That’s a pattern interrupt.
The first step in interrupting your mind when it’s galivanting around is to become aware of it. The second step is to give it something better to do. Here are examples of common brain-wasters and how you can interrupt them.
Talking to people who aren’t in the room.
We all know this one. You have a conflict with someone and eight hours later while you’re lathering up in the shower, you tell that so and so exactly what you think of them. You’re brilliant, articulate and persuasive. Your comebacks are witty and inarguable. You justify and re-justify why you are right and they are wrong.
This may be okay for blowing off steam but, more often than not, your imaginary conversation starts running an endless loop in your head. Days maybe even years after the incident, you’re replaying the conversation you could have had.
Instead, when you notice this happening, try writing it down. The activity of writing takes some effort and allows you to slow the thoughts down. When you see your thoughts on paper, they may seem less engrossing and they may suggest solutions to whatever you’re ranting about.
Creating stories based on little or no evidence.
A student gave me a good example of this: She was walking her rescue dog when the dog saw a squirrel and started acting up. Her dog has had fear aggression issues so she’s been trained to deal firmly with him when he misbehaves. As she was disciplining the dog, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a neighbor sipping coffee on his porch.
As she walked away, the story began: “He probably thinks I was mean to my dog. He probably thinks he knows better than I do how to handle the situation and that if it was his dog, the dog would behave better. He probably thinks. . .” After half an hour of fuming and speculation, she came to her senses and realized that she had never met the man, had no idea what he was thinking or if he’d even noticed her and her dog. Total waste of good mind power!
If you insist on making up stories, how about making up a positive or even funny one? “The guy on the porch was probably watching and taking notes so he could handle his own dog better.” “That guy on the porch was actually a Martian who was studying us to understand human behavior.”
Rehearsing the worst that could happen.
It sounds like this: “What if she refuses to give me that raise?” “What if they don’t like the project I just turned in?” “What if he says ‘no’?” “What if I look stupid in front of all those people?” From the initial “what if,” our minds often start running scenarios of failure, humiliation, and rejection. We might think we’re doing that to prepare, to let ourselves down easy just in case the outcome is bad. But in truth, we’re setting ourselves up to create the outcome we don’t want.
But think about it: When you do this, you spend hours and hours feeling bummed out because you’re anticipating something bad. Why not anticipate something great and feel good about it instead? If the worst happens, you can feel bummed at that time. If the best happens, you won’t have wasted your mental/emotional energy in anticipating the worst.
They say, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” You get to choose whether to waste yours or not!
“Change your thoughts and you change your world.” - Norman Vincent Peale
To your TOTAL empowerment!
Byline: Matthew B. James, MA, Ph.D., is President of The Empowerment Partnership. Author of several books, Dr. Matt has trained thousands of students to be totally empowered using Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Huna, Mental Emotional Release® (MER®) therapy, and Empowerment Fit, a program that incorporates targeted mind/body/spirit practices to create optimal physical fitness and health. Download his free special report, Everything You’ll Ever Need to Know to Achieve Your Goals. To reach Dr. James, please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his blog at www.DrMatt.com.