The Power of the Mind and How to Mitigate Your Thoughts
Have you ever wondered whether or not those voices in your head are worth listening to? If my voices had it their way, I’d be reduced to solitary confinement without supper. I keep telling myself it’s not about you because that’s what all of the wise asses tell me. “It’s not you, it’s them.” But is it them?
We get to inhabit this amazing planet ever so briefly. Yet still, we spend way too much time ganging up on ourselves. A part of you knows this. You know time is precious and that you are enough. Still, self-doubt and blame seem to be an easy go-to. I’m fucking tired of it. Two steps forward, three steps back . . . it’s exhausting.
“Fear and self-doubt are the greatest killers of personal genius.”
— Ziad K. Abdelnou
How many times have you been with a small little person (not child, a creep) and walked away thinking something was wrong with you? There is only one explanation for this kind of self-flagellation: a very damaged sense-of-self. I’ve learned through talking with friends and strangers, that many of us suffer from this serious affliction. Professionals believe that it is prudent to explore the origin of self-doubt, for you. For me it goes back to a mother who did not believe one should congratulate oneself. If I even came close to anything that resembled self-praise, I was shut down, scolded, and put in my place.
A few weeks ago I was sitting with acquaintances; I shared that I had a Ph.D. and that my dissertation was about homophobia. I don’t remember why I mentioned it except that we were talking about being gay. I beat myself up for two days after mentioning my degree. Sound ridiculous? Yes it was. Welcome to my world.
I often wonder if knowing how my open wounds were created, helps in the healing process. The answer for me is that I’m certain it does help; however, clearly it’s not a cure. There is a great deal of work that has to be done beyond discovery. Confronting demons is one of the more difficult things we have to do in order to move on. Why did you do this to me? Do you have regrets? Would you do it differently if you could do it all over again? What does a do over look like? Tell me what I mean to you and how far you’re willing to go to protect what we have?
How Your Friends Can Help
I have a couple of friends that I know can be brutally honest and that’s a good thing. I will occasionally ask this kind of question: That conversation we just had, do you think I was being sincere? Did any of it sound like bullshit? If you’re open to their honest perception of what went down, you can make some serious positive changes in your life.
You have to pick and choose who you do this with and how often you do it; it’s asking a lot. I have one friend who usually nails it — I don’t always like what she has to say, but I know it’s insightful and useful. When you know someone loves you a great deal, you can trust that their words are coming from a good place.
When people only tell you what they think you want to hear, it does you no good. It tends to validate mistakes or bad behavior. I’m refraining from providing examples; then I’d have to relive some difficult situations.
I’ve been journaling for over forty years and I find it therapeutic and useful for two reasons: first, it tends to help remove it from your mind. When thoughts swirl around in your head, they tend to need a release valve of some sort. Journaling helps you clarify and purge. Secondly, and not as straightforward, if you’re willing to go back later and read your thoughts, it helps you to see that you may or may not have made progress. It can be a good gauge of success, failure, and change. Just don’t beat yourself up if you didn’t accomplish your goal or meet your own unrealistic expectations (i.e., last year I told myself that enough was enough and that I needed to speak Portuguese. I set a personal goal to speak conversational Portuguese by January 2022 — not realistic at all. I had to revise that goal several times and that’s okay.)
I will usually sit down with my journal sometime in late December to review the year. If I have sketched out some goals in January, it’s always good to see how far I have come. I have also realized that some goals are better not pursued. Travel helps me to see things in new and different ways. It gets me out-of-my-head; new surroundings help with out-of-the-box thinking and creativity.
Stepping Outside of Your Comfort Zone
There are several ways that I choose to challenge myself. Some are more difficult than others:
- Set a goal and work toward surpassing my marker. For example, organizing my home. I’ll plan to tackle a room at a time and finish in a week. Once I get started, I will challenge myself to get it done in five days with a reward (dinner in a nice restaurant) if I succeed.
- If I find myself with a thoughts(s) that I believe are damaging my sense-of-self, I will work toward either walking away from the source of these thoughts, or changing the situation so that the outcome will be positive. I am currently in a situation where a couple of people I spend time with, derive pleasure from belittling others. They’re subtle and subversive in their actions. I’m having to decide whether to stay and ignore their toxicity or walk away from it. Accepting that there are people and things I cannot change, has always been challenging. It also good to remind yourself of your own flaws and shortcomings.
- Therapy entails a lot of work; however, the payoff can be enormous. I have been in therapy on and off since my early twenties. It’s difficult to quantify the benefits, but my gut tells me that I am a better person for having done the work. It’s is certainly not a one and done experience. I believe for most, some kind of therapy, is a lifetime commitment. The pursuit of sanity?
- Exercise helps me sort out toxic thoughts and put things in perspective. You’re are accomplishing multiple goals when you physically challenge yourself. Let it become a good habit. I miss a workout and I feel it deeply. There are instances when I’m not near a gym or time does not allow a workout; a good long walk can be a positive replacement or substitute.
- Meditation. I will always recommend meditation. Give yourself a few minutes a day to to free up your mind and make room for possibilities. There are so many ways to meditate and most of them provide benefits.
- Travel for me is probably my #1 mind opener. It allows you to experience the world in different ways and see things in a different light. It’s a good way to step out of your comfort zone. It’s also a terrific way to meet interesting people and make friends all over the world. I know/knew a couple who travelled into their 90s (one of them has passed). Their stories were enlightening and their dreams were contagious. They are my model for experiencing the wonders of our planet.
I have plans and tickets for France in a few weeks, but if I’m going to be realistic, I just don’t see it happening [I just postponed this trip until August]. Testing and restrictions make it difficult to enjoy touring. Cuba has been postponed twice already and my February plans also seem doomed for cancellation. It is a Cuba, Toronto, Baltimore itinerary; I’ll be surprised if I can pull it off. I know this isn’t fair to say because so many have been negatively impacted by COVID-19, but I am fucking tired of it. People need to be vaccinated and follow protocols.
One thing is for certain, COVID-19 has helped me to be more flexible and understanding. I have never had to navigate so much uncertainty and change — I’m getting better about going with it. Truthfully, sometimes admitting that it’s getting to me, doesn’t seem to placate my anger. What I want, what I need, is for this virus to become normalized; like the common cold or flu perhaps. Forever the dreamer.