With a ball of dread stuck in the pit of the stomach and the head feeling like it’s cloaked in a black cloud of fear and worry it’s very hard to get perspective or find any energy to make progress. Getting through a day is struggle enough – trying to engage but feeling cut off from others and thinking that everyone else seems to be doing ok so ‘what’s wrong with me?’. This is what it’s like when our thoughts are on a downward spiral. There can be many factors contributing to these anxious and depressive states but three likely culprits are the following:
1) Mind Wandering: It’s estimated we have 60,000 ‘self talks’ (thoughts, memories, fantasies, imagined conversations, planning etc) a day – most of which are subconscious. Many of us have not learned to focus our attention and commonly we let our mind wander undirected. It could flicker from 10’s of subjects in a few short minutes – much like channel hopping. Our energy flows where our attention goes, so mind wandering is like having 100 files open on a computer – nothing much is getting done, and the energy is draining – especially when the self-talks are worrisome.
2) Negative / Survival Bias: The brain has a ‘natural’ negative bias of about 4:1 negative or survival based thoughts to positive or growth based thoughts. We evolved and survived because we looked out for, noticed and handled danger. What’s fine and safe and working commonly get’s ignored. We are (mostly) no longer in any physical danger yet the bias still remains as a part of the brain. Coupled with undisciplined mind wandering this tendency can result in a lot of stress.
3) Spot-lighting. As mentioned the brain is wired to notice potential danger. Whenever we hesitate in our actions the brain ‘wakes up’ out of the habitual conditioned responses and is alerted to the fact that we are trying something new, going to take a risk – going off script. Example, we might have an inspired idea in a meeting but hesitate to share it; we might want to approach someone with a business idea or to ask them out but hesitate to do so. It’s the brain’s job to keep us alive and it does that largely by comparing this situation to past situations and employing the thoughts and behaviours that got us through last time. If we are deviating by changing our normal response the brain will spot-light all the potential risk (even imagined and unlikely ones) and blow them out of proportion. The resulting anxiety and fear is usually sufficient for us not to take the chance and revert back to how it’s always been.
Knowing about these built in tendencies we can counter them by developing three distinct skills:
1) Discipline our focus of attention. Make conscious choices for what we are going to give our attention to and be deliberate in developing the skill of focused attention. We will achieve more, be less fearful and have more control over our feelings and actions.
2) Deliberately work on the quality of our thinking to improve the 4:1 negative bias. Develop the art of gratitude, paying attention to what’s going well.
3) Act before we hesitate. Make a decision, choose to go/do/be and act. Hesitation will result in worry and ‘worst case scenario’ thinking so ‘just do it’. Don’t wait for feelings of motivation before following through on an action as new, risky, growth based choices can cause fear based spot-lighting to occur and that kind of thinking is de-motivating and is designed to talk us out of changing.
THE MIND MAKES A GREAT SERVANT YET A TERRIBLE MASTER.
Left to its own devices, conditioned by survival bias and fear based ideas and inputs the mind can be a torture to live with. Yet, it can be disciplined, corrected, made beautiful and be lived with a lot more easily.
It’s worth the effort.
I’m happy to help facilitate change.
Feel free to drop in for a chat.
All the best,
087 2201 453