It’s time to put things in a simple construct. I am not one for the wordiness of programs that teach about wellbeing, nor do I understand the often unappealing hokiness of certain methods. However, I am only a person who understands what works for me. This does not mean what worked for me is something that works for everyone. Then again, my aim in my journals and my research is to find a commonality between us. I want to figure out in the simplest, most followable terms, what works, what makes sense and what simplifies the complicated thoughts that trigger anxiety or the anticipation of impending doom.
Telling someone “Don’t think about it,” is a surefire way to make someone think about it.
For example, if I told you “Not” to picture a plate of pancakes with a square of butter on top and syrup dripping down the sides, what’s the first picture that comes to mind?
If I said, “Don’t think about the pictures on menus inside a Chinese food restaurant,” and told you, “Don’t think about fried egg rolls and a picture of roast pork fried rice,” what’s the picture that comes to your mind? Are you thinking of backpacking through the upstate mountains in New York? Well, if you weren’t before then you are now. Am I right?
Of course, this is an exercise but at the same time (and there’s always someone who denies seeing any of this) the idea is to show how the mind works.
The power of suggestion is truly incredible. Therefore, I wanted to come up with stronger methods of replacement and distractions to help change focus and lead our thinking to a different position.
When we talk about our life or our past problems, I don’t want to say “Don’t look back” because saying this is the same as telling someone, “Don’t look down” when they’re afraid of heights.
Don’t look down. Don’t look back. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be sad. Or wait, how about don’t be anxious? Sure, it’s just that easy. And it’s not easy. At least, not without practice.
At the start of my journals, my personal goal was to prevent depressive relapse. I wanted to stop my thoughts from returning to the same platforms. I wanted to stop the anxious moments that kept me limited to my thinking and physically uncomfortable. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t relax. I was fueled with ideas and thoughts about rejection, shame, blame, guilt and fault. I would try to enjoy myself but I could never fully enjoy myself or feel good because my thinking continued behind the scenes.
There are countless steps to avoid anxiety attacks and ways to overcome depression. However, the missing ingredient is the internal connection.
I lacked the moment of personal realization that would allow me to retain the information that would help me. Otherwise, so long as I was disconnected from the solution, there was a blockage that prevented my thoughts from moving freely and without judgment.
Please allow me to explain:
Our thoughts move in patterns that connect with opinions, biases, memories, emotions and feelings. We connect them to buckets of old information. Next, we habitually come to conclusions or respond with trained behaviors.
I am writing this, however, as a layperson. Although I study and although I do have credentials, I am not writing this as a healthcare professional.
Instead, I am writing this as a person with boots on the ground in a fight to find hope, sanity and a better life for myself.
Here’s a question: At what point do we look at the lessons we’ve been taught or think about the things we’ve learned throughout our life and come to the idea that maybe these lessons were wrong?
Maybe the teachers who taught us how to think were fed the wrong information.
Maybe our parents told us what they knew but maybe what they learned was inaccurate. Or, what about the teachers who taught us in school? I have learned that to be a teacher, you have to remain teachable, which means some of the most valuable lessons will come to us from our students.
Now what I am about to say might not appeal to those who are against this model; however, I remember the first time I ever shot a high-powered hunting rifle. I was at a rifle range with a friend. I was told what to do. I was taught how to shoulder the rifle. I was taught how to breathe and how to look through the scope and then how to squeeze the trigger. Again, I am writing this as a layperson. Not a marksperson.
It was nighttime. Autumn had just circled back and the weather was neither cool nor warm but just right. I was looking down range through the scope. I was breathing the way I was told to breathe. I was holding the rifle the way I was taught to hold the rifle. My form was correct; however, my anticipation of the gun’s recoil was inexperienced.
I pulled the trigger and the rifle kicked back. The scope hit the bridge of my nose. But wait, I was taught what to do. I was told how to shoulder the rifle. I was told that my form was right, yet the unexpected happened. I was hurt. I experienced pain. I was hit in the face by the back of the scope and the moment taught me a lesson that my body would not forget.
What I lacked in this application was the actual experience and the feel. What I gained, however, was the actual feel and the real-life experience of firing a rifle.
Another thing I gained was a quickly learned internal bias because each time after, I found myself automatically flinching because of the pain I felt during my first shot.
Meanwhile, I gained the lesson. I learned how to hold the rifle properly on the bench. Now that I knew, there was no reason to fear the scope hitting my face but the mind’s sole purpose is to protect us and keep us from pain.
I’d prepare for the flinch each time after and what did this do? This prevented me from shooting smoothly and accurately hitting my target.
I use this analogy because this applies to me in more ways than the rifle range. There are times when we experience pain or worry or discomfort. The mind flinches because we don’t want a series of events to happen again. They may not happen again but the bias is there. The bias is linked to a trigger that leads to a memory, experience or time of discomfort. Meanwhile, and figuratively speaking, we learned from our past events. However, the fears of our past results coming back to life are enough to cause an emotional flinch of fear and anticipation.
How is it possible to perfect an action if we are always afraid of old results or past responses?
Meanwhile, our mind lives in the past and our fears anticipate the future.This is the yin and yang of depression and anxiety. There is no present. There is only assumption, projection and biased predictions.
So, if this is true, then how do we change our assumptions?
How do we change our programmed responses?
How do we change our reactions?
And most importantly, how do we improve?
The Answer: Practice.
Small, incremental changes that are consecutive in our daily routine will allow us to make huge changes in our personal trajectory. This is how we create new thought patterns and new belief systems. We can habitually defy our old beliefs by habitually creating new pathways and patterns of thinking.
I say this is a simple text but the question still remains: How?
The answer is personal to the individual. In my case, I had to learn a new form of mental fitness. I had to create a daily regimen and routine that allowed me to properly distract my old thinking and replace my old ideas with a new reward system.
I changed my daily goals, which started with this one here. I decided to journal each morning from now until the time when my fingers could no longer type or I could no longer write. This has made all the difference for me. I decided to face my demons and challenge my assumptions without judgment or fear. My easiest suggestion is to look back before times were difficult (if they are difficult) and look to a time when you had things that both encouraged and empowered you.
In my case, I had to break down my thinking to see what triggered my anxiety and led me towards worries of the future. At the same time, I had to look back to see where these lessons came from. I had to find new ways to nurture my best interests otherwise my habits were less than beneficial.
The trick was following my habitual belief system. I had to disprove my old thinking and prove that my new thinking had merit. I had to discover that my new life was simply more beneficial.
I had to learn that my anxiety was a fear that the pains from my past would creep up on me again. I had finally come to the understanding that my depression was my cognitive trap that kept me in the past. On the other side, my anxiety was the same cognitive mechanism that anticipated my future. This was what caused my emotional flinch.
I have always been afraid of public exposure and humiliation. My fears of this date back to my early youth; however, it is definitely safe to say that I will never be in second grade again and the entire classroom won’t ever laugh at me again after wetting my pants in the school’s cafeteria. By the way, the nurse had emergency pants. They were purple corduroys … NOT A GOOD LOOK FOR ME!
I will never have to endure the bus ride home after being bullied at school. I will never be humiliated by my old mistakes again; yet, if I do not address my emotional flinch, there are fears that are built up inside which block me from going forward. Hence, I will never reach my best possible potential.
My main objective is to allow these old biases to pass without judgment and rather than flinch or interact with them, I want to dismiss them. I want to let them go so I can shoot smoothly and allow myself the dignity to overcome my past.
The one undeniable fact that I have learned is that there is no such thing as perfection. So, to say practice makes perfect might be a touch inaccurate. However, practice has helped me to perfect the idea that I (and you) can overcome anything. But we have to put the work in.
And remember: The depth of our commitment equals the reach of our success. This means (and what I’m politely trying to say here is) do not quit! Quitting is a thought that turns into an action. So, no matter what your thoughts are, keep going. Eventually, this will become your habit.