Have you ever felt anxious about something that turned out to be nothing?
Worried about an event that never ended up happening (except maybe in your own imagination)?
Perhaps you’ve caught yourself planning for trouble before it actually hit.
And feeling the feelings that comes with all of this…
It can be pretty sickening – a lurch in your gut, a fast-beating heart and sometimes you might even get the sweats. And no wonder. For your thoughts are joined to your feelings – intricately linked. As one moves, the other will probably follow.
So it’s important to keep an eye on your thoughts, to monitor them a bit, so a sudden downward spiral into darker feelings doesn’t catch you unawares. And so you can nip any unnecessary anxiety in the bud if you want to.
It was on this same trip to work the other day, walking a different way, seeing different things, that I spotted this sign:
“FEED YOUR MIND.”
And it led me to wondering… What are you feeding your mind?
Are you nourishing it?
Or mindlessly stuffing some junk in for a quick bit of rush?
What are you putting in there?
(And what are you hoping to get back out of it?)
In his book, “Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life,” world renown Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh writes about mindful consumption. Not just of food. But of everything you ingest: television, conversations, images, thoughts.
So, if you were to look at the typical “diet” you feed your mind, what might you find?
Sometimes it’s hard not to feel like an outsider. Like you don’t quite fit in.
Maybe you’re carrying a certain sadness that sets you apart from the places that other people seem to inhabit right now. Or maybe you doubt your worth or your ability to contribute sometimes. Maybe you just feel “different.” Or even “weird.” Or that your values or the way you want to live your life aren’t quite what society currently sees as “normal.”
Feeling a bit out of step with the people around you – your family or work colleagues or friends – is often tough. One theory suggests there are two opposing “life forces” we balance inside ourselves: the “force of individuality” and the “force of togetherness.” Individuality is about our uniqueness, while togetherness is thought to heighten our sense of safety and survival in a group.
So it can be tempting trade self for safety sometimes. To hide your points of difference and gloss over them. To keep the surface calm so that no-one else’s boat is rocked. To muffle the parts of you that would sing a different tune. To shrink yourself to make the anxiety smaller, too. (All of which usually just means that you get to keep all the dissonance inside you, instead of sharing it around).
What if there was another way?
Sometimes life is just challenging. Hard, even. Just when you think you’ve got plenty to deal with, along comes even more. Right on time.
It can start to swamp you. Overwhelm you.
That’s what this photo reminds me of (above). A street art tsunami coming for you at the end of a no-through-road. It can feel hard to escape…
So what can you do to help yourself through the overwhelm? How can you get through life’s no-through-roads?
Have you started some new ways of being lately?
Or stopped some old ones?
Some life choices.
Whatever you call them, they can be challenging to maintain sometimes. Harder, perhaps, to keep in place than it is to kick them off.
So maybe you’ve stopped “emotional eating” (or wanted to).
Or changed the rate at which you turn to certain substances for support.
Maybe you’ve started a more nourishing routine in your life (adding more exercise or creativity or relaxation or fun).
Or perhaps you’ve tried starting something like this a few times, only to “fail”. Started and then stopped again. Started and stopped.
When you’ve “fallen off the wagon” like this, whatever your wagon of choice, it can feel like you have to start right back from the very beginning. From scratch. That you have to “start from zero,” like in the photo, above. (Only this time, with a heavier heart and the taste of discouragement and “failure” in your mouth).
But is that actually true?
The cycle of change model thinks it isn’t.
Let’s have a closer look.
There’s a saying about bowls. It comes from an ancient text, but maybe it’s just as applicable today (bowls haven’t changed much in that time…).
It’s about the fact that the absence of bowl is just as important as its presence. That the emptiness inside it is crucial to its nature. The emptiness makes it possible – is its essence, in a way:
“Mould clay into a bowl.
The empty space makes it useful…”
Perhaps there’s something to learn here…
See if you can find any parts of yourself in what he’s talking about here…
Dr Hendrix, you’ve said that people in love are masters of projection. So do you think it’s possible for us to ever really see the other person? Or, even in relationship, are we kind of only engaging with ourselves?
I think we do see the other. It certainly doesn’t start there, though.
It starts with a projection onto the other, of both the idealised and the unacknowledged, disowned, de-idealised aspects of yourself, so that romantic love appears to be pretty much an illusion, in terms of knowing who it is that you’re relating to.
Just a small change can make a big difference.
Once just a “no stopping” traffic sign, the whole message here in the photo has been changed by someone’s sticker. Now it’s all about equality*.
So what does equality mean to you in your life?
What does it actually look like?
And are your relationships places where you feel like that stuff happens?
Just take a moment to ponder:
And what about the longest long-term relationship you’re ever likely to have – the one you share with yourself…?
“Wellbeing is at the heart of everything,” suggested this billboard as I wandered past recently.
Or is it?
What about in your life? Where does wellbeing feature in your scheme of things? On your list of priorities? (Or maybe it doesn’t quite make it onto that list?)
It can be so easy in life (and in therapy) to focus on the ‘negative’ side – the heartache, the pain, the frustrations, the angst. To notice what’s ‘wrong’ over what might still be ‘right’. To kind of zoom in close on the tragedy and push the joy somewhere out into our peripheral vision.
In fact, it’s thought we might be “pretty much hardwired to focus on the negative,” as Dr Ruth Buczynski puts it.
That’s your brain’s “negativity bias” at work – and it’s a pretty diligent little worker…
So what’s this negativity bias all about? And how might you rebalance it enough to entice a bit more wellbeing back into your life?
Have you heard of ‘tall poppy syndrome’?
It’s that social tendency which sees high achievers – ‘tall poppies’ – as standing ‘above the crowd’ somehow; and it cuts them down to size.
And if it’s taken root in your patch, it can make it tricky for you to strive. To grow. To dare to put yourself out there in the world and try your best at what you’re passionate about. For it can be a pretty potent motivator to stay small…safe…(silent, even).
Once it’s put like that, tall poppy syndrome starts to sound a bit like fear of judgment. Or maybe even fear of success.
Do any of these things sound familiar to you?
If so, what is it, exactly, that you might fear if you stuck your head up above the parapet?
(It might be worth getting to know that stuff a little better, for, often, we can carry around fairly nebulous worries that can actually draw strength from remaining indistinct… Getting clearer about them sometimes brings them into sharper focus; makes them more known to you. Maybe even more manageable).