Every day I wake up and check my weather app.
And every day it tells me the same thing. It is going to be very very hot again today.
But I keep checking it anyway.
This morning, right after I checked it yet again (and it told me yet again that it is going to be 101F and feel like 112F) I had the thought that maybe tomorrow morning I won’t check it.
After all, it wasn’t so long ago I didn’t even have a weather app to check. Which was because I didn’t have a smart phone to check it on. Which was because smart phones hadn’t been invented yet.
Back in this days, if I wanted to know what the weather was that day, I had to turn on the news and wait for the “weather report” to come on. Alternately, I could open up the door and walk outside.
The reason I share this example is because it involves me doing something repetitively that is really rather neutral and also rather recent but is already kind of a hard habit to break.
Even though it doesn’t make a lot of sense and I don’t need to do it, I have gotten into the habit of doing it. It is comfortable. Or comforting. Or at least time-filling for a split second or two. And breaking the habit takes energy and effort and I don’t feel like mustering up either right now.
But let’s take a less neutral, less recent mental habit of mine and see how this might play out.
Ever since my long-time love and I split up more than a year and a half ago now, I have gotten into a habit of worrying that I will be single for the rest of my life.
As long as I am very busy during the day with work and creative projects and caring for my animals and doing yoga and cooking and all the things that I do each day, this thought-habit may pop up here and there, but it isn’t all that bothersome.
My brain basically whomps it down because it is busy thinking about something else instead.
But just let a national holiday or a slow weekend day or a rainy morning or a lovely quiet evening pop up and all I have to do is wait.
The thought pops up. “Oh wouldn’t it be nice to have a partner right now.”
This then spirals me into more thoughts about how I am just sure all the partnered people out there are having the time of their lives right now and are soooo much happier than me and I bet my ex is so much happier than me too and I bet everyone is happier than me and what is wrong with me and I won’t even bore you with more of that rabbit-hole perspective.
You get it. I’m sure you do – even if being partnered vs. not-partnered isn’t your particular brand of unwanted and extra-clingy mental habit, you probably have another thought that likes to sneak up on you and pounce in certain moments when you are more vulnerable.
The reason I’m even blogging about it right now is because my wonderful life and business coach, Christine Kane, has taught me a great new way to look at these habitual and unproductive thought-habits.
She calls them mental junk food.
She says they are just something to fill up the mind with to keep it busy.
As someone who has recovered from an eating disorder and has basically wrestled with food and eating all my life, this so hit home for me!
(Christine Kane is also recovered from an eating disorder, by the way, which is one of many reasons why she is such a perfect mentor for me – she often helps me see older, deeper patterns in my life using food metaphors so I can see how recovery is recovery – it doesn’t really matter how the pattern is manifesting in the moment or if it is physical or mental or emotional or relational or some other type of pattern.)
Anyway, when I think of this distressing thought-habit of worrying about being partnered vs. not-partnered as a BIG. LIFE. ISSUE. it can easily take over my morning or my evening or my whole day and my mood and my self-esteem and all the rest.
But when I think of this same distressing thought-habit is nothing more than mental junk food, I remember to just focus on the energy of it, notice where I feel it in my body, breathe into it, let it dissipate (more on this awesome technique that Christine taught me in this blog post).
Sometimes I actually visualize my mind heading to the frig – not because it is particularly hungry or thirsty – but just because it is bored or restless or just feeling sort of peckish in an “I don’t feel like analyzing what I really want or need to be thinking about” kind of way.
I see my mind open the frig and just pull out something fast and easy and not-that-healthy – a thought-pattern that feels familiar and comfortable, even if it is not at all comforting or healthy for it or the rest of me.
When I visualize the thought-pattern this way, it really helps me see that it is just a thought-pattern. And I can put it back. I can let it go. I can change it into something healthier that feels better and is actually productive and positive.
But first I have to catch my mind in the act of grazing mindlessly on its favorite mental junk food.
Another reason I love working with Christine is because she helps me break down these big challenges into bite-size (whether physical or mental) portions. So my job one week might be to simply catch my mind in the act of heading to the thought-frig yet again for a mindless junky mental snack.
Then the next week I will get the job of changing that thought-habit into a more positive one using my mental creativity to do it. This is like taking that crinkly baggy of salty, crunchy negative thought-habit chips out of my mind’s greedy little hand and replacing it with a bag of healthy, crunchy carrot sticks instead.
So let’s say my mind has managed to make it to the thought-frig and is about to rip open a snack-size bag of I-have-no-partner chips yet again.
I somehow manage to catch it in the act.
I then get to choose what it snacks on.
But there is still one problem. My mind won’t want to give up its favorite snack at first.
So then I have to convince my mind it will like the new mental snack better than the old one.
I can do this by finding a thought that feels better and giving that thought to my mind instead.
My particular mind might not be the brightest lightbulb in the chandelier, so to speak, but it likes to feel better just like the rest of me does.
So when I can show it how switching to thinking – daydreaming instead of worrying, as Christine Kane calls it – about how happy I will be when I am with my perfect-for-me love will make it feel so much better, it is usually very happy to make the switch.
This has really helped me in the past few months in particular, when the long summer days remind me of how last summer my former partner and I were always heading to the beach to watch the sunset and were talking about our plans for the future and looking at properties out in the country and all that partnery kind of stuff.
It helps me respectfully remind myself there is a reason we are not doing that this year and that the reason is a good one. A respectful one. A loving one for both parties.
I can still go to the beach (and I do, as COVID issues here in Texas have permitted). I can still look at land and dream about the future. I can still watch the sunset and marvel at how I’ve never seen a sunset I didn’t love and want to give a standing ovation for.
But now my mind is happy so it is not making the rest of me miserable.
I am learning that when any part of me – body, mind, heart or spirit – tries to sneak away for a junk food break, the whole me is going to be the worse for it.
But now I have a great way to get back to feeling better quick.
With COVID-19 closures still raging on and nearly everything about this year not going as planned, I just thought I would share this here in case your mind has also been tempted to tiptoe away and try to sneak some mental junk food that makes the rest of you feel awful.
If so, maybe Christine’s techniques will help you the way they are helping me.
With great respect and love,