Tame Your Chattering Mind
By Dr. Ashoke Priyadarshana
My life has been filled with terrible tragedies, most of which never happened, said Mark Twain. Just take a moment and observe the thoughts that dwell in your mind at the moment. Thoughts come, stay and leave whereas some thoughts remain in your mind for a long period of time. Is it because thoughts themselves want to stay in your mind or you have welcomed them to stay with you? The answer is yours.
Thoughts driven by happiness will not last long, yet thoughts driven by sadness and negativity will keep coming even if you don't want them to stay with you. According to a Harvard study, it indicates that 47% of our lives is spent thinking either about the past or the future. As the professionals in the field of psychotherapy point out, people tend to be depressed when they get stuck in the past and they become anxious whenever they are stuck in the future.
The wandering mind takes you to different places; and it is capable of changing your mood, physiology and your behaviour. Just think about a situation in which you became tense. Even if that incident would have taken place sometime before, your brain still identifies it as something happening right now. Accordingly, biochemical changes, are also possible.
For example, amygdala which is responsible for fear is said to be changing its nature when one keeps thinking of fear-related stimuli. The Limbic system which is responsible for emotions is said to be changing its size with depression. The mind keeps generating thoughts; and the majority of those thoughts may not be cheerful, joyful, delighted or positive.
The mind is sometimes compared to a monkey that keeps chattering. As if a monkey is chattering endlessly, wandering minds keep generating thoughts. If you carefully observe, you would see that the majority of those thoughts are not realistic. Yet, without being concerned about their realistic or unrealistic nature, we tend to obey the thoughts and act upon them.
As indicated by research, the lifespan of an emotion is only 90 seconds or so; yet, our mind is engaged in rumination or internal speech to carry forward the emotions. As long as the emotions are positive, this internal speech could be beneficial. If emotions are not healthy, the internal speech of rumination could be problematic.
Committing suicide is an action which is often fuelled by depressive thoughts. Jon Kabat-Zinn who is the founder of mindfulness Based Stress Reduction stresses the importance of having the ‘Beginner's Mind’. Beginner’s Mind refers to keeping one's mind fresh as much as possible in every moment.
For example, if you have a shower with your Beginner’s Mindset, you experience it as if you are bathing for the first time. This is the moment that you live in and it won't come back. So, it is better to live in this moment with a fresh mindset. In most situations what happens is that people tend to live this moment with preconceived ideas, thoughts and concepts.
Rumination is the nature of our mind. Things which have not happened yet might be happening at the moment in your imaginary world with the help of rumination. Believing in thoughts blindly might abandon you in an unrealistic world. Anxiety, depression and many other psychological conditions could be the outcomes of such ruminating thoughts.
We are not thoughts. It is better to be mindful in dealing with your thoughts. Mindfulness is said to be a much better antidote to psychological difficulties such as anxiety and depression. Mindfulness encourages us to live in this moment with awareness. One's mind is anchored by mindfulness to this moment without letting it be distracted by different thoughts.
Mindfulness does not ask you to battle against your thoughts, yet it suggests you observe the thoughts that pop out in the mind. Individuals are instructed to observe the thoughts as if a scientist observes the items in a particular test. When stressful and depressive thoughts are there in one's mind, all you have to do is just observe them as a third person. The more you battle with your thoughts and emotions, the stronger they become; therefore, observing thoughts with awareness is ideal.
If you are too hectic with your stuff, you had better try out the STOP technique. Each letter tells you the steps then one must follow. S refers to stop yourself for a moment and be grounded at this moment. T means taking a deep breath while being with the breath. O refers to observing thoughts which have dwelled in your mind.
Most importantly, just observing the thoughts without judgements is enough. And then you proceed (P) with what you are supposed to do. Thoughts need to be perceived as mental events, and they should not be considered as facts. Observing new thoughts without judgements and living in this moment with awareness will help you tame your mind. The mind can be a great servant, but it is not a good master.