In a recent issue, we talked about ways to address the worrying mind. I’d like to build on that discussion with a related issue – the incessant mental noise that may occupy your mind and contribute to the worry. You know what I’m talking about.
It’s that inner communication inside the mind. It could be the stories you are telling yourself about what is going to happen, what should have happened, the worst thing that can happen, who you are or should be, what should or should not be yours, and what you should have done. And then there are the random useless and irrelevant thoughts from out of nowhere. These thoughts often reflect a negative bias.
They can cause a lot of suffering. And not just your suffering but others suffering too because without some awareness we act on this mental noise. It can shape our assumptions, beliefs and actions towards loved ones, colleagues, or people who think or look different than us.
This is an inexhaustible subject but here are a few strategies for helping you calm the mental noise in your mind even if you are smack dab in the mix in the external world, whether it be protests, family difficulties, or a stressful matter at work:
Mindfulness heightens awareness of thoughts, emotions, and body sensations. From that place of awareness we can make more conscious choices of how much of our energy we devote to random thoughts and our response to those thoughts. Studies indicate that a mindfulness meditation practice can change the brain in areas linked to, among other things, emotion regulation. In the ongoing focus and research in this area, studies also indicate that mindfulness meditation can help reduce implicit age and race bias.
Visualization can serve as a counterbalance to the negative thoughts richocheting through your head. Our natural negative bias can be helpful in times of immediate crisis. But, a chronic focus on the negative can make it, among other things, difficult to move forward.
Visualizing an image of a positive outcome can help counterbalance imagined or perceived negative outcomes. A 2016 study of people diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) indicated just that. In that study, participants who repeatedly practiced positive thoughts (visual or verbal) showed a meaningful decrease in worry and anxiety. While not all of us who worry more than we’d like have GAD, visualization resonates with many people and can be part of a mindfulness practice as well.
This is an important part of the coaching process. In reframing, we are purposefully taking our thoughts and looking at them in different ways. If, for instance, you are worried about a worst case scenario, you can intentionally consider potential positive outcomes as well. As another example, where something didn’t go particularly right, you could focus on what did go right and what you learned from the process.
At base, these approaches involve a broadening of perspective. Notice that they do not involve putting energy into resisting what is internally there. That is already taking up enough of your energy; no need giving it more. Rather it is about expanding the way you look at yourself and the world around you. As a result, you are more likely to place your energy and attention on what helps you move forward and live more in alignment with your values and goals.