How to Calm Your Mind
by Merryl Lentz
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The mind can be like an overactive monkey, swinging wildly from vine to vine and chattering noisily and incessantly the whole time. It's hyperactive and demands your undivided attention. Here are a few tips for turning this wild beast into a more domesticated creature.
Studies have documented the number of thoughts we have per day at 50,000, while others have placed that number at a high 80,000. They have also discovered that the majority of these thoughts are negative, recurring and have no specific purpose. Among other things, your thoughts impact your effectiveness and your feelings -- they affect the quality of your life. If you catch yourself thinking about random things that distract you, bother you or even affect your sleep, here are some methods for taming it.
The first step toward gaining control of the mind is to learn how to relax. Yes, this can be quite a challenge. While sitting quietly, concentrate on a natural sound. If your mind tries to inundate you with images, stare down each image until it dissolves away. The more disturbed you are with your mind, the more images it will fling at you -- to the point where you may have to focus on a loud noise, rather than a soft one. Do whatever it takes to overpower your mind.
Along these lines is meditation, which also has several positive effects upon the mind and body. It's also deceptively difficult to master, which is why many people attempt it a time or two, but struggle with incorporating it as a regular habit. Meditation helps fight the physical and emotional components of stress, and positively affects your productivity and ability to relax. Just start off with 10 minutes a day, and then gradually build up to more.
For minor distractions, you can make yourself think the opposite. As a matter of fact, don't just think it, but feel it, as well. If you are angry, think of something happy -- maybe a place in nature that you visit that makes you feel good. If you're feeling fearful, think of something that makes you feel safe and secure. There are countless possibilities.
You can also engage in some type of physical movement. Research has proven that when you get physical, it gets you out of your head. If you're at work, take a break and stretch, or practice deep breathing. You might also take a break when you have more time to go to the gym and get a good sweat going.
Look beyond the thoughts and determine what they are costing you. If you find yourself distracted by an argument you had with your spouse this morning, what are these thoughts costing you? Is your work performance sub-standard? And you putting your job in jeopardy? Once you realize the damage that these thoughts could be creating, the more your determination to stop thinking them will be strengthened.
You can also utilize a distancing technique, which involves simply allowing your thoughts to drift by without you attaching to them. See your thoughts as what they really are: simply thoughts. You don't have to buy into them or act upon them. Just imagine your mind as a big movie screen, where images pass by, but you let them go.
Remind yourself that you are what you think. True, your mind is quite powerful, but be assured that you can control it. Every day, repeat and believe this whenever the wild, crazy monkey in your head starts its untamed behavior. Eventually, this aspect of your mind will begin to falter, but for it to do so, you must truly believe that you are its master.
Thoughts originating from bigger issues may be more difficult to remove. There are times when we are feeling emotional that our thoughts about the circumstances may become distorted out of proportion. If we can catch these distortions, we can have a more rational and positive attitude toward life.
In his book, "Learned Optimism," Martin Seligman summarizes three of these distortions. The first of these distortions is permanence, where we believe that a bad incident will not relent, and will continue to affect us. A permanent thinker will fail a test and think, "I'm no good at this subject," whereas a temporary thinker will think, "Even though I did poorly on this test, it doesn't mean I'll fail future tests."
Another one of these thoughts is pervasiveness, in which we think the results of an event will have a domino effect on other events in our lives. We think it has a much greater impact than it actually does. For example, someone may stutter when on a date. A healthy thinker would think, "I was nervous on a date." A pervasive thinker, however, would think, "I'm just no good at dating. I'm boring. No wonder I hardly ever get any dates."
And finally, there's personalization, where we take everything personally. We see insults where none were intended, or we shoulder the blame for things that aren't our fault.
Get into the habit of keeping tabs on your thoughts. Whenever you catch yourself with a distorted thought, stop and replace it with a more realistic interpretation. This may be a hard skill to master, but it's worth the effort. You can even write down your thoughts in three columns, to make them more concrete. When you catch a distorted thought, write it in the first column. In the next column, write down the distortion. In the third column, write down a healthy interpretation devoid of any distortions.
If you give your mind too much of an opportunity to torment you, it will jump at the chance. Distract yourself with activities such as reading, watching TV, writing or drawing. If those tactics don't work, distract yourself by interacting with other people, like a good friend you can visit, or with whom you can easily talk on the phone for hours. The distraction provided by a good friend can give you the discipline needed to control your mind.
Another technique for calming your mind entails simply using force to halt the unruly thoughts. Although you can utilize a mantra that works for you, the thought-forcing technique is known as the howitzer mantra. It's referred to as a "howitzer" because it's forceful. Examples include: "Stop!" "Shut up!" "Liar!"
You can also use the tactic of wearing a rubber band around your wrist. Whenever you catch yourself thinking an unwelcome thought, snap the rubber band. This not only causes unwanted pain, but you are also training your mind with a mild punishment so it realizes that these thoughts hurt, which will, in turn, make the thoughts dwindle.
As soon as you catch yourself with an unwelcome thought, break the chain of thoughts with your powerful mental shout.
Prayer to whomever you believe in is a request for help when the mind's problems are too overwhelming. This can bring great comfort and temporary relief, but ultimately, you must join God to find a means of reining in your mind.
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