We read endless articles and books about the importance of detoxifying our bodies but not a lot is said about the importance of detoxifying your mind. Most us have ways of operating at an emotional level that cause us to magnify and catastrophise and then go on to experience the emotions caused by our own negative thinking. An example of this is when we imagine a scenario.
Mary gets to thinking about how much work she is doing, how many extra hours she is putting in to produce the high quality work for which she prides herself. It has been a couple of years since she had a pay increase, how unfair is that, her friend Jane gets a review every six months with a pay increase and a share of company profits. She decides she will speak to her manager. She runs though in her mind all the additional work she has done, the excellent results she has achieved, and settles on an amount of pay increase she would like. She then begins to think of her manager, this manager is quite new and in a way it was unfair that Mary was not offered this position. Anyway, this manager seems jealous of her and doesn’t seem to like her. She imagines asking this person for a pay increase, she imagines the whole scene going horribly wrong and the manager sneering at her and hinting she has overestimated her importance to the company. Mary then feels overcome with rage and furiously insulted and imagines slamming down her resignation and walking out.
Did any of this happen? No, but Mary has experienced the same the pain and suffering and assault on her self worth as if this had really taken place. Does this sound familiar? This is an example of an exhausting and toxic way of operating emotionally. If a different way of operating could be found a lot of emotional wear and tear would be saved.
The first step to an emotional detox is to identify patterns that no longer serve you well. Mary’s way of operating is called ‘worst case scenario’ or ‘catastrophising’ This is the habit of immediately imagining the worst possible thing that could happen and then suffering the emotions that would go along with this if it were true. The old expression ‘fighting your battles before they come’ also describes this.
Identifying what exactly is wrong with our way of operating is quite hard as we immediately try to save ourselves by justifying exactly why we do what we do. The mind is a very tricky customer when it comes to protecting itself and we need to ask it to step aside while we find better ways of being.
We will start with the two most common causes of troubled thinking.
Do you worry a lot? Are you worrying about actual things that are about to happen? Then you are probably going round and round in circles and not producing an end result. First step is to externalize the situation. Take a piece of paper and make three columns. Head them “What I expect will happen”, “ What I fear will happen” and “What I would most like to happen” It may be that you have the same thing in two columns. This is okay, the reason for doing this exercise is so you can identify your own thinking. Do you always expect the worst? Why would that be? (Let me assure you at this point you haven’t been singled out by Fate to have a horrible, miserable life).
The most likely answer is that you have developed a negative way of thinking that no longer serves you well and one that you wish to change. It is easy to change this once you have identified that you are doing it.
Do your answers lead you to find you are very fearful? Why are you fearful? How often do the things you spend so much time fearing actually happen? Try to remember the first time you felt fear or anxiety. This will most probably be a child’s thinking and when you hold it up to the light of day as an adult you can often see that it no longer applies to you and you can make the changes required.
Are the answers you have put in your “What I would like to happen” realistic? Are they possible and achievable? They may reveal that you have set your sights too high and that the tasks you have set for your self are not presently achievable. Do you have the tools for this to happen? How can I get the tools? If, for example, you say I want to be a famous rock star but you currently can’t play any instrument or sing a note, then you have set yourself up to fail and will experience all the negative feelings of failure.
What about anger? Feelings of undirected anger and fury suffuse a lot of people a lot of the time. If this is how you feel you will understand the effect it has on your nervous system and if you have to live with someone who is like this you will know just how emotionally draining this is, and the bad effect it has on those around this behaviour, children especially.
First step is to identify the feeling of anger. Why are you angry? Why exactly does this make you angry? It is no good at this point saying “It makes me angry when people are bad”, that is too general. Why is ‘badness’ wrong? Does it offend our morals? We need to keep narrowing the question down until we get an answer. It may be that we find that we are angry about things that are not fair. Then we must ask is it injustice that makes us angry. If it is, then we must ask who decides what is fair or not. How did we come to decide what is fair or not. Do we still believe the answer we have come up with.
Many times you will find that you formed ideas that are the basis of your moral judgements in childhood and have never revised them in adulthood. Finding out what you really think about all sorts of issues is revelatory and the start of personal growth.
Now you are armed with these simple but extremely effective tools to examine the areas in which you are your own worst enemy you will be able to identify the blocks to your own growth and development and proceed to put in place strategies that allow productive thinking and emotional calm.