The other night I sat down to watch Harry Potter with a bucket of ice cream and a s’mores spread guaranteed to make Girl Scouts proud. This is my standard consolation meal/movie when shi*t has hit the fan and I’m too tired to make it through Star Wars. I was watching the torture scene, enthralled as a woman rotated above a table, her whimpers of pain and ragged breathing echoing in the cavernous room. The others seated looked bored, abetting her anguish because A. They were bad, bad wizards and B. This witch believed and spread “unclean thoughts”.
As marshmallow oozed down my chin, I felt jealous of how easy this woman had it. Sure, she was being tortured for thinking a certain way but in the series, women and men were always trotting about casting spells to erase memories. And these torture fellas had romantically swept her off her feet, spun her in the air and put an end to the thoughts within minutes. Meanwhile, we wand-less have to labor for weeks, even months to wipe out negative thoughts. Lucky witch.
Negative thoughts are dominated by fear, panic, blame, judgment and doubt. It can be deeply intimate; creating your own private hell or insidiously vast; sweeping through a crowd like a virus. The Holocaust, Salem Witch Trials and the Cold War are all examples of negative thinking holding nations captive.
The solution to this would of course be to stop the thoughts. Here are ways proven by science (and neglected by magic) to free your mind.
1. Whistle, sing, smile, dance, stretch
Do this without thinking it’s lame or judging yourself. Since your brain is wired to be connected to your body, negative thoughts zing straight to your body, causing negative energy (body aches, tenseness, tiredness, twitchiness). These loop back to the brain and repeat the cycle. Doing the happy actions above release happy chemicals in your brain, which then travel to the body and repeat the cycle.
2. Be aware of your attention
Thoughts of your car, money, associates, food and clothes are relationships in your life. If these things nourish and enrich you then continue to care for them. If you focus on something out of habit or obligation and it drains you, stop giving it attention. I stand at a gnome-like height of 5’2; slam dunks are clearly not in the cards. But damned if I didn’t try to be a basketball All-Star in high school. It took a lot of energy chasing that dream and even more letting go, when I could have realized from the start my body simply wasn’t built for that exercise. Know that things do not define you unless you allow them to.
3. Slow down your rate of exchange
If you’re talking to yourself or others and bile is coming out, slow down. Examine the words. Why did you choose them and are they accurate? Did your mind jump straight to a tired, negative belief? How did you react to the language? How did they? I still can’t hear the word “bus” without feeling hot behind my ears (embarrassment about a gentleman soiling his pants and being trapped in that stench for 30 minutes in stifling summer heat). I can however, replace that memory with one of a public city bus taking me exactly where I needed to go and feeling good about that. A lot of us make statements like “Oh, I’m retarded”. But are you really? Did the doctor sit your mother down and explain your mental hardware was defective in grade school? Probably not. So you’re not retarded, you just made an unwise decision. And you’ll do better next time.
How you think sparks molecular pathways in your brain, like grooves in a piece of wood. You don’t use the other grooves yet, so they’re not well-worn. You can always start a new one with thinking in a new way, tracing the path until the molecules are trained. A scene in “The Terminator” shows our favorite robot in a hotel room when there is a knock at the door and a question posed. Internally, he sees possible responses:
Please come back later
F*ck you, a**hole
Granted, he chose “F*ck you, a**hole” but he isn’t an accountant, he’s The Terminator. And if you’re the guy at the bar who sees a man flirting with your girlfriend, you can choose not to jump up and slam a beer glass in his eye. Instead, you can simply walk over and say “f*uck you, a**hole”. Just like Arnold.
5. Don’t pretend to care when you’re indifferent
We all have different experiences, memories, hard knocks and joys. But what we all have in common is our conscious mind and our subconscious mind. If you were raised by church-going parents and feel guilty for not attending Mass in two years, recognize that’s okay. You are not on this earth to live up to other people’s expectations.
6. Declare, write and think of the positive things you want
This kick-starts your brain, literally heating up the part of your brain holding the thought and subconsciously bringing you closer to achieving it. Like a moth to the flame. Do not state what you don’t want, because by giving attention to it, you will draw closer to it.
7. Label your negative thoughts as useless
If your mind is swirling in how you might fail, be embarrassed, made fun of or rejected, label these thoughts as useless and proceed with your day. This separates you from the thought, allowing you to see it objectively and skip over your fight-or-flight response. Do this quickly and don’t linger. In city traffic, I constantly see drivers yelling and honking and giving themselves a coronary. Does it change the ridiculous road habits of anyone? Does it make even one other person more considerate or aware? No. It’s only causing you stress. A caveat: if there is a hurricane warning and your negative thought is “Oh, we’re all going to die” recognize this might be an actual possibility and prepare for it. Labeling a category 5 hurricane as useless has no relation on how Mother Nature can rock your world.
8. Repeat a mantra
In the morning, I typically say “I am beautiful, kind, intelligent, loved and loving”. When I offered this suggestion to my brother, he chose “I am going to kick life in the taint today”. What can I say? He’s awesome. Repeating a mantra does two things: 1. It sets your mood for the rest of the day and 2. The brain is incapable of thinking two thoughts at once. It just can’t do it. If your thoughts are actively positive, you are incapable of thinking negatively in that moment. And then you are free to go out and kick life in the taint