Most people don’t realize the degree to which they are responsible for the lives they are living. They don’t see how, for better or for worse, they are “doing it” to themselves. This is not a criticism. It’s, in fact, a way out! You see, we’ve simply been horribly misinformed. We don’t know that our thoughts matter and tragically pay for our ignorance every day of our lives! We have not been taught to understand how the brain and the thoughts it generates really work, or how this system can actually create the very outcomes we do not want…all the time!
This may sound paranoid or even crazy to you. Believe me, I once sat in your shoes too. To be ‘in the know’ at times is maddening! Watching people you love and care about perpetuate the same patterns of misery, not knowing that their outside experience is just mirroring back to them their inside life, is nothing short of heart breaking! A client of mine tried to comfort me earlier this week by saying, “But Sam, this is the way life on earth has always been. Think of all those who were burned at the stake for exposing what would later be discovered to be true!” It didn’t make me feel much better, but I knew he was right. I just want so badly for those of us in this “age of information” to be adequately informed! We all have a hard time stomaching the idea that the way we see the world, our understanding of “how things really are”, could possibly be as utterly incorrect as it actually is. We think of ourselves as the ‘leading edge’! We commonly laugh at the notion that at one time it was believed that the earth was flat, that we prayed to the sun in the sky or crucified women for being witches! We like to believe, unlike those times in our history, that what we know now is the “truth”. It’s nearly impossible to see that of the millions of years scientists believe humans have been on earth, the age we live in now is no more than a spec of sand on the timeline.
Without question we believe in modern medicine. As good people we assume that the medical professionals who spent 1,000 years in school, of course, know what they are doing! It doesn’t even dawn on most to dare question the men and women in the white coats, let alone question the validity of the system as a whole. The average person doesn’t think they are knowledgable enough to have an opinion and are too bogged down by the daily grind to have the energy to care. We never stop to see that modern medicine is a harm reduction model, that finding the cure has never been the point, that the field is founded on bad information, or that our system has been railroaded by insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry, who are definitely not interested in finding cures anyway.
Over in behavioral health (mental health) sadly, the situation is not so different. This might seem strange given that the whole field was built out of the need to help those who were sick despite there not being any “medical” problem to speak of. After all, you will never find a tumor called “bipolar disorder” or have your panic attacks appear in an X-ray or on an MRI. The average mental health professional is not at all aware of the true impact of thoughts. This is tricky in psychology because we’ve been taught to look at thoughts one of two ways – either as a trigger for our behavior or as the counterpart to the subconscious. Nowhere are thoughts acknowledged for what they actually are – entities in and of themselves!
You see both the fields of medicine and psychology were founded on the Myth of Separation, the idea that the mind and body are completely separate. I suppose that’s the real danger of not knowing our history. Without knowing how something came to be as it is now, we don’t have the complete picture. From the advent of science, beginning back in the 1600s when the great philosophers of that time began to study the material world, it was the influence of the church that created the split between the mind and the body. When French Philosopher Rene Descartes decided he would need to dissect human cadavers to understand the human form, he would have to make the case to the church that science would not be in conflict with religion. That they would leave all matters of the soul (the mind) to them. From then on science would take the material, and religion would maintain its position as the foremost expert on the non physical. And so began the campaign of separation. The medical community from that point would shun the very discussion of the mental, fundamentally forever after ignoring the existence of thoughts. This was so pervasive and severe that even the godfather of psychology, Dr Sigmund Freud himself, would be forced to give up his obsession with how the subconscious could cause medical illness and instead intentionally select literature and anthropology as the language of psychology.
And so it goes today, the vast majority of the world does not know the influence their thoughts are having on their experience. They fail to see that just like taking a medication, a thought is a cellular reaction – a chemical response (yes, a response) in the brain that releases neurotransmitters according to and depending on the nature and direction of the thought itself. We are not taught that independent of any medication, you can right now change the inner chemical composition of every cell in your body simply by adopting a new inner dialogue.
We do not know that each and every one of us experiences the world around us differently. That perception, what we see, hear, taste, smell, and touch – the information that comes through our senses to tell us what is “real” around us, is not that of a ‘neutral observer’ but more like a ‘careful selector’. We don’t experience things the way we want per se, we experience things the way we believe they are! We are not taught that it is our emotions, thoughts and beliefs that creates our experience-not any objective set of circumstances caused by happenstance – the lucky and unlucky – as we’ve been led to believe.
So you say, “How dare you imply I am doing this to myself! I would never create such a shitty life if I had a say in the matter!” I did not say that you are doing this on purpose. It’s no one’s fault. We were all taught by those who did the best they knew how. Here now is the important part of the story. If you are looking around at your life and do not like what you see! You can change it!
It will not be easy. Everything in you is designed for continuity, to stay the same. The human brain does not like to have to expend excess energy. And this type of work requires conscious focus and intention daily, a lot of excess energy. It will feel at times like you are working against what is in your nature – the same way that a new diet and exercise plan can feel hard – but know this if you want to see change on the outside, you must change what is going on inside! No exceptions!
1. Put you first!
Probably the biggest mistake that we all make is believing that our first obligation is to the health, safety, and well-being of others. I can’t tell you how many social workers, therapists, and counselors burn out from their noble effort to help others! You must know this – first and foremost, you are no good to anyone until you are good to yourself!
2. Put time aside every single day!
I know, I know. Finding time for you is hard. That said, if you want a different life you must! You must take time to begin to change the status quo! You have to throw in a curveball of deliberate effort and intent! You have to change the momentum! Just like people take the time to go to the gym each week, think of this as gym time for your mind every day.
3. Practice Meditation.
I know you might be sick of hearing it, but you’re hearing it for a reason! Meditation is the fastest way to eliminate negative emotion. It is much easier to stop thought than it is to change thought! That doesn’t mean you have to tolerate sitting for 15 minutes while your thoughts go haywire! Try different forms of meditation until you find something that you like enough. I could never sit quietly in the beginning. Luckily, I found my way to guided meditations and went from there! Find what you like and stick with it! In no time you will see a HUGE change. Meditation matters! Why? (See #4)
4. Manage Your Mood
What you don’t know is that thoughts are mood dependent. It means that the mood you are in determines the direction of your thinking. Without going into this too much, what that means for you is that in order to improve your thinking you have to improve your mood. If you need a catchy slogan to remember this here you go – “Mood matters most!” That means do what feels good to you! Do more yoga, practice mindfulness, take a class, learn a language…do something that feels good and makes you feel good about you too!
5. Get Into Solution Mode, Not Problem Mode
Most people let fixing problems occupy the majority of their thinking. Know this, each time you obsess over the problem you do far more to cement the problem in place than you do to change it. Whether you know it or not it is your thoughts that create your experience not your actions (as you have been so misguidedly led to believe). Let thoughts of the problem be a trigger to jump into the solution. Next time you catch yourself thinking about a problem, simply stop dead in your tracks and ask yourself what is the solution?