Stopping the Mind-Movies

When people are nervous about an upcoming event, such as a job interview, they may constantly envisage a version of events where the interview plays out disastrously. Some people may dwell on events in the past, such as a recent conversation that they play over and over again in their minds, focusing on how every little moment brought embarrassment or awkwardness. Rumination such as this is unhealthy and unhelpful, and is associated with a range of negative consequences including depression, anxiety, excessive drinking and eating, and a sense of helplessness and lack of control over one’s life. Replaying ‘mind-movies’ about past arguments or the future means that you experience the negative things again and again, thus giving them more precedence in your life than positive experiences. You begin to believe that your life is full of negative things, leading you to feel helpless about your future and any notion of long-term happiness. Rumination does nothing to improve your problem-solving skills – you become so obsessed with all the negative aspects of the problem that you’re unable to think about the issue constructively.

How can I manage mind-movies?

You are strong enough to take control of your thoughts: you can choose whether to watch these mind-movies or to walk away from the TV. Watching this mind-movies is like watching a horror movie. Pick a movie you really dislike. Now imagine that you play that movie over and over for several hours every day. Now ask yourself whether you would do this in real life- if I asked you to try this now would you agree? Of course not! So now ask yourself why you do this to yourself. Why do you allow yourself to play these horror movies over and over? You don’t enjoy them. They make you feel bad. Time to learn how to get up, step away from the TV, put down the popcorn, and get on with living your life.

Steps:

(1) Mindfulness. We need to be aware of the thoughts in our mind and whether we are playing a mind-movie. Sometimes we can replay a mind-movie for hours without even being aware of what we are doing. We are lost in thought and on auto-pilot. We need to use mindfulness to turn off the auto-pilot and recognise where our mind is at.

(2) Label your movie. Give your movie a name. Simply by naming it we can start to distance ourselves from the thoughts we play in our mind and start to defuse from them. Give it a good, short descriptive name. “Despicable Me”, “Everybody hates me”, “Life is unfair” etc. When you find your mind playing the movie, state firmly in your mind “I don’t want to watch the ________ movie- no thanks brain!”

(3) Shift your mind. Once you catch yourself playing this negative movie, learn how to walk away through shifting your mind. If you are working, put your mind back on your work. If you are at home, read a book, listen to music or talk to a friend. Take part in activities that fill your mind with positive thoughts. This might be a favourite physical activity or a sport, a hobby, meditation, or something else that requires your full concentration for an extended period of time. The longer you engage in these positive activities, the less ‘oxygen’ you give the mind-movies until they are snuffed out. Only YOU get to choose the time and place where you will dedicate time to problem-solving the issue. Have a list of things you can do to distract yourself. If your mind goes back to the movie, go back to step 2 and then shift your mind again.

Stop buying the thoughts

Many of our thoughts have a strong impact upon our overall states of happiness and psychological well-being. The positive thoughts can add significant levels of happiness, joy and meaning to our lives. But what about the negative and unhelpful thoughts? Have you ever considered how much these thoughts affect you? What are the emotional and physical consequences of having these thoughts?

Imagine I give you $100,000 to go shopping in my shop. In my shop you start walking up and down the isles looking at each item on the shelf. You see items on one shelf that include things like “I am worthy of love” ($500), “I am a good partner” ($400), ‘I am  strong” ($600) and “I am smart” ($1000). On another shelf you see items like “I am worthless” ($1000), “I am dumb” ($2000), “I can’t cope” ($4000) and “I should run/avoid when I feel uncomfortable” ($5000). Where do you want to spend your money? What items will you choose?

When we look at thoughts this way we begin to see that there are certain investments involved. Every thought needs time and energy invested into it, and each thought has consequences. How much do you want to invest in unhelpful thoughts? How much energy do you want to waste on thoughts that make you feel bad? Whilst we won’t be able to stop certain thoughts from coming into our mind, we can choose how much additional investment we want to spend on our thoughts. We can choose to stop our minds from latching on to unhelpful thoughts. The choice is ours. Through increasing our mindfulness we will be able to begin to control the pathways our mind takes, and learn how to walk away from the Mind-Movies.

Over time you find yourself ‘investing’ in certain negative thoughts make yourself physically pay for them. You can do this using money (e.g.. put $10 in a jar every time you think a negative thought) or make yourself do something you hate. This way you will see how negative these investments are and when you do think them you will start to actively fight your mind and shift your thoughts more quickly.