Your mind can be a real pain in the ass.
How do I know this? Because my mind is a pain in the ass too. So is the mind of every client I’ve ever had. So is the mind of pretty much every single person on earth. Being a pain in the ass is what minds do. It’s their job.
And that’s ok, because leading a vital, fulfilling life does not mean having a calm, peaceful mind. It’s about whether you obey your mind or not.
The key is not buying into the lies your mind tells you.
Whenever you have an anxious thought, along with it comes an implied demand from your mind that you do something about that thought. Your mind is saying, “If you do as I say, I will shut up and leave you alone. I’ll stop giving you this thought, and then you’ll feel ok. Go ahead, it’s really your only choice.”
Your mind has a demand for everything it says that makes you anxious:
Afraid you might have a panic attack? Your mind says you MUST leave the situation.
Worried about money? Your mind says you MUST analyze this, predict what will happen, and come up with a plan to feel reassured RIGHT NOW.
Having an OCD thought about doing violent things to people you love? Your mind says you MUST not do anything else until you replace this with a “positive” thought.
Your mind is telling you that if you just do what it wants, it will relent. It will give you some measure of peace, and you can move on with your day. So you do as it commands, because you think you have to.
But your mind is ALWAYS lying about this.
No matter how many times you obey it, your mind will always come right back with another disturbing thought. It might be an hour from now, or it might be five seconds from now. But it’s a guarantee, your mind WILL come up with something to bug you about. It will not leave you alone as it promised. So if you obey, your mind wins.
The trap that so many people fall into is thinking that if they try hard enough, maybe they can defeat their mind. They can change their thoughts, or use logic to convince their mind that everything is going to be ok.
But this just keeps you stuck, because you can’t control your mind. You can’t shut it up. You can’t shut it off. This is not some unique problem with you, this is just the way minds are. Nobody can simply shut their mind off. It’s playing a game with you, and the game is rigged in its favor. The only way to win is to not play.
Your mind is going to do whatever the heck it wants to do. But that doesn’t mean that YOU have to do what it wants you to do.
You can disobey it. Here’s how:
Step 1: Recognize thoughts as thoughts
When you have an anxious thought, take a step back from it and recognize it for what it is: just a thought. Not something you are choosing. Not a fact. Not a part of you. Just a thought. You are not your thoughts, you are something else.
A thought is simply an event that happens, and you are just the place where it is happening. It’s no different than the weather: sometimes it’s really aggravating, but you have no control over it, so why bother trying? You’d never try to stop it from snowing, right? Well, it’s equally futile to try to fight the bad thoughts.
By the same token, you would never blame yourself or beat yourself up because it’s snowing. Well, your thoughts are the same: if you don’t choose them and you can’t control them, how can we blame you for having them? So this first step is to simply recognize the thought as just a thought.
Step 2: Recognize what your mind is begging you to do.
Along with every anxious thought comes a demand from your mind. Is it asking you to try to get rid of the thought? Is it asking you to find some kind of reassurance? Is it asking you to leave a situation? Try to recognize what you have an urge to do when you have the thought.
Step 3: Do what YOU want to do, as if the thought wasn’t even there.
Now that you’ve identified what your mind wants you to do, disobey it. Ask yourself, “What would I have been doing right now if I wasn’t having this thought?” Whatever the answer is, do that instead of what your mind wants you to do. Spend your time the way YOU want to spend your time, regardless of what your mind is doing.
Don’t try to get rid of the thought. Don’t try to think about something else. Don’t try to talk back to your mind. Don’t try to convince your mind of something different. You cannot win that battle. Let your mind say whatever it wants to say, but don’t give it any respect. It doesn’t deserve it.
Even though you can’t stop your mind, disobeying it will eventually lead to a decrease in anxiety.
If you do this consistently, for a long enough period of time, you will find that eventually the thoughts start to bother you less and less. It’s not that your mind will stop giving you negative thoughts (again, that’s just what minds do). But your emotional reaction to those thoughts will change.
The thoughts will eventually stop making you anxious because they feed off of your efforts to fight them, and you will no longer be giving them that food. Then it will get easier and easier to disobey your mind. This frees you up to live the life that YOU want without so much anxiety.
Interested in learning some of the most common and most effective strategies I teach my clients for dealing with anxiety and worry? Check out my self-help video series, How to Stop Overanalyzing, with over 3 hours of content covering the skills I teach to almost all of my clients in the first 5 therapy sessions.