Tidy up Your Brain
If you were to visualise what your brain looks like (and I don't mean scientifically), would it be a room or a place?
The Mind Trap likes to use two analogies for the mind, one for the quality of your brain and the other for the quality of your habits.
An Office - The Quality of Your Brain
When an office is managed well, it remains clean and tidy with minimal stress. When you look for a piece of information, it's often easy to find. When an office is unmanaged and unruly, it becomes a room of chaos and confusion.
In the office, we need to be in control and keep all of our information (thoughts, feelings, memories) in order, otherwise we begin to get jumbled and overwhelmed. We may begin to feel emotionally stressed, confused, restless, irritable and forgetful, and experience physical symptoms like tightness of chest, heart palpitations, sweating or feeling cold. These things often happen when the information in our brains is not being 'filed away' correctly.
A Field - The Quality of Your Habits
Of the two images below, which would you rather walk in?
The one with paths already walked, or the one where you have to tread new paths yourself? Most of us will instinctively choose the image with paths already trodden and this is why habits are so hard to break. It can take what feels like an eternity to allow the old paths to grow over. It's scary to walk through the unknown.
Do you notice the grass that resides in-between each path? In the second image, the grass is no longer than the grass that sweeps the edge of the path in the first image, but now there are no paths at all, it appears much more overwhelming and scary to wade your way through.
The beauty of both of these analogies is that an office can be tidied up and new paths can be walked, leaving old ones to grow over. The hardest things to hold onto are motivation, dedication and endurance. It is easier to leave the office (your brain) get untidy if your boss (you) is neglectful and inconsistent with asserting rules.
It is easier to walk down already laid paths (for example, your routines and habits) than to fight through bushes and grass to make new ones, never sure what could be hiding in the greenery. (for example, the unknown reactions and responses of others).
Do I need to clean the office or cut the grass?
When you're stressed, overwhelmed and feeling like there are too many things to do at once - your office likely needs a good decluttering.
When you're anxious, unsure and apprehensive for something you know will, or could be good for you - you need to grab some strong sheers and trim down the grass.
Cleaning The Office
When cleaning out your office, first you need to figure out what exactly is cluttering it in the first place, for example: thoughts flying everywhere, a jumble of emotions on the floor, awkward conversations and embarrassing moments, rumination's of failure, regret, shame, pages of anger and confusion. Much like spring cleaning, it can be beneficial to imagine separating your papers into piles like: Emotional issues. Past issues. Future worries.
What things are absolutely necessary? Well, your emotions are. You cannot get rid of them. But what about the emotions you're feeling that you don't want, or you know you should let go of? Write it all down. What are you sad about? With who, what or why are you angry? What feelings of shame and guilt do you have and why? What thoughts are flying around in your brain? What is comfortable? What is uncomfortable? Are there any habits you hold on to simply for fear of change?
When you have written down your emotions, thoughts and what you're feeling, analyse if you can let them go.
If you are feeling embarrassed or ashamed because of something you did in the past - what can you do to let the embarrassment or shame go? Imagine that you can separate yourself from your past actions - do they define you? Can new, healthier beliefs, thoughts and actions help redefine you? If you did something bad in the past and the person involved forgave you, can you forgive yourself? Even if they didn't forgive you, how can you forgive yourself? (for example, identify your intentions - were they good or did you intend to hurt someone? Was it a complete accident? Were you triggered or traumatised?)
Cutting Through The Grass
The field analogy seems to be more helpful when applied to habits or trying something new. Many of us are already aware of our bad habits - often the most obvious being smoking and unhealthy relationships with food and money. Though, there are some habits we don't even realise are habits - and we may actually attribute them as our personality, rather than a set of learned or repeated behaviours that have nothing to do with our personality. For example, the way we think is mostly habitual and is largely influenced by our immediate environment. Our thinking patterns are the things that tell us "everyone is staring at me, they must think I'm so strange" or "everything goes wrong because that's the way it always goes."
Whether our habits are good or bad, we're comfortable in them. It's much more comfortable to continue smoking than it is to quit and battle through tall grass and bushes. It is much simpler to continue walking the already walked paths than to make new ones.
When deciding if you need to cut down the grass, analyse what you do and why versus what you need to do and why. What are the benefits or consequences of this habit? What are the benefits or consequences of changing this habit?
What are the driving forces behind changing this habit?
• I smoke because I tell myself I like to even though I don't, I'm just addicted; but I need to quit so that I can breathe better, be and feel healthier, smell better and live longer. If I don't change this habit, I will continue to feel embarrassed and judged when I smoke and remain dependant on destroying my body in the name of 'soothing stress'.
• I worry about what other people think of me because I have been led to believe that the world judges everything, but I need to remember that most other people are also worrying about the same things I am. They probably didn't even notice me, and if they did, they might have thought "that person must think I'm strange." (In perspective, when you're out and about - how often do you actually take notice of strangers and make judgements of them?) I will continue to feel stressed and anxious about going out in public if I do not change this thinking habit.
• I am instinctively apprehensive about new opportunities because I often believe I am "not good enough" or "it will go wrong" because my society doesn't seem to have space for failure. If I do not change this habit, I will consistently miss out on opportunities that could go well or that I could learn something from.
So, how do I clean out my office or get through the long grass?
Clearing out your office or pushing through the long grass can be done by understanding what your habits are: thought and emotional patterns, reactions and responses.
Think of it this way: a habit is so hard to break because we made the path so clear forming this habit. When we try to walk away, the long grass scares us. We try to cut it down but our scissors are blunt. We might even be using kitchen scissors. That clear pathway sure looks tempting now... It is a matter of determination and endurance to be able to cut through these bushes.
Some say that relapse is inevitable - maybe even a necessary component to recovery. This is true for falling back into old habits or walking the already walked path. It happens. When it does, you must forgive yourself, nurture the new blades of grass and get back to cutting down those long blades or filing away those pesky loose papers.
A continual theme of analysis runs through The Mind Trap works. It may feel exciting to simply begin picking up all the loose papers in your office, or grabbing a sword and slashing down the tall grass all at once - but the reality is that doing too much at one time will hinder your progress, because you'll spend too much time cleaning up instead of moving forward.
Here are some ways you can analyse the way your brain works and what you need to be able to move forward.
Reflective Journaling: At the end of every day, consider these questions.
1. What did I do that was in alignment with an old habit today?
2. What did I do to help form new, healthier habits today?
3. What were my most prominent thoughts?
4. What were my most prominent emotions?
5. What could I do better tomorrow?
Plan Journaling: At the beginning of every day, consider these questions.
1. What old habit do I want to challenge today?
2. What can I do to promote new, healthier habits?
3. What do I want to think today?
4. What do I want to feel today?
5. What actions can I take to improve my wellness?
Why begin with reflective journaling:
Reflective journaling can provide an insight into how you work right now. Having an accurate assessment of your most common thoughts, emotions, feelings and actions can help you to determine what requires more attention and effort.
Plan journaling provides insight into who you want to be in the future by taking small steps.