Many of us are affected by a terrible affliction, a disease that causes suffering and misery in billions of people. The most amazing symptom of this disease is that most people don’t even know that they have it. Other symptoms include headaches, stress, restlessness, heartburn, ulcers and other digestive issues, loss of sleep, shortness of breath, memory loss, low self-esteem, substance abuse, and absent-mindedness. It is a condition loosely described as “obsessive thinking.” This is not to be confused with obsessive-compulsive disorder, although I believe the two are linked.
As I trudge the path of happy destiny, I oftentimes notice my mind churning endlessly about minutiae, known as “pole-vaulting over mouse turds.” Endlessly asking “what if,” my mind reviews and replays every event in my life to squeeze every possible nuance and possibility out of each memory, no matter how insignificant or overwhelming it might be. I analyze everything into an exhaustive state, as if chewing on each memory will change it or make me happier. As I engage in this totally useless activity, I beat myself up second guessing my past actions or thought processes.
As if constantly dissecting my memories were not enough, I also fantasize about how various scenarios will play out depending on what I say or do. I obsessively fantasize about how things can go wrong and what I can do to prevent it. This is taking worrying to a whole new level. I also describe it as “worst case scenario thinking.”
Thousands of years ago our ancestors’ biggest concerns were which end of the food chain they found themselves. It made a life or death difference whether people could perceive and analyze warning signs such as dinosaur poop or raptor tracks. Being ready to instantly react to signs of danger were defense mechanisms that helped prolong life. The problem is that the dangers of being eaten no longer exist, but the defense mechanism continues to run and has evolved into obsessive analysis of what is being perceived around us.
When we engage in “worst case scenario” thinking, we perceive everything as a potential threat and continually analyze this data in order to hopefully overcome these perceived threats. We project an infinite number of possibilities and permutations into the distant future, worrying about how life will turn out or avoiding possible pitfalls. Our brains act like computers who are continuously running on a “loop” with no possible conclusion to the program that is running. When we over analyze and think too much, we cut ourselves off from two of our most powerful survival tools, instinct and intuition.
To make matters worse, when we engage in these thinking patterns, oftentimes we get so wrapped up with what is happening in our minds that we forget to breathe. Some people actually stop breathing for long periods of time as their analytical brains take over. When this happens, oxygen ceases to flow to our frontal lobes and we fall into crisis mode known as “monkey brain.” At that point we only have two choices, to run away or fight. Neither choice is needed in today’s world, although it was quite handy when we found ourselves face to face with a saber-toothed tiger.
Analytical thinking is useful when planning a war or programming a computer. It sucks when it comes to dealing with relationships and our personal issues. The more we think about our past, and analyzing our actions, etc., the more we suffer. The more we engage in “worst case scenario” thinking, the more we suffer. The more that we wish things were different, the more we suffer. The more we compare ourselves to others, the more we suffer. The more we second-guess ourselves, the more we suffer. The more we beat ourselves up, the more we suffer.
The more we suffer, the more stress we create in our lives that in turn creates the medical problems listed above. We are literally “thinking ourselves to death.” So what do we do? How do we think less and feel more? There are some very simple exercises to heal this disease. First, detach from your thoughts. The mantra is “I am not my thoughts.” A good meditation is to sit in front of an empty chair, and imagine yourself in that chair looking back at you. The more you can visualize yourself sitting in that empty chair looking at you, the easier it will be to detach to your thinking.
Second, get some exercise. It is impossible to engage in analytical thinking while you are gasping for breath. The endorphins that are released in your brain as a result of exercise are powerful chemicals that create a euphoric feeling and slow down obsessive thinking.
Third, eat healthy foods. When your body is happy, you do not need to engage in survival thinking and your mind will slow down. I notice that eating unprocessed foods (raw) makes me feel much better about myself and slows down my thinking. When I am on the road eating truck stop food, my mind goes berserk.
Fourth, focus on your breathing. Breathe long and slow breaths at all times. Yogi masters tell us that we are given a finite number of breaths in our lives. When we breathe long and slow breaths, we live longer happier lives. Fifth, drink more water. Dehydration causes the mind to go into crisis mode. Sixth, practice gratitude and forgiveness of yourself. You do not have to forgive anyone else, only yourself. Be grateful for your life and the people in it.
I notice that my life is much different when I stop over thinking. Events that used to create great melodrama in my life now are simply stepping stones and building blocks to more and more happiness. I am healthier, weigh less, and smile more. People like to be around me and even invite me to visit. They are glad to see me and invite me back. They even laugh at my jokes.
The amazing thing is that whatever is going through my mind creates my reality. As I reduce the number of negative thoughts running through my mind, my life becomes more and more positive. Rather than fretting over whether the glass is half empty or half full, I drink the water and fill up the glass again. This is true abundance.