Even more on mental control

OK – last blog I talked about how according to Smart Therapy – if you want to strengthen some aspect of your mental experience, you pay lots of attention to it. So if you would like to build a stronger identity (for both yourself and others) as someone who is smart at mathematics then you pay heaps of attention to maths: you sit there and study algebra for hours on end, you do maths puzzles, you enrol in maths courses, you talk endlessly about maths equations, and you read tonnes of maths books. Very soon you become a unmitigated nerd and feel extremely proud of being so!

On the other hand, if you want to reduce an aspect of your mental experience (like urges to smoke cigarettes) then you pay absolutely no attention to those urges whatsoever. Every time one of them comes up you simply slip that urge off to the side of your awareness – you don’t struggle with it, you don’t argue with it, you don’t think about it – you just gently slip it off to the periphery showing complete disinterest in it, and instead, bring your full attention to some other constructive activity (like having an intense conversation or reading a book or going for a run).

Very importantly, there is no thinking about the urge – it is just immediately slipped aside. Of course, the urge will still be there, but it won’t be in your focussed attention so your brain will not consolidate it into long-term memory (LTM) storage. Because it has not been laid down into LTM it will not be retrieved as often by little reminders or triggers. As time goes on, you train your brain to pay less and less attention to the urges and consequently they become fewer and fewer – until they either disappear completely (in most people) or very close to it (in people who have had an extremely entrenched habit – say 60 cigarettes a day for 30 years – where the urges will reduce to perhaps one 10-second urge of very weak intensity every 2 years, which is no problem at all to resist).

Today though, I want to give even more information about achieving mental control. From my experience in my clinical work I am aware of various types of thoughts that are generally self-sabotaging and which you might want to slowly remove from your mental repertoire as part of becoming more mentally controlled or disciplined. I will just cover a couple of these today, and I will continue to cover a couple more each blog.

Firstly, get rid of the anticipatory anxiety thoughts. These are the ones where you anticipate something dreadful happening if you take a risk. For example, if you are anxious you might say to yourself ‘if I go to the supermarket then I could have a panic attack and have to run for an exit’ or ‘if I drive the car I could become so anxious that I crash it and kill someone’ or ‘if I speak at a meeting I might blush, forget what I’m saying, and embarass myself’ or ‘if I walk on the beach I might stand on a syringe and catch AIDS’ or ‘if I walk too close to another person I might inadvertantly hit them with something’ or ‘if I go in a lift I might become so anxious that I go mad and have to be hospitalised in a mental facility for the rest of my life’ and so on and on.

Think back to previous blogs and recall that these types of thoughts are simply a result of too much CRF in your amygdalae giving rise to more threat-related thoughts. Ensure you understand that they mean absolutely nothing other than that. Your limbic system is just mistaken, it is too over-wrought with the effects of CRF and everyone has scary thoughts following a stressful life event (SLE) when more CRF is released from the limbic system.

Now, keep in mind that if you are trying to recover from too much anxiety – then all behaviours need to be brought back into the ‘normal’ range. So if most other people do things like walk on the beach, or to go to the supermarket, or speak at meetings, or walk close to others, or go in lifts or drive a car – then you need to do those things as well. But doing them, does not mean worrying in advance – you can cut out the anticipatory chatter. Just do all those normal things.

But while you’re at it – remove the catastrophic thinking also. That would be what might follow from the anticipatory thought. For example it probably won’t just be ‘if I go to the supermarket I could have a panic attack and have to run for the exit’ you will likely add: ‘OMG!!! – wouldn’t that be terrible or horrible or terrifying or shameful or hideous or sooooo….embarrasing’. These catastrophic thoughts will of course be accompanied by the relevant body language such as internal or external grimaces, putting the head down in shame or covering the face in shame or facial expressions of horror or terror. Your whole body may cringe with the mere thought of the catastrophe! These sorts of thoughts are pretty much always accompanied by strong visceral feelings that encourage you to think even more catastrophically!

Not only this, but you may very likely be telling someone about the perceived anticipatory catastrophe (which you should not be doing, BTW), so not only are you reinforcing your anxious thoughts internally to yourself, but you are also hearing yourself say these things out aloud which doubly reinforces the importance of them – ensuring your brain lays them down particularly strongly in LTM for fast and easy retrieval next time there is even a slightly similar situation.

In any case, whenever you have these types of thoughts, all you have to do, is slip all aspects of these thoughts off to the periphery of your awareness. Slip off the anticipatory thought (before you have even finished the sentence in your head) and you will often then miss the catastrophic thought that typically follows. If you still have the catastrophic thought – don’t worry – just slip it off also (again, try not to finish the sentence). Also, slip any of the feelings or images off to the side and resist the urge to do any of the catastrophic gestures – like grimaces or other face contortions and definitely don’t mentally scan the body to see if there are other symptoms of distress, like ‘is my heart racing’ or ‘am I feeling faint’. Instead, just soften the body by doing a quick body flop (see previous blog) and immediately focus on some constructive activity.

Remember, every time you do this you get a little less anxious and a bit more constructive in your life – over time it all adds up!