The Clutter in Your Head

I know you think about the clutter in your house, but do you ever consider the clutter created by the thoughts in your head? The first step in clearing your mind is understanding the nature of your thinking. So let's take a peek inside your head.

The human brain has the incredible skill to relate essentially anything (objects, thoughts, feelings, actions) to anything else (objects, thoughts, feelings, actions, consequences...). We relate them with words (same as, similar to, because of, near, opposite of, better than...). This allows us to learn, be creative, have memories, build computers, drive our cars, and basically take over the planet. Language is our key to success but also a reason for our suffering.

The thing is, these relationships we create in our heads are arbitrary.  Have you ever heard a child or teen complain, "He looked at me!" What does that mean? He loves you? He hates you? Do you see how we can attach arbitrary meaning to anything? Think of an object. Now think of another object. How is the first object like the second one? How is the first object better than the second one? You've created a relation in your mind.

Nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so. -William Shakespeare

Thanks to this process, we take things personally that aren't personal. We label things as "good" or "bad." With an "if...then" relationship, we predict events that may not happen. We create judgments and evaluations. Pick any object in the room right now and find things wrong with it. Criticize it. Your mind can justify anything. People have confessed to murders they did not commit because they doubted their own experience and believed, without question, the words in their heads saying "cops never lie."

I will see it when I believe it. -Wayne Dyer

Are we feeling crazy yet?

Once we have created these mental connections, we then live our lives collecting evidence to secure the relationships in our minds. We repeat these thoughts over and over, wearing deep ruts into our psyches. Thoughts lead to more thoughts. The mind can be viewed as a word machine that produces this constant chatter. This chatter is not a problem until we take our thoughts literally and automatically buy into the stories that our minds produce. Then we cause ourselves suffering. In a sense, we become entangled in the thoughts and we feel trapped. But we are trapped only by words.

My point is not to create an image of your thoughts as the enemy (See how easy it is to relate two things?). The goal is to see your thoughts for what they are - just words that often have no meaning. With an understanding that human minds are busy storytellers, perhaps you can feel more compassion for yourself and everyone else. That's a step toward cleaning up your head. Contrary to popular practice, the next steps are not sweeping your unhelpful thoughts under the rug or dropping them off at Goodwill. It's simple, but not quite that easy.

Next time we'll talk about how to clean up your thinking.

You've got a lot of crap in your head and most if it isn't true. -Martha Beck

Reference: Hayes, S. C. and Smith, S. 2005. Get out of Your Mind & Into Your Life. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.