It Can Be Different Inside Your Head

Can't seem to focus these days? You could have pandemic brain

Although it may seem obvious to some, it can be a revelation to others when they find out that their inner, mental landscape does not have to be the way that it currently is. For me, that realization came in the form of anxiety medication. I was blown away at the change in thought I was noticing solely from introducing new chemicals into my body. If we haven’t ever experienced a huge mental shift like this, it may not occur to us that it’s even possible to think differently. We assume that this is just the way our minds work, and at least for me, I also assumed everyone else’s mind worked in a similar way.

The universe of experiences you can conceive of really cracks wide open after you realize that vast untapped potential within your own mind. I find it funny that even though change is the only real constant in this world, we all seem to get stuck in the mindset that things will always be the way they are right now. We don’t realize how much change is actually possible and inevitable. It’s not often that we stop and consider the ways in which our own perception of the world around us has the potential to change. Especially if we’ve been stuck in one particular pattern of thought for all of our lives.

I’m writing this post today to help free you from the constraints of your own inner world. Sometimes all it takes is understanding that things can be different. Now, I’m certainly not advocating that everyone reading this start taking an SSRI like I did. That is something for you and your doctor to decide. However, we don’t need medication to experience these brain changes. The same positive results can be achieved with practice and persistence with the help of a therapist or even on our own. These changes may not always be as fast or drastic as the ones noticed after starting a medication, but they are just as significant. We just may have to take the time to reflect on the difference between where we are now and where we were a few years ago.

This is where I believe the misconception of “choice” comes in. I used to become so frustrated when I’d hear people say, “You’ve just got to decide to be happy” or “We get to choose how we react to the things that happen in our lives.” Up until a few years ago, it didn’t feel like I had a choice at all. Not only that, I felt as if I was being blamed for the unpleasant emotional experiences I was having even though I didn’t want to be having them.

Even though I can now see the truth in these statements, I still think the language we use to present these ideas needs some tweaking. In the beginning, we may not have a choice in how we feel. After running on autopilot for most of our lives, it isn’t going to be easy to switch off those largely unconscious reactions. It takes a lot of work to train the mental muscles we need to redirect ourselves and start dismantling those automatic responses. Not only that, but it takes a lot of time before that work actually starts to make a noticeable difference. Think of it like a ship crossing the ocean. Even though you’re moving forward and making progress, it is going to look the same for a good long while. One day the shore will finally appear though. You may not even know what to expect in this foreign land, but just keep going. Trust that you will see dry ground eventually.

Without understanding this, a lot of people give up on themselves before even starting or before they’ve taken the time to set the groundwork for visible results. It’s important that we remind people that even though it is a long, difficult journey, it’s worth it, and with consistency and dedication, change is inevitable. The only thing you need to do is believe in yourself and the science enough to take the first step.

Finally, realizing how much the inner workings of our own minds can change has also allowed me to offer others more grace. When you imagine that for the most part we all think in a similar way, it can be downright infuriating when people behave in ways or think things that we cannot understand. It is humbling to acknowledge that we have no idea what is going on in the minds of those around us. Not only does it help me accept the differences I see in others, it also fills me with excitement and curiosity. What might it be like inside someone else’s head?

Wherever you are in life, I hope that you come to understand just how different things could be inside yourself. Whether that inspires you to work for change, helps you be more grateful for the way your mind is already working, or simply helps you offer loving kindness to others, we can all benefit from the reminder that things can be different inside your head.

Sleepwalking

Everyday I follow the same pattern. And the more days that go buy that way, the harder it is to deviate from that pattern. I tell myself I just like doing things this way and I can stop whenever I decide to. But then there is a softer voice in my head that wonders can I? I have been sleepwalking through life for so long now, years actually. I haven’t even tried to stop. Now I’m afraid I may not be able to.

One of the things I’ve always been grateful for is my ability to kick addictions. I’ve stopped smoking cigarettes for years at a time quite easily, cold turkey. I’ve abruptly been able to halt a rapid descent into alcoholism. No desire to drink lingering for even a moment. No hesitation. I’m one of the few able to successfully and easily become vegan. It’s been nearly a decade without animal products now. I have been able to stop smoking weed at times when I felt it was no longer serving me. No hassle at all.

I don’t know how other people end addictions, but for me I just start to get sick of it. I guess it’s like hitting rock bottom. The fear of continuing on this way becomes greater than the fear of changing. I’ve also heard that some people are just genetically predisposed to struggle more with addiction. I’m not sure how true that is scientifically, but it does seem to be a lot harder for some people, impossible even.

But maybe it’s not the chemicals or substances that I can’t let go of. Maybe it is harder for me to sacrifice my routine. If I am able to replace a component, whether it be an addictive substance or not, I am easily able to carry on. I’m less confident about being able to change my routine in general. To break away from even having a rigid routine. I am getting tired of it though. Being a prisoner of my own habits. I’m tired of sleepwalking through my days. Not thinking, mindlessly going through the motions, mimicking the day before. Even when it wasn’t a good day.

I can hardly remember what it was like to be a kid, waking up to endless possibilities, no structure, perfect summer days, doing exactly as I pleased. I’ve all but forgotten how to exist in that way. I don’t know how to listen to my own desires anymore. I’ve boxed myself in. And I’ve become afraid to leave that box. But I want to learn how to be mindful in each moment again. To really live again. Or at least try to. And even though here I am again, just planning to make plans, I still have faith in myself. At least it’s something.

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Small Steps

Since I recognized it within myself, I have been trying to overcome my “all or nothing” mentality. I can say from experience that it is quite a detrimental mindset to have. It is a constant fluctuation between pushing yourself too hard or doing nothing at all. If it can’t all be done, if it can’t be done perfectly, why bother? I’ve been letting this question immobilize me for so long now. I can’t even remember when this feeling of futility began.

I used to at least be able to get excited about the idea of goals or projects to work toward. Making lists and making big plans. However, after over a decade of setting myself up for failure with heaps of insurmountable tasks, I can no longer even find that initial hope for success that used to spur me onward. I guess after repeating that cycle of being unable to follow through again and again has finally worn me down. I feel like I’ve given up on myself.

But I know I can’t do that. I have to keep reminding myself that it isn’t my fault I’ve failed in the past. I always expected too much from myself in too short a time. With the plans I made, no one would be able to succeed. I was overly-optimistic. And that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I still think it’s good to have big dreams. I just need to learn to give myself that time and tenderness I need along the way to achieve them.

The goals I’ve set for myself in the new year, have already begun to seem daunting. I shudder at the thought of failing once again. I consider giving up before I even try. But then I remember that I don’t have to completely remodel my life on January 1st. Small steps matter. I just need to break my big goals up into smaller and smaller ones. Until they don’t seem as overwhelming anymore.

Even if in the beginning it seems like nothing. Even the smallest steps will still take me forward. It’s better than not moving at all. I HAVE to remember that this time. I must be gentle with myself. It’s okay to celebrate the small victories. Even if they might seem silly to anyone else. Only we truly know how hard something is for us. And I have been having a really hard time with the most basic things for a long while now. I deserve to give myself credit for what I am able to do. No matter how small.

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