I have a confession to make. My life is awesome — here is why - I have a loving family, make enough money, have an amazingly funny little dude that I call my son, travel to fun places, do fulfilling work, work out of an amazing workplace, get intellectually challenged growing our business while having enough flexibility to spend time at home and work.
Yet despite all this, my brain can chatter away, build up stress or create panic around things that one does not need to panic about all. Examples could be all the decisions I need to take or how behind / stressed I am on my to-dos or that it would be fun if I could get 2 days to just watch Netflix and chill at home since there is very little respite as a parent when you have a toddler at home and work piling up, or that I am not as social as I used to since my friends know that I am busy either at work or home, or worse yet I am not fun and popular as I used to be, or if we should get a bigger house… My brain is constantly on, spinning wheels, chattering away. (Even now, while I am writing this, I am thinking “are these words making sense”, “Is is cool to start writing again in 2018 when everyone is watching shit on Magic leap?”)
Yuval Noah Harari, the author of Sapiens and Homo Deus argues that we have given rise to a new type of religion called “Humanism” i.e. where the individual and his / her feelings are central to how he / she behaves. In historic times, the ethical, moral and factual judgements were made based on a holy book and what was said in the scriptures, but today more and more judgements are based on how we feel as individuals. But how we feel is controlled by a couple of chemicals, neurone and electrical circuits in the brain, which seem to be on a trip of their own most of the times. It is painfully evident that we can get better as a species in understanding and mastering these circuits.
In her book Charisma Myth, author Olivia Fox Cabane has a pretty good argument on what happens in the brain. She explains that when our internal voice starts criticizing us, lashing out, it can feel like we’re under attack. Because our brain doesn’t distinguish between imagination and reality, these internal attacks are perceived by our mind just as a real, physical attack would be, and they can generate an automatic physical reaction known as the threat response or fight-or-flight response. The effects of this activation are well-known. Just as a zebra reacts to the stress of being chased by a lion, the human body shoots adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones) through its veins, and directs all its resources toward crucial functions: elevated heart and breathing rates, muscle reaction, vision acuity, and so forth. The body is no longer concerned with living ten more years, but with surviving ten more minutes.
“One of the central covenants of being a humanist is growth — material or intellectual. We are taught that we feel better when things grow, our wealth grows, our status grows, our companies grow etc. When you have these internal expectations that are not met in reality either completely or not at the speed you want, you have a disconnect that starts creating frustration / discontentment / resentment and a host of negative spirals in your brain. Or worse, just trying to sit still is harder since the brain is on constant motion”
10 things I try to do to reduce chatter in the head:
- Assign a label to your negative experience: self-criticism, anger, anxiety, etc. Just naming what you are thinking and feeling can help you neutralize it.
- Depersonalize the experience. Rather than saying “I’m feeling ashamed,” try “There is shame being felt.”
- Imagine that you’re a scientist observing a phenomenon: “How interesting, there are self-critical thoughts arising.”
- Imagine seeing yourself from afar. Zoom out so far, you can see planet Earth hanging in space. Then zoom in to see your continent, then your country, your city, and finally the room you’re in. See your little self, electrical impulses whizzing across your brain. One little being having a particular experience at this particular moment.
- Imagine your mental chatter as coming from a radio; see if you can turn down the volume, or even just put the radio to the side and let it chatter away.
- Consider the worst-case outcome for your situation. Realize that whatever it is, you’ll survive.
- Think of all the previous times when you felt just like this — that you wouldn’t make it through — and yet clearly you did.
- 7 minute meditation breaks using apps such as Headspace or Calm
- If I go extreme, my lovely wife recommends Vipassana — a 10 day fully silent meditation course where you get the insight (which I guess is the most important) that your brain is just chattering away and you experience it first hand that not reacting to them but just observing these thoughts makes them go away.
- If I continue on this Indian Spiritual path, one can also realise that suffering is life but there is bliss if you realise it is self-created.
What do you use to make it easier to cope with the chatter in your head? Here is to less chatter, more flow and lot more peaceful and conscious adults in the world.