I couldn’t understand why the mind chatter hadn’t stopped.
I’d left the job that was causing me so much misery ages ago, I’d not set the alarm for months, I’d gone to hot yoga and eaten breakfast at three in the afternoon if I’d felt like it. I should have been the most zen person alive.
So why wouldn’t that voice in my head just SHUT THE F*CK UP??!
I genuinely thought it was my corporate job that was causing all my problems. So, the solution should have been a very simple equation. Leave job = have a lovely life and never be anxious again.
But instead the same constant irritating chatter just wasn’t going away.
I still couldn’t get to sleep. I still wasn’t paying attention to what people were saying due to the constant wittering in my head.
I still felt tired and anxious even though I was no longer getting up at stupid o’clock. I was still shouting at my partner over nothing (well, he probably deserved it a little bit).
It was like having a demented talking bee in my mind that just pinged like a buzzing pinball from one side of my brain to the other. It was bloody exhausting.
And it also felt ridiculous. I was incredibly fortunate to be able to leave my job and spend a few months deciding what to do next.
I should have been relaxed, happy and looking forward to the next chapter of my life.
But I wasn’t. I felt like I wanted to punch myself in the head just to get the constant chatter to stop.
But, punching myself in the head was probably not the answer (unless I wanted to get committed) so it was best to find another way.
I tried self-help books, meditation, yoga, anything and everything to get it to stop, but what I finally realised was that the answer was not to try and stop the chatter, it was about understanding the ‘why’ behind it.
That’s all very lovely and I’m genuinely happy for you Laura, but how the hell do I stop my own prattling brain?
Well, these are the three steps that helped me to finally reduce the noise.
Step 1 – Work out what on earth are you nattering to yourself about
What are the thoughts, ideas and words that are keeping you up at night and annoying the living crap out of you?
If it all just feels like a massive overwhelming tornado of mind melt, it might help to write it down. Either on your phone, on your laptop or in a notebook. After a few days or weeks, it’s likely you’ll see a pattern coming through.
Although the actual words or thoughts in your head might be different each time, there should be an overall theme. Is it that you’re not good enough? That you can’t possibly leave your job and start a business? That your business idea is stupid and no one will like it?
For me, the two things that seemed to keep revolving around and around like a f*cking annoying record player were my financial future and rehearsing conversations with people.
Yes, you have read that correctly. I was constantly planning the conversations that I was going to have with people, in my head, in advance. From my friends and family, to the customer services representatives at E.on.
Now, once you have your ‘themes’ identified, you can move onto step 2.
Step 2 - Identify which values are associated with your mind chatter and whether these are having a negative or positive effect.
A story was told to me the other day which had quite a profound effect. I was having a reiki session with an awesome woman called Sal at the Willow Clinic.
(As a side note, I’ve been trying many things to try and reduce my stress and anxiety. Reiki had been suggested to me by a friend and so I thought, why not? I am not sure I am completely sold on the spiritual side, but holy crap do I feel better after I’ve been).
The story was called “There’s a hole in my sidewalk’ from Autobiography in Five Short Chapters by Portia Nelson.
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in.
I am lost . . . I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault . . .
It takes forever to find a way out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in this same place. But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it there.
I still fall . . . it’s a habit . . . but,
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.
I walk down another street.
Input your quotation here. Also, you can cite your quotes if you would like.Portia Nelson
After the session had ended, I reflected on this story and thought back to a book I had recently read called The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson.
He talked about how if you had shitty values, you would be working towards things that would never make you happy in the long run.
What if I had a shitty value and it was causing the mind chatter??
What if my deep hole was the imaginary conversations and the attempt to number crunch my future?
What if the street I was walking down was my shitty value, and to get to another street I would need to decide on a different value?
So, what was this shitty value I was using as some sort of screwed up google map?
The pit of anxiety, stress and mind chatter that I continually fall down every day is called Certainty.
The need to control everything in order to be certain and therefore feel calm.
It isn’t always negative, I’m great at organising things and keeping a schedule, I make lists and plan things which brings a positive order to my life. Certainty isn’t negative unless it is applied to things that are inherently uncertain.
If we take the financial future loop for example. I have been working towards financial independence for a while which is where you save and invest enough money to quit work at a very young age. This is certainty in a basket, never have to worry about money again? How certain can you get?
However, the issue with this is that nothing in life in ever certain. Even if I invested enough, investments can go up or down, the markets could crash, property prices could fall. I would reach my ‘financial independence number’ and still feel uncertain.
And then onto the topic of my imaginary conversations, I am clearly trying to pre-empt what will be spoken about and rehearse my responses to be certain.
The mortifying realisation however was that half the time (okay 90%) of what I have rehearsed never actually comes up. What a bloody load of wasted time! I could have been using that time to relax, have a real conversation, write something, pick my nose, anything!
The reality is that I have no idea what other people are thinking, their minds are also a jumble of values which could be completely different from mine, so I would never be able to pre-empt how they were going to react or what they were going to say.
With both things, I was trying to control the uncontrollable, which would never be possible, so the chatter would never stop.
Could you be holding onto values which are causing negative self-talk?
There are many of them out there that could be causing your motor mouth mind annoyances. I’m not going to list them all here but something I found useful was Tony Robbins’ theory of the 6 human needs.
Now I appreciate Tony Robbins is a bit Marmite, some love him, some hate him so have a look here or google ‘values’ and see what you come up with.
Now you have identified which values are causing the unhappy head gymnastics, it’s time for the final step.
Step 3 – Choose a new value
To stop falling down the black hole, it isn’t enough to see the hole and walk around it as the story says. It is to choose a different street.
But what street is that? Which value is going to be able to calm the mind chatter by taking you down a different route?
A good place to start is to think of the opposite to your negative value.
Take certainty for example, the opposite of which is uncertainty.
I don’t need to delete my entire google calendar to create uncertainty about what I meant to be doing next week, that would be a little extreme (and cause me severe heart palpitations).
But I can be okay with being uncertain about things that I can’t control. Uncertainty isn’t necessarily negative, there could be something great around the corner that I could never foresee.
So now when I feel myself starting to think about money or pre-empt my conversation with the guy in the corner shop, I stop myself and say, “I can’t possibly know what will happen, I can’t control the future or other people’s responses and that’s okay”.
Alright, so maybe I am not always that polite, sometimes it is just ‘It’s ok to be uncertain, just shut the f*ck up!’. Whatever works, right?
Which of your values could be causing your mind chatter?
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