I’m standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes and there is an epic battle going on. I’m fighting with my housemate about how he damaged my car, and he is yelling back at me. I’m very self-righteous and indignant. The problem is, my housemate moved out 2 months ago.
THIS epic battle only exists in my head.
Oh, but real it is! I’m coming up with eloquent explanations how things should have been said. I’m developing pithy and witty prose to describe this injustice. I easily role-play both sides of the argument, anticipating what he will say in return.
I’m angry, my body is tense, and my shoulders are creeping up towards my ears. Frankly, I’m miserable.
As I get closer to breaking a dish, I stop. I stop long enough to realize I’m fighting with a person that’s not even there; or as one my best friends says, “drinking the poison and expecting the other person to die.”
I don’t want to be angry, but this is not the first time I’ve had this argument with my imaginary housemate. It’s a ruminating thought, a thought that goes around and around in your head. Now, if this thought was about puppies and unicorns, that would likely not be a problem, but this thought is a dreadful battle.
Here’s the problem: Our thoughts create our reality, and right now my thoughts are making my reality pretty darn awful.
How does that work? Thoughts are frequently formed from outside sensory information to help us navigate our reality. However, thoughts can also be totally fabricated in our heads. Humans have evolved the ability to create thoughts about our past actions and thoughts about our future. These skills have made us into one of the most successful species on the planet.
More often than not, thoughts will create an emotional and physiological response in your body. It doesn’t matter if your thought reflects your real-time reality or if your thought is playing out on the stage of your mind. Your body still has the same physiological reactions. If you are having thoughts about a fight, then you will elicit the appropriate emotional and physiological response to help you fight; increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and so on.
So, when I’m fighting with my housemate in my mind, I’m having the same physiological reactions in my body as if I was arguing with him in person.
Understanding this is great, but I’m still by myself standing at the sink pissed off, creating a fight or flight response in my body. It hurts and I’m ready for it to stop.
It would be nice if I could just recognize that my thoughts create my reality and simply switch them to something more palatable. If this works for you, more power to you. I find that a ruminating thought is more like a stain on white carpeting. I use that fancy cleaner to get rid of it, but over time it keeps coming back. So the tool is something that you can use over and over as the thought comes back.
Imagine that you are in a state of agitation stemming from your thoughts. Here is what you do:
- For just a moment, stop what you are doing, close your eyes and come back into the present moment.
- Take a deep breath in and imagine that all of your annoying thoughts are being sucked into your lungs.
- Now… grab a virtual balloon and in your mind hold it up to your mouth and blow it up. Blow all of the difficult, ruminating thoughts into the balloon. Use some force to get all the air out of your lungs.
- Tie a virtual ribbon around your inflated balloon and then let it go, watching it float and dance up into the sky until it becomes a tiny spec.
- Repeat as needed.
If I’m really worked up, it usually takes me 3 or 4 balloons to start feeling like I’ve moved the thoughts out of my body. The idea is that you create enough of a pause in your melodrama to be able to make a conscious choice about what you want to think about.
You are in control of your next thought, so make it a good one. A tiny bit of gratitude can help you hold onto your pause. You might try injecting a wish or a dream, something that delights you to think about.
To take me away from my epic battle, I thought about how fortunate I am to have a car. I’m transported away into new delightful thoughts. Take this journey with me.