Thursday, January 27, 2011

No, you can't blow up pineapples with your mind, but thinking happy thoughts doesn't hurt, either.

I know I just bashed positive thinking, so what I want to talk about today might seem a little hypocritical.  I could spend a paragraph (and I just might) telling you about how it's not (hypocritical, that is) but that would be a waste of words.  You're going to decide for yourself, whatever I say, and that's the beauty of being an individual.  But what are words for if not wasting, so yeah, there's a bit about why this is different than my rant on positive thinking.  Just roll with it.  Anyway, here I go...

Last night I had what you might call a revelation.

The night began with business as usual; I was lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, unable to find a position that was comfortable for more than two minutes, and generally feeling horrible.  While most people (I presume) are able to drift into a vaguely comforting and blissfully thoughtless pre-sleep state in a timely manner (read: not two hours) after they get into bed, "sleepy-time" does not translate for my brain.  My thoughts do not slow down and I am not able to turn them to counting sheep or visualizing numbers 1-100 or floating in a void.  Most of what I do is worry.

I have resigned myself to the fact that I am a worrier, like my mother and my grandmother.  I try not to worry about what I can't control, of course; for the most part it works pretty well.  I would even suggest that I sometimes adopt a rather devil-may-care attitude.  However, all bets are off when I go to bed.  It's not that I worry about things I can do nothing about, but the opposite; I worry about things I would normally have a hand in but don't because I'm trying to go to sleep. Key word: trying. When you're in bed it doesn't do you any good to think of what clothes you're going to wear tomorrow or that the due date for your next tuition payment is coming up or that you have to read 100 pages for class in two days, because you're in bed.  It's like these things pounce on me when they see me mentally vulnerable, because there is one thing I worry about that I don't really have control over: getting enough sleep.  It's my very own encyclopedia illustration of "The Vicious Cycle."

So I was lying there listening to my classical music when I thought, "what if jI just eliminate "should" from my thoughts?"  So I changed every "I have to..." and "I should..." and "I need to..." to "I want."  And it worked.

Instead of "I should get up early and go to the gym tomorrow," I thought "I want to get up early and go to the gym tomorrow," and with that small substitution I felt better.

My worry about getting enough sleep was mostly coming from that, so instead of listening to classical because "I should listen to something quiet so I'll go to sleep soon" I changed my ipod to pop rock because "I want to go to sleep but I don't have to so I want to listen to the music I feel like listening to."  My mom always says, what's the worst thing that could happen if you don't go to sleep?  You're tired the next day.  Eventually, you're going to be tired enough (probably the next night) to go to sleep.

I do want to go a little bit into the difference between this and the positive thinking I was talking about earlier.  I feel like this whole "power of positive thinking" thing is way out of hand.  I see people expecting job prospects and other people's ideas and even actual physical realities to change just because they wish really, really hard on that star or believe everyone is born with an angelic conscience.  This is delusional.  Jobs will open up to you if you do the legwork, and a lot of the time even after that they don't pan out.  You have a chance of changing someone's mind if you argue your case convincingly, but even then it's like that person is an arbitrary judge with the final "yea" or "nay."  And influencing physical things with your mind?  Even now psychologists and physicians are undecided as to whether your thoughts influence your biochemistry or it's the other way around.  Influencing things outside your own body: forget it.  Delusional.

But your thoughts are all words; try to think of the last time you didn't have a spastic inner monologue (or dialogue, or poly-logue) continuously running through your mind?  Bet you can't.  The human experience is defined by language.  And before you protest, when you were a baby (without language) your thoughts and experiences were still framed with communication (probably, because it's not something we can really know).

So if words make up your mind and, by extension, your perception (which is really what we're talking about, because perception is reality and experience and emotion and thought), couldn't you affect your own mind through control of words?  Words and language have an intimate power, and since emotions are thoughts (perhaps unconsciously) and thoughts are words, then you can control (or at least shape) your emotions with words.

Okay, so in theory it works.  Try it with me. (I honestly have no idea if it'll have an effect on you.)  Pick something that stresses you out: impending exams; looming bills; that report you have to get to your boss by next week.  Phrase it with an "I have to" or an "I should," eg "I should study for my test next week."  Ugh, even knowing I don't have a test next week, that makes me feel all slimy inside.  Okay, now change it to "I want to."  eg "I want to study for my test next week."  Maybe add a "because," like "I want to study for my test next week because I want a good grade."  Look, another "I want."  We're on a roll.  Now, does that make you feel better?  I feel better.  Now, even though my test was hypothetical, I feel better about it and better about hypothetically studying for it.

I just wanted to share this with y'all, because I think it's so awesome.  I didn't necessarily go to sleep faster after that, but I am an insomniac...

Anyway, to finish up I just want to emphasize that this is not what I would call "magical" positive thinking.  As my parents have always told me, you can't change anyone's mind but your own.  In the same vein, you can't get a new car through wishing, Dad's Alzheimer's isn't going to go away even if you pray, and $30,000 isn't going to appear in your bank account just because it would be really, really awesome.

It would be awesome.  Oh well.

NB The title reference is from "Accepted."  Good movie.  I recommend it.

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