I tend to live in my head a lot (you don’t say!) so in February I picked a challenge that I felt would make a big difference in terms of stress and general wellbeing/sanity: limiting imaginary conversations.
If that sounds crazy, let me clarify that I don’t hear voices or anything – I just daydream lots.
In fact, I go by entire hours paying only remote attention to what is going on around me, because I’m too busy fantasizing about things that have happened, may happen, or I wish would happen, and as I’m not a visual-type person, I get a lot of internal dialogue.
While some are pleasantly entertaining, others are downright toxic.
Remembering a good moment or planning future holidays probably doesn’t do much harm, but unproductive conversations typically include:
- decision making: arguing my case endlessly about a real life decision
- doubt: going over past or future situations wondering if I could have done it better
- venting anger: usually things I would never dare say in real life to whoever annoys me
- justification: if I feel guilty about something that happened; entirely pointless and usually unnecessary
- worst case scenarios: need I explain? I bet you get them too
The Buddhist tradition calls our endless train of thought the “monkey mind” – it goes from one thing to the next without concentrating on anything, being at best distracting, at worst unproductive and frustrating. I tend to think of it as a washing machine, because whatever the idea, it never comes just once – it just goes round and round, over and over again.
The rules for February were simple: if I caught myself having an imaginary conversation of any sort, I was to snap out of it immediately and focus on the present moment.
This was never going to be an easy one…
What actually happened:
I mentioned this challenge to my colleague William, who is also bit of a dreamer, and I loved his candid response:
“Why would you ever want to do that? it’d be 90% of my life gone!”
While refocusing on the present wasn’t actually hard in itself (in fact, it was surprisingly easy) I found that the present wasn’t necessarily always as appealing as it sounds. There is nothing glamorous about being stuck in a public transport, or in line at the post, or in a dreary conversation.
What I’ve learnt:
I’ve learnt several things
- It is tremendously helpful to be able to stop toxic worrying, panic attacks and guilt trips when you spot them. Not only does it dissolve the nasty thought literally into thin air, but also it helps you realise HOW MUCH unnecessary anger/ guilt/ worry you have in a day – and how much time you could save by avoiding them altogether.
- On the other hand, I would agree with my colleague that daydreaming actually DOES improve your life. As any dreamer knows, thinking about something is pretty much tricking your brain into feeling you’re actually there – so between packed public transport and Benedict Cumberbatch…
- Lastly, this is something I keep finding over and over again:We all have, as we say in French, “the flaws of our virtues” – what makes us great most of the time is also what makes us not so great in other respects (the way self confident people might sometimes be too proud, or caring people too overbearing). And so I strongly suspect that the time I spend in my head, while allowing for needless worry/ doubt, is also where I get all my creative ideas; in fact, some of my happiest moments when I actually ENJOY life to the full are moment spent thinking and daydreaming. Eventually, like it or not, I might have to accept that I need to spend a lot time up there, even if it makes me a little neurotic.
Perhaps it’s just about training my monkey to behave.
Top tip for those who might give it a go:
Go for it – you may not be able to stop over thinking, but you’re guaranteed to learn a lot about yourself. Good luck & let me know how you get on!