Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of all? These famous lines from the fairy tale ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ highlights the vanity- the feeling of ‘I’ in all of us. ‘Fair’ does not only imply physical beauty but also a vain feeling of being superior to people around us. We all have it within us – to a greater or lesser degree and every day we fill our minds with it- till it gives us a bloated existence.
At times, the vanity takes another form. It becomes a self – dialogue. People get stuck in their heads all the time – some of us more than others. Although it’s lovely to ponder life and be inquisitive about yourself, the problem is that the majority of our thoughts are not so upbeat. When we are always talking to ourselves we are in a whirl wind of negative thoughts – to what bills are due, why your partner was a jerk last night, why a coworker took credit for your work today, why you reacted in a particular way to a family member, and so on. When your mind is wandering in any direction from what you’re doing, you’re a lot less likely to be feeling happy. The underlying factor in all these thoughts is the feeling of “I was right”.
Here are tried and true methods to help get you out of your head:
Practice ‘detached attachment’:
Even the best search strategy, i.e., introspection alone, would be terribly limited. The danger of introspecting too much is that it can easily turn into full-blown rumination and become a vicious cycle of self-examination and worry that goes nowhere. Too much of attachment with your own self and own ideas would make you egoistic and self- centered. When people examine themselves from too close they often end up ruminating or oversimplifying. Rumination is like that middle-of-the-night thinking – when the rest of the world is hidden by darkness and the mind descends into a spiral of endless reaction to itself. You have repetitive thoughts, but you don’t take action. Depressed ruminators end up making themselves more depressed.
View incidents of your lives and your careers with a detached attachment and an objective mind. It’s critical that we create a narrative, rather than a cycle of overly-detailed self-inquiry. You should think of yourself like a storyteller, trying to fit events into a general framework, rather than pouring over each little piece of information. Introspection is a closed system. Patterns of growth only emerge by opening yourself to input from others.
Be mindfulness of your thoughts:
If you still can’t seem to hop outside your head, try a few minutes of mindfulness whenever you notice yourself getting stuck there. It really is an effective way to introspect productively. If you find yourself spinning a thought around in your head, try to stop and investigate it. Notice what it feels like, what sparked it if you can, and how your body feels in response to it. Often, just observing it curiously can make it much less scary.
The most important thing to remember is that thoughts don’t have to be believed – they come and go into our heads like clouds, often very randomly. So if you can just acknowledge a thought non-judgmentally and then let it go, you’ll be in good shape. The letting-go part is, of course, the hard one, but with practice, it can happen. And then your thoughts lose their power over you.
Connect to strangers:
Have you ever noticed when you talk to complete strangers – the persons who you meet in trains and buses while travelling, you feel light. This is because you are not in the compete mode with them. There is no baggage of relationships, no worry of professional equations and strangely no strong desire to prove yourself. At times the sheer struggle to be liked by others, to be successful in your careers sucks the very blood out of you. You become so vain that you are always weighing yourself against something – either with your colleagues or your own past performances.
Building connections with others – even if you don’t actually know them – is another good way to step outside your head. So try overstepping the bounds just a little – not so much as to freak the other person out, but enough to show them that you’re up for feeling a little more connected. Or talk to the guy next to you on the bus. It will certainly get you out of your head, not to mention brighten your day, and his.
Try to Pry:
While it may not be scientifically “proven,” you’ve surely witnessed it in action many times: When someone asks you a question that’s a little too personal, you may have noticed that after the initial surprise, it actually feels good to answer it, because it opens the conversation up to another level. The truth is that most of us actually want to be more open and connected with one another, but just don’t know how to go about it – it’s so ingrained in us not to offend anyone and not to over-share, that we end up being too conservative.
So, offending as it may sound, pry into others’ lives- show interest- you will see that the other person isn’t offended-if anything, he seems intrigued and flattered by your interest.
How can helping others help? Well, it can make you shift the focus from yourself to others. I would say that helping others is actually a selfish deed because it’s such a good way of helping yourself. It forces you get out of your own schtick and focus on something outside yourself. If you’re a parent, you know that focusing on another person even if they’re a tiny, demanding one) does a similar thing. But when you actually set out to spend your time on another person or cause, you’ll find that it’s a very good way to move the focus away from you.
Try asking someone who looks down if they need to talk. It’ll certainly make them feel better, just to be asked that question. And you’ll be the better for it, too.
Take out the ‘I’ with
the inner ‘eye’:
There’s almost no mental practice that has more research behind it than meditation. Among its more striking benefits, meditation seems to deactivate the ‘me centers’ of the brain, the areas that are active when we’re having thoughts related to the self-referential thoughts. In fact, the medial prefrontal cortex is an area that’s on when we’re having these thoughts, and meditation quiets this area of the brain. In fact, experienced meditators’ brains were also shown to co-activate areas involved in self-monitoring, suggesting that their brains may always be on the “lookout” for me-centered thoughts, ready to bring them back to the present moment just as fast.
So give it a try: Start with sitting, and focusing on your breath for five minutes. If your mind wanders, just observe that wandering, with a sense of curiosity, and pull it back to your focus. That part – the pulling the mind back, again and again is really the heart of the practice.
So, next time you look into the mirror- try to see someone else besides you… take out the ‘I’ with your inner ‘eye’…