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Thanking the Mind: A Practice to Ease Anxiety

Melli O'Brien






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Thanking the Mind: A Practice to Ease Anxiety

Untangle from the unhelpful or anxiety-provoking thought process and find a new sense of inner freedom.

The human mind is truly incredible.

On the outside, it enables us to plan,

solve problems, create goals, work

towards our dreams and so much more.

But the mind is also a double edge sword.

The dark side of the human mind is that

it also tends to haunt our inner worlds

with scary and hurtful words and pictures.

It criticizes us, belittles

us, bullies us, and blames us.

Constantly tells us what's

wrong with us, tells us when

not enough, and puts us down.

For many of us that voice inside

can become our own worst enemy.

It also tends to spend a lot of

times simulating possible bad things

that could go wrong in the future.

It worries, plays out scary movie scenes

of things going wrong that could happen,

and thinks of all the 'what if' scenarios.

Now, when our minds do this, we

experience what we might call worry.

Even if everything's actually totally

fine and safe in the present moment,

when the mind projects itself into

the future and imagines these scary

or unpleasant possible scenarios

that could happen, the body reacts.

When we do this a lot, we call it

having anxiety, but really what

stress worry and anxiety are is

that they're all forms of fear.

Our bodies experience fear in the present

moment when we think of terrible things

that could happen to us or others.

You might fret about your health

deteriorating, your relationship going

downhill, your financial future, or your,

you career being ruined, even though

nothing's actually happening in the

present moment, you're fine, you're safe.

When we think about thoughts

like that, we still feel fear.

So why do our mind do this?

Well, the mind has

evolved to keep us alive.

It's always trying to protect

and serve us, which is an

important thing to remember.

But our minds have evolved over the last

150 to 200,000 years in a very different

environment to the one we live in today.

In fact of the hundreds of thousands

of years that the mind has been

evolving, it's only the last couple of

thousand years that have been anything

like the civilization we're in today.

Most of the time our minds have

been evolving, it's been through

our hunter-gatherer ancestors.

And their world was a very

difficult and dangerous place.

The cave men and cave women had to

constantly try to anticipate all

sorts of things that could go wrong

just so they could stay alive.

They were constantly on guard, looking

for threats it's because they had to be.

Predators, food shortages, competing

tribes, difficult environments, these

were constant challenges for them.

The cave men and cave women who did

not constantly think about potential

threats and problems and try to improve

their chances of survival, didn't last.

Now, even though we don't live

in the same environment as our

ancestors did, we've inherited this

protective instinct in the mind.

It's wonderful that our minds can protect

us from the threat of physical harm.

And if there's a wolf loose in the

village, your brain is well-equipped

to figure out how to protect you.

Problem is that our minds often

get stuck in this survival mode

thinking when it's really not helpful

anymore and can cause us plenty of

unnecessary anxiety and suffering.

Even so, again, it's important to

remember that your mind isn't the enemy

and that there's nothing wrong with you.

When unhelpful or anxious thoughts come

into the mind, it's completely normal.

It happens to all of us.

It's not your fault that the mind is doing

this, and it's not your fault that you

were born with this complex human mind

that's evolved in this particular way.

But when it starts to cause you

suffering and distress, there are

things you can do to buffer yourself

from this tendency of the mind and

find a new sense of inner freedom.

One simple practice to help you untangle

from these kinds of unhelpful or anxiety

provoking thought processes, one way

that really takes the power out of them

so they no longer yank you around, is a

practice from Acceptance and Commitment

Therapy called thanking your mind.

So here's how you do it.

Whatever your mind says to you, no

matter how mean, awful or scary it

is, just with an attitude of warm

playfulness, even humor, you simply

reply mentally to yourself, thanks mind.

Thanks for sharing.

So if your mind says to you, Oh my God.

What if the kids leave when

you get old and you'll have

nobody to take care of you?

You just mentally reply to the mind.

Thanks mind.

Thanks for sharing.

And then the mind might

say, you know what?

I haven't been feeling

well and you know what?

I don't know what's wrong with me.

It could be cancer.

Then you say, thanks mind.

Thank you for sharing.

And the mind might say, you,

you don't thanks mind me.

If you ignore this, you're going to die.

You could have cancer.

Do you know how painful chemotherapy is?

And you simply say, thanks

mind, thanks for sharing.

So this isn't about getting into

a debate with your mind, you

know, an argument of any kind.

No matter what the mind says, simply

thank the mind as many times as you

need to, you know, warm and playful

time, and then you put your energy

and your attention back on what you'd

like to be focusing on in that moment.

So whether it's taking in the views

on your morning, walk, working on your

computer or doing the dishes, just feel

free to let your mind keep rambling on

and on with what it's evolved to do,

and just keep on thanking the mind and

returning your attention and energy

to the things that matter to you.

Now minds can be tricky.

So your mind might keep challenging you

with all kinds of thoughts or showing

you scary scenarios of what could be.

But if you simply acknowledge that

the mind is simply running these

simulations out of habit because of its

evolution and they're not serious, you

can simply thank the mind each time.

And when you do this, you're going

to find yourself less and less caught

up and more and more feeling at ease.

So today, and for the rest of this week, I

invite you to take this practice with you.

And any time you find yourself getting

caught up in negative unhelpful,

or anxiety provoking thoughts, just

have a play with this practice.

See how it feels for you.

Whatever you do with this practice,

just remember to do it with a warmth

and a humor and a playfulness.

No matter what your mind says to you,

no matter how serious it claims to be,

no matter how mean or hurtful or scary,

just have a sense of smiling at the

mind, mentally saying, thanks mind.

Thanks for sharing, change the

focus of your attention to something

more helpful and nourishing.

And each time you do this practice,

you build your capacity to unhook

from unhelpful thoughts and bring more

lightness, ease and joy into your days.

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