Why “Let Go” Is Terrible Advice (& what you should do instead)

Have you ever been trying to solve a problem for hours, only for the solution to come to you the minute you decide to give up?

Have you ever wanted something so badly, only to have it spontaneously come to you as soon as you stop wanting it?

This is what economist John Kay calls obliquity – achieving goals by aiming away from them. 

But why does this happen?

Well for one, while most people think of human beings as things, it’s more accurate to look at us as systems. For example, microorganisms outnumber human cells by 10 to 1 – though they only make up around 1-3 percent of our body weight. Each of these microorganisms has its own goals, as does each human cell, and each system that these cells form. Circulatory, respiratory, digestive, excretory, nervous, reproductive systems and so on, all have one or more drives (and these are only the systems that we’ve discovered, or feel are worth labelling). 

Any “thing” that happens in your experience – like letting go – is not an isolated event. It’s just the part of the system that you’re paying attention to. John Donne said, “No man is an Island.” And he was right. Unless of course, that island contains a complex ecosystem with multiple agents and influences. 

We can’t let go of our beliefs any more than clouds “let go” of rain. The reality is that if letting go was really something you could do; you’d just let go of your problems right now and wash your hands of them forever. 

But that’s not what happens. Instead, your mind clings onto the problem for as long as it can. You believe that you want to let go, and it feels like you’re trying to, but day-after-day you find yourself clinging to the same old problems. 

Then finally, out of nowhere, there is a moment of relief – and we call this “letting go.” 

Sometimes this relief is a partial realisation which whispers, “well this is way more complicated than I can get my head around, so I should just take a step back and relax.”

Other times it might be an overwhelming realisation which screams “none of this is up to you, there’s nothing you can do.”

But here’s the kicker.

The reason we hold onto habits is that the system of “you” still believes that it’s worth it to do so. Even if you “feel” like you want to let go, and you “try” to let go. 

You didn’t come to let go by becoming the best letting-goerer (google it). Letting go was a result of the network of thoughts, perceptions, feelings and beliefs, concluding that letting go (or giving up) was the right option. 

As long as that network is still convinced that it is in the best interest of the system, you’ll hold on. 

Surrender isn’t something you do, it’s a by-product of seeing that a belief you held is false and harmful. This can take time, physical addictions are examples of situations where we can logically understand that something is harmful, but unconsciously, somatically, neurochemically – there is still an investment in the addiction. 

A lot of goals in personal development (and under the guise of spiritual development), are actually a by-product of seeing the falsehood in long-held beliefs. 

Compassion, for example, is what naturally results when we see that we’re not as separate as we once believed. Our separation and boundaries are purely conceptual, and an experience of sharing pain or pleasure with someone can make this very clear. Real compassion is spontaneous action that is free from any self-service. Being compassionate so you feel better, or as a form of virtue signalling is not compassion. 

Acceptance isn’t taking a deep breath and saying, “I’m ok with this.” Then white-knuckling your way through the day. That’s simply pretending to accept. Real acceptance is the immediate coming to terms with the inescapability what’s happening right now. Whether you’re sick or in pain or just mildly uncomfortable, it’s already happening and it’s already here.

Peace of mind isn’t a result of attempting to force thoughts out of your mind. It’s what happens when the brain-body-mind system sees that thoughts are causing more harm than good, and there is more to be gained by giving thoughts less attention.  

Happiness isn’t what happens when you get what you want. It’s what happens when there is an absence of interest or investment in the stories of your suffering which frees up energy that is used to engage in life.

So, where does that leave you?

Well, for one, I would recommend that you don’t beat yourself up for still having thoughts, beliefs and emotions that you would prefer to let go of. Instead, I’d suggest that you recognise that “it is what it is” and there’s nothing we can do about the fact they’re already here. This is clearly easier said than done – particularly with deep attachments.

I would also suggest that you don’t try to force yourself to let go. That will cause frustration. Instead, try and see why it doesn’t make any sense to keep holding on. 

Maybe you’re worried about a comment a friend made about you behind your back. Instead of thinking “I wish I could STOP worrying about this.” Try taking a measured, stoic approach and see how it goes. “Why is this silly to keep holding onto?” “What do I get from holding onto this day after day?” “Can I really be sure that this is what they think of me?”

In short, don’t let go. Just see what subtle belief is benefiting from “holding on” – and challenge it relentlessly. Patience is useful because you can’t force yourself to let go of a strong habit overnight. Oftentimes they take a bit more time to unravel.

For more about questioning unhelpful beliefs, check out the following posts: 

How to Stop Getting Bothered by Strong Opinions

I’m about to say something that might seem surprising.

But I truly believe what I’m about to say, so I’m going to say it.

I’m in the process of getting over an addiction. 

It’s a very common addiction, and like all addictions, it’s something that serves a purpose. That purpose, however, is not a sense of peace, contentment and wellbeing. The drive behind this addiction, at least it seems, has been to lull me into a false sense of security. 

It isn’t a physical addiction, like drugs or sex or food, it’s a psychological addiction. 

I am psychologically addicted to opinions. 

And I’m not the only one. Everywhere I look, people cling tightly to their opinions like a chain smoker taking that last puff before a long-haul flight, or an overbearing and jealous partner not wanting to let go, or like Gollum, obsessively guarding his precious ring.

Coronavirus conspiracies? Precious. Trump supporters? Precious. Anti-Trump supporters? Precious. Astrological natal charts? Vegan diets? Gun rights? Preciouuuuuus.

But why do we have such strong opinions?

I have no idea, honestly. As far as I can tell it’s some sort of interaction between an evolutionary coping mechanism and a cultural and technological landscape that rewards strongly opiniated thinking. In other words: opinions are viral.

Let me explain. Do you know what a meme is? You may think it’s just those silly little images with quirky captions that go around the internet. It’s actually a term coined in 1976 by the well-known evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. Dawkins used the term to refer to a cultural phenomenon that replicates in a way similar to genes. 

In an interview with Wired UK whereby they asked him what he thought of the “new” use of the term. Dawkins replied:

“The meaning is not that far away from the original. It’s anything that goes viral. In the original introduction to the word meme in the last chapter of The Selfish Gene, I did actually use the metaphor of a virus. So when anybody talks about something going viral on the internet, that is exactly what a meme is and it looks as though the word has been appropriated for a subset of that.”

Opinions are, therefore, a type of meme. The nature and structure of the internet seems to fuel polarising attitudes.

Anonymity. We can hide behind a fake name and profile picture, saying whatever we want without repercussions.

Confirmation bias. Our mind naturally looks for other people who share our perspectives and we tend to form groups with them.

Positive Reinforcement. Others who share our opinions will give us social approval that costs them next to nothing and gives us the illusion that our opinions have significant value.

Rapid popularity. Fame and status used to be earned through trial by combat – either physical or psychological. With the internet, individuals who are entirely unprepared for the responsibility of influence are made famous overnight.

People look for opinions to manage their fear of uncertainty, they then look for opinions that match theirs (confirmation bias) in order reinforce this false sense of security, and double down by creating digital in-groups and out-groups. 

Whether we know it or not, we are rewarded for our opinions. This reward is a short-term dopamine spike in response to likes, retweets or other forms of social approval.  

This is all fine and dandy. But these rewards tend to obscure our perspective. My hunch (also an opinion), is that the validation that many of us crave and receive over the internet is causing us to greatly overvalue our opinions and become entrapped by them. 

How to let go of strong opinions?

Opinions are like street signs, but most of us use them like houses. Look at them periodically for guidance, do not live in them. 

I might feel that my own opinions are special. I’ll argue that they’re relatively well thought out, educated, and from a place of less emotional intensity than those of others. However, they’re still just opinions, and therefore no matter how shiny they may seem, they amount to nothing more than a plastic trophy. Try melting down a plastic trophy and see what it gets you.

It sounds paradoxical, but if you truly want to a sense of certainty don’t hold onto your opinions tighter and tighter. Let them go. See how easy life actually becomes when you’re not marching around with a backpack of passionate beliefs. Question your opinions, challenge them. Try living without them, even if only briefly, and notice how less reactive you become, how light life starts to feel, and how life keeps on going, civilisation doesn’t crumble, and you still manage to get through the day to day.

Take a look at your opinions. Where do they come from? Are they really as special as they feel? Pretty much all of what we think comes about as a result of cultural conditioning. I can’t tell you a thought I’m going to have in the next minute let alone an opinion I’m going to hold five years from now. A little perspective goes a long way. Remember the ideas you had as a child, or as a teenager? Beliefs that felt so real and important now seem a little silly. Recognising this, does it make much sense to get caught up in your own opinions?

This is the same for the opinions of others. Sometimes it’s easier to see how people change viewpoints day by day, week by week, year by year. I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine about spirituality – we found that we actually agreed on a lot. We had the same conversation seven years ago when we first met, and we agreed on nothing. Who knows where we’ll be seven years from now? It doesn’t matter, as long as neither of us let our opinions take us for an emotional rollercoaster ride.

We all have one strong opinion that we could loosen our grip on today and we’d travel a little lighter for it.

Right it down. Challenge it. Let it go.

What’s yours?

The Revolutionary Potential of Mistrust: 3 Unconscious Stories That Cause Suffering

I’m about to explain something that might seem revolutionary.

When I first saw what I’m about to share, I didn’t actually understand how important it was. That was until it started having a dramatic and positive effect on my experience. 

What I’m talking about isn’t special, but it’s very profound. Yet your initial knee-jerk reaction, like mine, might be to dismiss it. I would, however, warn against that. 

I’m talking about three simple words; mistrust your thoughts.

See, at different points in my life I, like you, have felt trapped by many things. Time, money, relationships, illness, fears – the hypothetical list could go on forever. As a result, I have suffered. But deep down I have never truly been trapped. I’ve only felt and thought I was

The only thing that ever traps anyone is the story they tell themselves. I know that sounds like a platitude, but before you angrily change tabs for a rage scroll through social media, hear me out. 

Obviously, there are physical trappings in life. A man with his leg stuck in a bear trap is quite clearly trapped. I’m not about to walk past him in the woods and say, “I respect the fact that you think your leg hurts, dude, but you just think you are trapped, you’re actually free.” I like to think that I’m not an asshole. A response like that would not be compassionate and shows the social skills of a giant panda (weird reference, I know…. google it later). 

If, however, that which was trapping him was literally a story, then yes, I might suggest that he try a little bit of mistrust on for size. 

Pain and suffering are not the same thing. Pain is an immediate sensation while suffering is a response to pain, it is a meta-experience about the pain. Most often that experience comes in the form of rumination – or as I like to say: T.R.I.P.S: Totally Random Imaginary Painful Stories.

You can use the acronym or throw it away. You can even just think about it literally, like a bad trip (or a nightmare). 

But why is mistrust revolutionary? Well that depends in what you mistrust.

The definition of revolution is “an overthrow or repudiation and the thorough replacement of an established government or political system.”

In this case, the established government are the trips, and that which overthrows this system is mistrust.

For years I’ve had chronic pain, apparently as a result of a developmental issue with my spine (but also, apparently maybe not). 

It sucks. But the pain itself is nothing compared to the trips I’ve had about the pain. The painful mental stories of injustice, responsibility and what-ifs. They are the real suffering. 

The principle of mistrust that I’m about to explore with you could be applied to stories about any problem: depression, anxiety, fears about work, insecurities in a relationship.  I’m going to use chronic pain as an example, simply because it’s something I still have to manage, the stories still come up from time to time, so it’s easier to write about. 

Which is why I’ll say it again; mistrust your thoughts.

The Ownership TRIP: “For years I’ve had chronic pain.”

As you might have noticed, even in an article about mistrusting your stories, I’ve already presented a number of stories. That’s just the nature of language and pronouns. It’s also why I’ve mentioned this story first. It’s the original problem. The first story that kicks off all others. This is MY pain, MY problem, MY anxiety. 

But let us introduce a little mistrust into the equation. Is this really my chronic pain? I mean, I didn’t choose to have chronic pain any more than I choose to catch a cold. Whatever the chronic pain is, it’s been decided by factors over which I had no control: developmental changes in my spinal, past experiences, genetics, (at times) poor medical advice, a psychological disposition etc. 

The feeling of chronic pain is just something that shows up in this complex interplay of sensory experiences. But so is the sound of a car horn on my walk to work, so is the colour of the wallpaper in my kitchen, so is the smell of coffee in the office. None of these are taken in and called MY car horn sound, MY white (or is it cream?) wallpaper, MY coffee scented office. 

We don’t consider these experiences worthy of ownership. Why? Because they’re not painful! Our minds hold onto the story of pain in an attempt to figure them out, and in doing so, they create suffering. Whatever the trip you’re on right now, discard it. Your depression is not yours and it is not you. If you want to say anything about it, just call it something passing through your experience. 

“For years I had chronic pain?” Really? I’m sure at some point in those years I was sleeping. Maybe I should say “for years I have been sleeping” or “for years I have been growing my fingernails,” or “for years I’ve been seeing yellow cars.” Was I really, though? Or was that just something that seemed to pass through my experience.

The Justice TRIP: “It’s not fair that I have chronic pain.”

The justice story is deeply embedded in our culture. Basically, it says that whatever my immediate circumstance is, is not fair. For the sake of clarity, I’m going to make a couple of distinctions.

(Disclaimer: To doubt the idea of what’s fair or not does not mean to indiscriminately allow injustices to occur. It’s not a reason or excuse for abusive behaviour towards yourself or others. If someone else tells you that something is unfair or unjust, respect their experience.)

Firstly, we have justice in a finite game. A game with a limited number of variables and a set of predetermined rules – such as the judicial system or a boxing match. We might call this “relative justice.” This justice is by no means perfect, and it’s often illogical and full of contradictions, but it can be useful for attempting to curb abuses of power (then again it can do the opposite of that too). 

What I’m talking about here is a personal justice trip that applies to my life and my circumstances. Concepts like pain, life or circumstances have no concrete and defined boundaries. They are what we might call an infinite game, or “absolute justice.” Unless you believe in an anthropomorphised (human-like) god, then no, there is no absolute justice. 

So, is it not fair that I have chronic pain? I don’t know. Is it fair that I was born in a country that was not war-torn? Is it fair that I’ve had period of physical or mental illness? Is it fair that I have fresh food in the fridge? Is it fair that one sperm reaches the embryo over another?

Here’s a story that better illustrates the point. It’s a Chinese Folk Tale, originally called Sai Weng Shi Ma (Old Man Lost Horse). It’s a useful way to poke some holes of mistrust in the justice trip. 

A poor old man lived on the Northern border of China. One day, his stallion (male horse) ran North of the China border into the Northern tribes, later to be known as Mongolia. In the old days, a horse was one of the most valuable and useful possessions that a person could have. Therefore, the other villagers thought this was a very bad misfortune.

The old man did not worry, and he thought that this may actually be a blessing. A few months later, the old man’s horse returned with a mare (female horse). The mare was pregnant and gave birth to a foal (baby horse). Now the man had three horses as depicted in the painting: (1) the black stallion; (2) the white mare; and (3) the greyish blue foal. All the villagers congratulated the old man.

The old man thought that this may actually turn out to be a cause of misfortune. Later, his son became fond of riding the horses. One day, his son fell off the horse and broke his thigh bone. As doctors were not nearly as well trained in 206 B.C., a broken thigh bone meant that his son would be a cripple for life. The old man thought, “Perhaps this will turn out to be a blessing.”

One year later, the Northern tribes launched a major invasion into China. All able-bodied young men were required to fight against the Northern invaders. Unfortunately, the casualties of this war were very high, with nine of ten men dying in battle. Only one out of ten survived to return back to his village.

Since the father was old and his boy was crippled, neither were required to go to war, and both survived. The son’s injury had turned out to be a blessing in disguise – sai weng shi ma.

The Fantasising TRIP: “If only I didn’t have chronic pain, my life would be fine.”

You’ve probably heard the phrase “the grass is always greener on the other side.” What it means is that things look better in our imagination than they are. This is because we tend to focus on the positives in an alternative situation and ignore the negatives and focus on the negatives in our present situation, ignoring the positives. 

There are deeply rooted biological reasons for our habitual fantasising. One neurochemical system – the dopaminergic system – has developed to keep us addicted to our anticipations of the future. This is so we stay productive and reproductive, not because our fantasies are accurate perceptions of the world (or that their fulfillment will make us happy).

Studies have found that dopamine is initially released in response to a reward (e.g. chocolate), but as time goes on and more rewards are received (e.g. more chocolate), more and more dopamine is released in response to anticipating the reward (thinking about eating chocolate) and less and less upon receiving the reward (eating chocolate).

“Natural selection doesn’t “want” us to be happy, after all; it just “wants” us to be productive, in its narrow sense of productive. And the way to make us productive is to make the anticipation of pleasure very strong but the pleasure itself not very long-lasting.” 

– Robert Wright, Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment 

I’m going to be a little radical and take the grass-is-always-greener trip a step further. Actually, three steps further. 

  1. The only problem with the present situation is that we think there’s a problem.
  2. We have NO idea how an alternative experience would be.
  3. However, the alternative experience would be, it would NOT be like the fantasy trip.

A thought says that my life would be fine without chronic pain. But can I really know that? Maybe without the pain, I would find myself on a ski trip where I’m paralysed. Maybe without the pain, I would have little desire to write articles like these. Maybe without the pain, I would fantasise about some other, more objectively trivial issue, like how “If only I had more (money, affection, social media likes) then my life would be ok.”

Again, I don’t know, and I don’t care to know. The important thing here is that doubt continues to penetrate these thoughts, so their credibility is challenged and the intensity of belief in them diminishes. 

There are plenty more trips that are beyond the scope of this article, but these three are a good introduction to the archetypal stories that the mind activates in response to painful experiences. 

The story itself isn’t important, the principle is. What is the principle? Again; mistrust your thoughts.

Relentlessly challenging all stories around pain has been a lifesaver. It allowed me to manage what has at times seemed to be an unbearable experience. It allowed a drastic reduction in pain medication, and on top of that, a huge relief from anxiety and fear – both of which are echoed over and over again in our painful stories.

When mistrusting your thoughts becomes a habit, then the mind invests less energy in thoughts and stories, and they lose their power. And that, my friends, is the revolutionary potential of mistrust.

The Power of Doubt: 5 Questions To Help Eliminate Painful Stories

What I’m about to talk about is universal. 

By that I mean, we all have one.

No, I’m not talking about a heart, or a lung, or a brain.

I’m talking about a story – a painful story. A story about a challenge that we have faced or are currently facing. Most of us have dozens of these stories. And you know what? These stories make it much harder to manage the unavoidable discomfort and pain that comes with a human life.

There are three challenges that we live with – but only two of them are necessary. 

These challenges are discomfort, pain, and suffering, and for the sake of this article, I’m going to define them in my own way.

Discomfort is any negative feedback to your nervous system that is mostly unconscious. It may be that we are sitting awkwardly so our body shifts position. Or that someone says something that we don’t like, so we snap at them. Or even just that we feel hunger, so we eat. Discomfort is necessary to keep us alive.   

Pain is a strong sense discomfort that recognised by our conscious mind. Consider times that we roll our ankle, bump our head or burn our hand on a stove. Some of us have chronic pain, such as arthritis, headaches or back pain. 

Suffering is an existential pain that arises when the sensation of pain also becomes a painful story about “me.” This is the fuel for most emotional pain that we experience.

Put simply, what we tell ourselves about the pain, i.e. how we ‘own’ it, determines both how long the pain sticks around and the intensity with which it arises. If there was no story about the pain, and only a sensation, there would be no suffering. This is true for both acute pain and chronic pain. 

When you look closely – through the lenses of direct experience or science – there is really little difference between the beliefs that cause emotional pain and the physical pain we feel. In fact, on a neurological level emotional and physical pain is actually processed in very similar parts of the brain: the anterior insula and the anterior cingulate cortex. 

Fortunately, we can start to break down these beliefs by questioning our thoughts. Not just once or twice, but over and over again, until they start to unravel. 

Think about beliefs like a sweater that we walk around with and thoughts like the threads that make up the fabric. As we question the thoughts we are pulling at threads, until eventually the painful belief that we carry around with us just falls away. This is a longer process that requires more than what is contained in this article, but the following questions are useful starting points. 

#1: What is the story I am telling myself about this pain?

If pain is in your conscious awareness, then there is almost always a story you are telling yourself about the pain. Maybe it’s something like “this is the worst thing that has ever happened to me” or “I used to be happy before I had this problem.” Whatever the case, if you don’t first identify the story then it’s very hard to question it, and you’ll go on assuming that it’s the reality, rather than just a painful story.  

#2. How have I mistaken the story of this pain to be my identity?

Almost all stories have a degree of ownership to them. Anytime you notice the use of “I, me, mine” in a story about pain, then you’ve taken this story to be part of your identity. There are, however, different degrees of identification with our painful stories. For example, “My sore ankle is going to stop me from rollerblading next week” is more like a leaf on a branch, whereas “I’m just the guy in pain, everyone sees me like that” is more akin to the tree-trunk.  

#3. Do I truly know how I’m going to feel tomorrow?

The degree to which we perceive future certainty over our stories of pain is also the degree to which we become anxious about the pain. If you look close enough at your experience of pain, there may be very little consistency. Maybe you have a headache and the pain wants to tell you “You’ll have one in the morning as well.” But can you really know this? Have there been times where you expected to have pain, but didn’t? Or you expected to not have pain, and you did? Pain can cause fear and fear causes anxious predictions about what tomorrow brings.

#4. If humility could talk, what would it say about this pain?

What role does humility have in dealing with pain? Well, it’s simple. On a basic level, pain tells our brain that we are in danger. An organism in danger is one that is forced to put itself first. In terms of a painful story, this is usually translated through the mind as “this shouldn’t be happening to me.” “I don’t deserve this.” Or “This pain is unnatural and unfair.” Humility, however, is the opposite of this. It is capacity to see that that discomfort and pain is everywhere in nature. It’s normal and it says nothing about who or what you are, or what you “deserve.” Does a shrimp deserve to be swallowed by a whale? Does a fly deserve to be caught in a spider’s web? Does a tree deserve to be struck by lightning? Maybe your mind will argue that someone or something (like a medical system) has wronged you, and that without their errors or malintent, you wouldn’t have this pain. But then that wouldn’t be humility talking, would it?

#5. Could I be less interested in this painful story? 

Interest is the ingredient that keeps the painful stories going. Imagine your mind has a Netflix-like algorithm. The stories are only written if the viewer shows interest in them. If you stopped being entertained by episodes like “This isn’t fair.” “I can’t be happy while I’m in pain” or “When I get rid of this pain, everything will be ok,” then soon enough they’d stop appearing on your timeline, and eventually they would be discontinued altogether. The less interested you are in the stories about your pain, the less your brain will pay attention to it.

Question your painful stories and they will loosen their grip.  In time, suffering will become a painful sensation and painful sensations may even become unrecognised discomfort. 

How have you learned to separate pain from painful stories? Let us know in the comments!

The Optimism Habit: 6 Ways To Rewire Your Brain To Focus On The Positive

It’s an uphill battle we all go through.

Life presents us a challenge, big or small, and at some point, we decide to approach it with a positive mindset. But for whatever reason, something just keeps getting in the way. Maybe we have days where we manage to stay optimistic for 80% of the time, but the second we get tired or sick or hungry, all that cheerfulness is replaced by negativity. 

“Why do I have to deal with this?”

“This is ridiculous?”

“I don’t want to be doing this right now!”

The reality is, if our goal is to have a positive mindset, something IS standing in our way. Something huge; our brain. 

See, our brain developed in environments very different from the one we live in now. So evolution gave us what cognitive scientists call a negativity bias. This is the propensity of the mind to give more weight to negative information than positive information. It also means that more often than not, we perceive neutral information as negative.

Intuitively, we understand the negativity bias, because anyone with a human mind has lived with it at some point in time. Some people, however, manage to rewire their brain and make positivity their default attitude. Usually, this happens through sustained effort, but occasionally through luck or genetics. 

Before I jump into the different ways that you can begin to rewire your negativity bias, I want to first touch on some things that increase the pessimism habit. Some of these will be obvious, but it’s important to consider them in the context of the later strategies because they help you form a conceptual system for dealing with negativity. 

Stress. Any stress, whether physical or emotional, will supercharge the negativity bias. We see this when we’re sick or tired, and we become less tolerant and accepting of things in our experience.

Tension and pain. Where the body goes, the mind follows, and vice versa. Physical tension and pain will more often than not also cause mental tension and pain. 

Fear and trauma. Broadly speaking humans have two ways to deal with the world. One is open and free, and the other is closed and fearful. These will vary depending on your personal history, past traumas, culture and context, but it’s important to notice how fear and trauma – such as what we’ve seen with COVID-19 – can cause antisocial attitudes and behaviour. 

Egocentrism. These closed and open ways of dealing with the world are also linked to whether we are focused on protecting ourselves or focused on helping something bigger than ourselves. People who give their life to a greater cause can often seem more happy and positive. Part of this is because their mental content isn’t so acutely concerned with self-preservation.

The following list is by no means exhaustive. Anything that addresses stress, tension, pain, fear, trauma or egocentrism will tell our brains that we are safe and help to change our default focus from negative to positive.  

6 Ways To Rewire Your Brain To Focus On The Positive

#6. Negativity Fasting

What we consume on a mental level is as important as what we consume on a physical level. A psychologically nutritious diet should not include a heavy flow of negative information. Unfortunately with the way things are going into the third decade of this new millennium, day-by-day we are force-fed the mental equivalent of fast food. Limit this by turning off the news and reducing your social media use, reading optimistic books and only hanging around with people who are positive-minded.

Tips and Resources:

What is Negativity Fasting and can it make you happier? – Dave Asprey 

#5. Cognitive Reframing

This is pretty basic cognitive behavioural therapy. Take a negative thought such as “I can’t get up at 7 am every day” and change it to a positive (but realistic) one “I can get up at 7 am every day (though it may take a little extra effort). In my experience, this is quite a surface level tactic and doesn’t create deep change unless you take it very seriously. If, however, you consider cognitive reframing a practice, and you keep track of your negative thoughts with a journal, you can see some surprising changes.

Tips and Resources:

#4. Repetition and Habit Formation

This applies to pretty much any of the strategies on this list. Basically, the point I’m trying to make here is, chunk your tactic down into a manageable habit and repeat it over time until it becomes unconscious and natural. The best habit formation method I have come across is the work of Stanford Professor BJ Fogg. I actually took a training course in his habits coaching method a couple of years ago. Unless you’re specifically interested in mastering certain habits I wouldn’t spend much money – but I highly recommend his book.

Tips and Resources:

Book: Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything – BJ Fogg

#3. Cosmic Humour

“Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the gods made for fun.” – Alan Watts

Humour is the most effective (and underrated) tool for dealing with negativity in the entire human arsenal. It’s a gift that is so often squandered or ignored. Part of this is because psychology professors and spiritual teachers either take themselves too seriously or their students take them too seriously. If you can perceive your life from a bird-eye view and see the humour in each and every situation, it’s very hard to stay negative about it. Situations that are tragic or comedic have many of the same elements in them. Choose wisely. Alan Watts is good at this, but he might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Jedd Mckenna also does this a bit, but again, he’s not for everything.

Tips and Resources:

  • Books by Alan Watts 
  • Book: Spiritual Enlightenment: The Damnedest Thing – Jed Mckenna
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hIlTwsbl_7U

#2. Radical Compassion Practices 

Different forms of compassion-based practices have been used in almost all spiritual traditions throughout history. They obviously work. I like the work of Tara Brach, who uses the term radical compassion. What she means by that, as far as I understand, is all-inclusive, non-discriminatory compassion. This means it’s often not easy because we’re at times practising compassion, gratitude and forgiveness, with things that we have strong negative feelings towards. But that’s why it works. 

Tips and Resources:

#1. Memory Reconditioning

Much of our negativity is stored in based memories and what some might call traumas. It’s probably better to call them micro-traumas to distinguish from more serious traumas associated with PTSD etc. By consciously bringing to mind certain negative memories and their associations, and changing the emotional tone that is connected to them, we can undo a lot of the baggage that we picked up throughout our life. When taken to its extreme, I think this is even more effective than the compassion practices, but they go hand-in-hand. I like the work of Byron Katie and Lester Levenson. They both have free and paid content. 

P.S. The Sedona Method is associated with Levenson, but they charge an arm and a leg. I wouldn’t recommend any of their more expensive programs. 

Tips and Resources:

Conclusion

These six strategies need to be applied with consistency and intensity if you are to really change your brain’s habits. Don’t be too hard on yourself if it doesn’t go the way you expect overnight. 

What experience have you had with the brain’s negativity bias? Let us know in the comments!

Peace of Mind is An Acquired Taste

In my late teens, I became interested in Buddhist Psychology.

I read about meditation, attention, the four noble truths, dharma, karma, citta, and various other exotic words.

Ironically, all these ideas became somewhat of an addiction.

On the one hand, I came to understand, at least superficially, that my mental experience was a reflection of my environment. Put simply: garbage in, garbage out.

Yet despite knowing this, and despite my mind being in a pretty uncomfortable place, I never took up a meditation practice. I just kept piling up the knowledge like trophies, and I was (literally) none the wiser.

At the same time, weekends would usually involve the consumption of a concoction of caffeine, sugar, alcohol, cannabis, fast food and the particular type of reality t.v. that made a hangover seem like an achievement.

My mind was so loud and chaotic I didn’t even notice.

Sattva and Samadhi might as well have been Vodka and Sambucca.

What You Don’t Know Will Hurt You

The cabin of an aeroplane is louder than you think. You actually cruise at around 85 decibels. After a couple of hours on board though, you tend to forget you’re sitting on the sonic equivalent of a lawnmower. It all becomes white noise. Most of the time, that was my mind. Loud, bustling, restless white noise.

Part of me wanted to meditate and truly experience what these books we’re talking about. But most of me wasn’t ready; I simply wasn’t accustomed to a quiet mind. Silence was a salad, but my mind had a sweet tooth.

Hmmm. Maybe a salad isn’t the best analogy here. Silence is more of an acquired taste. It’s something that requires exposure before we can start to enjoy it. Like a pungent cheese, a glass of dry wine or whisky with a kick, often we might need to grow into it.

Until we train ourselves to enjoy silence, we’re going to keep being attracted to those things in our life that bring us confusion, disquiet and drama. It’s a slippery slope, because when chaos becomes familiar, it is silence that seems too intense. Noise can distract us from the overwhelming sensations that a quiet mind will expose. At that point, we don’t even try to hold space in our life for peace and quiet — at least that’s where I was.

Even 30-seconds of silence waiting by myself for a friend would build up into an explosive scroll through social media.

I would’ve mourned for my mind’s chaos but the minute’s silence would’ve been unbearable.

Evolution and the Modular Mind

In his 2011 book, Why Everyone (Else) is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind, Evolutionary Psychologist Robert Kurzban explains how the brain evolved to have several specialised, and often competing, systems.

To put it simply, our brains have independent ‘modules’ for separate tasks. For example, we may have one system to promote short-term physical survival, another for morality or social status, and another for meaning-making. Given that meditation is now a billion-dollar industry, we likely have a module for peace of mind.

It’s all much more nuanced than that, but you get the point; sometimes one part of you will do things that another part of you doesn’t appear to want.

That’s why meditation is such a hard habit to stick with. It’s not exactly an easy sell. Happiness and calm aren’t really necessary for the four F’s of evolutionary survival: fightingfleeingfeeding and fornicating. If the different parts of your mind are having a board meeting, whoever is pitching meditation is probably doing a pretty lousy job.

Fortunately, with time, life experience and a little maturity, our palates can change. The sensations that you’re motivated to experience at 11 are different from what you look for at 21, as they are at 41 and I’m assuming at 81.

Eventually, I did take up a meditation practice, and quite a serious one at that.

Until I acquired the taste for silence — an ongoing process by the way — the benefits of silence just wasn’t interesting enough to convince me to stop chasing the dramas in my head. They didn’t make sense in a paradigm where I didn’t know what peace of mind looked, smelled, felt, tasted or sounded like.

The cost of peace of mind tends to be discomfort and sacrifice, and the uncomfortable reality is that in the realm of the mind, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

So what to do?

Well, that’s up to you. To be clear, this isn’t a call to cut out everything in your life that might contribute to mental noise. That’s unrealistic and relative to each individual.

All I’m trying to say is that at this point in my life, I simply don’t get bored with silence. As strange as it might sound, it can be more interesting than noise. The more time I’m exposed to silence, the better I feel. If someone would pay me to meditate, or even just stare at a wall, I’d take it. It’s probably just a sh*t wage.

Although nutritious, peace and quiet alone doesn’t necessarily constitute a balanced diet. Engaging with noise and chaos and all the stuff that makes your mind race is part of being human. To me, silence rules, but it need not be totalitarian. And besides, sometimes it’s no fun being the only vegan at the BBQ.

How to Stop Being Paranoid

How To Stop Being Paranoid

We’ve all had the feeling.

That itching feeling that something’s not quite right. That subtle sense of distrust, maybe of someone, or maybe something.

It might start with a simple question that pops up seemingly out of nowhere, but sooner or later it becomes an intense focus. Our mind starts to spiral and all of a sudden our mental energy is being drained by something that otherwise should have been a nonissue.

We have a term for this. It’s not nice. The word may even conjure up images of instability or even insanity.

We call it: paranoia.

If you’ve had this feeling, you probably want to know how to stop being paranoid.

But first;

What is Paranoia?

There are generally two ways in which we use the word paranoia.  

The first is what a large majority of us will experience at some point. It is to be unreasonably or obsessively anxious, suspicious, or mistrustful. In this case, paranoia is an irrational thought-process driven by fear and anxiety.

It may be the suspicion that our lover is unfaithful or even just a conviction in the idea that we have bad luck – i.e. there is some unknown force that is preventing us from getting what we want.

The mildest version of this is called the attribution bias. This is a cognitive heuristic whereby we make errors when trying to attribute the causes of the behaviour of both ourselves and others.

The second is what we might call clinical paranoia. From this point of view, there are three main types of paranoia, all of which are focused around a mistrust of others. These habits stop the individual from being able to function socially. They are; paranoid personality disorder, a general but strong mistrust of the world, delusional disorder, which is dominated by one strong delusion usually around someone plotting to harm them, and paranoid schizophrenia, which may include strange delusions that go as far as hallucinations.

These disorders are not what I’ll be discussing here in this article, though if you believe you may have one or more of these, it’s highly advised you see a psychiatrist.

For a more detailed look at what causes paranoia, I highly recommend you watch this video by Clinical Psychologist Richard Bentall.

The mind is a tricky thing, and it can be tough to determine whether many of our concerns are legitimate or just, well, paranoia.

If you feel you are experiencing any of these symptoms, or you are often told by others that you exhibit these kinds of behaviour, it’s likely that your mind is behaving in a way that we could consider paranoid.

  • You find it difficult to trust other people
  • You don’t cope well with any kind of criticism
  • You’re often easily offended
  • You’re often suspicious of others e.g. you think people are lying or cheating
  • You are very interested in and convinced by ‘conspiracy theories’
  • You’re always on the defensive
  • You can’t stop ruminating on what has been said to you

Paranoia is a direct result of anxiety, and given we live a lifestyle that is increasingly conducive to anxiety, it’s unsurprising that more and more of us are becoming paranoid as well.

In the modern age, there are a number of environmental factors that lead to increased feelings of anxiousness, many of which are exacerbated by technology. Cultural phenomena that come as a result of increased news coverage and social media usage can largely be to blame.

The Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), Status Anxiety, sensationalisation of news stories and Paralysis-by-analysis are all relatively novel anxieties that we have to face that drive paranoid tendencies.

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO): FOMO is the tendency to feel anxious at the thought that other people are having rewarding experiences that you are missing out on. This is obviously fuelled by social media and the Instagram culture.

Status Anxiety: This term was coined by Alain De Botton and refers to the tendency for people in modern capitalist societies to constantly compare themselves to those who are economically above them. It was less prevalent in history where status was fixed and less flexible.

Paralysis-by-analysis: When we become stuck in a thought loop whereby we are unable to make decisions because we have too many options, this is paralysis-by-analysis. Again, this relates to status anxiety, technology and modern cultural expectations.

To give another example of paranoia in the modern world, the Flat Earth Theory, has gained a lot of traction in the last five years. This is despite the fact that in that same time period far more people than ever have been able to fly and literally see that the earth is round.

Interest in the earth being flat is not particularly geared towards the science, it is generated by a general mistrust of institutions and authority, of which education and academics fall under.

Some researchers have claimed that paranoia is amplified by feelings of victimization and powerlessness and that this is reinforced by lower socioeconomic status. Another study in 2014 found that women who were placed in a virtual reality simulator and made to perceive themselves as physically smaller in comparison to their environment felt more paranoia.

These links make some sense under the lens of evolutionary theory, as being smaller or less powerful tends to mean you can be under more threat and should have your guard up.

There a number of causes of paranoia, and it’s probable that a number of genetic and environmental factors contribute to someone being paranoid.

Technology is an obvious culprit for a couple of reasons. Firstly, technology promotes distortions within our relationships that could be correlated to a general increase in social anxiety. Our communications between one another are limited and selective, and we have an unrealistic perspective of how other people live. A general information overload also heightens anxieties as the brain is working overtime in an attempt to filter information.

Secondly, our access to news is conducive to paranoia, because it highlights the most extreme aspects of our culture, particularly the negative. In order to keep the news entertaining, current events are boiled down to a Hollywood-esque storyline. These are underpinned by black and white thinking, and encourage a worldview that is heavily conspiratorial.

Psychoanalysis and Paranoia: Trust, Betray and the Underworld

There are many perspectives and frameworks we can use to view anxiety and overthinking in psychology. One of these is psychoanalysis. For an entertaining and unique take on distrust and paranoia, I highly recommend you watch the video below by Jordan Peterson.

How To Stop Paranoid Thoughts

Here I’ve covered the six most effective ways to eliminate your paranoia. A holistic approach will be the most useful, and tracking your feelings of paranoia either with a journal or a therapist will help you see the progress you’re making.

It’s useful before you start to do any of these, to accept that you’re having feelings of paranoia and remind yourself in what ways this may be negatively impacting your life, and in what ways overcoming these feelings would benefit you.

1.Reduce Your Anxiety

As paranoia is largely a result of anxiety, it makes sense to directly manage this habit first. There are dozens of ways to reduce anxiety. Here are some of the most common ways to do so in your daily life:

2. Improve your tolerance for uncomfortable feelings

People generally have a low tolerance for uncomfortable feelings and anxious thoughts. We quickly become averse to them when they arise, and tend to push them away and not deal with them. Improving our tolerance for these sensations gives you the time to stay with them enough to break them down and deconstruct them.

So for example, if you have an anxious thought such as “what did Sarah really mean when she said that?” you’ll be more able to stick with the thought and recognize it as anxiety.

When we are unable to look at a thought, another anxious thought will usually occur. In the case of Sarah, this could be “maybe she doesn’t really like me”, which may cause another such as “she’s out to get me”, until we’ve spiraled towards paranoia.

Humour is the most effective technique for confronting uncomfortable feelings. It has the function of relieving psychological or physiological tension, and in doing so it can allow perspective shifts that cause old beliefs to crumble. If you can identify your suspicions and make fun of them, they will start to lose their potency over time.

3. Practice Rational Thought with Mental Models

Having a psychological process that you use as a tool can be incredibly useful for preventing the aggravation of paranoid thoughts.

Two of the most effective methods of inquiry I’ve found for any type of thought that I want to deconstruct and let go of are Byron Katies ‘The Word’ and The Sedona Method.

They work by simply taking a thought, focusing on the feelings associated with that thought, and asking a series of questions until the role that it plays within your experience changes.

Let’s take the example of the thought “John is always out to prove me wrong!”

Byron Katies ‘The Work’

  1. Is it true? Is it true that John is ALWAYS out to get you? Be quiet and wait for a response in how your body feels, as opposed to what your mind says.
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? Can you ultimately know with 100% certainty that John is out to prove you wrong? Can you always know John’s intentions, without being inside his head?
  3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought? What happens when you believe that John is always out to prove you wrong? Do you experience anger and frustration? Do you ruminate on the idea of John trying to get you?
  4. Who would you be without the thought? Close your eyes and visualization how you would be without the idea that John is trying to prove you wrong? Would you be more calm, open, relaxed?

The Sedona Method

  1. Could you let this thought go? You might not feel like you can, which is ok. The emphasis here is on the process of inquiry, not on the answers that it generates.
  2. Would you let this thought go? Is this thought still useful to you? Would you be better off without it? This is extra effective after having asked the question ‘who would you be without the thought from Byron Katie’s inquiry.
  3. When could you let this thought go? It doesn’t really matter how or if you answer this question, simply doing so allow your mind to conceptualize you letting go of the thought in the moment. After this has become a possibility, the thought will inherently have less of a grip over you, because the seed of doubt in its authority has been planted.

In my experience, you need to do this self-inquiry slowly and with strong intent. Though it requires patient and practice, is the most effective way for changing how you relate to certain thoughts.

You can experiment with doing the inquiry solely in your head, or writing down the answers.

4. Confront Your Suspicions with a Journal

If you’re having suspicious thoughts about an individual or a group of people, it’s always effective to question those suspicions. Try and write down how you feel, how long you’ve felt that way, and why you may feel that way. It’s also incredibly effective to try and come up with a number of alternative explanations and argue for why they may be right. This will stop you from jumping to conclusions and quickly investing in thoughts that are being governed by emotional responses rather than reason.

Remember that the brain has a number of cognitive biases, many of which are made worse by anxiety, stress, and fear. You may want to become familiar with a few of these and try and see where you are being influenced by them.

Keeping a diary can help combat anxiety and in turn, help you reduce your paranoia. There are a number of ways you can journal, you may want to start with the self-inquiry method above. Another way to do so is to write down how you feel, how strong the feeling is, and why you may feel that way.

One 2010 study of medical students, who tend to have more anxiety than the general population, found that journaling was an effective intervention technique to reduce stress and anxiety.

5. Improve your mood and self-esteem

As I touched on briefly earlier, feelings of being small or powerlessness are associated with paranoia. This seems to extend to other negative self-evaluations, as feelings of depression and low self-esteem also appear to be correlated with paranoia.

All of the advice recommended for anxiety are also applicable here, but if you want to improve your mood and self-esteem, it’s vital to make sure you are eating healthy, spending time in nature, and exercising regularly.

Remember that if you’re feeling depressed, it’s valuable and healthy that you tell someone you love, as opposed to keeping it to yourself.

For a practical and detailed look into how to improve your self-esteem, check out Nathaniel Branden’s book The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem.

If you’d like to know how to change your thinking and improve your mood, David Burn’s book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, is one of the pinnacle works in this field.

6. Spend more time with other people

When you spend too much time by yourself, it gives your brain more time and space to overthink, which can naturally increase feelings of paranoia.

In a sample of people who didn’t have clinical paranoia, it was found that social exclusion was highly correlated with state paranoia.This means that if you want to make your brain feel paranoid for no reason, spending less and less time with others is a perfect way to do so.

When you discuss your suspicions with other people, it much easier to challenge them and see why they may be false. Likewise, when you’re with a group of people, the way in which your psychological energy is directed is determined by the feedback that other people are giving you. If you’re out at dinner and everyone’s talking about a TV series that they’ve seen, it’s more difficult to be thinking about an unrelated conspiracy then if you were sitting at home and letting your paranoia build up.

Stop Paranoia in Relationships

Paranoia and anxiety can be incredibly frustrating, but they don’t need to have an unnecessary influence over your emotions and social relationships.  Unfortunately, paranoia tends to show up most frequently in romantic relationships in the form of jealousy, envy and distrust. 

Here are some tips to stop being paranoid in your relationships.

  • Write down all the ways your current partner is different from your previous relationships.
  • Challenge black-and-white thinking and cognitive distortions.
  • Recognise that the image we have in our head is never truly how the person acts – our memory isn’t reliable.
  • Try to be open with your partner about your feelings, how you want to work on them, and let them see that you know it’s not their fault.
  • Write down and challenge old ideas that keep coming up in your life.

Stop Paranoia at Work

Because work is another social domain where we might feel our identity is threatened, it can also cause a degree of anxiety and paranoia. Paranoid thoughts in the workplace can have a negative impact on your career, not to mentioned your fulfilment at work.

Here are some tips to stop being paranoid at work.

  • Always assume that your co-workers are thinking about you 50% less than your first assumption.
  • Try to create a collaborative environment instead of a competitive one.
  • Help other people out.
  • Focus more on your work and your performance and less on how other people might be evaluating you.

Stop Paranoia at Night

A lot of people who tend towards anxious thoughts will suffer from paranoia at night time. This is because at night they are not distracted by all the duties of the day and their mind is probably tired, so the natural thing to do is to overthink.

Here are some tips to stop being paranoid at night time.

  • Have a calming bedtime routine and stick to it.
  • Meditate before bed, or listen to calming stories such as those on the Calm App.
  • Write a to-do list for the next day.
  • Keep your mind distracted by reading or watching something interesting.
  • Do some moderate-intense exercise after work.
  • Try to not read the news or go on social media for two hours before bed.

In the fight against the monkey mind, it can often feel like you’re swimming upstream, but as you develop the skills to deal with your thoughts, that struggle will become easier and easier.

What experience have you had with reducing your paranoia? Let me know in the comments!

How To Get Something Off Your Mind (10 Life-Changing Psychological Hacks!)

How To Get Something Off Your Mind

Have you ever had an itch that you just can’t seem to scratch?

Maybe it’s just out of reach, maybe your hands were tied behind your back, or maybe you did scratch it, but it just kept on coming back.

In the beginning it’s just uncomfortable, but after a while, it’s almost like a form of torture.

But this itch doesn’t need to be physical. Sometimes it’s psychological. This discomfort is the same feeling we get when we can’t get something off our mind. When no matter how much we try to avoid it, this thought just keeps on popping up and playing itself over and over again.

Whether we’re thinking about someone we used to know, a future event we’re worried about, or an imaginary argument with a coworker, as time goes on this thing on our mind starts to bring us a lot of discomfort.

At a certain point, what we want is to be done with it. To let it go and bring our attention to something else. 

To understand how to get something off your mind, you need to understand how the mind works. Although it’s an incredibly complex piece of machinery, there are certain general attitudes that the mind seems to follow, which we can use as principles to guide our behaviour. We could even think about these attitudes as different goals or personalities. 

woman stressed can't stop thoughts

The mind is:

A problem-solving machine. Because evolution has allowed us to develop a mind for problem-solving, it always wants a new idea to ‘figure out.’ Where there are no problems it will create one. 

An addict. The mind finds what it likes and it sticks to it. Worries are addictive because they give the mind something to chew on. 

A fake scientist. The mind likes to believe it uses flawless logic to study the world. At the same time, it will often act in incredibly irrational and unscientific ways (like creating fake scenarios and playing them on loop for hours). You can use this to your advantage though. By proving the mind wrong, it will lose momentary interest.

A reflection of the body. The mind follows the body. Quite simply, when you are sick and in pain, you don’t have the same thoughts you have when you’re healthy. 

A reflection of emotions. Emotions may be considered psychological, but they happen in the body first and foremost. Over 130 studies have shown that even intentionally changing your facial expressions – such as smiling – can change the thoughts you have.

Not reality. The mind likes to draw maps of reality. When we forget that our thoughts are just interpretations of reality, we can get caught in mind traps that are hard to get out of. 

So, now that you have some idea of how the mind tends to function, you have some context for the ways to stop thinking about something. Once you test these out you’ll see that some of them are more difficult to begin with but more effective in the long term. 

woman can't get something of her mind

10 ways to get something off your mind

#10. Challenge the thought with a reframe

This method is based on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and the work of David Burns. In CBT, it’s common that you’re asked to identify the thought as a distortion and reframe it as something more appropriate (and realistic).

For example, take the thought “I’ll never be able to write a book .”

This is an example of polarised thinking (also known as black-and-white thinking). It could be reframed as “I don’t feel I can write a book now, but maybe in the future, I’ll be more confident in my writing.”  

To understand cognitive distortions in more detail, check out this article

#9. Replace it with something more exciting

The mind loves novelty and drama. If you have something that you can’t take your mind off, it’s basically your brain’s way of choosing the most interesting channel on the internal TV. If you can find something that’s a bigger, better, more exciting and hopefully healthier way for your mind to play with, then try and focus on that. That’s why it is good to find a hobby, hobbies keep us engaged and leave less space for us to learn how to stop caring so much about things that aren’t that important.

#8. Convince your mind that you’re bored of it.

This is very hard to do, but if you can master the art of indifference, you’ll be free from a lot of stress. One way to do that is to look at the thought until it simply becomes boring, though for people with serious anxiety, this is very challenging. Another is to recall the thought that’s stressing you, and to intentionally feel a sense of boredom when you do so. This will condition your mind to associate boredom with the thought and through time it will be given less energy.

#7. Move towards it

Similar to the point above, this is difficult. However, it’s useful to consider that it’s actually the avoidance of a thought that makes the mind say “oh this must be interesting if I’m using all this effort to avoid it.” When the thought is looked at honestly, such as in therapy or while journaling, the mind labels that story complete and boring, and moves onto something else.

#6. Challenge it

This isn’t always a long term solution, nor is it effective in the midst of very strong feelings. However, proving to your mind why something is wrong is one way to lessen its grip over you. For example, if you’re worried about someone having judged you for something you said or did, you can slowly and logically look at the situation. Are they really judging me? Isn’t it more likely that they’re actually indifferent? What would actually happen if I said the wrong thing? Have situations like this been forgotten in the past?

can't get something off his mind

#5. Make it worse

To make something worse requires a little bit of skill. First, you need to be reasonable. If you’re having suicidal thoughts or anything that puts you in danger, you don’t want to make it worse. Second, you need to be able to focus on the feeling of discomfort associated with the thought. If you can’t stop thinking about what someone texted you, you can focus on this sensation – maybe butterflies in your stomach – and try to enhance it. You’ll see that in doing so your resistance to the thought seems to drop away, and although it may not be a nice experience, you’re not in danger like your mind would have you believe. 

#4. Love it unconditionally

To love something unconditionally is to appreciate it exactly as it is. Again, this is not easy. But where you can find compassion for your thoughts and feelings, you can find love. You might not like your thoughts, but you can be sure they’re your brain’s way of trying to protect you. 

#3. Get into the body

If you don’t believe that the body governs the mind, try this. Think of a worry, something that feels heavy, something that won’t go away. Now go and exhaust your body – even just 10 minutes quick running on a treadmill will do. When your legs start burning, or you start to get out of breath, try to think about your worry. 

#2. Slow your breathing down

In meditation and yoga, the breath is fundamental. Breathe is the root of life, and the way we breathe influences the entire nervous system, as well as the body, emotions and thoughts. Slow, deep breathing will slow the mind and create calm thoughts, quick, unbalanced breathing, will signal to your brain that it needs oxygen because it is in danger. There are a ton of other benefits to deep breathing which I’ve covered in detail before.

#1. Do something creative

Most people are familiar with the brain lateralization – the fact we have a right brain and left brain which each perform overlapping but distinct functions. The left side of the brain seems to be more focused on problem-solving, which can lend itself to obsessive thoughts and rumination. The right side of the brain is more open, intuitive and creative. That’s why art can be therapeutic, it gets us into the right side of our brain.

It’s not always easy to get something off your mind. No matter how much will power or focus we have, there are certain psychological tendencies that can keep pulling us back. That’s why these techniques have been designed to go with the flow of the mind, rather than fight against it. 

What experience do you have trying to get something off your mind? Let me know in the comments!

43 Life-Changing Quotes For When You Are Feeling Defeated

Feeling Defeated Quotes

“Life is like a boxing match, defeat is declared not when you fall, but when you refuse to stand again.” – Kristen Ashley

Everybody has had the experience of feeling defeated and discouraged. There is a universal resonance with the story of the hero who was down and out, ready to quit and give up. It’s natural, we’re all human beings. 

The word defeat comes from the Old French desfait, meaning to undo, to reduce to near nothing. When we feel like we’ve lost something, our energy is drained, and it is this lack of eagerness that we feel when we say we are defeated. But just because we feel defeated, it doesn’t mean that we are. Our energy naturally ebbs and flows, and while your brain might tell you that you want to quit one day, it’s likely to turn around after a good night sleep and say something completely different. 

Side note: If you are feeling defeated and depressed, it may be necessary to get some help. Here’s a list of crisis helplines by country if you’re having suicidal thoughts.

What does it mean to feel defeated?

Feeling defeated means that first and foremost you have something you were up against and you lost. This may be a goal, a relationship, a health problem, school, work, or any other challenge. 

To be defeated means that you have a sense that you’re down and out. The challenge in front may even appear to be insurmountable. Remember, the feeling is not the fact. Just because you experience an emotion it doesn’t make it a reality. For example, when the body is sick we often find ourselves impatient, negative and close-minded. The same is happening when you are exhausted, your mind starts to create images of a version of you that has lost.

For that reason, it’s important to stay motivated. To read positive quotes and be inspired by people who have overcome the same challenges that you’re going through.

The following quotes and sayings, should you be willing to look deeply into their meaning, will help you to see things from a new perspective, and hopefully inspire you to push on and keep going.

Quotes about feeling defeated in life

“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald 

“The world isn’t sunshine and rainbows. It’ll beat you down if you let it, and nothing hits harder than life.” – Rocky Balboa

“I accept this defeat with humility and courage, and I welcome the next challenge with open arms.” – Anonymous

“Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even.” – Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali was widely considered one of the greatest boxers of all time, but even he suffered several loses. The difference is, he never chose to take any individual defeat as final. Ali always waited till he regained his strength and came back to face his challenges even after his loss to Leon Spinks, even after being stripped of his boxing license for opposing the Vietnam War.

“Perhaps someday I’ll crawl back home, beaten, defeated. But not as long as I can make stories out of my heartbreak, beauty out of sorrow.” – Sylvia Plath

“We are never defeated unless we give up on God.” – Ronald Reagan

“Setbacks in life are opportunities to perform at a new level.” – Willian Cranch Bond

“The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things.” – Rainer Mike Rilke

“Death is nothing, but to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

“In the end, everything will be okay. If it’s not okay, it’s not yet the end.” – Fernando Sabino

How do I get over a defeat?

Getting over a defeat requires patience, time and focus. Here are five tips to help you overcome a setback.

Define the enemy. When we say that we feel defeated we are presuming there is something that has defeated us. If we don’t even know what that thing is, it means that we don’t have clarity over our emotions. Sit down and really meditate on why you feel this way. Did you get rejected at a job interview? Are you trying to work on a project but you can’t muster the energy? What it is that has you feeling beaten?

Define failure and success. If you have now decided that you feel defeated, then you need to define what success and failure looks like. Take for example the case feeling like a loser at work. What does success at work mean to you? What does failure mean?  How can you try and win when you don’t even know what it is that you are losing?

Reframe Your Situation. When we feel like giving up, like we’ve lost and no longer have the energy to continue, it’s important to take a step back and get some new perspective. Instead of saying, I’ve lost. Say, I feel defeat today, but tomorrow is another opportunity to get back on the horse. 

Paint a picture of what success looks like. You cannot move forward without knowing which way to go. Once you’ve defined what success looks like, paint a clear image of the scenario in your mind. Some people call this positive visualisation. Your mind is attracted to what it knows, play a successful scenario in your head over and over, like a musician rehearsing a performance, and you’ll start to unconsciously gravitate towards optimism. 

Inspirational quotes about feeling defeated

“If you have no confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life.” – Marcus Garvey

“Sometimes adversity is what you need to face in order to become successful.” – Zig Ziglar

“The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.” – Chinese Proverb

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.” – Nelson Mandela

“True defeat only happens if you stop. If you never stop, you’re never truly defeated.” – Anonymous

“He knows not his own strength who hath not met adversity.” – William Samuel Johnson

“Defeat your fears and you can never be defeated.” – Jeffrey Fry

“Being defeated is often a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent.” – Marilyn vos Savant

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man, true nobility is being superior to your former self.” – Ernest Hemingway

“See any time you feel pained or defeated, it is only because you insist on clinging to what doesn’t work. Dare to let go and you won’t lose a thing except for a punishing idea.” – Guy Finley

“The defeat in your head is not the same as the defeat in your heart. If your head tells you to stop, try listening to your heart.” – Anonymous

“The gospel is for the defeated, not the dominant.” – Tullian Tchividjian

“We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.” – Maya Angelou

How do I stop myself from discouraging myself?

When a strong emotion catches hold of us it can create habit patterns in our mind. For example, negative emotions can create the habit of feeling like you’re not good enough. Unfortunately, there’s only one way to overcome the habit of discouraging yourself; do the opposite. You need to positively encourage yourself, over and over again.  

Quotes for when you feel like giving up and quitting

“Sometimes life is going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.” – Steve Jobs

“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.” – Og Mandino

“Tough times never last. Tough people do.” – Robert Schuller

“Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.” – Lance Armstrong

“When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

“Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better we can bear a hardship today.” – Thich Nhat Hahn

“When you feel too positive to be doubtful, too optimistic to be fearful, and too determined to be defeated, you are undeniably on the way to success.” – Dr Prem Jagyasi

“But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” Ernest Hemingway

“Defeat doesn’t finish a man, quit does. A man is not finished when he’s defeated. He’s finished when he quits.” – Richard M. Nixon

“You are not a victim. No matter what you have been through, you’re still here. You may have been challenged, hurt, betrayed, beaten, and discouraged, but nothing has defeated you. You are still here! You have been delayed but not denied. You are not a victim, you are a victor. You have a history of victory.” – Steve Maraboli

When You Feel Like Giving Up

Bible quotes about feeling defeated

The themes of battle, victory and defeat run consistently throughout the bible. Whether you are Christian, Jewish, agnostic, or atheist, you may still be able to find comfort in these words which have served so many people in history. 

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crush; perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” – Corinthians 4:8

“For we live by faith, not by sight.” – Corinthians 5:7

“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.” – Thessalonians 2:11-12

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.” – Lamentations 3:22

“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” – Corinthians 16:13

“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” – Psalm 34:19

“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” – Romans 8:31

“Do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” – Hebrews 10:35-56

“Taste and see that the Lord is god; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” – Psalm 34:8

When You Feel Like Quitting

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6afQxRNtUso

Want More Inspirational Quotes From Project Monkey Mind?

32 Ram Dass Quotes on Love, Life, Silence & Suffering

29 Mooji Quotes on Love, Life, and Silence

25 Carlos Castaneda Quotes To Awaken Your Inner Shaman

39 Jordan Peterson Quotes on Life, Love, Good and Evil

How To Stop Caring (7 Ways To RELAX About Everything)

How To Stop Caring About Everything

Caring too much is draining your energy. 

Maybe you’re an empath and caring comes naturally. Maybe what you care about seems to have some control over you and it’s difficult to let go. Whatever the case, caring too much is no longer serving you, and you want to no longer care.

But how do you do it, how do you not care? 

Well, to start you need to ask some questions of yourself, and the first question to ask is actually pretty obvious.

Why do I care so much?

It’s painful, right? A part of you clearly wants to let go of this worry. You’re tired of thinking about the relationship, the ex, the anxiety over your work, the concerns about what people think about you. But even though you want to stop caring about these things, on some level you’re still chasing them. They’re still occupying too much space in your mind. Draining you, day by day. 

There are a number of reasons you continue to care, but let’s take one from evolutionary psychology; the modular mind.

See, different parts of the brain link together to make up a series of networks. Each of these networks have different drives or goals, also known as different modules. Because the aims of these modules can contradict each other, you end up in self-conflict. 

Take for example the issue of a toxic relationship. Your drive for security (for yourself) can seemingly push you away from your partner, while your drive for care (for the other) can push you towards them. You have a natural empathetic drive to help and protect, and you don’t want to hurt the other person, but by staying in the relationship you’re keeping yourself in a state of insecurity and anxiety. It’s a catch-22. 

When you care too much, it means you have a strong attachment to whatever you are fixating on. Fortunately, our brains are, at least partly, rational. By going through each of our attachments, and the drives that are creating them, we can convince our brains that we don’t actually need to keep caring about the thing that’s troubling us. Less care = less investment, less investment = less energy wasted. When we are drained of energy we feel low, when that feeling becomes persistent, we call that depression.

To truly not care about what people think, you need to go through your worries, one by one. We’re deeply social creatures, so the most intense attachments we have are almost always personal relationships. The stronger we feel for someone and the longer we’ve known them, the more intensely we seem to care, and the more power they seem to have over us. 

As the late great Harvard psychologist turned spiritual giant Ram Dass once said:

“If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.”

Ram Dass

I’ve come up with seven steps to not caring that are based on principles of psychology and neuroscience. It’s good if you can go through these with a pen and paper and take notes on what comes up. If not, just thinking about it or talking about it with someone (or yourself) will also be useful.

girl caring too much

7 Ways To Stop Caring

  1. Recognise that you care. If you don’t even know that you care, it’s pretty hard to stop caring – you’ll simply be in a state of resistance or denial.  
  2. Recognise why you care. There are a whole host of valid reasons why you care and we touched on some of the psychological and biological ones earlier. Try and see how your brain, body and life experiences might be causing you to care too much.
  3. Accept why you care and that you care. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is based on opening up and welcoming unpleasant feelings in order to prevent our minds from becoming fixated. When we avoid the fact that we care, we are actually signalling to our brain that what we (unconsciously) care about is worth the energy invested in avoiding in! 
  4. Identify reasons why it makes more sense not to care. This is where we bring in our rational mind to start to convince the brain that it’s actually more beneficial for us to not invest so much energy in worrying about this thing.
  5. Remind yourself of these reasons frequently. When you’ve gone a long time caring about something, there is a reconditioning that needs to take place in order to reverse the habit.
  6. Condition yourself to relax every time you notice yourself worrying too much. This could actually be number one on this list. Caring about something is largely held in tension in the body. The more you can relax, the less of a grip strong emotions have over you, it’s that simple. 
  7. Practice the art of ‘not caring.’ Not caring isn’t just a vague attitude, it’s actually something we embody with our actions, feelings and eventually our thoughts. Put yourself in situations that show that you don’t care, and sooner or later your mind will follow suit – fake it till you make it.

How To Stop Caring About Someone

This is a real challenge. Other people can often feel like a part of us, so letting them go is like losing a part of ourselves. Something you may want to consider when going through the steps above is to look at what this person represents for you. What need are they fulfilling? Could it be fulfilled in another way? For example, maybe you want to care less about the negative comments your boss makes, but you know she holds power over your income – so there’s a sense of security invested in her.

How To Stop Caring In A Relationship (or about your ex)

A romantic relationship is one of the strongest attachments we have, because it represents so much to our personality, our sense of self and our survival. A big way to break out of the habit of caring for someone is to put yourself in situations where you rely on your independence to solve problems. 

Man can't stop caring about relationship

How To Stop Caring What People Think Of You

Almost everyone is concerned with how they are perceived in social situations, at least to some extent. One way to stop caring what people think of you is to recognise why it’s better to not be so worried about it. A lot of the times our ideas about what people think about us are completely out of line with what they actually think. Also, their ideas (like ours) are constantly changing, so it doesn’t make any sense to try to obsessively manage your social image.

How To Stop Caring About Work

Work, like relationships, represent a lot for many of us. What we do for work is, in some ways, who we are. It’s what we do every day, it’s how many others may judge our success and worth, and it’s how we provide for ourselves and our families. So how to not care about work? First of all, try and be relaxed as possible at work. We naturally get tense in uncomfortable situations and that tricks our minds into caring more than is necessary. Another important thing to consider is to accept that you are emotionally invested in your work, but recognise that it doesn’t define you. Try to look for other ways that some of the needs that are met by our work might be fulfilled with other things in our life. 

Ok, so there you have it, a comprehensive guide that shows you how to stop caring. Mind you, while it is simple, it’s not easy. A large part of stopping the incessant worry is simply practice over and over again. Practicing accepting why you care, that you care, and practice the art of not caring. 

What are you caring too much about? How have you learned to not care? Drop a comment below and let us know, or send me an email at ben@projectmonkeymind.com!