We are passing into October now, and rolling out our spotlight on “Letting Go”, a theme which was suggested by Christy our clinic manager. We were in a brainstorming session, laughing to tears when Christy blurted out “Letting GOOO!” On a side note, I believe in the value of laughter because it builds comradery, makes us love going to work, and because we are in a more cognitively flexible and creative space when we are able to laugh. So, it is by design that our brainstorming sessions tend to look more like an amateur hour open-mic. So, as I gasped for air, Christy repeated, “Letting Go” and then offered thoughtfully, “like the trees let go of their leaves to make space for something new.” *sigh* She went deep.
Make room for change by letting go of things that no longer serve you.
Do we need to let go? Let go of what? Why can’t we let go? How do we let go? Can talking about it really help us let go? Is letting go of thoughts different from letting go of behavior? These are the angles that our team will explore, each from their own perspective and area of expertise. It is so amazing to see how approaches from our dietician, social workers, and psychologists weave together to form a complimentary and yet differentiated fabric. I’m excited to participate and learn this month. I am excited to explore how we can make room for change by letting of of the things that no longer serve us.
Over the last 10 or so years I have become increasingly enticed by the inner culture of the human mind, and eager to learn how contemplative neuroscience may inform the pursuit of wellness. I was excited to engage with clients in a way that seemed more intuitive to me; one that moved beyond examination of how a client thinks, to one that delves into what a client gives their attention to. Undoubtedly there is much to be gained by reframing catastrophic interpretations of events (i.e. I am such an unlovable idiot) to more balanced thought (i.e. I really messed up there, I don’t like it but I don’t have to be perfect), but this generally does not address one of the most negative mental health habits that we have. Self-obsessed thought addiction.
Most of us are just a little too invested in our own story-line, and convinced in the importance of our thoughts. This is problematic as most of the narrative generated by our survival-driven-problem-focused brains is incorrect. It’s wrong, its unneeded, but we buy it. Reframing thoughts about yourself is still thinking about yourself, but before you take it personally I should mention that it is the western-world-brain default mode. That is right, there is circuitry in our brain that is geared to direct attention and focus to ourselves, to keep us occupied with who we think we are, what we’ve done, what to do next, and how others see us. As this self-focused network drives attention inward, habituation helps you to stop noticing things in the world around you. During habituation, the brain produces fewer neurotransmitters in response to a stimulus, so you don’t have to keep paying attention to it every time you see it. Really this part is for the sake of efficiency, so you can focus on tasks at hand instead of noticing the mundane, like the feeling of your clothes (which you may now be thinking about because I mentioned it). Makes sense until it becomes a general way of being.
Without perspective, thoughts consume us, and cloud us from reality and each other.
There are costs associated with the habituation / self-focus habits such as decreased wellbeing, increased stress, and emotional volatility. I know as a mom I am far more reactive to the family when I am stuck in my own thoughts. I am also far more likely to feel amped up, have difficulty sleeping, and make absent minded moves (like the time I drove through the underground parking lot with the back hatch of the SUV open… *smash*). In cases of anxiety and depression the self-focus becomes quite skewed through lenses of fear and negativity, and thoughts become drawn further out into the future or focused on the past. We end up living in an alternate version of our lives, one that hasn’t happened (and likely won’t) or that didn’t happen the way it is being played out (human memory is incredibly flawed) Intuitively I also wonder about the cost of self-focus on our collective compassion for and connection to each other. How can we love each other, if we don’t notice each other?
Letting go of the mental health habits can start with simple noticing. Noticing the narrative of your brain and how often it pulls you away from the experience you are having now. Be curious, you don’t have to judge it, and you don’t have to give weight to the thoughts. Just practice observation. Of course, there’s more to it than that, but this is a starting point. Start by letting go.
Change is slow, but really where else do you have to be?