DO YOU REGULARLY FEED YOUR HEAD WITH HEALTHY THOUGHTS?
No one would expect to be healthy on a steady diet of Ice Cream and Classic Coke. We believe we are what we eat. And most of us make an effort to follow good nutrition. According to a 2013 Gallup Poll, 65% of us claim we more or less succeed.
But when it comes to Mental Nutrition I wonder how many of us are as careful to consume healthy thoughts and avoid unhealthy ones as we are about our physical nutrition?
It may be obvious that we are what we eat: but it is equally obvious that we are what we think. As Mahatma Gandhi said: “Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.”
Mental Nutrition is equally important to physical nutrition, if not more so
So the question is:
Are You Overdosing on Mental Junk Food?
We live in an unprecedented buffet of information. Television. Radio. Internet. Conversations with family, friends and co-workers. Plus our own internal dialogue, the thoughts we tell ourselves.
Insomnia caused by exposure to media is becoming a national epidemic. We watch bullying and name calling by political candidates for the highest offices. Locally we hear of graft, corruption, sex scandals and outright greed by our “leaders”. Every couple of weeks there is a new mass shooting or terrorist attack. Our pundits try to convince us that civilization as we know it will end in November 8th interrupted only by commercials to make us dissatisfied with the car we drive or our mundane life in general.
Before a child finished elementary school, he or she will have been exposed to over 8,000 murders on television, By the time she or she graduates high school the typical American kid will have witnessed over 200,000 acts of televised violence. They will have learned to laugh at people’s misfortune, admire tough guys and impossibly glamorous women and will have seen over 20,000 commercials aimed to make them want the right clothes, cars, boyfriend, girlfriend, body and lifestyle in order to be happy. Throughout their formative years they will have been raised on the mental diet equivalent of cotton candy and Doritos. And then there is the internet…
The internet trains us to think in short bursts of impatience. We spend our free time on social media gossiping and spying on each other or surfing the net for stimulation lazily following whatever bright shinny thought crosses our ever shortening attention span.
We also receive messages from the people in our lives. Family members. Co-workers. Friends. Often the messages we get from these people are far from uplifting. Here are just a few examples of poisonous opinions most of us hear on a regular basis:
Thank God it’s Friday (meaning the rest of the week was a bore)
Hump Day (week half over)
They’re all bums (politicians)
My boss is an idiot
It’s not fair
Same day. Different Sh–
Even more damaging is the negative conversation we generate in our own minds. These toxic thoughts have even more credibility since they come from us and seem to reflect our actual beliefs.
I am not good enough (smart enough, handsome enough, tall enough, sexy enough, etc. etc.)
There is something the matter with me.
I can’t do anything right.
Women in my family get fat as they get older.
I can’t stop smoking (drinking, gambling, etc)
Nobody loves me.
You can’t trust people.
Sadly by the time we are five or so, most of us have accumulated a brain filled with toxic habitual ways of thinking about ourselves and the world around us. We then spend the remainder of our lives either acting on these initial negative thoughts or trying to overcome them.
And we wonder why we can’t sleep at night and why life seems so hard.
Are You Ready to Try Healthy Mental Nutrition?
The cosmic joke is each of us is the author of our own lives. We are the ones who choose what thoughts we welcome into our own minds. These thoughts (this mental nutrition) in turn defines us for better or for worse. With poor mental nutrition over time, we can fall into a victim mode and blame our childhood, circumstances, other people or even God himself for our suffering.
How do you break free of these patterns?
First take a Mental Nutrition Inventory
You will never get where you are going until you know where you are starting from. A little time spent reviewing your current mental nutrition may surprise you, but it will also show you where you need to make changes.
Media (Television, Internet, Radio, Print): Ask yourself how much junk mental food are you consume on a daily or weekly basis? The average American spends 4 hours and 42 minutes daily in front of what they used to call the boob tube and almost 40 hours a month on the internet. How much of your media exposure would you describe as uplifting, education or inspiring? How much drags you down? Ask yourself what emotions your media experience brings up. Peace? Joy? Appreciation? Gratitude? Or anger, anxiety and resentment, lust and downright fear?
I have seen many clients alter their lives dramatically, just by minimizing or cutting out their talk radio addiction, especially at night.
People (Family, Friends, Co-workers): There is a biblical proverb “You can tell a man by the company he keeps.” Who do you listen to and spend time with? Are they positive, inspirational people or negative, depressed or angry people quick to complain and blame? Who are the people in your life (including family members) who promote negative thinking and how much do you allow them to influence you?
Then look to see how much positive mental nutrition you get. Educational or uplifting television, radio? Positive friends and family? Church? Family togetherness? Positive activities?.
Your Own Internal Conversation: On average people think between 30,000 and 70,000 thoughts per day. According to the Cleveland Wellness Center, we repeat versions of the same thoughts 95% of the time on a daily basis and of these 80% are negative. That means 80% of the time you are the one polluting your own life with negative, self-limiting, upsetting chatter. I conducted an experiment once and had people use a timer to capture their thoughts. Every 8 minutes the timer would go off while the participants were in a classroom setting and they were instructed to write down exactly what they were thinking at the time of the buzzer. The people who participated were amazed to discover that the vast majority of their thoughts were not the enlightened, positive reflections they were expecting. Instead they found themselves at random times engaged in negative, judgemental, impatient, lustful or at best engaged in daydreaming. Some of the reported thoughts included “When will this be over? Why doesn’t that person stop talking so much? I am hungry.That is a really cute girl (guy) over there. I am getting tired.” And these were motivated people in a program they claimed to be deeply passionate about.
Any attempt to alter your Mental Nutrition must include observing and consciously improving the quality of your own thoughts.
Are You Ready to Start Paying as Much Attention to the Thoughts You Put into Your Mind as the Food that Goes into Your Body?
As a hypnotist and hypnotic coach, I help people drop self-destructive, negative patterns of thoughts. Then I guide them through hypnosis to new positive, constructive ways of thinking and being. As a result, people lose weight, quit smoking and other negative habits, get out of bad relationships and overcome many personal challenges, and generally become healthier and happier.
Hypnosis by-passes our built-in resistance to change. But there are things you can do right now on your own to start your new Healthy Mental Nutrition Diet without an office visit.
- A) Stop exposing yourself to so much negative media (especially during the election season we are in). Turn off (or minimize) TV news. Stop listening (or minimize) angry talk radio. Stop reading the newspaper as much if it upsets you. Try cutting your exposure to upsetting mental junk food by say 50% and see if you don’t feel better almost immediately.
- B) Talk to supportive friends, family, a therapist or coach about what bothers you and listen carefully to their feedback. Consider your mind is like a bad neighborhood: you are better dealing with its destructive residents with a friend at your side.
- C) Focus on others. Nothing will help you be more positive and feel better than helping another with his or her issues. As that famous prayer attributed to St. Francis puts it, “Better to love than be loved. Better to understand than be understood.” There is a world of experience that shows this really works. You help yourself by helping others. You don’t have to be a saint to get results, just unselfish enough to give a little of your attention on helping others. Skeptical? Try it and see for yourself.
- D) Adopt a program of daily meditation and prayer. Meditation and prayer actually alter brain chemistry and structure. More than 55% of Americans say they pray everyday (Pew Research 2014). And according to Neuroscientist Richard Davidson “Meditation and prayer actually let you sculpt your brain just as you’d sculpt your muscles if you went to the gym.” The brain-imaging work of Dr Andrew Newberg and others is showing that there is an actual physiological response to meditation and prayer. This new research into neuroplasticity is validating the numerous studies of the positive effects of meditation sponsored by the Transcendental Meditation movement.
- E) Journal regularly and write a gratitude list. Researchers Emmons and McCullough found that “counting one’s blessings” in a journal improved both psychological and physical functioning. Participants who recorded weekly journals, including a short gratitude list, reported feeling more optimistic towards life. They also spent more time exercising, and had fewer symptoms of physical illness.
- F) Make a list of healthy activities, media and people you can add to your life (replacing negative alternatives). And then start immersing yourself in these new habits.
Please understand that this is just a start on a lifelong habit
of a positive Mental Nutrition.
You wouldn’t expect to eat healthily for a week and then go back to a diet of candy and fried foods and expect to stay healthy, would you? Consider positive Mental Nutrition, like good physical nutrition, requires a daily commitment.
To end on a positive note, let me modify that old Chinese proverb, “a lifetime of positive Mental Nutrition starts with a single positive thought.” No one does this perfectly. But you can do better with a little focus. And you start where you are right now.
Interested in giving it a try? Re-read this article. Then follow the suggestions to improve your Mental Nutrition for 30 days. If you are not satisfied with the results, you can always go back to the negative chatter that surrounds us and, sadly, runs through our minds on a daily basis more than most of us would like to admit.
But I think you will find good Mental Nutrition like other good things we do for ourselves becomes a habit we want to keep because it works.