Memories can suddenly strike and inflict anxiety and panic in an otherwise harmless situation. Mental noise disrupts the lives of many people. Memories have the capacity to alter our feelings, change our world view and perception of the realities that surround us.
Memories have the capacity to alter our feelings, change our world view and perception of the realities that surround us. Yet, we spare little time to consider the nature of memory itself. Chance events, random words and smells have the capacity to trigger memories and bring in a flurry of thoughts associated along with them. Isaac Asimov recounts a chance tune wafting from a music shop that suddenly transported him to a time in his teenage and brought a host of happy memories along with it. Events that have led to emotional trauma come in with a similar rush and force a seemingly normal person to relive a past experience. What is it that causes this rush of memory and emotions of elation or depression?
The working of memory
Joe Dispenza explains the working of neural connections in creating lasting memories. He explains that the brain processes incoming information from the five sense organs. When an event causes a reaction that leads to concurrent physiological changes like rapid breath, tightening of abdominal muscles, mouth dryness or clammy palms, the brain registers the reaction. This is a form of learning.
The mind falls into a set pattern of thought. From the moment of awakening, the brain instructs us to carry out a set pattern of activities and somewhere deep within we can hear a continuous barrage of seemingly inane conversation. The inane conversation may be repetitive and leave us unaffected. In some cases the chatter is so severe, that the listener is unable to continue normal work because of it. New events or non-routine activity that set the brain into a new pattern of planning make it possible to overcome the chatter.
What is this continuous chatter that goes on in our heads? Does it go when the pattern of activity changes? For instance, if the normal habit is to wake up and put the water to boil for a cup of tea and is changed by a new action of opening a window and gazing at the sky for a few minutes instead, does the chattering stop? Is there a physiological connection with the constant barrage of verbosity that continues in the head? Can the introduction of a new activity to break the routine change the trend of thought?
Old conflicts that have been left unresolved, anger that continues to fill the mind, negative comments that we have given credence often form the base of the chatter. “This is going to go wrong”, “Never do anything right”, “Always makes mistakes” and similar thoughts that lead to an unpleasant churn at the physiological level and fulfil the words as they repeat in our minds. The distress of fulfilling the negative comments that fill the brain further strengthen the words and reactions and install an irrational sense of fear from moving ahead. The negative outcome becomes proof of the very quality that we try to overcome.
Sometimes, the mental conversation comes in the way of regular activity, the person moves to the refrigerator to take out a bottle of water but forgets what the frig was opened for. A quick retracing of steps quickly brings back the memory of the need but what is happening here? The mental conversation has overtaken the conscious brain and has brought a state of ‘absent-mindedness’ or ‘forgetfulness’. This is a thought habit that must and can be changed with a set of habits that bring the conscious brain’s commands to the fore.
Adopting a new view
As our brain follows the habit of so many years, we must understand it as an organ that is merely reproducing what it has been fed. If you have spent years hearing and unwittingly agreeing to other people who provide negative inputs about you, your brain has been fed potentially disastrous thoughts. As life takes you along its path, you start to feel that you are responsible for things that go wrong. Consider this, you have always been told that you are difficult and stubborn. When you enter the stage of young adulthood, you go through a series of failed relationships. This serves to prove the statements that have been said. You decide to adopt a new strategy, one of hiding your personal views when you enter the next relationship. This is not a lasting solution.
Instead, accept that the relationships were life’s ways of teaching you about yourself. If you look at a relationship as a sort of instruction manual you will start to see behavior trends that appear. Maybe you are impulsive, easily manipulated or maybe you keep your feelings under such tight control that your partner feels you are not serious about the relationship. If you look at this with a clear mind, you will find that your responses to situations are being driven by the thoughts that you carry.
Feed your brain appropriately
If you look at thoughts as brain food, it is time to change the brain food that you have been having. Make a conscious decision to watch your thoughts. When you are given a new assignment, do you say, “Oh no!” Acknowledge the thought and tell yourself “I can do this, I just have to plan it well.” It is similar to getting yourself out of eating something that is bad for your health. You change your eating pattern. But how do you do it? Some people remove the food from their homes completely to control the consumption.
The brain works in an insidious manner and quietly leads you along well trodden paths. Be conscious of what you are thinking at different times of the day and jot it down. Murphy has strongly recommended this habit as a way to track self talk. Let the words flow as you write the context and associated feelings and the words in your head. Now consciously change the negative tone and tell yourself this is just a situation to be managed. You may need help of a friend or a good listener to help you get your feelings at ease when you do this since conflicting thoughts lead to conflicting emotions. The brain will try to continue with the food pattern it is familiar with and will take time to adapt to the new food. It will try to attract you to new habits that lead you along the same thought route.
Do not allow your brain to direct you, learn the art of being conscious and lead the way.
Dispenza, Joe, 2006. Evolve Your Brain: The Science of Your Changing Mind. HCI.
Murphy, P.M., 1992. Loneliness Stress and Well being, Murphy PM, Routledge.