After many decades of agonizing investigation, a masters in mindfulness, a degree in psychotherapy and even a small taste of fame, I decided to write a manual on how to tame your mind.
YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR MIND AND HOW YOU THINK
I go into detail in Sane New World but I want to mention one fact right away; the gold at the end of the rainbow is that YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR MIND AND HOW YOU THINK. This is called neuroplasticity.
Your genes, hormones, regions in the brain and early learning do not necessarily determine your fate. Scientific evidence has shown that neurons (brain cells) can rewire and change patterns throughout your lifetime as a result of your experiences and how you think about them. So your thoughts affect the physiology of your brain and the physiology affects your thoughts.
Think about sex for a minute. That’s Ok, I’ll wait. Once you get an inkling, a whole cascade of hormones is let loose in your body to get you ready to cha-cha. Sometimes it’s the other way around; you’re minding your own business, for no reason a hormone switches on in your brain and suddenly your thinking goes X-rated.
When your mind changes, your brain changes and because our brains are so malleable, the sky’s the limit. I remind you that I got into Oxford in my 50s even though I failed to get a diploma from Busy Beaver nursery school (look it up, that was the actual name) proving really anything is possible. But it takes time to alter your habits of thinking; it won’t happen with a weekend workshop on ‘How to Tickle Your Inner Angel’. It takes intentional concentration and repetition over time. You can change but only if you make the effort not to do the same old thing, the same old way, day in and day out.
You, and the way you see the world, are the architect of how your brain is mapped. This is what scientists are giving us in the 21st century; way beyond what Psychic Madge can read in your palm.
The brain is like a pliable three-pound piece of play-dough; you can re-sculpt it by breaking old mental habits and creating new, more flexible ways of thinking. Gloria Gaynor was wrong when she sang, ‘I am what I am’. She will have to change those lyrics but it won’t be so easy to dance to. What rhymes with neuroplasticity?
The Inner You
If you can look inside your brain and roughly understand where everything is and how it operates, you might not be able to completely know yourself but with practice you may be able to fix yourself. Learning how to self-regulate means you can sense the early warnings before a full-on burnout or depression and do something about it. So much is known about this idea of self-regulation; it may (and I hope it does) shortly become the buzzword of this decade. We can, with certain practices such as mindfulness, actually have some control over the chemicals in our brains that drive us to stress, to anxiety and even to happiness. This remarkable organ in our heads holds infinite wisdom but so few of us know how to use it. It’s similar to having a Ferrari except no one gave you the keys.
The reality is that the demanding voice in our heads is not who we are, it plays a very small part in the big scheme of things. What’s really running you is a million, trillion gigabyte-powered engine room in your brain, managed by your DNA, that instructs hormones, memories, muscles, blood, organs and really everything that happens inside you to ensure that you survive at all costs, and not that stupid inner monologue about why you’re too fat to wear tights.
You can become the master of your mind and not the slave. If you learn how to self-regulate your moods, emotions and thoughts, and focus your mind on what you want to pay attention to rather than be dragged into distraction, you might just reach that illusive thing called happiness.We all have it; we just don’t know where the ‘on’ button is. The organ that allows you to realize the world understands so little about itself. (Yes Oprah, I’m available.)
Why We Need a Manual
What is our point on Earth? Everyone wants to know. So the question is not, ‘To be or not to be?’ The big questions are, ‘What are we meant to be doing while we’re being?’ and ‘How do I run and manage this thing called ‘me’?’
Our primary problem as a species (I leave out those with religious beliefs – they have their own books) is we have no manual, no instructions that tell us how to live our lives. Domestic appliances have instruction manuals; not us. We’re born with absolutely no information, and are reliant on Mommy and Daddy who jam their USB sticks into our innocent hard-drives and download their neuroses into us. That’s why I really wanted to write a manual, and I’ve tried to keep it simple.
I hope Sane New World helps you let go of the image you have of yourself if it’s getting in your way; I hope I can encourage you to be brave and know that nothing is certain: life flows, changes and ends. Get over your fear. The only way to find any peace is to let it all go and jump into the unknown.
From Sane New World, © 2013 by Ruby Wax, published by Hodder & Stoughton.