How Choosing Not to Fight My Mind Gives Me Power Over Depression
For just a few minutes, let’s turn the abstractness of the mind into something solid — a voice in our head we listen to all day. If we can do this, let’s try simplifying the negativity of our mind further by comparing it to a child having a tantrum. We’ve all been there or seen it happen — a child starts crying in the middle of the store because they want candy. The child knows the more they squeal, the more likely they are to win.
Now, what about the negativity of our mind? Is our mind any more reasonable, rational, consistent, or reliable? Does it wait for convenient times to hurt us, or does it throw mental attacks about anything it wants, whenever it wants? Can we see that the mind loves to cause us pain in all the most inconvenient places and times because it knows exactly when it’s best to force us into submission? Sitting right here, right now, perfectly comfortable, is not a vulnerable situation. So, it will wait. It can wait all day until exactly when we don’t want it to come, like right before bed, or first thing in the morning, or when we have something important to do.
If there’s nothing close by to get upset over, it will even make us worry about things that aren’t real — like a memory it transforms into a “what if” scenario where everyone hates us, or some far-off future where our life is in ruins. It loves making this stuff up. How many times has it cried wolf and told you, “You’re never going to make it, you’re a failure, the end is near?” And how many of those times did you actually not make it? You’re still here, aren’t you? Believe it or not, you’ve made it through 100% of the obstacles life has thrown at you despite all the doubt your mind likes to say about it.
Doubt in ourselves can come when our mind labels something as hard because we automatically contrast ourselves as “weak” in comparison. The mind knows when we label something as complicated, we automatically put ourselves at a disadvantage and often doubt we’re smart enough to understand it. To maintain control, these labels are one of the many tricks the mind uses to trick us into believing we are too helpless to escape its perceived dominance over us.
How exhausting is it to battle these self-defeating thoughts all day? How much of your power is drained when you try to force it to quiet down? Does fighting your mind work at all? More importantly, would you burden yourself with getting in a heated philosophical argument with a child? Wouldn’t engaging with them only give them more power? Wouldn’t you automatically use a different strategy, a strategy like ignoring them, for example? If so, why not ignore the mind?
Immediately your mind might try to trick you by saying, “Ignore the mind? How ridiculous. Thomas’ depression must have only been one-star depression. You have five-star depression, and that’s way too complicated just to ignore. Don’t listen to Thomas. He’s just mansplaining.” If this sounds familiar, it’s because the negativity of your mind is trying to convince you to give it another get-out-of-jail-free card for hurting you. It loves to take advantage of all the privilege you give it and knows your fighting style is useless.
So, instead of fighting the mind, let’s try something that’s going to seem ridiculous. Just for a few moments, let all the worst thoughts in the world present themselves. Sit where you are and just let it happen. Say to the mind, “throw your best punch!” If you’re brave enough to give this a try, can you see you are aware of the fact you are thinking about a thought? Read that again if you need to, take your time, and go slow. Can any thought you think actually touch you? Take a minute to look at all the thoughts flying around in your head. Is any one of them any more or less than just a thought? When you give permission for thoughts to come and go as they please, do they still have power over you? Or, somehow, does their power vanish into thin air?
Once we recognize who the real culprit to all our pain is, it can become so simple. It’s just the mind. That’s it. Even though all the things a child cry about may be vast, the principles are simple , the more we fight a child in the heat of their tantrum, the more we empower them. However, if we ignore them, they might cry a bit more, maybe even a lot more, but eventually, they will give up.
When you first begin to practice ignoring the mind’s childishness, it may seem impossible. The mind will kick, scream, tell you to give up, try to convince you it can’t be done, and fight back harder than ever before. Don’t worry. These are all signs that your new strategy is working. Hold strong and don’t engage. The hard part is believing you can do it. Once that’s done, the rest is simple.
Getty image by May Guathier