In case you haven’t noticed, you have a conversation going on inside your head all the time. It never stops. Have you ever checked out this constant self-talk? How do you think it decides to say what it says to you? How much of this streaming chatter is important or even true?
You may have even noticed that it can take opposite sides in a dialogue, especially when you are trying to go to sleep. I think the most disturbing thing about this interior voice(s) is that the conversation tends to be critical and judgmental of others and especially of your self.
I used to be very critical of seeing people talking to themselves on the street or in their cars. I thought they were a bit crazy carrying on a verbal conversation with themselves. But the truth is I have the same busy intense conversation going on inside of me. I just don’t openly show it.
My Crazy Conversation
This type of crazy conversation really showed it self when I was on long silent meditation retreat. It seemed that thoughts came out of nowhere and took on a quality that said, “I am not OK. I am not capable of doing this retreat. I am frightened to be by myself,” and on and on.
This constant inner chatter led to anxiety and panic. There was really no outward problem except this chattering confusion and disturbance in my mind. So I asked my self, “Why do these incessant, meaningless, unnecessary words even exist in me?” Let me use an illustration to answer that question.
Imagine a teakettle that heats up and when it gets to a boiling point the kettle starts to whistle. What creates the whistle is a build up of kinetic energy. When it gets to a boiling point it releases the energy in the form of steam that creates the whistle.
Your thoughts during the day build energy from anxiety, fear, doubt, confusion, desire, judgment, etc. and then they release this energy as mixture of thoughts that flood your mind. The whistle of the chatter is hard to stop.
Neuroscience: The Wandering Mind
Neuroscience research says that negative thoughts and patterns are from a network region of the brain called the default mode network (DMN). The network is automatically engaged when the mind is left to wander without focus or intention.
Also, when the mind is not in an attentive mode underlying physiological processes in the brain begin to take place that are unrelated to any particular thought or sequence of thoughts. In this regard it has been hypothesized that the default mode network is relevant to disorders including Alzheimer’s, Autism and Schizophrenia.
It is important to learn how to quiet the constant mind chatter and minimize the default mode network taking over our thought process.
Here are some tips to keep your mind from wandering, and for finding inner quiet
• Talking to others about what is going on in your interior thought life releases the tension created by all the chatter. (Like letting steam off in the kettle.) However, current brain research also indicates that there is a 30 second rule in brain receptivity that a person can only listen to what you are saying for about 30 seconds and then the working memory can not retain any more information. So, when sharing your thoughts with another remember to take pauses every 30 seconds or so, so that people can actually retain what you are saying to them.
• Set aside a daily time for meditation and for relaxing the body and the mind. This stopping to be quiet can reduce the intensity of the thoughts and begins to create a calm mind. Using my book and CDs is a good place to learn how to do this.
• Make it a practice to ask your self to have the disturbing thoughts released. Simply say to your brain (remember the mind tells the brain what to do), “I let go of this thought. Please release this thought.” As strange as it sounds it will work with a little effort and intention. It is amazing how when thoughts are given full attention on them they will just leave as quickly as they appeared.
• Focus on being mindful of what is going on around you and in you. This means focusing attention on the present moment of whatever you are doing. Be conscious where you are placing your attention and when you notice your mind has wandered bring it back to what you are doing such as washing the dishes, walking the dogs, reading the paper or doing email.
Taking control of your thoughts
You can become more conscious of your chattering voice inside your head. And, you can have control over it. Your inner thought voice is like a roommate that constantly keeps talking at you and won’t shut up. You don’t have to let it control your life. You can say “no” to it. Remember, you are the manager of your mind.