The mind is the most powerful tool we have at our disposal. Thinking activates numerous hormones and neurotransmitters. Negative thinking throws the body into a frantic state, but it is healthy to accept that this is being human. The good news is that we can control what we feed our minds. It’s liberating, but also hard because cultural and societal conditioning over millenniums has taken its toll on us.
Stop judging others negatively
A while ago, my daughter made me breakfast in bed. It was not my birthday, nor was it Mother’s Day or anything, it was just a normal day. I was elated and very happy. This lasted a few minutes, because the red horned devil that sometimes occupies my mind, posed a question. “Ohh… wait. She must want something. Something you’d normally say no to.” Then like an idiot I spent the next few hours waiting for the ‘request’. It never came – she had simply decided to make breakfast for me with no expectations at all; how sweet.
This realisation, (that I wasted a significant amount of time waiting for a non-existent request), annoyed me because I could have used that time to luxuriate in the glory: I scolded myself for being so negative. Time to detox my mind. But first I had to read a ton of books, eventually, I got some clarity. Our, or other people’s, actions influence our thoughts; our thoughts elicit emotions; our emotions contribute to our feelings; our feelings dictate our behaviour. Having said that, we can’t control other people’s actions and sometimes our own, but we can take an active role in deciding how these actions influence our thoughts. Our thoughts are subjective and therefore under our total control. It all depends on the judgement you apply to a situation – negative or positive.
To detox the mind of negativity (poison) one must start with evaluating their thoughts, emotions, feelings and behaviours. At first, this will be hard, but just like lifting weights to build muscles, it takes time, conscious decision making, persistence and third-party help (think self-help books, useful posts and websites).
If I didn’t judge my daughter’s actions as a cunning pre-emptive strike on her part to get something from me, I wouldn’t have behaved as I did. Judging then must be the root cause that pushes the first domino.
Identify toxic emotions and get rid of them
When we judge others negatively we don’t see our blessings or what that person can bring into our lives, we only see what they could take from us. I worked with a student who confided in me how much he hated someone. When I asked why, he told me it was because everyone else did. A few weeks later, he had to work under the direct supervision of that hated person. It turned out, that person was the best thing that could have happened to him. The person was more helpful than everyone else combined. Apparently, he was hated because he was overly ambitious and smugly virtuous. In real sense, he was a lovely person who did his job well. Hatred is a mind poison that denies you blessings. It is better to be indifferent than hateful.
Listening to this story, I realised the colleagues probably didn’t hate this person, they were jealous. Jealous of his ambitiousness and daredevilness. Jealousy is the most lethal mind poison that makes you miserable and ruins other relationships. Jealousy is a negative emotion that adds negative energy to your reactions. When the person you are jealous of ‘moves on with his or her life’ it leads to anger and disappointment. Research shows that people who feel jealousy towards others want them to know about it and react, and when they don’t a shitload of other negative emotions are released e.g. envy. The person now envies the other person’s resilience. Envy and jealousy are closely related because one brings out the other and can lead to deadly and sometimes, criminal standoffs.
According to envy theorist, Frank Ninivaggi – a leading researcher on intelligence, envy leads to self-sabotage. Which mean when you are envious of someone because of their status, wealth, beauty, height, or whatever, you are doing yourself a disservice because your mind tricks you into thinking you deserve what they have. Seeing that these emotions are negative, all you are doing is poisoning your mind and living in a perpetual cycle of misery. Having said that, feeling envy or jealousy towards someone can be a natural thing, it’s the reaction and duration of the feeling that needs curbing. Dwelling for too long on negative emotions is known to be detrimental to mental health. Instead of envy focus on what or how you can emulate that person.
Self-awareness and wisdom
Teachings from ancient Buddhists assert that ignorance, greed and hate are the main mind poisons. If you feel jealous of someone because you think they are doing better in life than you, instead of fixating on whatever it is you think they are doing better at, focus on what you can improve on yourself to make your life better. It doesn’t have to be comparable to them but better nevertheless – this is where self-awareness is vital and necessary for positivity.
Greed is the mother of all poisons – it not only poisons your mind, but it spills onto others. A simple and direct example is thievery by corrupt leaders – they take and take and take until there’s nothing left to take. Their greed directly affects the citizens of whatever country they are robbing blind. Greed is not just grabbing everything in sight, it’s the false mentality, (another negative thing), that having more will provide personal gratification and happiness.
Facebook and other social media platforms have become hotbeds for exaggerating how well everyone is doing, how well everyone is travelled, how well everyone is reaching great milestones. These platforms have expanded the need for comparison which ultimately brews all sorts of poison in people’s minds.
You become what you feed your mind
The answer to all these toxicity lies in self-awareness and the wisdom to be self-aware. Self-awareness requires observing and accepting who you are by looking outside yourself as well as inside. This is achievable through prayer and/or meditation. If you absolutely must compare yourself, do it with your yesterday self and improve on something.
Something like serenity prayer/meditation applies to almost everything.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
The wisdom not to judge others based on personality, to be open-minded, objective, kind, respectful, and have the awareness that material possessions may make life easier but happiness does not depend on them.
Pray/meditate for courage and clarity, and have the confidence to distinguish clarity from the usual clutter.