When your mind is like a bad neighborhood... how to clean it up


Anne Lamott says "My mind is like a bad neighborhood, I try not to go there alone." If that resonates for you, you can safely say you are human. Our brain flits from thought to thought and most do not serve us well. In fact, I ask patients if they would spend time with someone talking to them as they do to themselves and they always shake their head defiantly and laugh. But it's not funny, the way we treat ourselves. Let's talk about how to clean it up!

The first step to doing a deep clean is to just notice that you are being unkind. Go through the day and just notice how many times you say "I should..." Notice how many times you say to yourself that you are not good enough, in so many different ways. Notice how many times you compare yourself to someone else who does something "better than me." Just stop and notice. My guess is, if you are human, that you are doing it countless times in a day. Calling yourself an "idiot" for making a mistake. The list goes on and on. Psychologists find in studies that up to 70% of our thoughts in a day are negative or self critical. Whoa, no wonder we feel bad about ourselves! One of the sneakiest ways we undermine ourselves is when we negate compliments we receive. You know what I mean? Someone says, "you look so nice" and we shrug and say, "No, my hair is really driving me crazy." Or Someone says we do something so well and we say, "Oh, I just got lucky." Even when we do something right, we try to make it lesser than it is. 

The first step to cleaning up is to see the mess. 

The next step is to accept all of it. Accept that this mess is the mess of being human. And yes, accept all the parts of yourself-physically, emotionally, spiritually-that you don't love. You can't lie to yourself and tell yourself that you are good at something if you feel like you really aren't. You can't look a different way than what you are expecting. Instead of fighting it and being upset that you aren't what you want to be, just say yes to what you are in this moment. Surrendering to the life in front of us is the first step to really letting go and that surrender lessens the angst and anxiety we feel about all of these "inadequacies." When the angst, anxiety or other challenging emotions are not in the foreground, we can think clearly and have more energy to make whatever change we need.

Accept yourself for who you are and you will see a clearer path for change if you need it. 

Next, start the reframing and rewiring that needs to happen so you can experience a kinder, more safe environment in your mind throughout the day. Once you notice how harsh your language is, you can start to reframe it to be less violent, gentler. Let's try it, right here. Instead of "I am such an idiot" or "What a loser I am!" let's reframe that when you make a mistake. Find your own words, I just offer mine as examples. I do a lot of "So silly" to myself and laugh, making the mistake playful or this is one that came from mothering. My daughter was sad that she tripped over her jacket on the playground and felt embarassed by her fall, tearful at the dinner table. And I found myself saying, "Sounds like it was just a tripster day," and we both laughed. I didn't negate that she really did fall or the importance of learning to be safer and put her jacket in the backpack. But I wanted to make a playful recovery for her so she didn't beat herself up over a mistake. Now, I use that one for myself all day. If I have a cascade of things that go wrong in a day, I think to myself that I, too, am having a "Tripster day!" And that language gives me a gentler way to acknowledge the disappointment while not being so harsh. 

Find your own language but definitely find a way to be kinder to yourself. Reframe, often. When you find yourself using harsh language, just stop, laugh at the way you are being so human again and change the language up. The more you do it, the more it will come out on its own.

Next, realize that we are in this mess because we need nurturing care all day. Some of us, in fact, don't get enough of that from others. So what if we become our own best friend? What if we give ourselves the compassion we so desperately need? Next time you hear yourself being harsh, stop, take a breath, realize that this is hard to hear (no matter who it comes from), put a finger or hand on your heart and tell yourself you will try to do better next time. But for now, you offer a little love, just what you need at that moment. 

A little self-compassion goes a long way.

Finally, rebalance with some loving words through the day. If you know you are human and you are going to hear such harshness in your mind, do some preventive medicine and give yourself some empowering speech from the get-go. Maybe it's an affirmation you do when you wake up. Something simple like, "I am worthy" or "I can do this!" Something relevant to what you need to hear. Say it to yourself, write it on sticky notes and post them on your bathroom mirror, put it in places you will find it, write it in your journal, get that love-fest-you-are-such-amazing-stuff pep talk all over your life so that you are reminded constantly! The more you hear it, the more you will believe. 

Affirm, affirm, affirm all the beauty of who you are. It's there, you just need to remind yourself of it!

Let's recap. What clean-up are we going to do this week?

1. Notice the negativity.

2. Accept the emotions and yourself.

3. Reframe to more gentle words.

4. Love. Love. Love

5. Affirm that love, often.

You are worthy. You are beautiful. You are perfect just as you are.

If you don't agree, lets work on believing it.

Your health depends on it. Your happiness depends on it.

Live well,


Tanmeet SethiComment