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Image of right and left hemispheres of the brain

Switch Your Brain

Breaking A Negative Mental Loop: A Tale of Two Horses

Did you ever get into one of those “loops” of thought – where you keep playing the same thing over and over in your mind, like a bad song?

You keep having the same mental conversation, usually negative, or seeing the same negative or fearful mental images….

This article discusses a tip for how to switch your thinking and break out of the loop.

Brain Chemistry and Looping

Why it Works: The Two Horses

Neuroscience has shown that the two halves of the brain not only have different functions, but also different personalities, perspectives and contributions to the overall “mind.”

They are less like two parts of the same thing than like two completely different horses, harnessed side-by-side to pull a cart together. They communicate between each other, with the “driver” of the mind; however, their jobs are overlapping rather than interchangeable.

While differences between people and brains exist, generally (and with a certain amount of simplification), here’s how they work.

The Left Brain:
The left hemisphere of the brain is primarily process- and outcome-oriented. It deals with time, consequence, words, borders and edges, numerical problems, definitions.

It “thinks,” and talks to itself, mostly in language.

The Right Brain:
The right hemisphere of the brain Is primarily context- and present-moment oriented. It deals with processing the sensory input of the moment, does not perceive boundaries, interprets body language, is intuitive,

It “thinks,” and talks to itself, mostly in pictures and sensory images.

A normal, functioning human being can rarely, if ever, stop the brain from thinking.

If your alive and healthy, the horses keep walking.

Even Buddhist monks who have meditated most of their lives, and have spent years training themselves to quiet the mind say the most mental silence they’ve ever achieved was 30 seconds.

We can, however, encourage the brain to think differently, to switch our focus in order to break a loop.

The Tip: Drive With The Other Horse!

Break a negative loop by making your brain “switch over” to the other side. That is,

If you’re looping in words, go to pictures and images
If you’re looping in pictures, go to words or numbers

Switching from one focus to another causes the brain to disengage for a moment, and then allows it reconnect in a different way – sort of like another vehicle – a car – passing through neutral between gears.

Looping in Words: Turn the Dial to “Off”

If you find yourself in bad “self talk” where you’re lecturing yourself – in words – about what you should have said, what you should have done, why you screwed up, how stupid you are, how you’ll never find the perfect job, relationship, etc:

You are in your left brain, so SWITCH RIGHT!

Close your eyes, and call up a VISUAL IMAGE OF STOPPING.

Visualize a big radio dial, and imagine reaching out and switching it off (This is my favorite.) Imagine it fully – your arm reaching out, the color of the dial – hear the click!
Visual a closet, or a cabinet, or even a room with a lock on the door – shut the doors, and lock it. (This is especially good for issues you know you’re going to have to look at later.)
Imagine writing down the thought, stuffing it in a bag, scrunching it up and throwing it off a cliff – or burning it, or sticking it in the cupboard.

The actual image doesn’t matter – what matters is shifting to thinking in visual/immediate sensory imagery, versus words. Think in pictures, hear the sounds….

Looping in Pictures: Talk Yourself Out

If you keep seeing or imagining a loop of pictures, or re-experiencing a sensation:

You are in your right brain, so SWITCH LEFT!

Shift focus to the verbal or numerical – USE MENTAL WORDS TO TALK YOURSELF OUT.

Tell yourself it happened a long time ago, and you don’t need to look at it now.
Say “Let go of this now – you can look at it later if you want. Right now, let’s talk about something more interesting”
Tell yourself “this is merely my right-brain imagination. It doesn’t really exist, and I am moving back into my logical mind now.”
Make lists: of things you are grateful for, of things you like, of events you thought were fun – anything positive and not too heavy!
Do a mental mathematical problem – how much a 22% salary increase would be, how much it would cost over a year to spend $7.50 a week on coffee, etc.

Again, the actual words don’t matter – just that you are shifting to thinking in words and numbers versus images. Now’s the time to give yourself a (positive) lecture!

(As a side note – the brain, like a cart being pulled by two horses, is pretty much incapable of operating “only” from one side or the other – but the focus CAN change, to be predominantly from a different perspective.

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Cynthia Burnham.