You vs. Her: How to Stop the Mind Games You Just Can’t Win
The Journey To Sanity
A full-blown case of monkey mind makes life depressing and terrifying. Your job feels like an endless shark attack. Your relationships are shallow, riddled with one-upmanship and the fear of abandonment or betrayal. By owning the insanity, though, you can change it and enjoy the relief of realizing that you've simply gone a bit nuts, that the implacable entity judging everything and everybody is you—not God or anyone else.
Be careful about this: Don't judge your tendency to judge or compare yourself unfavorably to others who are better at avoiding monkey mind. That's just crazy squared. No, since comparing is a natural part of thinking, it isn't useful (or even possible) to stomp out your innate competitiveness. Instead of turning against the baboon who lives in your brain, I suggest you adopt it as a pet.
"Hello, Marie," you might say to your monkey mind as soon as you realize it's taken over your universe. "Good to see you again! You're a fine baboon with impressively swollen hindquarters, and I'm very fond of you. But I just noticed something: You are not me." This kind of inner conversation gently detaches your monkey mind from your right mind. You may feel calmer, freer, and more peaceful almost instantly. If your habit of comparing is deeply entrenched, however, you may need to apply a little more psychological elbow grease.
Once you have separated from comparing mind, even slightly, you can complete the journey to sanity by doing a few simple things your inner baboon would never even consider. Our culture does not teach these strategies, but if you try them you'll find they're as delicious to the soul as comparing is poisonous.
Have you ever wanted to hear the story of someone's least embarrassing moment? Of course not. You want to know how people screwed up and lived to tell the tale. Cheerfully fessing up to our failures turns crazy mind off, humility and compassion on. I learned this in a karate dojo that had a strange tradition. Everyone there loved recounting failure stories, and after an evening of smacking one another, we'd sit and have a beer while the students swapped tales of martial arts disaster.
"One time I was sparring with my own kid," a third-degree black belt might say. "He was maybe 7, right? He got me in a headlock, chocked off my carotid arteries—I was out cold. Lucky to be alive."
"You think that's bad?" the sensei would counter. "Five years ago, I fought this 80-year-old woman—a tai chi master, but still. The first backfist she landed was a spiritual experience. I still have the bruise."
And so on.
I've long since forgotten many of my karate techniques, but the trick of celebrating failure has proved incredibly useful. Try it yourself: Get together with a couple of friends and see who's experienced the most horrific failure. Tell your stories with gusto. Notice how the very confessions you thought would humiliate you actually boost your confidence.
Compliment Your Rivals
When you're in comparing mode, the last thing you want to do is praise anyone else. That's just handing over victory, isn't it? Consider who really wins in the scenario with our three baboons: Is it Marie, who's getting a jealousy hernia? Or Tanya, who knows her reign as top banana can't last forever? I say the winner is Alice, who simply takes pleasure in all that is good, including Marie's grooming skills and Tanya's beauty. Celebrating the efforts of people you perceive to be adversaries is a powerful way to win the real prize: happiness.
Think of someone who intimidates you. Is there anything about this person you genuinely, even if grudgingly, admire? Then say it. Out loud. To the very person you fear. For example, I once interviewed a potential assistant who was very capable but so gorgeous I could barely stand the thought of her seeing me in the morning. So I said, "You're very capable, but you're so gorgeous I can barely stand the thought of you seeing me in the morning." This blasted through so much tension that there was barely any left for what turned out to be a long and fruitful working relationship.
Play Your "Top Five" Hits
Deliberately looking for positive things in others is something that can't be done from inside monkey mind. Accordingly, medical psychologists tell us that a brain in a state of appreciation simply can't hang on to the fear and defensiveness that so often make us nuts.
Dan Baker, PhD, author of What Happy People Know, recommends accessing appreciation mind with a practice he calls top fives. (Oprah does something similar in her gratitude journal.) Try it now. Describe, in detail, five of the most beautiful sights you've ever seen. The five most joyful moments of your life. The five kindest things anyone ever did for you...you get my drift. Nice feeling, isn't it?
If you stay alert and use these tools, you'll soon feel a lot less crazy, a lot more like a sane person with a pet baboon. You'll succeed at failing, win by losing, remember infinite "top five" experiences, and also see that there are no top experiences, because comparing any two memories is always a case of apples and oranges. Each event is perfectly itself. Unique, incomparable. And—you really knew this all along—so are you.
More Martha Beck Advice