Last night I couldn’t sleep. The problem? I was arguing with someone – in my head.
Someone hasn’t replied to my [repeated and probably annoying] messages, and it’s stressing me out. It’s possible that it means nothing, but it’s also possible – and hard not to assume – that I’ve done something to upset this person. Even though I am fully aware that – GASP! – not everything is about me! But until I find out for sure, I’m left to wonder and worry. Mostly worry.
So last night, when I should have been drifting off to sleep, I was rehearsing the next e-mail or text message I would send, polishing my words and perfecting my tone. Then, when I had that down, I moved onto practicing what I’d say if I happen to see this person anytime soon. And in between rounds, I listed my reasons and explanations and complaints.
Over and over and over. *sigh*
I even realized what I was doing and prayed that God would release me from this madness. It worked – for a little while. But quickly, my treacherous mind wandered back to this made-up argument and started the fight all over again.
It’s funny how my brain can get STUCK on something like that. This certainly wasn’t the first time I’ve exhausted my brain power and emotional energy running over possible scenarios and conversations, repeatedly, like a crazy person.
And yet, when I have a good idea, my sticky brain turns into a sieve, full of holes and incapable of holding onto the brilliance that struck while I was in the shower. Or falling asleep. Or driving down the interstate.
[Why do all my best ideas appear when I’m least able to capture them?]
A couple weeks ago, I closed my computer, took a few dishes to the kitchen and headed to bed. I picked up the book I’ve been reading, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, and immediately inspiration struck. It was just one tiny idea, though, and I thought, “Surely I can remember it.”
So I kept reading until a few paragraphs later, I had another idea. Well, I may be forgetful, but I’m no dummy. I got out of bed and walked up front to grab my journal. All the way up the hall, I repeated my two ideas. But on the way back to my bedroom, I got a whiff of something unpleasant.
And that was all it took. In the span of a few seconds, my brain tossed away the two (undoubtedly brilliant) ideas that had pulled me out of bed and began composing a blog post based on the simple idea that my kitchen smelled kind of bad.
By the time I got back to my bedroom and wrote down that blog post idea, the other thoughts I’d had were gone. Desperate to reclaim them, I re-read the pages of my book that had initially inspired me. I eventually remembered one idea, but the other one was gone forever.
Funny enough, the same darned thing happened last night. As I realized how crazy it was that I couldn’t quit obsessing over a relationship issue while at the same time, can’t remember good ideas or interesting inspirations to save my life, I began composing this post in my mind.
It was probably the best post I’ve ever written. In my head. Because, of course, when I sat down to write this – a mere 12 hours later – those well-crafted phrases and poignant points had vanished. Poof! Gone.
If only the broken record player that is my brain would play those good ideas instead of worries and frustrations!
The verse I memorized a few years ago during a Bible study about self talk makes it sound so simple:
Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right,
whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—
if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
But you know what? While it may be simple, it is most certainly not easy! Here are a few strategies I’m going to use to start holding on loosely to the bad thoughts and hanging onto the good ones:
- Keep a notebook next to my bed. And in the bathroom. And in the car. Let’s face it: If I’d had a notebook in my bedroom and didn’t have to walk the 40 feet to my living room, I wouldn’t have gotten distracted and forgotten my ideas the other night. And whether it’s because my best ideas appear when I’m my most relaxed or it’s just bad luck, I have to admit that I’m not my most creative and clever at my desk or computer. If inspiration strikes in the bedroom, bathroom and car – and they do – why not be prepared to capture it?
- Whip out my old mnemonic devices. Like Marshall on How I Met Your Mother, I typically put things I must remember to catchy tunes and sing them over and over to avoid forgetting. It actually does work for short grocery lists and stories I want to tell Mark when he gets home from work. But for times when the musical memory trick isn’t enough, I need to try a few other mnemonic devices to sharpen my mind – at least enough to get an idea from my brain to paper.
- Memorize scripture. This point is a two-for-one, because not only will memorizing scripture focus my mind on Truth and Life-giving words, but I imagine it will also strengthen my memory in general. Practice makes [close to] perfect, right?
- Practice healthy self talk. Many of you – especially those who know me in real life – know that I tend to be hard on myself. I truly have learned to rein in the internal soundtrack that’s critical and damaging, but I have some work left to do. While I no longer accept my inner voice shouting, “Ugh! You’re so stupid!” I need to get rid of the irritating voice who whispers, “You are such a jerk. Of course you made everyone mad. Why can’t you just say/do/be different?” Yeah, that’s the voice I hear at night when I’m trying to sleep and forget about conversations and arguments I may or may not have had. I need to kick that one to the curb.
Following these steps will certainly help me focus on the things that are productive and healthy. Maybe they could help you, too. (Assuming you have the same issues I do!)
How do you keep hold of good thoughts and let go of bad ones?