Home' Nova National : January 2011 Contents 22
Language probably developed
about 35,000 years ago and was
the real step for the development
of our minds and everything
about us. Language is an essential medium
for all the activities we associate with
the thinking mind, including conscious
awareness and reflection, analytical and
abstract reasoning, planning, anticipating
and predicting the future, problem
solving and skill learning. Words enable
us to categorise objects and experiences,
as known, unknown, recognisable,
unrecognisable, useful or irrelevant
and, in doing so, language controls our
consciousness by filtering our world
through a verbal screen.
Once consciousness emerged with
full blown verbal ability, the thinking mind
was able to assert its dominance over the
ancestral mind by engaging in an almost
continuous internal mental monologue.
Eastern traditions have often called this
the monkey mind. The internal mono-
logue not only makes us more conscious
and more self conscious, but it also alters
consciousness by dulling our perceptions
of the external world. We can become so
preoccupied with our thoughts that we
do not even hear what is being said to us,
see what is in front of us or hear what is
around us. We have all but forgotten how to
be in the moment.
The thinking mind encourages us
to think of ourselves as individuals and
to separate us from everything else, to
observe the experience rather than
participate in it. Perhaps in this process of
establishing this subject - object distinction,
we came to perceive things in terms of
their utility and purpose in relation to us,
our fears, our past and our future.
One of the unique abilities of the
thinking mind is its ability to time travel,
to move forward in time mentally and
foresee events that have not yet occurred,
and into the past. It has enabled us to
anticipate and plan for our future needs by
setting goals and learning from our past.
The cognitive time travel, however,
comes at a price. Too frequently, we don't
just plan for the future but come to live
in it. From our earliest awareness we're
taught to think and believe that what
counts will happen later on in life, when
you grow up, or when you have children,
when you have your next holiday, when
you get a promotion or when you retire.
It's deferred living. We are trained that
satisfaction will come at some time in
the future; not to seek satisfaction in the
present moment, but to strive and expect
the happiness to unfold at some future
date. So we spend too much of our time
missing the moment by living in the future.
Our ability to project ourselves forward
and into the past has also created new
problems. Rather than facing the biological
threats faced by our hunter-gatherer
ancestors, we include all the threats that
tomorrow will bring, as well as yesterday's
We all have a mental monologue going
on in our heads that evaluates who we
are and what we do. For many of us, this
monologue is often negative, criticising
our actions and generally running us
down. We all know this monologue. It's
the voice that tells us how poor or bad we
are and that what we're doing is stupid or
wrong. Or that we can't do that positive or
challenging thing so stop fooling ourselves
and others. It's particularly active when
you are upset, annoyed or fatigued, or
when something in life goes wrong. If you
can't see it yet it is perhaps best recognised
by the character Gollem, in Lord of the
Rings in the scenes where he was talking
to himself and it seems as if there were
two of him. These are just multiple
representations of his mind.
The thinking mind too easily spins out
of control, creating exaggerated negative
thoughts, pictures and scenarios. This
was probably an evolutionary adaptation
to help us avoid risks and keep us away
from real physical dangers in our hunter-
gatherer days. But now the negative
thoughts create negative emotions, which
activate the neural circulatory pattern of
stress and negative moods. The stress, in
turn, creates more negative emotions and
the negative cycle is created.
The thinking mind's mental chatter
shifts continuously from past to the future,
from fears to phobias, running through
endless dramas and histories. The mental
monologue creates noise that distracts us
and prevents us from just being. It focuses
on difference between ourselves and
others, and between ourselves and the
environment. The mental dialogue creates
tunnel vision, and triggers stress responses
that can brew below the surface.
This monologue creates fears of the
future, what could go wrong and why,
and criticisms of the past, what you
could or should have done but didn't, or
exaggerates a negative outcome of the
past. Our mental monologue not only uses
the "should have" and "could have", but
also becomes excessive and uses words
like "never " and "always". It becomes
catastrophic with words like "worst",
"terrible", and "horrible". Over a period
of time, a person can feel disempowered
and quite devastated.
By contrast, worrying is about the
concerns of the future. Worrying is
exhausting without having done anything
and, like guilt, it seems easier than
Our images of ourselves often create
a self fulfilling prophecy in which our
behaviour conforms to our self image
and our self image then reinforces our
behaviour. Our attitude to ourselves,
whether it is short term or long term,
moves us towards creating a self fulfilling
prophecy in which our behaviour
confirms our self image. They become our
truisms. Research has shown that what
people believe is their state of health is
one of the major predictors of living
longer. Participants who rated their
own health, independent of a medical
assessment, as being poor, were three
times more likely to die in the ensuing
seven years than those who rated their
lives and their health as being well. Their
belief system, or their perceptions, became
their reality. When you believe you are
healthy, you take actions and set up a self
fulfilling process for the belief system.
We need to learn different methods
of exerting control over our internal
monologue. We can take charge of it and
have it working for us, rather than against
us. We are essentially responsible for
creating our own experiences of the world
and how we interpret things around us
that, in turn, influence us and our thoughts
continued page 35
© NOVA JANUARY 2011
If life's getting you
down, start watching
language, urges Dr
Peter Dingle PhD.
'Worrying is exhausting without having done anything and,
like guilt, it seems easier than changing.'
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