The book “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do” has lots of good advice, but trick #11 always stuck with me. The author argues many people, when they’re alone, take it as a cue to break out the television or video games. They’re trying to escape their worries and silence important thoughts, like our life goals or our stress’s root causes. They’re like mental goblins, running into our brains and knocking over our thoughts before they’re built into something meaningful. All while leaving behind disgusting messes you don’t want to look too closely at. But a mentally strong person accepts this silence, muses over these topics, and records these thoughts before they forget them. Our mind’s constructs are safe from the goblins, along with our mind’s carpets.
I understand this, I want to improve on this, and have tried to keep the goblins out. But my mind seems wired to seek distraction over solitude. That’s not to say I should never play a video game or watch a movie - we all need some comfort when we can. But we also need quiet time to reflect, despite being surrounded by our home’s distractions and the lurking goblins.
But the battle’s not over until the virus outbreak is under control in America. So I have far more time than I should but want to start now anyway. Here are my rules to stop the mental goblins from shattering one’s self-reflection.
1. Finish Everything Else Before The Distractions
Many people reading this may worry I want to remove every pleasant distraction for my life. While I can’t say I’m 100% human, I am human enough to enjoy some silly entertainment sometimes. But I am still a responsible adult who needs to manage my health, taxes, and urges to spray-paint my neighbors’ plants. So distractions come at the end of the day when everything is done. These include all my chores plus at least one extra productive or creative goal (like writing this blog post). Only then shall I break out the Switch with some Spider Solitaire.
All of this has two benefits. The first is it helps cut down on procrastination - knowing finishing sooner means more fun time is a huge motivator. The second is starting early builds momentum that carries throughout the day. It puts me in the mindset to keep working, and I almost always finish faster than expected.
One extra benefit is the sweet satisfaction of grabbing an ice pop and a seat on the couch as I laugh at the mental goblins crying through the night. Such is my bliss.
2. Let Yourself Be Bored with Chores
I can’t count the number of times I turned on a video while doing the dishes or putting clothes away. It splits my attention so my chores get done twice as slow and three times as sloppily. But worst of all, I’m missing great times for self-reflection that would fit naturally into these moments.
I’m now doing chores with nothing but the task and my thoughts. Sometimes I do add lyricless background music for a pleasant touch like instrumental, piano, or soundscape tracks. These songs compliment where your mind goes naturally, not steer it elsewhere or over a cliff. This turns chores into activities that clean up not just my physical space, but also my mental space.
3. Set Aside Time for your Mind to Wander
Even with chores, there likely isn’t enough time for self-reflection on most days. The best way around this is scheduling time for nothing but thinking. This may seem obvious, silly, or psychotic, but I assure you it’s none of those.
- If it sounds obvious, I think you underestimate how often a person’s “free time” gets absorbed by other tasks without them knowing. We can never trust our future selves to spend our time right, so we need to outwit them now.
- If it sounds silly, you may still doubt how helpful this thinking time is. You likely skipped over this blog’s introduction, your ignorance is because you’re lazy, and I cannot help you.
- If it sounds psychotic, hush up and live a little.
Regardless, once you have the time scheduled, using it is as simple as taking a quiet walk. Set a timer for when to head home and focus only on where your thoughts wander to.
4. Practice Following Your Thoughts
Lastly, self-reflection is pointless if you just replay television shows on a mental loop. Those aren’t your thoughts - they’re other peoples’ thoughts edited and packaged for mass consumption. Mental goblins will ride in on those and smash up anything in their path.
Remember that you’re the only you that’s ever going to exist in this world. The only one with your combination of:
- Bad ideas
- Unredeemable mistakes
- Infinite existential dread
Focus on your unique thoughts instead of the ones people are trying to force into your head. Otherwise, your identity is going to get diluted in the mass media ocean, or worse, lost completely.
That’s not to say you can’t think about the outside world at all. It is to say you should think actively instead of passively. If you’re thinking of something you once read or watched, pretend to be a high-profile critic analyzing what could have been better. Go crazier and imagine alternate universes that send the original story in a new direction. Whatever is on your mind, do something different with it to cultivate your thinking. It doesn’t always need to be some philosophical or meaningful topic either.
A favorite daydream of mine: replay a movie and imagine if you appeared from a portal at the most crucial moment and ruined how it should have gone. What happens next?
Show the Mental Goblins Who’s Bosss
The larger message I took away from this book’s lesson is that being an individual with unique strengths, passions, goals, and undisclosable points weak to dagger strikes won’t happen automatically. It takes time and effort to find and develop our character. The more we rely on distraction, the more the mental goblins burn our work away. We can let it happen in the name of “comfort,” or we can fight for our identities.
It’s not an easy fight. Products sell themselves by forcing people into simplified market molds. People stay in power by stopping those below them from thinking for themselves. Invisible slugs feed off our brainwaves until they steal our souls. But we need to fight them all to hold onto our most unique possession - ourselves.
So don’t lose yourself. Don’t let the mental goblins win. Escape the distractions and push them into the void. And if there’s no void, get a spike pit.