Back in November, I wrote a post titled, “I’d like to show you the power of your thoughts“. In it I featured the two videos I describe on today’s podcast. For some unknown (and frustrating) reason, the videos won’t upload here but you’ll be able to watch them if you click the link the the earlier post.
Both videos feature two people walking along a path overlooking the sea. The sun is shining and they’re both wearing shorts and a t-shirt. In the first clip, the background music is upbeat and fun. You watch as the two people walk towards a group of people, also dressed in shorts and t-shirts. The sea is lapping below them and the scene appears fun and frivolous.
In the second clip, the scene is identical but the music is different. It is ominous, reminiscent of the Jaw’s theme-tune. Watching the second clip, your attention is drawn away from the people and towards the water – the waves hit the rocks strangely and there are dark patches you didn’t really notice before. Despite the sunshine and lighthearted nature of the group, you suspect something terrible is about to happen.
It’s fun showing these videos to groups of people. They’re always amazed by the instant changes in their perceptions and the way their attention can so easily be shifted to something they barely noticed before.
In movies, the music provides the clues about what lies ahead. Movie makers know this and they use music to manipulate our attention and our predictions.
In life, our thoughts do exactly the same thing. They are the background music that determines what we focus on, how we see events, what we predict will happen and how we believe we should behave.
We’re so used to the incessant mind chatter that we aren’t always consciously aware of it – and can easily miss it when we’re playing shark music, freaking ourselves out and robbing ourselves of the ability to behave as we need to if we’re to experience happiness.
Turn down the shark music
I first encountered this idea in a parenting book by Dr Dan Siegel and Tina Payne – The Whole Brain Child. They talked about how difficult it is to remain calm and be the kind of parent you want to be when there is shark music playing in your mind.
It causes you to lose perspective, think things are worse than they are and imagine all kinds of scary and terrible outcomes. Their advice? Turn down the shark music. That way you can think clearly and parent more effectively.
Since reading this advice, I’ve paid closer attention to the shark music and I noticed something really interesting. Shark music thoughts are always anchored in the past or the future.
They cause you to dramatise and replay past situations or play out some scary future where things go catastrophically wrong.
“I’ll probably get fired.”
“I’m going to make a fool of myself.”
“My kid is never going to get a job.”
Shark music and happiness
Shark music thoughts take your focus away from the present moment and stress you out, making you far less likely to behave in a way you’ll later feel great about.
Stress makes the situation itself feel worse and when you feel worse, your behaviour is generally worse – then you judge yourself, feel stressed, feel worse, behave worse…
So shark music can end up playing on loop and when it goes on for long enough, it can cause major problems.
Habits that help turn down the shark music
- Bring your attention to the present moment
- Focus on your breathing / physical sensations you’re experiencing
- Observe your thoughts and question their truth and reliability.
- Ask yourself, “Is this true? Can I be 100% sure it’s true? Will thinking this way help me do what I need to do right now?
- To move forward productively, ask yourself, “What is the problem I’m facing right now?”
Putting the habits into practice today
The best place to start is to just notice when the shark music plays for you.
What do those thoughts sound like? When do they arise?
From there, see if you can stop and reflect as described above. How does this alter your thought pattern and behaviour?
How do you feel?
With repeated practice, it becomes easier to catch the shark music thougths in action and turn them down before they send you off course.
Once that happens regularly enough, you begin to feel stronger in yourself and stay more focused on the present moment – which is almost always less scary than the imagined future catastrophe.
That focus helps you react in ways you feel good about and that feeds into your experience of happiness.
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