Mental Finger Trap

Jim:    Greetings, Mike, and welcome to our – I guess our 30th episode of Fishing Without Bait.

Mike:    We’re bigtime.  The big 3-0.

Jim:    Indeed.  I was discussing with you earlier off the air about back in the late 60s, early 70s, the turn on, tune in, drop out generation that mentioned don’t trust anyone over 30.

Mike:    I’m not familiar with this at all.

Jim:    However, I can unequivocally tell you that you can trust this podcast after 30.  It’s not reaching retirement.  So, let’s catch ourselves up to speed a little bit on Podcast No. 29 when we talked about emotional quicksand.  We talked about psychological quicksand.  We talked about catching ourselves in Chinese finger traps in our own mind, and why we continue to do things that do not work.  Why do we continue to do things that do not work?  That’s not a very mindful way to live, is it, Mike?

Mike:    Absolutely not.

Jim:    Absolutely.  One of the things I often suggest to people, especially in my own practice, is to do a coping strategies exercise.  Do you know what a coping strategy – what are some of your coping strategies, Mike?

Mike:    My coping strategies?  Are we talking about when I chew on my pencils?  Something along those lines?

Jim:    Let’s say there’s something that you really want to avoid and don’t want to do.

Mike:    I consider myself a little introverted when I go out to networking events and things like that, these social functions.  Once I get going, I’m fine.  But, that initial icebreaker is so tough for me, so I’ll just kind of step back and disappear into the distance – to a point.  

Jim:    You kind of – avoid.

Mike:    I’m avoiding.  I’m avoiding confrontation, I guess?  Not confrontation, but just interaction.  If I’m not comfortable with my surroundings.  

Jim:    Sure.  So, what do many people use as coping strategies?  They use avoidance.  They use perhaps some mood altering substance to take themselves away.  Other people use projection – projecting anger or their emotions onto someone else so they don’t have to feel it.  Justification – will I do this because of that.  There are many different types.  So, what I would suggest that people take some instances in their life where they do coping strategies, and – and this involves honesty, open-mindedness, and a willingness to try.  Those three terms we keep coming back to.  And, honestly evaluate, Mike, both the short-term and long-term effectiveness that come of some of these coping strategies that we do.  Many of them are very effective in the short-term are they not? 

Mike:    Right.  You avoided the problem.  And, then you can move on.

Jim:    It’s long-term effectiveness of you perhaps being a bit socially awkward in larger types of groups, getting yourself out there – for the short-term, it does protect you, doesn’t it?  

Mike:    Right.

Jim:    However, in the long-term effectiveness, how do those things work?

Mike:    Long-term, you’re not stretching your social circle.  For instance, we’re going to a networking event and we just avoided everybody.  Why did we even go in the first place?  Right?  You went to go and reach out and be in the crowd, and you didn’t.  

Jim:    So, what you did is your mind automatically reverted to what doesn’t work.

Mike:    Right.

Jim:    For short-term effectiveness.

Mike:    And, maybe afterwards you’re just kicking yourself because you didn’t take advantage of that.

Jim:    Absolutely.  Sometimes what we have, Mike, is we have the illusion of control.  What I’m talking about is quite often these things work with the worlds that are outside of your physical being – let’s say outside of your body.  Do you have control over the temperature in your house, Mike?

Mike:    A little bit.  As long as my thermostat works pretty okay, and the air isn’t bleeding too much through these old walls and this old house.  Absolutely.

Jim:    Sure.  Do you have control over the radio station you listen to?

Mike:    Yeah.

Jim:    Do you have control over the television program perhaps you tune into?

Mike:    Yep.  Turn it on.  Turn it over.  Turn it off.  

Jim:    When you have your automobile, when you’re driving, do you have control over whether you’re going to turn right or left?

Mike:    Mostly.  Unless there’s construction.

Jim:    Yes.  Well, of course.  

Mike:    The City of Pittsburgh takes that choice away from you from time to time.  

Jim:    So, what these things do is they give us the illusion of control.  Quite often, what we believe is that we control our thoughts and we control our emotions.  Think of times in your life, especially when you were younger, that you were told to control yourself or settle down.  

Mike:    Last week.

Jim:    Tell me.  Tell me about that.

Mike:    Generally, I’m thinking when we were rowdy teenagers and carrying on at our local restaurant – our local Perkins restaurant.  Because we would always go there after dances, or after work, or just hanging with friends on the weekends.  Settle it down.  You know?  Now we’ve become the people that say man, these dang kids.  

Jim:    So, the idea when you were younger, you were always being told control yourself.  How many times did your parent or some adult say stop that?  

Mike:    Often.  

Jim:    Maybe perhaps you were doing something that they didn’t want you to do.  Think of something gross, like picking your nose.  How many times did your parents say stop that?

Mike:    Many, many times.

Jim:    Many, many times.  Absolutely.

Mike:    Last week.

Jim:    So, the idea is that we’ve been told to control ourselves over and over again, did we not?  And, quite often, look at the role models that we had.  Let’s look at – who were the role models in your life?  Who were the people that you grew up with, Mike?  Who were the two main ones?

Mike:    The two main ones?  This is – I think with role models there’s a question of externally, like somebody that I watched – on TV or something, or somebody close by?  I think my grandmother was a very good role model that really kind of taught me a lot of manners and things like that.  And, then my sister.  Because my sister had been through it all because she’s 11 years old than me, right?  That advice was invaluable.

Jim:    Absolutely.  So, when we look at older people and we look at what we would call the big people, or the giants.  Think of yourself when you’re 3 or 4 years old.  What do these people look like?  

Mike:    Yeah.  The giants.  The big people. 

Jim:    You literally look up to them.

Mike:    I’ll never be that big.  And, now they’re all shorter than me.  

Jim:    Yes.  You’re a taller man.  However, the thing is – did those people always seem in control?  Let’s – especially let’s talk about male figures.  Did you ever see your father cry?

Mike:    Can’t say that I have.  No.

Jim:    Right.  Did guys cry in the movie – when you were younger, did guys cry in the movies?

Mike:    Absolutely not.

Jim:    Or on TV?

Mike:    No.

Jim:    No.  Absolutely not.  Who were the heroes back then?

Mike:    John Wayne.  And, I just saw Ronald Reagan in those westerns.  I was watching the western channel at somebody’s place a little bit recently.  Yeah.  The dominating male figures.  You know, the Marlboro Man was a big figure in advertising, right?

Jim:    These are the people that we assume, we associated with control, did we not?  

Mike:    Exactly.  And, that’s what you would aspire to be – to be somebody in control.

Jim:    So, John Wayne, the Rambos, the Sylvester Stallones that portray the tough guys on the movie screen.

Mike:    Schwarzenegger.  

Jim:    Yes.  Yes, I will be back.  However, think of the media messages with what these portrayed.  Think of the harmful things that they portrayed.

Mike:    Because, if you weren’t a manly man – you know, physically, mentally – you don’t reveal your emotions.  

Jim:    Absolutely.  What we’re talking about here, we’re again laying some more of the groundwork  for why do we continue to do things that don’t work.  And, what this was done was through reinforcement.  Again, what is the title to this show – it’s Fishing Without Bait.  It’s living a life without definitive expectations.    However, we were set up for definitive expectations, were we not?

Mike:    We’re kind of set up for defeat in that case when we look at that.  And, the same thing today.  Don’t women have similar issues?  Because, even today, the sexy vision – and if they look in the mirror and that’s not what they see, which is an impossible vision, then it just doesn’t work.

Jim:    These are the messages that are continuing to be reinforced.  These are harmful messages that suggest that what we need to do is seek the approval of others.  What we’re doing here, Mike, is we’re getting caught in that Chinese finger trap, arent’ we?  We’re seeking approval of others, yet we’re trying to make ourselves happy at the same time.  We believe that we have the illusion of control and as we try to pull both ways there, we get stuck.

Mike:    Right.

Jim:    We get stuck.  So, what do we do?  #1: We want to give ourselves some wiggle room.  Remember when we talked about, Mike, is how we get ourselves out of a Chinese finger trap.

Mike:    You let go.  You give in.

Jim:    We give in.

Mike:    Inwards.

Jim:    We give ourselves wiggle room.  And, what that involves, of course, is accepting responsibility.  Where does the mindfulness in all this fit in?  Unless we’re present and aware, and able to really examine these thoughts – examine them in an objective way, in real time, in the present time.  What do they mean to us in this present moment?  Then, we’re like fish that are swimming in dirty water.  When we’re fishing – imagine you’re swimming in your thoughts, Mike.  Did you ever think about that?  

Mike:    I feel like I’m drowning in my thoughts most of the time, so.  

Jim:    Many people talk about racing thoughts.  I’m sure, that’s a pretty popular topic – a pretty common presentation of people, when their mind can’t slow down.  But, think of it, Mike, as a fish swimming in polluted water.  Things don’t go very well.  Not at all.  It’s through our mindfulness activities that we can begin to clean some of that sludge up, to clean some of that water and clear some of these thoughts out.  And, one of the ways that we’re going to be talking about that very soon is through a mindfulness process called self-conceptualization.  

Mike:    That sounds fancy.

Jim:    It’s a fancy term for controlling yourself and having choices – making conscious choice.  Self-conceptualization, and this isn’t an imaginary thing that I want to be 8’ tall and bulletproof.  This is a way that – again, what we do is live life out loud and have a good and happy life.  So, my suggestions to everyone out there would be to really and truly examine your coping strategies.  Imagine – try to realistically list the short-term and long-term effectiveness of them, okay?  And, try to think of times where these coping strategies work.  Now, don’t get me wrong, Mike, some of them have worked in the past, have they not?  Some of them have worked.

Mike:    Right.  Because, sometimes these are tactics that you’re helping yourself out of a bad situation.  Maybe I’m at a social function that doesn’t fit me – and realizing oh, I have nothing in common with these people.  And, I know – I’m not making it up in my head.  It’s like this doesn’t work.  And, I need to remove myself from this situation.  

Jim:    We need to remover ourselves from the situation, and remember through mindfulness, Mike, that doesn’t necessarily have to mean a physical removal of your body from that particular environment.

Mike:    It could be if you think the people around you are very, bear with me, poisonous in their thoughts and their speak.  You can take the choice in your head to turn that off and not process that.  They’re going to say what they’re going to say.  And, I don’t have to let it build up the emotion inside me and start arguing with them.  

Jim:    Through the mindfulness process, what we can do, Mike, is determine whether or not we want to participate or not.  We want to determine whether we want to participate – determine do we need the approval of these people?  Do we need the approval?  Do we need to prove that we’re right, Mike?  

Mike:    And, I think – if I can set an example of when this would apply.  Say you’re with some friends, or some family with differing political views than you.  You don’t have to participate.  

Jim:    Indeed, you don’t.  Sometimes, keep in mind – let’s be mindful that you may be as passionate and as non-participatory, as non-objective as that person is.  Let’s say they’re supporting Candidate Y and you’re supporting Candidate X, and you cannot for the life of you understand why they can’t see how you are right about Candidate X.  Just the same as they’re as blind.  So, you’re both swimming in very polluted waters.  Again, Mike, we’re going to end today.  We’re going to continue this talk again – talking about self-conceptualization and how we can really get involved in our lives.  Until then, Mike, on to 31.  

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