Mental Health, Meditation, New Start

The Algorithm Of The Mind

Over the course of the past 18 years we have steadily increased our exposure to social media. Since Facebook launched its platform, countless other social media platforms came on the scene and each had its own way of curating content by what was encouraged to post in combination with how others responded to those posts. I was recently struck by a conversation with a client that mentioned concern about how much time they felt they spent scrolling through Instagram. This is actually a familiar topic for psychologists given the state of exposure to various social media platforms. I have a wide range of clients so I’ve heard complaints from: parents with frustration about how their kids are using or misusing social media, young adults feeling overly pressured to post and be liked, and even content creators exhausted by the demand to keep posting new content for fear of losing followers. While social media is useful, it also has a “mind of its own” so to speak. Well it’s not really a mind, but it is designed to work so similarly to the mind. Take for example, the political climate over the past 5 years, which has really highlighted the impact of social media’s algorithm. This algorithm is so good at recognizing what you are interested in based on what you like, time spent on content, what you share, what you comment on, and who you follow. Any one of these data points are easily used to continue to direct content, drive interest, and even sell product in line with that said interest. I was reflecting on my various clients’ experiences as I was pondering the algorithm and how similarly it behaves like the mind. Let’s explore that a bit further. 

Social Feed

Although everyone enjoys some social media content, I’m sure there are times you might be surprised by the feed. You might even wonder, what happened how did I end up with all these XYZ videos. After all, you might have had just a mild, yet, curious interest in something, you saw something provocative and couldn’t turn away right then, the interest was actually a mood that eventually passed, or perhaps you might have a genuine interest, but now you do not get a break from the topic at all. This is how you are left with a feed that keeps pushing content that you might be less interested in, but since it is there you consistently look. This is the moment you might begin to question how much time you spend on social media, scrolling endlessly through the feed or content.  I can’t help to see the similarities between this experience and the one we’ve all had when we are bombarded by thoughts we do not wish to think about or see. They plague us at night when we are trying rest and certainly take over whenever we have even a moment of down time. 

The mind has it’s own algorithm and begins to feed endless and continues thoughts and images of something that was emotionally provocative about our lives regardless of whether it’s from the past, the present, or fear about an unknown future. It could be something as simple as someone cutting you off on the drive to work, which then leads to memories of other times that happened, or how your boss undervalues you or that your parents ignored you. It always starts with something that triggers the cascade of other thoughts that are similar in some way. Each thought, memory, experience is provocative enough that you linger, letting yourself sift through the content or images. How many times have you said to yourself, I’m tired of thinking negatively, or of having to replay this conversation, memory, or having this feeling.  This will inevitability lead to the moment you wish to stop thinking or stop the fluctuations of the mind. If you find yourself bothered by this then it is time to change the algorithm. Just like we might reset our settings for social media to change the algorithm we can also reset the settings of our mind.

A Fresh Start

There are many times in our lives when we need a fresh start. It can be as small as a mid-day need for a reset, or as big as a mid-life transformation. Somewhere in the middle lies a new year resolution. Wherever you are on this spectrum, you might need a practice for grounding yourself as you prepare for new beginnings. The gift of feeling grounded can be cultivated through daily insight oriented meditation. This type of meditation is designed to help us understand our underlying motivations. The more awareness you have the easier it will be to be present and avoid being carried away by the underlying motivations. However, since it is frequently difficult to observe our underlying motivations it is necessary to set up a practice that helps us slow down or decrease the intensity of thoughts as their provocative nature can be very distracting. I periodically encourage my clients to use the following meditation to start fresh. This is a perfect meditation to use at the beginning of the year if you are ready to set an intention for a new beginning, a new way of seeing a problem, or a new way of being. 

Meditation: Ground First and Start Fresh

  1. To begin set the following intention: I am ready to become aware of what blocks my ability to start fresh or to see things from a new perspective.
  2. Take some deep breaths and soften the body where ever you can. Release the tension in you muscles and begin loosening each muscle group. 
  3. Imagine yourself being in a green space, imagine yourself in nature… there may be trees, hills, bushes, and a field of grass. 
  4. Visualize being barefoot and stepping directly on grass. It is a perfect day, with perfect weather, the sun is out and it is easy for you to notice the sounds in this space, notice the familiar odors, and become aware of what it is like to walk around and be there. 
  5. Recall the sensation of being barefoot on grass and how the soil squishes down when you stand on it. When you have become aware of all the sensations linked to the points of contact between your feet and the ground then let your self scan the body until you reach the top.
  6. Bring awareness to the top of your head (you will notice the thoughts moving fast, you might feel light headed, or have a headache- these are often present when your head is thinking too much about the thing that is bothersome to you). There may be a tingling sensation accompanying it or you may feel a light buzzing at the top of you head. 
  7. Take deep breaths and identify what that bothersome energy actually is (it typically falls into one of the following categories: anger, sadness, fear, shame, misdirected love). Consciously state in your mind that you surrender that bothersome (call it what it is) energy. Then set an intention to push all that excess energy down. Visualize the energy pushing down through the different parts of the body until you get to the soles of the feet.  Then visualize the energy moving out through the soles of your feet and getting absorbed into the ground.
  8. Visualize an energy exchange between your body and earth. As you breath in visualize the earth’s energy being pulled into you and feel it moving up through your feet all the way to the top of your head. 
  9. Repeat as needed. 
  10. Last step- when it is all clear to you, thank your self for revealing the old coping habit. Be kind and gentle with yourself because that old coping habit was useful at some point and was designed to protect you. Consciously state you let go of the old way of being, and state you are open to a new and enlightened way of seeing things that you will use from this day forward. 

When you’ve completed the exercise you will feel more calm and able to think more clearly about the underlying cause of your emotional discomfort. You will have increased awareness about how that underlying motivation influenced your behaviors, way of being, and your thought patterns.