Updated: Apr 6, 2022
The human mind is fascinating. With a simple thought we can grow amazing things. But what happens if the wrong thought is sowed in the garden of my mind?
The difference between "right" and "wrong" is simple. Some thoughts increase what I can do. Other thoughts make it harder to do anything.
My brain is very much like a garden. What actually grows, in my mind, depends largely on me. Some gardens are teaming with beautiful flowers and trees. Other gardens are overflowing with weeds. Weeds grow faster than flowers. If weeds are not controlled they will overtake and choke the flowers.
The garden of my mind can sprout both flowers and weeds. Weeds sprout as maladaptive thought. Maladaptive is the opposite of what creates growth. Flowers grow as adaptive thought. Adaptive is everything necessary to spark and continue growth. In the garden of my mind, adaptive thoughts increase my capacity to succeed while mental weeds choke my success. But it goes deeper than this. Harboring maladaptive thought hinders my ability to grow anything but weeds (Schultebraucks et al., 2019).
Heres the good news!
I am the gardener of my mind. I choose what stays and what goes. All it takes is a willingness to pull the weeds.
How do I get started?
Great question. Maladaptive thought grows from emotional discomfort (Schultebraucks et al., 2019). For example, anxiety is a feeling of looming, or expected, failure. Stress is a fear I cant. Trying anything new can trigger anxiety because it's new. The brain doesn't understand new; because it's new. 😉
My brain doesn't like different because it has no point of reference. New and different falls outside my current experience. My brain loves consistency. In fact, my mind is hardwired to make choices based on past experience. This means my brain loves doing the same thing because it knows how to respond. An emotion, like stress or anxiety, is often present when I experiencing something new or unknown. Stress is natural reaction. It wakes my mind so I can prepare to learn what to do with this new thing.
Sometimes I feel stress even when I am not experiencing different or new. According to research, anxiety can become a dominate emotion through a process we'll call neural wiring (Schultebraucks et al., 2019). The mechanics says the more I do anything the easier that thing becomes. Which means, the more I feel stress the more my brain becomes hardwired to feel this emotion (Schultebraucks et al., 2019).
The concept is simple. I create habits through continued action. Doing the same thing, over and again, writes behavior code into my neural programing.
Thinking similar thoughts, over and again, creates strong belief. Focusing on adaptive thoughts, like "I can learn to overcome hardship and difficulty", grows flowers in my mind. Focusing on maladaptive thought is like growing weeds! 💀
Everything's good if I focus on positive habits.
Good habits are like flowers while bad habits are like weeds. When "bad" things happen, or I experience failure, If feel emotional discomfort. Research calls this discomfort trauma. Emotional trauma works just like physical trauma.
Imagine you're in the back yard moving a stack of bricks. You grab an armful. As you walk, one of the bricks falls and lands square on your foot. 😩😭🤬 If you're like me, I do everything in sandals. Which means dropping a brick, on my bare foot, creates more than a spike of physical pain. This damage is called trauma. How much pain I feel depends on how much damaged is caused.
The more trauma the more pain.
Experiencing failure can feel like dropping a brick on my foot. Except this trauma is felt in the emotional regions of my mind. My brain hates pain. So much, it's hardwired to remember what causes trauma. Which means my brain has a natural ability to avoid things I "expect" will create pain.
The mechanics are fairly simple.
Pain sets off alarms in my mind. My reward/pleasure center barks orders to cerebral regions built to protect me from pain. My reward center's like, "hey man, that really hurt"! My amygdala wakes up and responds. It sends fear chemicals that associates the outcome of pain with the event that created the pain. This response is meant to protect me from danger. Think of the brick. It probably broke my foot. My brain doesn't like broken feet so it creates programing to avoid this outcome. The programing can be anything from wearing boots, next time I'm outside, to running, full-tail, from anything that resembles a brick. Responses like these are created just as naturally as pleasure or pain. But these systems, meant to protect me, can be hijacked (Schultebraucks et al., 2019).
Which means anxiety can become a habit! 😵
The more my foot hurts, and the longer it hurts, the more my brain reacts by creating a pathway to avoid future pain. My subconscious mind does a great job remembering the pleasure/pain outcomes of past experience. When something reminds me of a past pain I often feel increased anxiety.
Anxiety is a natural emotion present when I feel an outcome is unknown or outside my control. Stress is as natural as flowers growing in a garden. It's primary purpose raises a warning something is not right. Remember the brick... the more the brick hurts the more seeing a brick is enough to invoke a stress response. With time, and successful experiences--with bricks that don't create pain--my brain forgets bricks are bad. But if I struggle to create positive outcomes I will struggle to overcome my stress response (Schultebraucks et al., 2019).
According to research, continued emotional discomfort programs my mind to expect pain during events which may not cause pain. Meaning, dropping a brick on my foot; can actually trigger a response, causing my brain to believe every brick is painful; like the one I just dropped on my foot.
When it comes to stress, anxiety, and failure... research says emotional pain, created by failure has the power to convince my mind any new action will result in the same outcome. This natural reaction creates problems. Especially when trying anything new results in failure. When I experience continued failure the garden of my mind grows an idea I will always fail.
I cant succeed if I am not willing to try new things. But new things can be hard and hard is just another way to describe emotional discomfort. My brain does not like discomfort. It loves hanging in my basement playing video games.
Except anything good takes effort. In my experience, the best things I've experienced required the most effort. Which means success outcomes are created through significant physical and emotional difficultly. Unless, of course, I intended to fail because I'd rather spend all day playing video games.
Fail on purpose; what you talking about Darrell!?!
No, really! Video games tend to create pleasure rather than pain. If my mind is convinced I will fail, no matter what I do, I am less likely to try anything considered new. Which means I am more likely to focus my energies on that game I've played a thousand times before. Some folks intentionally sabotage their own success, because they simply don't believe they can create success. A basement-video-game-habit grows just as naturally as weeds and is likely associated with past feelings of failure. Failure is pain. Pain is difficult. The more pain I feel the more my brain will "naturally" avoid anything hard.
Avoiding difficultly is my point.
My brain is hardwired to avoid anything I perceive as painful. Which means, if I struggle to create successful outcomes; I am more likely to spend time in my basement, rather than facing any new difficult thing. But doing nothing does not clear the weeds from my garden. In fact, doing nothing allows the weeds to overgrow and choke the very things that will help my success.
Everyone has avoided actions because stress robs energy. Lots of folks are afraid to dream because "reality" has taught what I want is a waste of time. In fact, life teaches anyone can reach a plateau in my ability to accomplish new goals.
All these things happen for the same reason!
Research says my brain learns from past experience. Research also says my brain creates defenses in order to avoid future painful events. This means, the more painful the outcome the more my brain creates barriers intended to protect me (Schultebraucks et al., 2019). These barriers might be helpful at first. But with time, they stand in the way of acomplishing what I was designed to do.
I have to understand... pain can come all at once or it can build over a period of years. Meaning huge failures are like dropping a brick on my foot. Abysmal failure is like falling off a cliff and laying broken and unable to move. Small failures, and small levels of emotional discomfort; compounded over a period of years, can have the same devastating effects as large traumatic events (Schultebraucks et al., 2019).
The outcome of pain is the same. My brain hates emotional discomfort. When I feel this outcome my brain seeks to avoid what ever caused the pain. This natural tendency is like sowing psychological weeds in my garden. If I do nothing, these weeds will overrun the flowers. If I ignore the weeds they just get bigger and bigger. Avoiding pain does nothing to remove the weeds. In fact, continually using avoidant coping skills--like endless hours of video games in the basement--actually makes the weeds grow larger.
Let's face it, failure sucks; so does stress and anxiety.
You've heard the saying? "Life is pain princess anyone who tells you different is selling something".
Which simply means avoiding emotional discomfort is like a gardener choosing to grow weeds rather than flowers. 🧐
Like it or not, I am the gardener of my mind. Things are gonna grow even if I do nothing. Weeds crop up from nowhere and take over in no time. Especially if I am unwilling to roll up my sleeves and get to work.
Choosing to spend time in the basement, rather than working towards goals, is strong evidence I have allowed weeds to infest the garden of my mind. It's ok. It happens to everyone. Weeds grow naturally. Avoidant coping is as natural as the sun rising. We all hate emotional discomfort. We all hate pain. No one loves failure. But failure doesn't have to stand in the way of what I want most.
Success with new tasks, or accomplishing goals, is a lot like growing a garden. It takes energy and work. More importantly, it takes knowledge and understanding. I need to know how to create the right environment so my garden can grow the right things.
Any gardener will tell you weeds grow naturally. It's as sure as the sun rising tomorrow. But weeds get in the way of what I was born to create. They get in the way of what I want to grow. The concept, according to research, is a simple understanding weeds sprouting in my mental garden is as natural as weeds growing among my flowers. The primary point of this evidence says weeds in my garden is not evidence I'm a bad gardener. But, it does say weeds, allowed to overgrow flowers, is strong evidence I am neglecting my work.
Everyone has weeds growing in their psychological garden.
Some understand pain is as much a part of life as failure. The difference between those who succeed, and those who succumb to failure, has everything to do with what I allow to grow in my mental garden.
Every garden has weeds. Some choose to remove the weeds.
What do you think; will you remove the weeds?
Schultebraucks, K., Rombold-Bruehl, F., Wingenfeld, K., Hellmann-Regen, J., Otte, C., & Roepke, S. (2019). Heightened biological stress response during exposure to a trauma film predicts an increase in intrusive memories. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 128(7), 645–657. https://doi-org.ezproxy.uvu.edu/10.1037/abn0000440.supp (Supplemental)