Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mind Games

There is an upside to being suggestible. When I think about my suggestibility, I usually don't think about as a positive thing. Rather, I'm stymied by the countless ways I can arouse anxiety in myself. You see, I count myself among that special group of people who hears about one catastrophe or another in the media, and suddenly finds reasons to believe that I may be the next to experience it. It's not hard for me to imagine, after watching a horror flick, that some ghoul is creaking across the floorboards to strangle me in my sleep. Show me a sandwich that has a bite shaped like the Mona Lisa, and I'll see it, I promise.

Clearly, these are not the upsides to being suggestible. Of course, every cloud has a silver lining, and here is mine: I can play fantastic mind games with myself. I guess you could say that all of that self-induced anxiety is a game, but it's more of a torture. The real games are ones that always benefit me. Here are a few that make life easier for me:

Mindgame 1: Alarm clock
At times, I have terrible insomnia--the kind that interrupts a sleep in the dark hours and pesters endlessly until dawn. Over the years, it's lessened, thank goodness. I've developed a good bag-o-tricks to deal with it. Among my best is this little mind game.
Regardless of the time, I imagine, vividly, that my alarm clock is just about to go off. In the imagined scenario, there is no room for hitting the snooze--I need to be up and ready for some unavoidable obligation, and I need to be ready for a long, long day full of activities. No time left to languish in bed--time to get up, even though the day will be tediously long and full of obligations.
When I do this one right, with convincing detail, I am immediately exhausted. I long to stretch out in bed. My eyes fight staying open. And suddenly, I am back to sleep. Voila!

Mindgame 2: Sitting too long

If you travel, you are bound to have times of sitting and waiting that seem interminable. Being on a runway for hours is probably one of the worst, but even a good transcontinental flight can make you feel restless. Leg exercises may help, but getting relaxed is even more helpful. For situations like this, I call on this mindgame:

Years ago, my brother and I took a train trip across Sweden. As timing had it, we had chosen one of the busiest travel days of the year, and our tickets were for non-reserved seats. Essentially, we were forced to play musical chairs with the savvy Swedes who had reserved seats. Every seat was filled, and so we stood for nearly 6 hours. The only breaks we had were stolen moments when the train stopped to let more passengers on and off. What a relief it was to sit, even for a minute, on those just-vacated train benches. Of course, we were immediately tapped on the shoulder and asked to move by the rightful occupant of said seats. The train ride seemed endless! Being forced to stand so long was a perfect food for my imagination, though.

When I find myself in a situation where I have to sit, I conjure that train ride across Sweden, where sitting was impossible. To do it right, I have to vividly recreate that sense of frustration I felt, that sense of endless standing. Then, I imagine that suddenly a seat is made just for me, one I can keep for the rest of the ride! Oh relief! How I appreciate that seat!

Mindgame 3: too hot/too cold

I'm a Chicago girl by birth, where winters are legendary for their blustery cold. When the wind whips just so, you'd swear you're in the arctic. And the -20 degree reading on the thermometer only sustains that illusion.
Now I live in the northeast, where winter is a different shade of cold--not as biting as the midwest, but a deep-in-your-bones, damp kind of cold. The funny thing is, I sort of love the cold, on most days. However, there are a few times every winter when I feel as though I can't bear it for a second longer. This happened a few days ago after I took the girls to swimming lessons. The pool is indoor, of course, but it's also on a section of the island that opens up onto the bay, and it catches the most direct gusts off the ocean. BRRRR! As we trooped to the car, I pulled out another mindgame to share with my shivering daughters. Here it is:

I imagine that it is one of the hottest days of the year, and we are stuck, our will, inside a stuffy, sauna-like house. There is no air conditioning, no fan, no water to drink. The heat is so heavy it brings up strange smells from the wood and walls, and I don't want to breathe in the sticky air. Suddenly, I discover a hidden (and forbidden) door, a door that leads into a cool room, where the wind is almost icy, and the cold is clear and bright. I step into the room, and the cold feels lovely...such a relief.
This type of imagining works for times that are too hot, too. I reverse the settings, and I can replicate a similar relief in the opposite direction. When I described the scenario to the girls and asked them to make-believe with me last week in the freezing parking lot, the whining (mine too) had stopped altogether, and we found we were all actually feeling grateful for the cold by the time we made it to the car.

If I shrink my own head a little bit, I notice that each of these scenarios involves a sort of bucking of authority to meet my needs. The relief is that much more pronounced because it's a little subversive. Hmmm.
Essentially, what these mindgames seek to do is to force me to appreciate the moment as something pleasurable, not torturous. They only really work if I am really starting to feel tortured by the present situation.
Plato connected pleasure with meeting an intense need. His classic example was the quenching of thirst--how wonderful that first sip of water is after being thirsty. Indeed, these little scenarios of mine do seek to "trick" my mind into feeling that the current state actually does "quench" a need. Instead of seeking to control the situation, I seek to control my perception of the situation. Psycho babble, mindgame, call it what you will--it works.

What mindgames do you play?

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Angie Muresan said...

Kirie, I wish I could share a mind game with you. The thing that works for me is reading and writing. I get so immersed in my story that I forget what it was that bothered me to begin with.

starcakeastrology.blogspot.com said...

mind games... writing and reading work for me... and cleaning! also staring at a candle flame

La Belette Rouge said...

I trick myself into doing things by telling myself I only have to do x for 5 minutes. Once I get started I usually want to keep going. Even though I am tricking myself it almost always seems to get me going on something that I have been procrastinating on.

Claudia Boisvert said...

J'aime beaucoup tes articles et ton blog. Je sais que tu parles anglais, mais vient faire ton tour sur mon blog. :) Bonne continuation.

I love your article and all your blog. I know, you speak english... But please come see my blog! I'm sure you gonna know or learn something. I wait to see you visit my blog. Good continuation!


zeplin912 said...

I enjoy your blog :) I'm kind of starting out new on this blog idea, so it's refreshing to visit others' blogs and know how to go about making my own. Thanks for the enjoyment.

Priscilla said...

Thank you, I'm going to definitly try your 'mind game' (as you so cutely call it) tonight. I have insomnia and am always looking for a new method of trying to get rid of it or ease it a little. I think it will probablly work to since i have some imagination and my friends are always taking advantage of hoe gulliable i am. I'm also new to blogging so its really lovely to hear peoples thoughts especially with such a good anaylse:D

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