Feed Your Mind Only What You Want More Of

The other evening, my boyfriend persuaded me to watch The Incredible Shrinking Man with him, the 1957 sci-fi classic in which a radioactive fog cuts a six-footer down to size—to nothing, in fact. I normally avoid movies with dismal endings because, well, they make me feel dismal! I made this exception because I thought, “Compared with today’s movies, how upsetting can this fossil of a film be?”

That night I dreamed about little people, really little people. Around seven inches high, they lived on a farm I seemed to own and were in the bad habit of crossing rural roads. I recall feeling frantic about the safety of my miniature friends and pleaded with my speeding neighbors to drive slowly. “They feel your car coming when the ground shakes, but they can’t cover much ground on their tiny legs. You’ve got to give them time to cross the road!”

Later, I woke up worried and wondering: “What made me dream that?!!?” Plainly that stupid movie did! This is a great example of why it’s important to be careful about what you feed your mind.

Remember, you attract what you focus on. I was engrossed for 90 minutes in a literally dead end movie. I worried for the hapless hero, dwindling along with his chances for survival. Not surprisingly, I dreamed an episode as unsettling as if the victim had been my own kith and kin.

Our brains can’t tell the difference between make-believe and reality. While my rational mind was telling me, “it’s only a movie,” my alarm was as real as my boyfriend sitting beside me.

Whether we watch a scary movie, read a book with unpleasantly graphic descriptions or listen to weepy songs, our emotions mirror the mind’s reaction to what it perceives as real.

And don’t get me started on the impact of watching the nightly TV roundup of murder and mayhem or of reading disaster headlines in the morning paper or on the Web. “But Silver,” you say, “I want to be informed.”

Fine, but ask yourself if everything you want to be informed about is worth the potential harm to your emotional and physical well-being. Read, watch or hear something upsetting, and you’ll feel the negative impact, in one way or another.

The media carry endless discussions of how desensitized we’ve become in the face of horror. (Am I the only one who finds this ironic?) True, we have become numb. Yet this is a sign of shock, not indifference. When we’ve taken in too much that is upsetting, our minds shut down. You can see this every time a person loses a loved one—denial descends over them.

So what to do? Binge on the bright things in life!

Stephan Harmann, associate professor of psychology at Emory University, has found in his research that watching positive stimuli (think a cuddly baby or puppy) gives us a buzz like a “hat trick” of chocolate, sex and drugs. Pleasing sights boost activity in the amygdala, a primitive section of the brain primarily responsible for our lightning-swift emotional reactions.

So stuff your mind with what you want more of. Do you enjoy the outdoors? Bask in the pleasure of relaxing beneath a shady tree or watching a sunset. Does comedy tickle your funny bone? Watch movies or read books that make you guffaw. Is a hot bath heaven for you? Skip the nightly or morning news for a luxurious soak, and watch how your mood improves. Do such activities often enough, and your life will change too—for the better.

The next time my boyfriend suggests a depressing flick, I’m going to counter that we eat chocolate instead while watching Ice Age, a delightful animated adventure featuring an adorable baby boy who, far from shrinking, is developing in the right direction. That ought to tickle my amygdala!

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