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When You’re Stuck on a Mental Merry-Go-Round

by Dr. Amy Johnson on January 11, 2018

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Tony hadn’t been sleeping well.

One night of no sleep was manageable. Two nights in a row felt worrisome.

By the third and fourth nights of very little sleep, his mind was hyper focused on how he was feeling and what would (or wouldn’t) happen when he crawled into bed that night.

Am I tired? Could I sleep now if I wanted to? What if I have another sleepless night? And what if I have another after that?

His doctor gave him some medication to try in case he couldn’t sleep on the 4th night. His mind turned to: Should I take the medication? What if I become dependent on it? How will I feel the next day? Should I take it right away or first try to go without? What if it causes anxiety?

At times, Tony was so snarled in the specific thoughts and worries that flowed through his mind that he could see nothing else. He had no peripheral vision, no perspective.

He was blinded by questions that appeared to require answers. He felt a racing mind, shallow breathing, and a stomach in knots.

At other times though, Tony caught glimpses of life beyond those thoughts. When he was less focused on the emotional content of those worries and questions, he vaguely saw the mental process taking place within him.

With less focus on content, the mental process didn’t feel quite as serious or personal.

He’d say things like “But as I’m telling you these worries, I’m remembering this is just more of the same chit chat that doesn’t really matter”.

And “My mind is desperate for a game plan and I’m having a hard time letting go of that”.

That tired Tony could see that his mind was spinning, posing questions and searching for a plan that wise Tony knew he didn’t actually need, was awesome.

You can relate, right?

You know the feeling of your mind spinning, questioning, hyper-focusing on something that looks and feels so important.

Maybe it’s in the midst or that or maybe not until sometime later, but at some point, you see the process. Not just the content—the worries, questions, fears—but the process of a mind creating worries, questions, and fears.  

Interestingly, while I was texting back and forth with Tony one evening this week, Willow was having her own moment.

She takes two pair of snow gloves to school every day in her winter bag (if you aren’t familiar with the winter bag, it’s exactly what it sounds like).

She came home that day with one lonely little glove. One glove accounted for, three missing.

Her mind started up, just like Tony’s. What will I do tomorrow with only one glove? What if I can’t find the other three? Where are the other three? In my desk, on the playground, in Ashley or Eli or Cullen’s winter bag?

Willow and I sat down and played out the scenarios a bit. She is eight, after all.

I didn’t play out scenarios to the same extent with Tony when we spoke earlier that day because I could see that the details didn’t matter. I knew he had it in him to look toward what his mind was doing (the process) and in that, the content would work itself out.

But for newly eight-year-old Willow, it seemed like it might help to give a few answers to her questioning mind.

You’ll take Miller’s extra set of gloves tomorrow. When you go into school in the morning, you’ll look around and see if the gloves were left in the classroom. If not, you’ll check lost-and-found and ask your classmates if they accidentally took your gloves home.

That should do it, I naively thought. She has a plan, now she can let this go.


“But then what?” her busy mind kept asking. “What if I still can’t find them?”

Then you’ll use your own money to buy two more pair of gloves (these are far from the first lost gloves this season. Don’t get me started…)

“What?! What if I need that money for something else some day and I had to spend it on gloves?”

And on and on, where more answers led to more questions.

Tired, adult Tony. Worried, eight-year-old Willow.

You, me, everyone. Sleep, anxiety, gloves, money, or literally any other storyline you can think up. No difference.

Like Tony said, it’s just more of the same chit chat. Different day, different story, exact same universal process. The process is the same because we all have a mind. The process is simply what a mind does.

The same anxious energy that’s bringing all of these questions to mind is convincing you that they require answers. That a game plan will quiet your mind.

But game plans don’t quiet minds. Not engaging, seeing thought as thought, glimpsing the process rather than the content…that’s what leads to a quieter mind.

Answering all your mind’s questions most often leads to more, not fewer questions. Buying into the illusion that these worries are valid and require action is what keeps us hooked.

Back up. Remember that minds will do this. All of them, about anything and everything.

Then just go to bed or to school in the morning, and trust that you’ll know the next step when it’s time.

Epilogue:  Tony took the medication and slept that night. His mind is still running him through some scenarios but he’s doing his best to notice the process rather than the content.

Willow’s three missing gloves were sitting in her cubby when she got to school the next morning. How they got there is a mystery, but she’s willing to let it remain a mystery for now.

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New Year, Original You

by Dr. Amy Johnson on January 4, 2018

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“New Year, New You” is a marketing hook used to sell all sorts of things this month. 

It’s also one of my least favorite phrases ever.

I’m not saying there is anything inherently wrong with it. They are just innocent little words.

And I’m not saying there is anything intentionally salesy or manipulative about it. I’m sure it is quite well-meaning in most cases.

“New Year, New You” probably attracts a whole lot of people looking forward with hope and anticipation in this first week of the new year. Ready to step into a new way of seeing life, a new way of being in the world.

Offering those interested people resources to support their growth—especially when those resources point them back to their own wisdom—is a wonderful thing.

And as much as I’m not a fan, I’ve no doubt benefitted from this hook. The Little Book of Big Change was a “New Year, New You” book for my publisher in 2016 (it sat finished for half a year just so that the official release could be January 2; perfect timing to nab people associating big change with a new calendar year).

It’s just that for me, “New Year, New You” meant (in my mind) the-current-me-is-not-enough-so-I-better-learn/do/buy-more-so-that-I-can-be-a-better-me.

Which never works. Well, let me correct that. It sometimes “works” for a very short time which, in my experience, was worse than it not working at all. Those newfound behavioral plans, inspirational memes, and other band-aids worked just long enough to dupe me into believing that the old, not-good-enough me was long gone.

Until some piece of the old, not-good-enough me inevitably resurfaced. Then it was back to fictional square one, worse for wear.

Now, this was just me. If you don’t hear “New Year, New You” that way, more power to you. If that phrase doesn’t get you thinking there is something about you that needs fixing so that you can finally be better, that’s really great.

I could just never manage to hear it innocently, so I wanted to share what I like better in case you could use a revised version.

New Year, Original You.

Because the truth is, nothing needs fixing. ‘Nothing lacking, nothing broken’ as a couple of my colleagues like to put it.

You are whole and perfect right now. The only “problem” is that you don’t believe that.

You (along with the bulk of the rest of us—don’t worry, it’s not personal) are so focused on and identified with the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors you don’t like that you’re missing the fact that they don’t have anything to do with you anyway.

We’re looking past the consciousness and stable perfection of who we are. Instead, we’re trying to focus on the moving targets we don’t like—the human experiences we’re mistakenly calling “me” and “mine”.

And even that is not something you need to fix. But it is something worth looking toward and possibly investing in, in my humble opinion. It certainly has been for me.

Every moment is unfolding perfectly, leading you back to the real you. Every insight is a pointer. Every bit of suffering is also a pointer.

The suffering shows you that you’re staring at the moving target (your experience) rather than toward the still truth. No wonder you’re frustrated and disoriented. You’re associating your identity with something that is in constant flux.

Let your feelings show you the way. You are light, joyful awareness. Heaviness is what happens when you get tangled in your experience, mistaking that for who you are.  

Can you see how life is unfolding perfectly to lead you back to you? When you feel heaviness, that’s an invitation to go back to being conscious awareness. (Literally, lose interest in the content your mind is creating. Step back and be the watcher of this experience).

The Original You—the only you you actually can be—knows this.





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Seeing Freedom…Even Deeper

October 19, 2017

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You’re not the Boss of Me: How a very Basic Understanding of Your Brain (and What Powers Your Brain) Can Free you from Pretty Much Anything

October 12, 2017

The publisher of The Little Book of Big Change asked me to write something for their blog about the lower brain. I was a little hesitant. Not because an understanding of the brain isn’t super interesting. It is. And seeing how the brain works in a deeper, more insightful way–beyond the mechanics–can be incredibly freeing. […]

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Here’s How We’re Going to End the Violence. I Have a Plan.

October 5, 2017

Okay guys, here’s how we’re going to end this senseless violence nonsense.   I have a plan. And it includes you, so listen up. I need you to realize the truth about your human experience and your spiritual essence—what is real and what isn’t—as deeply and fully and as you can. I know that sounds bossy. […]

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