This isn’t a mindfulness post but it may help you “get out of your own head”
To tell someone to get out of their own head or get out of their own way is confusing advice. How are we supposed to do this?
The real goal behind this advice is to avoid influences; like our unnecessary chatter, our rumination, our negativity, and our self-limiting thoughts.
Avoiding these influences is something even lifelong yogi’s struggle with. It’s nothing to sneeze at.
To avoid them requires us to know how much our environment influences us.
What are these influences in our environment?
They come in the form of stimuli. Or, something that subsequently ignites a physiological response.
When we think of environmental influences we tend to think of things outside of our body out in the world but there is also an external environment that is outside our cells. The stimuli in this environment consist of thoughts, beliefs, and emotions.
This is why I’ve advocated for taking your thoughts with a grain of salt.
These stimuli, like thoughts, for example, can create domino effects that are deeply connected with our brain wiring and physiology.
This domino effect is better explained by Joe Dispenza from his books You are the Placebo & Becoming Supernatural:
The majority of genes (estimates range from 75 to 85 percent) are turned off and on by signals from our environment, including the environment of thoughts, beliefs, and emotions that we cultivate in our brains.
Every time you have a thought, in addition to making neurotransmitters, your brain also makes another chemical — a small protein called a neuropeptide that sends a message to your body. Your body then reacts by having a feeling. The brain notices that the body is having a feeling, so the brain generates another thought matched exactly to that feeling
As our senses record incoming information from the environment, clusters of neurons organize into networks. When they freeze into a pattern, the brain makes a chemical that is then sent throughout the body. That chemical is called an emotion.
Over time, as our brains observe patterns of environmental stimuli and their subsequent ignition of our physiology, it automates those patterns neurologically to conserve energy. As described above, it does this by forming neural connections, or grooves in your brain, that fire almost in tandem with those stimuli in our internal or external environments.
These grooves in your brain (neurological connections) are the same reason many people forget their morning commutes to work. Or, salivate after seeing a picture of food.
And, this is the same reason we have to start small when forming a habit.
In the book Atomic Habits, James Clear tells a story of someone who would show up to the gym every day, check-in, then leave without working out. This person first formed the habit of showing up, for 2 minutes, then begun extending those 2 minutes week after week.
This 2-minute habit-forming trick is us getting out of our own way.
If this person planned an hour instead of 2 minutes, their longstanding neural connections in their brain would be too difficult to overcome. Their brain would fire all of its normal automated patterns and they would be bombarded with the unnecessary chatter, negativity, and self-limiting thoughts.
By starting small, with 2 minutes, we can more easily overcome those old patterns and begin forming new ones. We can start forming new neural connections, new physiology, and a new self.
What we are doing is breaking down and recreating what it means to be “us”.
Ancients and mystics have known this practice of getting out of your own head or recreating a new “us”. Some call this the death and rebirth of the ego.
In death and rebirth mythology, ego death is a phase of self-surrender and transition, as described by Joseph Campbell in his research on the mythology of the Hero’s Journey. It is a recurrent theme in world mythology and is also used as a metaphor in western thinking. (source)
By overcoming our thoughts and emotions, aka our identity or ego, we can change ourselves:
“Studies show that getting in touch with positive, expansive emotions like kindness and compassion — emotions that are our birthright, by the way — tends to release a different neuropeptide (called oxytocin), which naturally shuts off the receptors in the amygdala, the part of the brain that generates fear and anxiety. With fear out of the way, we can feel infinitely more trust, forgiveness, and love.” Dr. Joe Dispenza, You Are the Placebo
Cal Newport’s book, called Deep Work, advocates for isolating yourself from the worldly distractions of our 21st-century environment in order to harness our creativity and inherent value. He shares stories of many of our greatest thinkers who did just this to create great works; Alan Lightman, JK Rowling, Daniel Pink, Michael Pollan, Montaigne, Carl Jung, and there’s the archetypal mad scientist slaving away in their lab. (I used this technique to write this article)
They understand the influences our environment has on us.
Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal wrote Stealing Fire, an entire book about getting out of our own head via altered states of consciousness like flow state and extreme sports.
When you think about the billion-dollar industries that underpin the Altered States Economy, isn’t this what they’re built for? To shut off the self. To give us a few moments of relief from the voice in our heads.
By stepping outside ourselves, we gain perspective. We become objectively aware of our costumes rather than subjectively fused with them.
Sheryl Sandberg, who wrote Lean In, discusses the biggest barrier for women, and people generally, are internal obstacles:
Internal obstacles are rarely discussed and often underplayed. Throughout my life, I was told over and over about inequalities in the workplace and how hard it would be to have a career and a family. I rarely heard anything, however, about the ways I might hold myself back. These internal obstacles deserve a lot more attention, in part because they are under our own control. We can dismantle the hurdles in ourselves today. We can start this very moment.
These obstacles she mentions are the unnecessary chatter, the rumination, the negativity, and our self-limiting thoughts.
To get out of our own way, we have to get beyond these obstacles by getting in touch with the environmental influences producing them, and redefine what we call “I”.
After all, if you don’t get beyond who you think you are and the way you’ve been conditioned to believe the world works, it’s not possible to create a new life or a new destiny. So in a very real sense, you have to get out of your own way, transcend the memory of yourself as an identity, and allow something greater than you, something mystical, to take over. -Joe Dispenza, Becoming Supernatural