- Steven Sutton, LCSW
Keeping Your Mental World Small
Humans evolved to assess risk from moment to moment. In normal circumstances, people acquire a sense of what is threatening in their current environment and we barely notice that assessing risk is part of our normal operating system. It’s happening moment to moment whether we realize it or not. The problem for many of us now is that it’s difficult to assess the risk in our current environment. A normal human reaction to being unable to assess risk is anxiety and vigilance. During threatening or confusing times, people expend mental energy trying to figure out where a threat may lurk. You may notice yourself being more distracted than usual or a bit tired. You may feel anxious. All these responses are normal and natural. Feeling taxed or anxious does not mean there’s anything wrong during times of uncertainty.
I invite you to consider your information diet and make some choices about what information is helpful to you during this time versus what information may be unhelpful. Before you hit that link, ask yourself, talk to that family member about their views, or scan those headlines: Will this information help me assess risk right now or not? If not, you may want to consider skipping the information.
You may also notice that becoming overwhelmed happens more easily during uncertain times. I enjoyed a recent Joe Rogan interview with a former Navy Seal, Andy Strumpf. In it, Andy talks about one of the key concepts we covered in the recent BMP course, Growing Out of Procrastination. The idea is that by keeping things small in our minds, we can protect ourselves from becoming overwhelmed. It sounds like a simple idea because it is — but don’t underestimate its power.
In the interview, Andy describes talking to Seal students who he trained and quit the training program. He asked them why they quit and he said the most common reason by far was that students got overwhelmed. Andy explains that students who made it through the brutal training were able to "keep their mental world small,” while those who became overwhelmed did the opposite. “You can look at a pie and say ‘oh my god I have to eat this whole thing,’ of you can look at a slice and eat the slice and not worry about the rest of the slices…” I recommend you listen to the entire interview but here is the to the clip. (He talks about the training program around the 9min mark.)
Use the risk assessment question to filter what information you take in and treat each day as it’s own experience without worrying too much about other days in the future. If you practice executing on these mindsets you’ll find it easier to do when you begin to feel overwhelmed. You’ll be able to self soothe when you need to, your health will benefit, and you’ll be able to show up in relationship the way you want.