We spend an extraordinary amount of time on emails managing the flow of traffic: composing, replying, filing, trashing, dropping into spam, all the while desperately avoiding viruses. In my corporate sales days, I would receive over 150 emails/day and, like a leaky boat taking on too much water, I spent the majority of the work day just trying to manage the inflow of emails, tossing bucketfuls of water overboard as more emails kept popping up into my inbox.
In many ways, our minds operate like an email system on steroids. Our inbox gets overloaded with up to 50,000 thoughts per day. We open and casually delete most of them whimsically as they don’t carry much gravitas and just float on by like puffy clouds: where should I go for lunch; when can I go get coffee; what should I wear tonight. We seemingly answer them, then delete them yet many stubbornly boomerang right back to pose the question again. Do we really need to ask them a dozen times over? We also auto-reply to many, all within the safe confines of our head, creating beautiful stories: I’m going to call him back and really let him have it; when I go to the office tomorrow, I’m going straight to my boss’s office and demand a raise. Some stories are just too outrageous and we efficiently label them as spam: hmm, maybe I will learn Chinese this year. Lastly, deeper thoughts requiring further scrutiny get filed away in folders, readily accessible but not top of mind (i.e., dropped into our subconscious).
But without active management, we can easily get into trouble. We may open an email but let it lazily sit there in our inbox (i.e., consciousness). It meanders, then festers as we keep returning to it without taking proper action. It builds momentum as we cannot shake the thought from our head: how dare she say that to me at dinner last night! We cling to it, become consumed and replay the scenario over and over again like a bad movie reeling in our head. Facts get distorted, things get magnified and we fantasize about how we are going to get revenge. It creates an energy force all on its own, churning, burning, as we obsess over the details. We become the hero and/or victim in our own little story as our ego feverishly schemes on how we are going to prevail. We can invest hours, even days, on outrageous scenes on how we will be victorious and get full vindication.
In our worst moments we click on a perilous email and all hell breaks loose (i.e., a virus). We spin out of control as it snowballs and takes over our entire operating system. Adrenaline flows through our veins in a fit of rage as we are so angry we cannot think or see straight. Our system goes on overdrive and heats up, with numbers & letter blinking and everything going haywire as we literally go into a tailspin consumed with vitriol. We often have no choice but to literally shut the system down and reboot our computers (drink, medicate, take a long walk, sleep it off). Anger and rage are the most common, but other negative emotions like fear and sadness can fully engulf us too.
We cannot stop the incessant flow and sheer volume of thoughts in our mind. But, like our email account, we can go into Settings and reconfigure our brains. We all have the ability to literally rewire our brain and manage the flow of thoughts towards a healthier and beneficial outcome. The discipline of Positive Psychology has proven we can reframe our reality, change our perspective, and choose our attitude which influences our mood and outlook. In other words, we can actively play a role in our happiness.
Ever notice how we dwell on one negative event yet so easily gloss over numerous positive events? Yesterday could have been a near-perfect day: you woke up feeling refreshed from a great nights sleep, you finished that project at work, you ate healthfully, exercised, had coffee with your best friend, the sun was shining, etc. A perfect day, except for when your brother called you during lunch to (wrongly) reprimand you for what you said at the family reunion last Sunday. You are furious and, like a virus corrupting your computer, everything gets tainted negatively. The conversation permeates through every fiber of your being as you rehash it over and over all afternoon even as you successfully wrap up that project at work and walk the dog at your favorite park catching a gorgeous sunset. When you finally crawl into bed and your spouse asks how your day was you scream Terrible! Huh? A dozen things went perfect for you but you single-mindedly focused on the one bad thing and thereby claim the day overall a disaster.
When adversity arises, we need to delete the contents out of the inbox as soon as possible. Be your own anti-virus security system with a full court press to isolate and rapidly mitigate the risk. I am not implying you ignore the issue but rather try to contain it, silo it so it doesn’t spill over and affect other areas of your life. Be vigilant on other harmful emails (i.e. negative thoughts) by dropping them into spam or trashing them immediately. The ability to be keenly aware of your mental state and mindful of negative emotions will serve you great here. Concurrently, enjoy the majority of your emails which are positive and beneficial and give them equal gravitas. A mind free of disruption is your natural state of mind so purge the toxic thoughts.
To emphasize this, I recommend writing the following every day in a journal: three things you are are grateful for today; describe in detail something you did in the past 24 hours that made you happy. By documenting this daily, it brings a sense of permanence and renewed focus towards positivity. It literally rewires the brain to more quickly perceive a positive orientation of the world. We have all woken up on the wrong side of the bed, but this simple five minute exercise can catapult you in the proper frame of mind towards gratitude. The added bonus is rereading your words later activates the mind to relive that experience so it can serve as a healthy reminder. Adopting an attitude of gratitude is so powerful in keeping us on track and not taking all our blessings for granted.
The key to managing the inbox of your mind is awareness: check in with your thoughts often and assess the mood, energy and content whirling within. We all possess the remarkable ability to reframe the subject matter and alter the negativity of our emotions. The mail never stops but we are empowered to manage the inbox for greater health and wellbeing.