One word to reduce mental noise

man holding bamboo stick on rice field during daytime

In my experience as a health manager, I worked with people with Dementia. This brain illness affects cognitive functioning, thinking, and sufferers can struggle to communicate effectively. Some of the patients I used to work with had an ongoing out loud dialogue that didn’t seem to have a switch offsetting.

Their relatives described their conversations as irrational and disconnected. For many, they struggled to make sense of what their loved ones were talking out loud.

Sometimes I sat and listened to the Dementia patients’ monologues. I wanted to see if I could make sense of them. Some of the monologues were about conversations they seem to be having with someone from their past. Other times they seem to be about an inner dialogue that they were having with themselves. This inner dialogue reminded me of my internal conversations with myself.

Possibly you can relate to this experience of listening to an inner voice that narrates your opinions, likes, and dislikes. This voice tells you how you feel about situations that trouble you and is also very specific about justifying disagreements with others. No matter how aware or not you are of this voice, it is always there. The more aware I have become of it, the more I think it does not have a switch off the button.

One of the key factors I noticed from listening to these out loud dialogues of dementia patients is that they aren’t that different from my own. Theirs seems to be mostly about the past; mine will also focus on my history and ignore the present.

This conclusion got me thinking: Is my inner dialogue also irrational?

Looking at the definition of the word irrational, you find synonym words for this term are groundless, unfounded, unjustifiable, absurd, ridiculous, silly, foolish, senseless, laughable, stupid, untenable, and arbitrary.

Suppose you recall right now a recent inner dialogue that you had after an argument with someone. Let say think about a disagreement that you had with your husband, wife, co-worker, parent or one of your children recently. After the frustrating incident, none of you were satisfied, and you ended up upset with each other. Both of you did not agree and ended angry with each other. You left the argument disappointed and feeling that the other person didn’t get you.

It is very likely that after what happened, you continued an inner dialogue about the situation, and your mind kept repeating a narrative to support your point of view. You continue to feel frustration and anger after the argument, and you begin to fill your head with mental noise. The noise will stay in your mind as you keep repeating the problem, but there is no solution.

The noise requires continual mental effort to come up with an end to a problem that can’t be resolved. If your thinking begins to feed worry and anxiety, the noise intensifies. Suddenly you take a look at where you are, and you realize that you are not present.

If you could narrate your inner dialogue aloud, will it fit the definition of rational thinking, or will it be irrational? Will your words be grounded, justifiable, practical, confident, wise, profound, sensible, logical, responsible, realistic, smart, and reasonable? Or could they be considered groundless, unfounded, unjustifiable, absurd, ridiculous, silly, foolish, senseless, laughable, stupid, untenable, and arbitrary?

Depending on the point of view you assume, your answer could go either way. If you stick to your perspective, you will define them as rational. If you see them from the perspective of the person you were arguing with, it could seem irrational. In the end, you decide how to look at a problem and listen to the inner dialogue.

The same way I listened to the patients out loud inner dialogue, and though it didn’t fit their reality, the same way someone can listen to yours and come up with the same conclusion. When we create mental noise due to judging a person or a situation, it involves assuming a position about what is adequate from one point of view.

The power of one word

To reduce the noise and free ourselves from it, you can begin using one word. It is so simple and so practical to use this simple mindful technique about the power of one word. The word I want you to use to stop the noise in your mind is, MAYBE.

The word maybe means, “there is a possibility of that.” Going back to the previous example of the argument, you can practice the following. Maybe my point of view is correct, or maybe my point of view is not correct. You can also apply to the other person; maybe their point of view is adequate or maybe is not.

You can also use Maybe for mindfulness practice. Sit in a quiet place, breathe slowly and bring to your perspective about the argument. Repeat the word maybe when frustration, worry, and anxious thought arises. After you repeat the word, maybe, stay still, listen, and breathe. Notice what happens after you use this powerful word.

One story: Maybe

There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed. “Maybe,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “Maybe,” said the farmer.

One question

What problem are you dealing with that you could let go with a “Maybe”?

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