Your mind can be your friend

Have you ever gone to an open mic night or stand up comedy show before?

Stand up comedy is definitely one of my go to options in the realm of my own self-care. I laugh, I cry and I cringe. Essentially, I feel true human emotion every time I see comedians that resonate with me.

Of course, when it comes to stand up comedy, you can't forget your daily dose of hecklers. You know, the people that shout out things like, "You suck." Or, "I've heard that one before." Or anything remotely against your shine.

Stand up comedy in itself is a bold occupation. You've worked hard on material, practiced constantly, tell great stories and people enjoy themselves after you speak. There's a lot of positive aspects of this.

However, the hecklers tend to lean on the more negative side of things. They don't have anything good to say yet they say it anyway. And most of the time it’s unknown when these hecklers will interrupt your routine. It’s awful.

So is there a flip side to this? Yes, for the most part.

How hecklers are handled on the spot is really what separates the goods from the greats in comedy. Think about it for a moment. What happens to newer comedians when hecklers are trying to take over the show? It’s a difficult scene to witness to say the least, but many of these comedians become struck with fear and stuck in the moment. Moreover, the novice comedian is likely to be afflicted because of that experience for a very long time. But what about the greats in comedy?

You see, the greats take a different route when dealing with hecklers in the crowd. Sometimes they ignore the annoying shouts, sometimes they get fueled by them and other times they will embarrass the disruptive agitator. This response is usually something clever and positive enough to make hecklers keep their comments to themselves because the show must go on.

This is exactly how the mind operates.

You might be going about your day with generally good thoughts such as, “I got this today,” or “Nothing can stop me,” or you may have nothing in your mind at all. But, out of the blue, unhelpful thoughts roll right on in: "You aren't good enough and never have been." “You’re a terrible husband.” “No one likes you.” And now you've become stuck because of these unproductive and unhelpful thoughts.

Try and put yourself in the comedian’s position for a moment. Imagine being at your first show: you’ve just enticed the crowd with an amazing opener, things seem to be going well, but someone shouts a negative comment. This negative comment is like those unhelpful thoughts: they are merely hecklers trying to get your attention. Do you let them break your act? Do you react or respond to this? Do you ignore them? Are you fueled by this? Do you take it personal?

These are great questions to ask in understanding how you think about yourself. Let’s get honest for a moment. How often do you have negative thoughts about yourself? Here’s a better question: how are you responding to those thoughts? Another question you might be asking yourself is “how do I rid the hecklers?” My answer: you can't really. However, there's something more important that you can do.

Sure, it would be a dream to have zero hecklers attack your thoughts. But in reality the mind is mysteriously random at times. So its unpredictable with thoughts of the past or future that interfere with our present.

What you can do is notice when a heckler is present and ask yourself, "Is this heckler right about me? Or do they not know me at all?" This can be very helpful in understanding how you view yourself and how untrue it might be based on reality.

With practice, patience and positive thinking, overtime these heckling thoughts will likely occur less within your wonderful mind. And hey, if we got so good at agreeing with mental hecklers in the first place, then I think it’s also possible to get better at agreeing with more realistic and more positive thoughts about ourselves.

“But where do I even start? How can I start? I’ve never done this type of thinking before”

That’s quite alright! Most of us are pretty new to this type of thinking, so you’re definitely not alone.

Here are a few ways you can do this:

1) Mindfulness

I want you to imagine for a moment a desolate, empty, piece of land with single road of asphalt going right down the middle of it. Think of the detail of this scene: desert, sandy, empty and hot. Perhaps, the asphalt has some cracks in it due to erosion and time, too. Now I want you to think of a few cars passing by one another on this two-way street in the middle of nowhere. Imagine yourself taking each negative, positive or neutral thought that pops in your mind, and placing it on each car that passes by. Now let each car (thought) pass through on the road until it disappears in the empty desolate land in the far distance.

Believe it or not, with some practice, this can be so relaxing to the point where you find yourself not worried about heckling thoughts as much. Because they are just that: random heckling thoughts.

2) Externalization

Earlier, I mentioned that the brain is random at times and it’s difficult to navigate in understanding what’s true and what’s not so true. Externalization is an awesome technique to practice when in doubt. For example, imagine someone who had the following ongoing thought: “I’m a total idiot.” Hurtful right? The way externalization works is taking those very close, personal feeling, dark thoughts and putting some space between you and it. Rather than saying you’re a total idiot, you could try: “I’m having a thought right now that I’m a total idiot.” The difference here is that you’ve put some space between you and the negative idea.

Think about your most pestering thought if you can. Do you got it? Now try this technique on it. Sure, it may not feel too different at first, but overtime it may rewire some things in your brain that could be helpful in the long run.

3) Challenging

Often, most people say words that embody the entirety of themselves. Things such as, “I’m a failure and always have been.” “I never have good dates.” “I will never heal.” Debilitating, right? In order to challenge these thoughts would require one to be audacious enough to give it a shot: sounds like you, perhaps. For one to challenge cognitive schema’s such as these takes time, effort and creativity. Let’s take the “I’m a failure and always have been” statement and challenge it.

Begin by asking yourself the true reality of the statement. You could say, “Was I really always a failure in my life?” Most likely, you probably weren’t, but the feelings are totally valid! A more realistic statement might sound like, “I’ve had moments where I felt like a failure.” Sounds about right. But, in order for this mental template to stick would require one to practice, practice, practice. You could even take it a step further and normalize it for yourself: “I’m sure others have had moments where they felt like a failure, too.” That technique might also help.

Give these techniques a shot, good luck and continue striving to thrive.

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Jacob Kountz is the founder of Kern Wellness Counseling, a mental health blog, in Bakersfield, CA. His works have been featured on USA Today, Thrive Works, Fatherly, Martha Stewart Weddings, Thrive Global, and is a Charlotte Counseling & Wellness contributor. His blog has also been ranked as one of the top 60 Mental Health Blogs and Websites to Follow in 2018. Currently, he is a full-time graduate student and a Clinic Manager of a mental health training clinic at a local CSU where he provides therapy for individual adults, adolescents, and children, couples and families. He aspires to one day open a private practice in Bakersfield, CA so he may continue to serve his local population.

Jacob Kountz