I’ve experienced frustratingly distracting anxiety for a little over a decade. Although I’ve slowly gotten better at dealing with it, the bulk of the progress was made in the past year. Over the COVID lockdowns, I started practicing deep breathing and meditation and they’ve helped tremendously in building mindfulness and an understanding of my mind. Consequentially, I’ve also gotten significantly better at controlling anxiety.
Recently, I came up with a novel framework of the mind that I strongly identify with, that also works well for me. I’d like to share a more generalized version and see if it resonates with others.
My Theory of the Mind
Very simply, the mind consists of the Self, the Analytical Mind, and the Emotional Mind. The Emotional Mind is a primal being that, unsurprisingly, creates emotions. These emotions come naturally and require minimal effort. The Analytical Mind is a more advanced (evolutionarily speaking) being that plans, analyzes, and creates ideas. It also requires more effort to activate. Finally, the Self is the consciousness. It experiences, decides, and harbors desires and aspirations.
The mind is the interaction of all three elements with the Self playing the pivotal roles of the experiencer and the conductor. Emotions from the emotional mind are experienced by the Self, and affect the Analytical Mind. Thoughts and ideas from the Analytical Mind are experienced by the Self, and affect the Emotional Mind. The Emotional and Analytical Minds can create positive or negative feedback loops that ultimately strengthen or weaken the experiences of the Self.
The Self is not only a victim of the Emotional and Analytical Minds, it also has control over them as conductor. However, this often needs to be trained as the Self can easily be overpowered.
This model can be applied to many mental phenomena that most humans experience daily. For example, in a dream state, parts of the Analytical Mind are shut off and it’s mostly the Self and the Emotional Mind at work. This is why dreams often feel logical and coherent in the moment but nonsensical when you wake up. Biases are the product of the Analytical Mind being affected by the Emotional Mind. Empathy is the Analytical Mind and the Self working in concert to create positive emotions.
Applying to Anxiety
Anxiety is a positive feedback loop of negative ideas and emotions between the Analytical Mind and the Emotional Mind. The Analytical Mind envisions negative scenarios, which affects the Emotional Mind, which prompts the Analytical Mind to produce more negative scenarios. All the while, the Self is experiencing the negative state of being.
This can be fixed if the Self intervenes and stops this feedback loop, slowing down both the Analytical and Emotional Mind. However, this isn’t easy, as the Self can be overwhelmed with negative emotion to realize this is possible.
I strongly believe that with mindfulness and an understanding of how the mind works, the Self can be an effective conductor of both Minds, thus controlling what it experiences as well.
This is just my personal Theory of the Mind that I’ve found very useful for myself. I hope it’ll be useful for others, though everyone’s different. However, I do believe in the soundness of the underlying principle that mindfulness and an understanding how your mind works creates antifragile inner peace.