Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Book Review: Mind Over Mood

I was prompted to pick up Mind Over Mood by The Objective Standard and have been amazed by how insightful it is on the nature of introspection and how to change your emotions. For years I've understood the importance of introspection in mental health and have been maintaining a diary for that purpose, but this book has introduced to me aspects I never considered before and helped me integrate phenomenon I thought were isolated and unrelated.

Emotions are caused by ideas integrated into our subconscious. This can be directly observed by witnessing that people can have different reactions to the same stimulus, such as a painting or news story, and that during the times of those emotions ideas and images of a certain nature go through our head. On that latter, one example could be someone who feels depressed at hearing a minor and polite criticism: During that emotion their premise of inadequacy could be exposed, as thoughts like "I'm no good" and images of past harsh scoldings could be filling their head. It can be tough to sort out exactly what type of information our subconscious has integrated, but in the beginning it was always an idea we accepted with our conscious mind.

This book is primarily an exercise book, as it sets up a entire system of ways to identify and keep track of what your subconscious is composed of, as well as demonstrating how some example patients are going through their troubles due to ideas or notions they accepted at one point in their life or another. Additionally, as you advance through these exercises you'll also track the progress of these patients as they get exposed to these exercises as well, and how they alter their characters as a result. This book is equal parts informative, practical, and inspiring.

The biggest help to me -- and why I've chosen to set as a goal to introspect every day this week -- is that this book has made me aware that there are more complex factors to take into account beyond that of assessing your mental contents when examining your deepest premises, such as your behavior, how you react to other people, what's immediately going through your head during intense emotions, and so on, and that all these areas are inter-related and as important to your mental health individually as they are together. My big mistake is that I thought only assessing my mental contents is what was important, so while I've made major headway in my introspection these past years I've always been held back by discounting things that actually mattered in the process. For instance, I missed out on valuable insights to my premises by ignoring how I responded to people in everyday life.

By including factors I have been neglecting I have come to realize I have certain emotional difficulties I didn't know I had before previously, and yet the evidence was always there. Case in point, I realized that I still arbor an intense anxiety when around other people, as in their presence I tend to become tense, still my thoughts, speak in monotone and one-word answers, and more. Furthermore, I also realized that this was due to my installing bad premises from having dealt with irrational people in times of disagreement, which was made worse by the fact I couldn't get away from those people for a long time, thereby having to deal with their outbursts longer than should have been necessary.The result is that I habituated ways of dealing with irrational people that became outdated when I got away from them, thereby undermining my relationships with the better ones I have access to. With the new thinking tools I've learned, I'm now working towards relieving that tension with success.

Another way in which this book has been beneficial is by helping me identify shorter methods through which I can make faster identifications, thereby cutting the time and awkwardness with which I go about writing in my introspection journal. I've always recognized that writing to be a value, but even filling up a page a day can be time-consuming, thereby discouraging regular practice, and sometimes when I have no thoughts on my mind I can't come up with any useful insights. I've altered my practices -- though lengthy writing is at times involved on an optional basis -- so that instead of article-like writing, I put down a series of sections that require specific information, which helps me integrate it all together into a single insight and plan a course of action. Those sections include the object towards which I'm expressing my emotion and what situation I was in (object/situation), what mood(s) I felt (mood), the thoughts and images that occurred to me (thoughts), how I'm responding to other people (social environment), my behavior (behavior), the evidence that supports the estimate I made (supporting evidence), the evidence that contradicts it (contrary), and my final assessment of the thing as a whole (final estimate). The contradicting evidence section has been especially helpful, as it's made me much more aware how many emotional premises I maintain that clash with the ideas I hold consciously.

There are some interesting things I would like to have seen addressed, however, given some odd situations. In one such situation I managed to alter a subconscious premise almost instantaneously and changed my emotions right then and there, and in another situation I managed to altered my premise only temporarily, but the intensity of the emotional change I experienced was striking. In the former, I managed to destroy my fear of amusement park rides by identifying what it is that thrilled me about them. I remembered a specific roller coaster ride in which I was frightened by some overhead beams that looked like they were too close, making me fear decapitation. Given that the ride has been meticulously tested, ridden on countless times, and the ingenuity that went into creating it, I identified that it was absurd to feel this way. Accidents do happen on amusement park rides, but rarely, so rarely that they're front page news when they happen. When I made this explicit my fear evaporated, and I've never been able to get a thrill on an amusement park ride since then. Why was I able to alter my premise so rapidly? My fear had been present for years previously. In the latter situation, I managed to alleviate my fear of needles by noting to myself that I was afraid of feeling pain, which has been refuted by previous experience. When I noted that, my next blood test resulted in no emotional discomfort, and I was even able to look at the needle while they drew the blood. The next time, however, my fear was back and could not be abated by restating that same identification, and that blood test was very tense. I grant that during the process of changing one's emotions that there will be fluctuations, but the comfort I felt during the first session was so intense that I thought I had been totally cured. Understanding these two points better, I think, could work to shed further light on efficient and effective introspection.

Other than that, I cannot think of another vice for the book. It's very rational, striving to detail the nature of emotions and the appropriate therapy through evidence-based reasoning, which results in astonishingly clear and persuasive arguments. Even the person with already pristine mental health will benefit from this book, as it will teach how to maintain that state and perhaps even rise it further. In any and all pursuits for developing our abilities it is of cardinal importance to know oneself intricately, for it is that knowledge that allows us to understand the causation behind our processes and to take the proper steps to make what changes need to be made. Without that knowledge, then mental health goes out of one's control, thereby reducing one's life to either lucky character formations or brutal struggles again negative emotions that just won't stop. Whatever your purpose or interest in reading Mind Over Mood, I cannot recommend it enough.

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