Don't Get Derailed By Toxic Thoughts! Here's How To Free Your Mind For Better Things

Stop, drop and roll. If you were raised in the era that I was, those three words were emblazoned across your childhood consciousness by Jake the fireman once a year during Fire Prevention Week. He and his fellow firemen would come to your elementary school and perform crowd pleasers such as "how to crawl out of a smoke-filled room" and "what to do if your clothes catch on fire." If you were anything like me, you secretly just wanted to wear his hat, and wished he'd brought his dalmatian to the demonstration.

Decades later, I'm happy to report that I've never had to stop, drop and roll, most likely because I wear synthetics and don't spend much time near open flames. But how about we put this familiar slogan to use in extinguishing fires that we DO experience in our daily lives: mental fires.

Think about a regular or recurring thought that, let's face it, you really wish you didn't have. For example, I have a bad habit of becoming acutely angry at someone in my life who has made a mistake or not done things to my satisfaction.

I've even given myself a nickname when I behave this way: "Kaiser," after a character in the film The Usual Suspects. When I am Kaiser, I find myself raging with thoughts like, what kind of idiot would do that? or who hired her? or I never liked him anyway! This rage is toxic for everyone involved: myself, the person I am raging about, and anyone who crosses my path.

I'm happy to report that I have the blaze of this mental habit, which at Handel, we call a trait, nicely contained.

My reward is that I don't get stuck in that mental habit, feeling angry and powerless. It's very freeing.

My secret? I stop, drop and roll. Here's how it works:

1. Stop. 

In a flash of insight, I realize that I am raging about someone, just like suddenly realizing that my sleeve is on fire. With fire, I see flame, smell smoke, feel heat. With Kaiser, I feel the anger, taste the toxicity and hear the mental grumbles. I then make a conscious decision: do I want to keep Kaiser around? As is the case with your clothes being on fire, the answer is usually no.

2. Drop.

I drop the thought mid-stream, just as someone on fire should drop to the ground. I don't finish the thought, or finish writing the email, or finish whatever I was doing. And I don't watch in fascination as the hairs on my arms start to singe and smell funny. I go immediately to the floor.

3. Roll. 

I roll my mind to something else, such as a new thought that gets me safely away from the Kaiser blaze. Sometimes, the thought I use has nothing to do with the current situation, like thinking about a movie I saw recently, or what I am going to cook for dinner. Sometimes, I roll to positive thoughts about the person involved, like making a mental list of ten things I like about her or him. Regardless of which way you "roll," the key is to quickly roll yourself to another, non-toxic line of thought.

Welcome to my Stop Drop and Roll routine!

If you see bruises on my shoulders from all of that rolling, it's because some traits can be quite second-nature, and require a lot of stopping, dropping and rolling before the fire is fully put out. Sometimes, I may stop drop and roll, and then when I get up, the fire pops up again, and it's back to the floor I go.

But the more I practice, the better I get at extinguishing the flame of my trait, or mental habit, before it starts. My "fire-fighting" also weakens the trait, so it will be less compelling the next time it pops up.

I challenge you, dear reader, to design your own Stop Drop and Roll routine, and practice it in a way that would make Jake the Fireman proud. What does your mental fire look like? Are you ready to commit to dropping it? And to what are you rolling your thoughts?

Drop me a note and share. If you do a good job, Jake might even let you wear his hat.



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