This Wednesday, we were delighted to have Michael Reeves, a Twitch Streamer and YouTuber, join us on the HealthyGamer stream. Dr. K talked to Michael about existential dread, self-judgment, anxiety, and the workings of the mind. It was a fascinating interview, and we highly recommend checking it out!
Difference between Self-Judgement and Anxiety
Michael shared with Dr. K that he occasionally experiences gut-wrenching anxiety. For example, when he does something that is not very productive, he feels anxious and regrets not working on things that he should have. He also mentioned that he feels existential dread, which feels similar to his anxiety.
Dr. K pointed out that the feeling of regret that Michael gets when he procrastinates is not the same as anxiety, and it can be reframed better as self-judgment. Typically, anxiety is future-oriented, while self-judgment is past-oriented. Self-judgmental thoughts reprimand us for things that we should have done or did not do. On the other hand, anxiety is characterized by worry about the future consequences of past actions.
Self-judgment and anxiety can be closely related — the former fuels the latter. However, they are distinctly different, and therefore, the approach to dealing with them is different as well. You can deal with self-judgment by cultivating the understanding that you can only take action with the knowledge and experiential understanding that you already have. If you understand how an action is harmful to you, then you would not take that action.
However, we often confuse transmitted knowledge with experiential understanding. Due to this, we place a value judgment on our actions, and that creates self-judgmental thoughts. For example, you can tell a child that a stove is hot and should not be touched, but until the child gives in to their curiosity and touches it, they will not understand why it’s dangerous and harmful to do so. That is the difference between transmitted knowledge and experiential understanding. The former does not lead to action, while the latter does.
You can learn more about anxiety from our interview with Austin! Click here to check it out.
Relationship between Neuroticism and Success
Dr. K said something profound: “The problem with being a human is that a lot of things that are good for us, also make us suffer.” We tend to think about self-judgment as an entirely negative feeling, but it serves an essential function in our minds.
The Five-Factor Model is a well-validated personality structure that defines five ways to assess a person’s personality. Two of these, neuroticism and conscientiousness tend to be pretty high in people who are professionally or academically successful. An excellent example of this is medical students, who tend to be high in neuroticism. They are the kind of people who spend late nights studying for a test the next day because they are worried about not doing well, while their friends are out partying. They put themselves through a lot, but they also tend to be more successful than the average.
Michael used the word ‘desolate’ to describe this phenomenon. That is a very appropriate use of the word because often, many incredibly successful people tend to feel empty inside. They have a lot of material success, but internally, they do not feel fulfilled.
Vedic Model of the Mind
After understanding how anxiety and self-judgment worked, Michael wondered if we can go back and re-program our mind to break out of these thought patterns. Dr. K explained to Michael that to understand how to do that, we need to know how the mind is structured. The Vedic system divides the mind into four parts: Manas (the emotional component), Buddhi (the rational and logical part), Chitta (the backdrop/subconscious part), and Ahamkara (the ego).
The Manas and the Buddhi
The manas is the part that reacts to events and is responsible for liking and disliking things. The manas and the buddhi sometimes conflict, because our emotions want us to give them what they need, while our buddhi wants us to do what it thinks is rational and logical. The most common cause of mental conflict is when our buddhi and manas are at odds.
When we are children, our buddhi is still developing. So our manas leads the charge in every situation. It is the first-responder to all events, and that is why children make decisions that are more rooted in emotion rather than logic. As adults, we can generally use our rationale to process scary or traumatic events and mitigate the negative effect that they have on our lives.
However, children cannot do that — they are bound by their emotions and do not know how to process events. Thus, the feelings arising from these events do not get processed, and stay in our Chitta (subconscious). These unprocessed emotions are called Samskaras — they lie dormant until a similar event happens to us again, which is when they spring up and take control of our mind. The complexity of a samskaras depends on the age at which it was formed, which is why some of our emotional responses can feel quite primitive.
Using this model of the mind, we learn that to re-program our samskaras, we need to go back and remember these events and engage our buddhi. We need to re-analyze the situation and reconsider whether the assumptions that we have made are true or false. If we do this, we can make peace with a lot of our insecurities and negative emotions.
How Empathic Mirroring Works for a Child
Dr. K did not Michael to share that sometimes he felt like he lacks self-confidence. Dr. K explained that one of the possible answers to that could lie in attachment theory. Attachment theory says that how secure a child feels with their parent depends on how much the parent can empathically mirror the emotion that their child expresses. The child learns that the world is a safe space if the people around them react to the child the same way as the child feels.
For example, when a child bumps its head, the parents rush over and express concern. As a result, the child feels safe. The world makes sense because it reflects the child’s internal emotional state. However, sometimes confidence problems arise when a child’s parents or caregivers cannot mirror the child’s emotional needs. That is when it learns that the world is a confusing place, and the only person they can rely on is themself.
Michael said that he had tried meditations that were about emptying your mind and being in the present moment. Dr. K taught Michael a meditation that would allow him to be present more effortlessly.
Dr. K taught him a physical posture called the Vriksasana or tree pose. It involves balancing on one leg with your arms raised above your head. They observed that when our mind wanders, it becomes harder to balance. Thus, it requires more concentration. However, this practice makes it easier to stay in the present because maintaining this post requires focusing all your attention on it. It automatically forcing your mind into the present moment with no extra effort.
Check out the full interview here!