How would you feel if I called you a fantasist? You would probably feel cross or insulted, and understandably so.
And yet we are all great fantasists because we have such vivid imaginations. We take a situation in real life and we play it out in our heads. We typically expand it, often imagine what the ending will be, and have imaginary conversations with people. We do it all the time. Neuroscientists call it subjective reality. I call it the movie of the mind.
There’s a big problem at stake here. Our brains, despite their sheer brilliance, cannot determine what is real and what is imagined. It’s why these movies feel so real and often so frightening, but they are not real. They are not facts, they are not truths; they are essentially fantasies!
It’s why two people can go through exactly the same traumatic experience and yet respond entirely differently.
- Two siblings experience bereavement
- Two colleagues lose their jobs
- Two friends get similar cancer diagnoses
These are all huge potential stressors, but one person could get through them relatively unscathed whilst another could suffer severe clinical depression or worse.
You see, it’s not the events themselves that stress you out. It’s your response to them:
- The assumptions you make
- The endings you create
- The language you use
- The images you conjure up
- The meanings you ascribe
- The labels you apply
These all go towards creating the movies of your mind. Fully-immersive, 3-D, technicolour, surround sound movies that come to represent your world and become all-consuming.
I remember when my mother died back in 2018, a well-intentioned friend said to me:
“Oh gosh. It’s just awful being an orphan isn’t it!?”
However, I didn’t see myself as an orphan. To me, an orphan is a child who loses their parents when they are still young. I was in my fifties! Ascribing that meaning to my mother’s death or giving myself that label was going to make for quite a grim movie, and it certainly wasn’t going to help me deal with my grief.
You As Movie Maker
You see you are the scriptwriter of the movie of your mind as well as the cameraperson, director, music producer and editor. You will also play a role within the movie, although you’ll often assign someone else the role of the villain!
You determine (sub-consciously) which genre of movie you’re starring or featuring in:
- Horror movie, with ghoulish images
- Disaster movie, with a catastrophic ending
- Thriller, full of cliffhangers
- Action, with you as the hero
- Comedy (or maybe even a farce!)
- Rom-com, where everyone lives happily ever after
- The story or narrative
- The script and dialogue
- The ending
- The images
- The colours, brightness and tone
- The musical score
And you assume a role:
None of it is real. It is your personal construction of reality based on your life experience, beliefs, values, assumptions, cognitive biases, and so on. It is why everyone’s movie of the mind is uniquely different, even when experiencing the same things.
What’s Your COVID Movie of Choice?
So, let’s take COVID as an example and I’d encourage you to create time to answer the questions I’m posing below or come back to the article when you can:
- Which genre have you sub-consciously made your COVID movie in? What makes you say that and how does it affect you?
- How does the movie end in your mind, and how does that impact your emotional state and your consequent behaviour?
- What’s your role in the movie? Are you a hero, villain, victim, survivor, or other? Does your chosen role empower or disempower you?
- If you’re not the villain, who is? The virus itself? Boris Johnson? The NHS? Public Health England? The Chancellor? Your boss? Your partner? Who are you blaming for how you feel? Does labelling them in that way help or hinder you?
- What images are you selecting, and what are you zooming in on and bringing into sharp relief?
- Is your movie in technicolour or black and white? Bright or dark? What would happen if you changed it?
- What’s the musical score like or other sound effects? How does that impact you?
- What are you sub-consciously editing out and leaving on the proverbial cutting room floor? What if you were to do a remake?
You might think I’m crazy asking all these questions. Can this really all be going on inside your head?
Yes it can, and does. Every nano-second of every day.
And because you are creating your movie, you have much more control than you think you do.
Taking Back Control
The truth is that our minds can run riot unless we stop them.
Once you bring your movie-making into conscious awareness, you can challenge and change every aspect of it.
You may struggle to turn a movie about COVID into a feel-good movie, but you can certainly make it a lot lighter than it is.
Determine that you will direct a remake, re-edit the movie of your mind, come at it from a different camera angle and most definitely play the role that serves you best.
And if all else fails, you can always shout “CUT!!!”.
The COVID pandemic is one of the biggest global crises many of us have experienced in our lifetimes. It has had a huge impact on every generation and on every aspect of our lives. And it is undoubtedly tough. However, you may well be making it even tougher than it is by the movies you are creating in your mind.
Change them up and change your world.