I want you to try something. Hum a tune. Maybe Row, Row, Row Your Boat. Try a line or two. Now try it again and as you are humming try to think of the tune of another song while you are humming Row Row Row Your Boat. What happens? My guess is that like the rest of us, you can’t hear the other song in your head as you are humming the first. Maybe there are a couple of folks out there who can do that but most of our brains short circuit if we try to double up. While this may be a bit humbling it is also good news. The good news is that by occupying the mind with one theme you can successfully avoid other themes.
This is actually the essence of the age old idea of counting sheep to get to sleep. By counting the sheep you focus on one theme, the sheep, and all the other themes get put on hold. So many times the main problem in failing to get to sleep is a series of intrusive negative thoughts. Very difficult to sleep when you are being bombarded. These same intrusive negative thoughts wreak havoc on our feeling good.
So how can we use this to our advantage?
Make yourself comfortable, lying down or sitting. Become aware of your breath. As you breathe in say to yourself or say out loud “one, one, one, one, one” repeatedly as long as you are breathing in. When you start breathing out say out loud or to yourself “two, two, two, two, two” repeatedly for as long as the exhale takes. Then on the next inhale say “three, three, three, three,” and the exhale “four, four, four, four.” Continue this pattern at least until you reach 25. Don’t be surprised if your thoughts intrude on your counting. That is expected. Just smile and go back to the numbers! Once you reach 25 take note of what you are feeling in your body and what emotions you might have or not have. My guess is that you will feel pretty good but see what your results are.
Tom Golden is the author or three books, Swallowed by a Snake: The Gift of the Masculine Side of Healing, The Way Men Heal, and Helping Mothers be Closer to Their Sons: UnderStanding the Unique World of Boys. Tom was the creator of the youtube channel Men Are Good and served as the vice chairman of the Maryland Commission for Men’s Health. He has been a therapist in private practice for over 30 years.