Recently, my mom had a health concern–serious enough that I thought I should spend the night with her. (Not to worry, she’s fine now.) And we slept on the couches in the family room at her house. Mom leaves the TV on all night, set on a PBS channel, volume up, as her hearing is getting bad. Each time I woke in the night, I was treated to a documentary about some human tragedy: the Vietnamese boat people, the discrimination faced by the first African-American Marines in WW II, the 2007 tsunami. It did not make for a restful night.
Radio talk show host Michael Medved says the problem with TV is not low quality, but high quantity–“Americans spend an average of 29 hours a week watching television-which means in a typical life span we devote 13 uninterrupted years to our TV sets! The biggest problem with mass media isn’t low quality–it’s high quantity. Cutting down just an hour a day would provide extra years of life–for music and family, exercise and reading, conversation and coffee.”
But I think it’s not just the quantity of TV watched, but what we are feeding our minds. Humans have thought loops like habits. When we worry, we worry about all sorts of things that are not likely to occur. If we tend to think negative thoughts about ourselves and others, those thoughts form neural pathways in the brain that get stronger each time we have the thought. Then that is the first place our mind goes and we can make ourselves and those around us miserable with our thought patterns.
Any habit can be changed. Including the thinking ones.
The next time that you notice yourself having a thought you don’t want to have. Mentally say, “Stop!” Then consciously find a memory that you like. Or an affirmation you are fond of. Keep doing this, and you can stop the thoughts you do not want and replace them with ones that you do. Seek out books and TV shows that highlight positive human behavior or ways to create positive change.
We can make our thinking healthy by training our minds to focus on the ideas and thoughts that we want to encourage, in the same way that the body can be made stronger through eating well and exercise.