working with neurotic thought patterns

Published March 22, 2022

do you ever have neurotic thoughts? 

Or is it just me? 

Heck, you probably don’t have any neuroses. It’s probably just me, isn’t it?! (I have so many…) 

Before we get into my neuroses (and we will), here’s a fun thing: 

In my creative process, in my work, and in my daily life, I love to introduce some element of chance so that I’m surprised. That chance element allows me to respond to something in a new way; it creates an opportunity. It could be as simple as flipping a coin to make a decision, drawing a tarot card, or turning to a random page in a book. 

I have these cool little “compassion cards” from Pema Chödrön that have ancient Lojong Buddhist teachings on them. They give me something to respond to. They give me a way to look at a particular situation or a song or something creative in my life in a new way, a new context. 

Feel free to try this out if you’d also like some surprise throughout your day. 

But I want to talk about this one compassion card that I pulled just recently that says, 

“Train in the three difficulties. The three difficulties (or, the three difficult practices) are: 

  1. to recognize your neurosis as neurosis
  2. not to do the habitual thing, but to do something different to interrupt the neurotic habit
  3. to make this practice a way of life.”

Mic drop. Thank you Pema Chödrön. 

How many times in our creative process do we get stuck in a cycle of thought that’s not so helpful? We could call it neurosis or we could just call it not helpful. But it’s a cycle and it’s a pattern, and sometimes we can get stuck.

What do the teachings tell us? These ancient teachings invite us to do the same thing that modern neuroscience tells us: 

Interrupt the pattern, do something different. 

So recently, when I got that card, one of the things that I did differently was I turned to music. I let my music app suggest to me a new random song, and as it turned out that new random song transformed my mood. It’s a song called “Joy to You Baby” by Josh Ritter that came out 10 years ago.

If I make the assumption that whatever is suggested to me is the perfect thing, then there’s a new opportunity. There’s an interruption; there’s a way to do things differently right there. And what’s more, I’m connecting with music right away. 


So are we ready yet to go on to step #3, make this practice a way of life? Maybe right now, jot down five ways that you can interrupt your neurotic thought whenever it comes up. What if I play my guitar with my non-dominant hand? I could try and sing a childhood song one word at a time, backwards. What are some other ways you can use music to interrupt neurotic patterns? This unhelpful habitual thinking might arise while you’re working on music, so make it something fun. Just brainstorm! 

You can make this a way of life. And know that this whole musical vocation, this whole creative commitment we have, it’s a marathon not a sprint. 


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