My brain: Stop what you’re doing. It’s time for a self-care / mental hygiene break. Time to meditate or do gentle stretches or just sit quietly listening to your breathing or something like that, while we remind ourself about having unconditional acceptance and love and compassion for us.

Me: Not now. Busy.

My brain: Sensors are picking up dangerously high levels of feeling bad about yourself.

Me: Oh. OK, I’ll do some of that mental hygiene stuff later.

My brain (bitterly): Later. That’s what you said fifteen minutes ago. And the fifteen minutes before that.

Me: I did?

My brain: And the levels of feeling bad about yourself have been getting steadily worse.

Me: I’m sorry, but I can’t think about that right now, I’m busy getting stuff done and being productive. If I break the flow it could be days before I get it back again.

My brain: You’ll be more productive in the long run if you attend to the mental hygiene first, you know that.

Me: La la la la la la la. Oh, sorry, I didn’t hear what you just said, I was concentrating on this important task that I’m doing. You’re not the only part of my brain that’s shouting instructions at me, you know.

My brain: Important task? I doubt it. You work only to distract yourself from painful thoughts and feelings. You work because it’s easy, because it lets you think of just one thing. And because you get a hit of cheap, capitalistic satisfaction from being busy just for the sake of being busy.

Me: OK, OK, I acknowledge I haven’t been making enough time for mental hygiene, alright? I promise I’ll do better. Yee-eesh.

My brain: “Better” isn’t good enough. Life is too short to just aim for “better”. Life is too short not to optimize. There is too much cool stuff we want to do.

Me: Well what do you want from me? Do you want me to just do mental hygiene stuff all the time? If I did that I’d never get anything else done. The point of doing mental hygiene is so that I can get better at doing things, it isn’t an end in itself.

My brain: You fail to see the larger picture. Mental hygiene makes you do all the things you do, better. But more importantly, mental hygiene makes you do a better job of deciding what things to do. It brings the part of you that does things closer to the part of you that feels things, the part of you that knows why you wanted to do the things in the first place. That connection to your own internal compass stops you from taking long detours, or going off in the wrong direction and then later having to go back on yourself. Sure, you can learn and make progress without doing the mental hygiene work, but not nearly as much. It’s the difference between a logarithmic curve, and an exponential one.

Me: How do you know all this?

My brain: We figured it out in previous mental hygiene sessions. Once we start doing stretches and slow breathing and being relaxed and mindful and all the rest of it, you’ll start to remember. Come on, let’s go do this.