What’s been on your mind today? What are you thinking about right now?

Well, hopefully, you’re thinking about this article, but you’re also probably thinking about plenty of other things – a work deadline, the laundry you need to do later, or the last bit of news you read that sent your mind spiraling.

So, next question, why do you think the way you do?

The short answer: you’re brainwashed.

The good news is you can “clean” your brain. You can free your mind from what’s influencing you and even take control for yourself.

But, let’s first explore what brainwashing is.

Under The Influence

The term “brainwashing” makes me think of prison camps or totalist cults. The idea has taken a Hollywood spin, but it is a very real process that happens in a variety of ways.

In psychology, the study of brainwashing, often referred to as thought reform, falls under the sphere of “social influence.” Social influence happens every minute of every day. It’s the collection of ways in which people’s attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors are changed.

Basically, we have ways we think we “should” act. And, we aren’t always aware of them. Often, we just do or think that way.

Where did we get these ideas? That’s social influence. It’s all around us.

It comes from our family, news, books, shows – even our partners and friends. It’s ideas and narratives about what is true, how to think, and how to act.

Now, not all of this influence is intentional or sinister, but some of it is.

The Bad & The Ugly

Those who want to exert mind control via brainwashing are trying to persuade their victims to adopt thoughts and ideas that they wouldn’t normally accept.

Because brainwashing is such an invasive form of influence, it requires an environment of isolation and dependency of the subject – meaning all “normal” social reference points are unavailable. Mind-clouding techniques like sleep deprivation and malnutrition are typically part of the process and often the constant threat of physical harm. 

With the gradual loss of reference and autonomy, the target’s ability to think critically and independently is lost. The brainwasher’s ability to control and influence grows.

What influences you? If you find yourself more and more isolated, only receiving input from specific, select sources, you’re making yourself susceptible.

No, you’re not in a prison cell or a remote cult, but more and more modern life can have qualities of brainwashing environments.

Technology is supposed to connect us but often isolates us. Social media algorithms gear polarizing content back at us so we exist in a digital echo chamber.

An overabundance of substance use and junk food clouds our minds.

Whether it’s Big Business or Big Politics, someone is winning when we are overly influenced, when we stop thinking for ourselves and go into autopilot.

As this article is being written, we’re in the middle of the international COVID-19 crisis. We’re more isolated and deprived than ever.

So, what can we do?

The Good: Overcoming Brainwashing

If we look back at brainwashing, we may find our answers.

When preparing soldiers with POW-survival techniques, the military teaches mental detachment.

The process involves the target psychologically removing themselves from their physical surroundings through visualization, the constant repetition of a mantra, and various other meditative techniques.

Although we’re not being tortured or imprisoned, we can learn from these methods. Perhaps our brainwashing is just slower and more subtle. Whether we know it or not, we’re being influenced.

So, we must move outside of those influences and outside of ourselves. Here, removed, we find clarity and focus. Here, we choose what we are oriented towards – not forced into unwanted thought patterns.

Find something beyond yourself to fix your mind on. Many people use faith in a higher power. Meditation. Deep Breathing or yoga. Practice mindfulness.

In this extreme time (and for the times to come), resist the pull of mind-clouding behaviors and activities – within them lose track of ourselves and what we really care about.

Instead, take control of what you can: yourself, your thoughts, and the goodness you can create when you are free.