Competing Minds: Bertha and Tiffany

If you ever feel that you have two minds competing for your attention, you’re not alone. The concept of two minds—one calm and kind, one hyperactive and judgmental-- reoccurs in various belief systems and psychotherapies from Buddhism to cognitive behavioral therapy. According to these, deciding whether to nourish the calm or hypercritical minds greatly impacts our ability to be happy and fully functioning.

I decided to illustrate the personification of these two minds in my own brain. In my sketchbook, one emerged as “Bertha.” The other emerged as “Tiffany.” Let me give you some insights into them.

Bertha is mellow, compassionate, and funny. She is kind but she doesn’t feed you statements like, “You are literally and objectively the most beautiful woman on the planet.” If you feel like you did something terrible she gives constructive but understanding feedback like, “OK, you messed up today, but you are still a good person. You’ve learned your lesson and you’ll do better tomorrow.” Or she might say something funny that puts things in perspective like, “Yeah, you are a loser; you should probably give up and go manage Donald Trump’s campaign because you can’t get much lower.”  She always listens and never judges you harshly, even though you often ignore her to hang out with Tiffany.

Tiffany loves a good gossip. If you feel that you messed up she might say, “Oh honey, you must feel like shit! I mean, this isn’t the first time you’ve screwed up, is it?” You also like that she lets you exaggerate to the point of indulgently-self-destructive; if you say “I hurt someone’s feelings today and I am probably the most horrible person on the planet,” she will smile and nod and reaffirm that, yes, you’re a terrible person. She has an amazing memory and can instantly recall other times you messed up. She also loves to elaborate on others’ failings, and hearing about them somehow makes you feel better.

A lot of people walk around believing exactly what their Tiffany voice is saying, because she is louder and more insistent than their Bertha voice. After all, one may be tempted to think that Bertha is overly forgiving, that she’s an idealist who doesn’t hold people accountable. However, many revered surveyors of the mind have determined that Bertha is in fact the wiser of the two. If your friends think you are great at giving insightfully compassionate counsel, you have already acknowledged the value of Bertha’s wisdom. The hard but invaluable step is directing that calm counsel towards yourself.

Innately, neither Bertha nor Tiffany is stronger than the other. It’s our encouragement and validation of one over the other that determines who will have the stronger influence over our lives. Renowned Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says of the “seeds” of our mind: “We can selectively water the good seeds and refrain from watering the negative seeds.”

Meditation, yoga, and other forms of self-reflection are powerful tools that can help one get in better touch with their inner Bertha. It also might help to visually depict your “minds” (and if you’re willing, share those depictions!) Only in drawing Bertha and seeing her amazing wise-owl-inspired costume did I think, damn, she’s not a pushover. She’s fierce.