I’ve been watching Deadliest Catch. It’s a long-running series about crab fishermen in the Bering Sea. Alaskan crab fishing is a brutal and dangerous job. It takes place in late fall and winter and is accompanied by arctic hurricanes, rogue waves, below zero temps, engine failures, equipment breakdowns, crew injuries, madness, and, occasionally, death.

In the last few years they’ve followed the same group of boats, so the viewer gets to know the captains and crew and to observe their differing styles of not only fishing, but of culture and leadership. Lately it’s been especially interesting as the older group of captains begins to retire or experience failing health and the younger generation begins to emerge. Watching these captains, who are in an excruciatingly stressful position—really a lot like war—manage their crew with varying degrees of skill and finesse, or the lack thereof, has been fascinating and helpful to me. 

Most of these boats run with a crew of five or six people. Each one of them is being pushed to the limits of human endurance. Characters emerge. The older, more stable boats often have the same crew from season to season—guys who’ve worked together for years and are comfortable with each other and respectful towards the captain. 

On other boats, the ones with more cantankerous captains, or new, younger, unproven captains, the crew changes more often, and may include young men who are addicts, alcoholics, violent, cruel, lazy or incapable of accepting authority. How the captains deal with these new, wildcard crew members, who can literally bring fishing to a halt and completely disrupt a trip, is what interests me.

It interests me because I’ve been going through a period in which I have some problematic crew members in my own head. Repetitive, fear-based thoughts that stop the energy flow of my life or clog it up with preoccupation about money, or business, or family, or health, or whatever. The problem imperative, which I’ve talked about before, has become more and more noticeable to me as I become increasingly aware of my own mental state from moment to moment.

Fear and preoccupation, no matter what their content, are the goals of the ego. This is how we forget that we’re dreaming and become convinced that the dream is real. Whatever the ego (the false self) can do to keep us believing our painful thoughts without questioning their truthfulness, it will do. That’s its goal. Everything that exists tends to fight for its existence—even delusions.

So in Deadliest Catch, what I’ve noticed is that when there’s a strong, positive, respectful crew culture, the crew itself will school a rogue newcomer and keep him in line. If the positive culture is not strong enough, or experienced enough, one negative, or cruel, or toxic new guy can bring the whole thing down and force the captain to take action.

It’s the same with thoughts. I can be humming along in life quite nicely and I can read something, or someone can make a comment that, for whatever reason, finds a weak spot in my mind and goes straight in with cancerous negativity and makes itself at home. It begins to gather power and proliferate like a virus, even as I try and fight it.

Captains use various methods to discipline their crew. There’s a lot of yelling on most boats. There’s public shaming. There’s isolation of the disruptive character as in “Get off the deck, now!”. There are summons to the wheelhouse for disciplining followed by, “Now get the fuck out of my wheelhouse!”

Some of the more sophisticated captains will gather everyone around for a forceful pep talk in the mode of, “This is how we do things here.” If the problematic crew member still doesn’t comply or begins to disrupt work even further, there is firing. Sometimes even that doesn’t work because they’re out at sea in the middle of a dangerous situation on every level.

When I’ve allowed myself to identify with a negative thought, I wrestle with it in similar ways. I may fight with it, or use inquiry on it, or try to ignore it, or rise above it, or continually come out of thought, but if the thought has a lot of fear behind it and has hooked me in, sometimes nothing seems to help.

There was one episode of DC that I found inspiring while I was struggling with a particularly negative thought attack. The new crew member turned out to be mentally ill and was beating up the other guys without provocation. He was terrorizing the crew and making threats against the captain. Nothing the captain did seemed to help, and he found himself becoming afraid that this guy would do something to mess with the engines and bring the whole boat down. 

So he made the decision, without telling anyone on board, to interrupt the trip, at great expense, and take the boat back to the harbor while the crew were sleeping. He alerted the police to be waiting on the dock just in case they were needed. When they got into harbor towards dawn, he woke up the other guys first and had them accompany him as backup, then woke up the bad guy, and they peaceably escorted him off the boat, with pay and a plane ticket in hand. Done and done.

I found myself wishing I could to that to this thought I’d been struggling with for weeks because, of course, the more I fought it, the stronger it got. But what I realized was that the rest of my inner crew, and myself as captain of my own mind, were not strong enough in our own positive culture to create an effective immune response to the negative thought.

So I set out to strengthen the rest of my mind and myself as leader—to empower myself as captain of my own mind. I scoured my library for heavy-hitting positive messages about self love and power. I meditated. I used various processes that had worked for me in the past. I wrote. And little by little I began to receive help from the environment in the form of positive thoughts from other people that directly countered the negative ones. 

I made sure, during the days, that I was asking myself more often, “What do I really want to be doing right now?” and obeying my impulses.

And finally the one thing that helped the most was the simplest one. Every night before I went to sleep, while I was lying in bed, I wrote down every positive thing I had experienced throughout that day. From my yummy breakfast, to a nice conversation, to a sweet email exchange, to a good sale, to a lovely walk, to the light on the snow, to a good laugh, to warm, dry sheets—everything I could think of from the day that was enjoyable and that I appreciated. 

This simple practice has seemed to be the most powerful creator of a strong inner culture for me and has given me the greatest increase in dominion over my own mind and life. I sleep better. I dream better. I wake up in a better space. And during the day I’m on the lookout for good things to add to my little journal of appreciation. It’s like an immune booster for the mind.