Hello Old Friend…
On a recent night I was lying in bed and all of a sudden I realized I was giving speeches in my head. Perhaps you know the syndrome, you wish you’d said, or handled, something different so you spend long amounts of time preparing what would have been the perfect response. That used to be common for me in my previous jobs; it’s not my norm anymore. Now, I’m more likely to make speeches in the future. Preparing how I will handle certain situations or upcoming visits with people that challenge me. This is just an example of one of the habits I've let my mind get into over the years. Through my mindfulness practices and meditation and staying alert to what is happening in the moment within my mind and body, I’m becoming more and more aware of these habits. I’m realizing these habits usually cause me more stress about a past or upcoming situation, instead of preparing me for the situations.
Now that I recognize these habits, I usually catch myself much faster, and spend less time standing on my internal podium. Like the other night, I caught myself early, smiled internally, and redirected my mind back to the breath so I could go to sleep. But sometimes my mind is tricky and it goes there via a different route. In these cases, I can still be pretty far into my speech, before I’m like – “Hey, wait up! You already prepared for that and it’s going to go fine.” Or, perhaps I have to remind myself, “Christine, you are preparing for a situation that you made up and probably will never happen.” I chuckle internally, as if at an old joke, and move on.
Ideally, by practicing to be in the present moment, to really see what this moment is like … now this moment … now this moment, we spend less time in the past or future and more time in the present. You might think, but I have things to plan for, I've got to always be thinking about what’s coming so I don’t miss anything. Well, maybe you do need to make your to do list every day or once a week, so nothing gets missed. I do this; I've found I really enjoy the Bullet Journal method of keeping track of my thoughts, notes, and to-do’s. It works for me. But once the to-do list is made then I don’t need to relive it constantly.
There are many benefits to this practice of living in the now, but I’ll mention two specific benefits that I am noticing. First, I’m amazed at the time I save! By focusing on the one thing I’m doing, I actually get it done faster and move on to the next item on the list. I’m more apt to actually get to the bottom of my to-do list. Note, this doesn't stop me from putting too much on the list to begin with – that’s another issue…
Also, by focusing more on the present and less on the future and the past, I have less stress. Things can happen that cause us stress, right now, but usually the overwhelming stress that many Westerners live with on a daily basis comes from worrying about things that happened in the past or things that might happen in the future. For example: Picture yourself home after a long day making dinner. Are you just making dinner and interacting with the kids or other people in the house in that present moment? Or, are you thinking about everything you left on your desk undone, and how are you ever going to get stat stuff done when you have that big meeting tomorrow - which you still have to prepare for tonight after you put the kids to bed. Then you move to hoping the kids go to bed easy, so you can get back to your computer. You've already skipped over those precious few hours you have with your family each day and dismissed them. If this scenario doesn't work for you, I’m sure you can think of something similar, such as, a time you've spent with friends thinking about where else you think you ‘should’ be.
My clients often hear me talk about the dangers of ‘shoulding’ ourselves. You should be further in your career by now. You should spend more time with your husband, kids, and friends. You should eat healthier. You should respond in a nicer way to people at work. You should…. Oh – I was an expert ‘shoulder’ in my time… and… I’m not totally over my ‘shoulding’ habit. But, slowly it seems to happen less and less and it helps to have made it a funny thing. “Oh, there you go again Christine ‘shoulding’ yourself.” Don’t worry, ‘shoulding’ is just another habit, and like giving speeches in our head, or living in the past or the future, we can retrain our mind to think in other ways.
As you begin to spend more time in the present, watch for the colors to get brighter and your surroundings to get warmer. Watch for the people around you to smile more as they begin returning your own smiles. But most importantly, remember as you begin to recognize the habits that aren't serving you, to do so with humor and kindness. In these cases, a smile of recognition, like that you’d give an old friend, is more helpful than a punch in the arm. By looking at our habits with kindness and curiosity, we are more willing to recognize where we’d like to see change happen. When we just look at them judgmentally, it hurts and makes us feel bad about ourselves, so we are less likely to spend time with it and actually acknowledge when it happens. Only by knowing when our mind is going someplace that isn't useful, can we make the decision to change it’s direction.
Any mind habits, you’d like to retrain and treat as an old friend, instead of a constant companion?