MIND SHIFTING AND ATTENTION ALTERING
If we think about the times in our lives that we feel the most stressed or anxious, and, if we are honest with ourselves, we begin to see that the anxiety and stress lie in our own thoughts and feelings, not exactly the actions of others, are at the source of the stress. What we think about a situation, how we react to a situation, and how we anticipate future situations can make us crazy.
We truly are what we think. Let's take a bizarre example. If you are on your way to a party or dinner with your spouse's company, you may be approaching that event with nervousness and dread. You may worry that you'll make the right impression, that your spouse's bosses will like you, that you'll be funny, or interesting, or whatever. Notice what's really going on here. You haven't even gotten to the dinner yet and you're already stressed! What about giving a presentation? Something that many, many of us hate to do. Am I prepared? Do I have enough information? Will I look stupid up there? Will I hold people's attention? On and on and on. This is coming from US, not THEM.
When it comes to taking care of our own health, beginning an exercise program, changing the way that we eat, quitting smoking, we do the same kind of thing. We begin the endless mental chatter that impedes our own ability to start, to continue, and to complete a program. Our thoughts will tell us that we're too busy, too old, too tired, too fat, to STRESSED! When we do finally make that commitment and begin a system of health, we now place expectations on ourselves. "I've got to lose 15 pounds this month." "I've got to stop smoking before my grandchild is born." "I can NEVER eat sweets again." Who are we kidding? Certainly not our own brains. We've simply placed demands on ourselves that we are not yet ready to meet. So we set up a system of self-fulfilling failure. This happens to all of us. We continually give ourselves grief. We continually judge. We demand more. Or, we excuse or apologize for what we believe are our weaknesses.
So what can we do about this? It's simple but not easy.
Recognizing Your Thoughts
As these thought begin to present recognize them for what they are - your thoughts and nothing more. That's the part that's not easy. When we begin to get wrapped up in a train of thought, or become anxious over our emotions, it is not easy to stop and notice that we are doing that. We are involved with the thought or emotion - not the NOTICING of the thought. Does this sound weird? Let's take a very concrete example.
If you remember, way back in May of 2000, the Love Bug Virus ruined everyone's day. For some organizations, it ruined lots more. I was one of those people who had a bad day. Here's what happened:
1. I received an email from a completely trustworthy source. Carmine. Good friend. Top-notch programmer.
2. That email contained the "Love Letter For You" subject line.
3. I noticed the subject line and thought that it was very strange that Carmine would send me such an email - it was highly out of character for him.
4. I opened the email and saw the very strange attachment.
5. I opened the attachment.
6. The rest is history.
This is a perfect example of thinking and not noticing what I was thinking. I saw the strange subject; I saw the odd attachment. I didn't even notice that I was noticing that stuff. I just kept right on going. When did I realize that I had gotten the virus? When it was too late of course! When I began to see my Outbox filling with messages to be sent. As it happened, I was at a client's location when I received this email. So what happened? My client lost all of his image files. ALL OF THEM!
This was a completely avoidable situation. And it was totally under my control. If I had only stopped on number 3 above, I would have avoided a lot of grief for myself. When I thought "this is very strange", I should have stopped right there, called Carmine, and found out what was up. He would have told me that he didn't send the message, and I would have immediately deleted it. Not a problem solved - A PROBLEM AVOIDED.
I hope that this gives you a good, solid example of what noticing and recognizing your thoughts actually means. We can talk about being mindful, but we must actually BE mindful when the time comes.
What do you do when you notice the thoughts?
Well, in the example above, you take the proper and right action.
But there are many other thoughts that are more subliminal, and, as a result, harder to spot and control. Those are the anti-ME thoughts, the ones that tell us that we are not good enough, fast enough, good-looking enough, smart enough, on and on and on.
Here's an example.
Your son or daughter is away at college and hasn't called or emailed in weeks. That is the fact. Here's what we might do with that fact:
"My son/daughter doesn't love me."
"I'm a bad parent."
"I should have never let him/her have so much freedom; now he's forgotten us altogether."
"See... even with the Internet he/she doesn't call or write. There's no excuse for this. I've wasted 19 years raising this child and look what he/she does to me."
This is MUCH harder to resolve than the first example. Why? Because our emotions are involved in this one. Now we really have to notice what we're thinking, and then, notice how it is affecting us psychologically. The fact is, we'd NEVER actually say those words to another parent in the same situation. Why then would we say them to ourselves?
It's time to recognize the self-punishment that we cause and take the very essential steps to end that cycle.
Here's what to do (and this actually is the simple part):
Notice what you are thinking and think something else.
Hold on. Not just a random something. A very specific something. Here's an example:
I'm not going to voice my opinion here. My boss would never care what I think. Replace with:
I have an idea. I'm bringing it to my boss.
I can't lose weight. I've tried every diet and nothing works. Replace with:
I am eating roast beef, mashed potatoes. I chew slowly and have one helping.
I'm anxious and nervous for no reason. I can't control the way that I feel. Replace with:
I am working, or, I am eating, or, I am driving (whatever you are doing at that moment).
I'm exercising. I cannot stretch enough. I can't balance for more than 2 seconds. I'm wobbling. I'm nervous. My legs hurt. I'm frowning. I've been practicing for a while and I should be better at this. I'm the worst one in the class. On and on and on.
I replace the thought with something specific to the posture that I'm doing. Very specific.
I'm standing. I'm balancing on my left leg. My calf is weak and my knee is locked. Strengthen the calf and relax the knee. I must exhale and relax my chest and shoulders. I must inhale and align my spine.
See what I mean? The attention is drawn to the act and away from the judgment. This, on the surface, seems both obvious and minor. I can assure that it is quite major.
Life exists from moment to moment. Each is precious and each is gone before we know it. We spend lots of time in the future, worrying about what might be, and lots of time in the past, worrying about what we should or should not have done.
The past is the past. The future has not arrived. Live this moment to the fullest.
Blessed are the flexible! May they never get bent out of shape.
Be well and happy.