Are you trapped inside your own head? Constantly consumed with thoughts of what happened last week, what’s going on next week and everything you need to organise? If so, read on. If not, contact me immediately with how you’ve done it…
A Short Story
As I walk through the supermarket isle I’m thinking about the meal I went out to last week where my friend Tom was telling me how he hates his job. It gets me thinking about how I used to hate parts of my job, too. My thoughts turn to the travelling experiences I had in India after I quit that job. Then I start to think about future travel plans. Where would I like to go, to a beach or the mountains…which reminds me of when I was riding my motorbike in Nepal. And so it continues…
My mind constantly switching between past and future. Making plans, remembering old experiences in a seemingly uncontrollable way
Then a question comes up: What was I trying to buy here!?
If this sounds like you, don’t worry. It’s very common for all of us to get lost in our thoughts. Some would argue that this denial of the present can be quite harmful to you. I’ll let you be the judge of that…
In this post I would like to talk about some ideas and ways of thinking that may help you become more present, more aware and less worried and anxious. First, let us see what time it is…
The Only Time is Now
The past happened already and you cannot change it. The future has not happened and some of it is out of your control, while some definitely within your control. The past was a ‘NOW’ at some point in the past…The future will be a ‘NOW’ moment at some point, too!
In short, the past and future were both ‘NOWs’. The only moment you have is ‘NOW’…
There is no other time. The other times are either nows that have been and gone (the past) or nows that are still to happen (the future). All of the other times are also just your interpretation of a now moment…
Your View of the World and Events
Any past or future event is completely unique to you. Two people can be in the same place at the same time and recall totally different versions of events. They can experience totally different emotions and have very different reactions to those events.
It sounds quite obvious to say, but it’s an important point. In an awkward situation two people would react very differently and when asked about it afterwards they might also explain what happened in different ways.
You might also react to the same event differently at two separate times. Maybe one day you are happy and talkative the next you are upset and angry. Your reactions to the same situation would possibly be totally different.
Choose to react to your environment in a positive way
Living in the Moment
It’s fair to say that the only time that matters is now. If you are not living in the moment you are just living inside of your head, in a made up reality; creating a future based on feelings and emotions, projecting your experiences of the past into your future. But they are not real. They are simply your own unique interpretations of events. They can be used a reference point but not as fact.
You must take action in the present moment to forge the future. Thinking alone will not help you.
Planning & Learning
I’m not saying that you should forget about all past events and not plan for the future. Definitely not. What I’m suggesting is that you use your mind to recall past events when it is beneficial to you and plan ahead when you need to. Once you have used your mind to get the information you need you should come back to the present moment.
In this way, you are in charge. You are in control of your mind and not the other way around. If left to its own devices, your mind will wreak havoc and then the mind is in control of you. Make sure you are in control of yourself, which leads nicely onto my next point.
Don’t be a Victim
Have you ever said to yourself: “Ahh, that person is so annoying. They’ve made me feel this way and I hate them for it.”
This type of talk means you are giving control away. You are telling yourself that how you act and feel is not your doing and it’s out of your control. You are powerless to change it. When we are powerless we feel helpless and it’s a horrible feeling. Convincing ourselves that this is outside of our control gives the power away. No wonder we feel bad when we can’t even control our own reactions to our emotions.
In order to feel in control we must stop playing the victim and take responsibility for ourselves
The first thing we need to understand is that in order to change anything we must take responsibility for ourselves, our actions and the position we find ourselves in. Take control and take the power back. Once we have that we are able to decide where we want to go and we are empowered once more.
Identifying Changes and Taking Action
If you’re looking in the mirror and aren’t happy with the person you see looking back at you, do something about it. It is within your control. You can do anything you want to. If you feel like you have not achieved what you wanted to yet, you still have time. Start work on it today.
Action: When you lack confidence and are feeling low it’s hard to know where to start. My suggestion would be this: Pick an area of your life where you want to make improvements. Just one area. Let’s say it’s fitness. Then think about how you can improve it. Then set a goal, such as “I want to run 5km without stopping within 3 months”. Whatever it is, it needs to be realistic, have a deadline and be measurable.
Another one might be: “I want to lose 3% body fat within 2 months”. Whatever the goal is, you then break it down into steps to get you there. Maybe you’ll start by walking 1km, then running 1km, walk another km, etc. Each time you go out you build on your last effort. Commit to 3 or 4 times a week when you will do this. Building up from, say, 20 mins exercise to 40 mins exercise.
Just take 1 step at a time and you’ll notice progress which builds confidence
Emotions and The Mind
Emotions come and go, they change by the minute sometimes. If you allow yourself to be controlled by your emotions you will continue to feel ups and downs as they change. Being completely influenced by your emotions and, again, giving away control is a recipe for an unstable and irrational person.
The ideal is to notice your emotions without allowing your sense of self to be governed by them. Acknowledge them, accept them, know that they will pass and try not to react to them. You are not your emotions. They are temporary. They come and go. If you dwell on them and identify yourself with them you will likely become them.
You are not your emotions. Allow them to come and go, let them pass like a passing rain shower or cloud
If you think of your emotions as they come and go, you can be sure that they will pass. Just as the clouds in the sky overhead float away, so too do your emotions. Sometimes, however, when we have a dark cloud hanging over our heads we get stuck with it. Our mind constantly plays the same, hurtful past experiences over and over again. We replay the images, hear the sounds and really feel those traumatic events. We feel them so deeply that they re-create the same reaction in our bodies as if they were happening to us there and then…The reality is, they aren’t. It’s all in our head!
That’s torture. And we are torturing ourselves. Sometimes we can be our own worst enemy. But there is a way to help change this vicious cycle.
#1 – Become aware of your emotions
Quite often there will be a trigger event that starts you off on a spiral of negative thoughts. It could be completely unrelated to the event but it triggers it nonetheless. If you can try to identify when this happens it’s a great start.
Take a step back in your mind. I know it sounds weird but you can actually watch your thoughts. You can be aware of your mind and its actions. Becoming aware of it allows you to eventually take control of it and direct it in the way you want it to go.
Action: When you next start thinking negative thoughts, acknowledge them, accept that they are there and know that they will pass. They have before and they will again. Then concentrate fully on your breath. Feel your breath going in and out of your nose. The cold air coming in, rushing through your nostrils and filling your lungs. Your chest expanding. Then the warm air rushing out, your chest lowering and a deep relaxation of your muscles. Continue with this for as long it needed so your mind relaxed and comfortable. Repeat as much as necessary.
#2 – Get re-connected withe the feelings in your body
Your body will give you all the signs you need to know in most situations. If you are thinking negative thoughts, perhaps about a situation that makes you feel angry, it’s quite likely that your body and muscles will be tense. Maybe not visibly to other people but you’ll definitely be aware of it. This is a great way to see what kind of emotion you are feeling. Your body will react to the way you are thinking and feeling inside.
Action: Whenever you can, start to notice your body more. Are you tense in the shoulders or the jaw? Are you tapping your foot or biting your nails? Fiddling with something? These are usually signs that you are not comfortable, be it with the situation you’re in or yourself because of your mind. These are all signs.
Stop. Take a deep breath and relax the muscles. Using the breathing exercise above to concentrate on your breath and count to 5. Try to get to 5 without having any thoughts inside your head. Focus on relaxing the body.
You will need to repeat this a lot of times if you’re not used to doing it. But it’s worth it. You might not even remember to do this at first and continue with your old habits without even thinking about it. Stuck in your mind. Try to keep thinking that you need to become more aware of your body and what feeling state it is in. This is your compass to finding a more peaceful and relaxed way of being.
Outside to Inside
The best way to make lasting and big changes is from the inside out. If you change a core belief, for example, a lot of things in your life will change. Imagine how different things would be if you genuinely believed you were invincible…However, changing core beliefs are very hard. Another way is to change your behaviour in order to nudge your internal beliefs and hopefully that will help them change.
For example, you lack confidence speaking in front of groups. You can’t just think yourself more confident. You have to believe it. Start off small, by talking to friends and pretending as if you are presenting. Learning to control your tone of voice, the speed, your hand gestures, etc. Then find ways to speak to more than one person at a time. Perhaps tell a story to a group of friends. As you become more confident through doing, you will believe inside you are more able and confident. So you progress to groups of strangers or during meetings at work you start to speak up more. It doesn’t happen overnight but if you make a conscious effort to change and go through the hard and uncomfortable parts you will make progress. There might be some dodgy parts along the route but over time it will improve.
An Incredible Tool
The mind is an incredible tool. It is also a part of your body just like any other. Some say that you are not your mind. Meaning that you are able to watch your mind. You are self aware. You can become aware of your own thoughts. Kind of a strange concept. So who are you? Are you your mind, your body or something else? Some say that you are at a higher level, your consciousness is who you are, not your mind. Your mind is capable of extraordinary things but it can also cause havoc if not used properly.
Exercise: Can you stop your thoughts for a minute? Stop reading for a second and try to stop your mind thinking about anything. Allow it to go blank and concentrate on your breathing. How long can you do it for before you start to think of something else? 5 seconds? Less!?
You can exercise your mind just like you do a muscle. Learn how to control it. Use it for the tasks you want to use it for but in other times you can practice calming it down and being in the present moment.
You are not your mind…
The mind creates all sorts of ideas in your head based on past experiences and tries to predict the future. It’s helpful when you use it for a practical purpose, such as you’ve learned based on past experience that hot things can burn you so when you see anything which might be hot you predict that it would be a bad idea to touch it or you’ll get burned.
The trouble is that your mind tries to do this with everything, including all the communications you have with other people. You can end up treating very different people in the same way just because of one event that happened in the past that hurt you. This is just one example. At the same time, while your mind is running over all these past events and you’re concluding that this is a bad situation to be in you aren’t actually concentrating on what is happening in front of you. You’re stuck in your head and not in the present moment. Where you are missing vital communication points from the other person.
Exercise: When you speak to people attempt to really concentrate on them and what they are saying, not what is going on in your mind. If there is a moment where you need to think about what they are saying, take that moment to think, then come back to them and the present moment.
Exercise: Look out of the window. As you look out try to notice as much as you can. Really take it all in as you see the trees and hear the wind. Look in detail at the flowers and plants. Really open your eyes, don’t just look vaguely but be thinking in your head. And try not to judge or allow what you see to make you start thinking about anything else. Just look and accept without judging or contemplating anything. Examine with your eyes every detail. Notice how the trees move. Just observe them. If you notice your mind starting to wonder, bring it back to concentrating on what is happening out the window and nothing else.
Feeling the Fear
At work: In general our employers try to make out as if the job you have is amazing and you won’t be able to get another one like it. This is a generalisation but a lot of places work like this to make sure you stay. They know people are afraid of the unknown and tell you about how the economy is bad and it’ll be tough finding a new job. About how it’s safe and secure to stay where you are. If you’re happy and like it where you are, that’s great. But a lot of people usually aren’t that happy but stay through fear of the unknown and change.
Change can be difficult. Uncertainty can be a horrible feeling, especially if have other people relying on you such as a family.
Make up your own mind about it. Do some research and see what else is out there. Apply for jobs and get interviews and see how you feel about the other work places. The truth is that there are so many opportunities out there if you are prepared to go and get them. We live in a World where we have so many options and opportunities. Listening to the way that some people talk with such a scarcity attitude doesn’t fit with what the reality is. If you believe you won’t get a job and the only place you can stay is where you are even though you don’t like it, you are right…But that doesn’t reflect the reality of the situation.
Jobs are not scarce, there are thousands of options out there to do what you want. Sure, it might not all be plain sailing but if you aren’t happy and want to progress what’s a little discomfort along the way to get there?