“The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing.” ― Jon Kabat-Zinn
Have you ever been driving a car to a familiar location only to reach your destination, snap back into reality, and realize that you were daydreaming the entire time? Wow, imagining all the people mindlessly darting around while strapped into 2 tons of steel doesn’t make me very eager to get behind the wheel. (Drive safe today!) If driving can become so habitual we zone out and go on autopilot, what else do we do while on “autopilot”? There are studies that say we have around 50,000 to 80,000 thoughts per day, and that we are only aware of a small percentage of these thoughts. The majority of people go through their day with automatic thoughts they are completely unaware of. We are driven by unconscious thought patterns that can have a huge impact on our emotions and behavior.
“We’re so busy watching out for what’s just ahead of us that we don’t take time to enjoy where we are.” ― Bill Watterson
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, at least until life starts testing our resolve. When we encounter challenge after challenge and failure after failure, it is easy to get stuck in a negative state of mind if we aren’t being mindful of our thoughts. We become addicted to our problems! Yes, you may not realize it but you are addicted to your problems.
“We spend precious hours fearing the inevitable. It would be wise to use that time adoring our families, cherishing our friends and living our lives.” -― Maya Angelou
Well, more generally the human race is addicted to problems. That’s why the news lives by the motto, “If it bleeds it leads.” Problems fascinate us and demand our attention because we believe our safety and security depends on it. Our default mode is to think about problems and try to solve them. Yes this can be a good thing. It motivates us to innovate, take action, and solve our problems, but for many circumstances our obsession with problems turns into useless worrying and ruminating. We end up feeling completely stressed out, exhausted, and overwhelmed with all the “problems” in our life. Here are a few negative thought patterns to be aware of.
- Excessive worrying
- Criticism and judgment
- Regret about the past
When we are always focused on “problems” our focus is narrowed and limited. When we are focused on problems we are in a lower state of consciousness. We are less creative and insightful and unable to solve our problems as effectively as we can. So, the first key to solving problems is to realize you’re on autopilot, and when you are feeling stressed out or anxious that many of your automatic thoughts are probably negative in nature. By getting mindful we can break this pattern and shift mental gears to a higher level of thinking – a level of thinking that aids in decision making and problem solving. You can start responding to difficulties instead of reacting.
“Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it.” — Eckhart Tolle
You can create a new default way of thinking about problems. We can actually begin to remove the notion of problems from our thinking. Problems can become “challenges to rise to,” “learning opportunities,” or “a chance to use our creativity.” The more we do something or think about something the more ingrained and natural it becomes. If you tend to emotionally reacted to problems it probably feels like the most natural way of dealing with things. As you practice mindfulness, staying present, and responding with intention this pattern will become more and more natural. If you walk into the middle of a wheat field and back out again you probably won’t leave a trail, but if you walk this same path thousands of times you will eventually create a clear path. This is how our brain works. When we focus on or do something repeatedly it is creating and strengthening a neural pathway.
How can you start practicing mindfulness?
The ultimate goal of mindfulness for the purposes of dealing problems is to experience, accept, and engage in the present moment. To respond to what is taking place right now from an objective point of view. Here are a few ways to being developing mindfulness in your day to day life. The more you do these exercises the more you are training your attention to remain present, centered, and poised. Keep your body in mind – Your body is a wonderful portal to the present moment. Our body is always here even when our mind is elsewhere. Turn your attention to bodily sensations to gain awareness of your emotions, and to keep you grounded in the moment. Become aware of your whole body. Feel your back and butt against the chair you’re sitting in. Connect with the wind against your face. Notice where your body is tense or relaxed. Notice the temperature and subtle energy of your body. Just one breath – The breath is a great anchor to keep us grounded in the present moment. When you’re thoughts are jumping around from problem to problem, take a deep slow breathe, and begin following the rhythm of your breathing. The object of your mindfulness is your breath, and you focus your attention on it. As you breathe in and breathe out say to yourself – “I feel the air flowing in and out of my nose.” “I feel the rising and falling of my belly.” Just one bite – How often do you ravage your food in a feeding frenzy? Mindful eating encourages people to eat slowly, paying close attention to the sensation and purpose of each morsel. It is about turning our attention to the automatic process of eating and resisting the urge to plow through our meal like a starved animal. Practice slowing down and calming your mind by focusing on one bite at a time. Appreciate and enjoy each bite. Just on step – Just like mindfulness of our breath and body involves turning our attention to its presence so does mindful walking. If you’re feeling extra stressed out and in a hurry, practice slowing your pace and counting your steps. Become aware of one step at a time and not getting ahead of yourself. Listen in the moment – Bringing our sense of hearing into the mindfulness equation can be very relaxing and calming. Learn to listen mindfully and acknowledge the noise around as part of the moment. Hear any sounds in the environment and take a deep breath as you experience the present moment. Start to break your conditioning of focusing on problems and learn to live fully present in the here and now. When you live in the present moment you can experience peace and joy. You can quiet your mental chatter and gain clarity of thoughts. Problems won’t disappear but your ability to deal with them will enhance. You can look for opportunities instead of looking out for problems.
“If you surrender completely to the moments as they pass, you live more richly those moments.” — Anne Morrow Lindbergh