Most of us have a pretty big problem. We’re missing out on our lives because we’re stuck in our heads 90% of the time. We’re here, but not really, here, you know?
We’re watching TV with our husband but our mind is ruminating on the 84 other things we still need to do. We’re laying on the beach on a gorgeous July day, but instead of enjoying the scene, we’re stressing over how our stomach looks.
Physically, we’re here. Mentally, we couldn’t be further away. As a society, we know this is a problem we have. That’s why mindfulness has become such a hot topic. That’s why we here in the Western World are opening our anxious, cluttered minds to the idea of meditation.
The negative repercussions of our lack of presence and constant stress are becoming clearer as we become a more heavily-medicated society. Whether we numb ourselves with wine, Valium, or shopping sprees; the core issue is the same. We’re stressed and we crave the ever-elusive inner peace.
We say we wantto live more peaceful, present lives, but we fail to take the steps to actually live that way. We stay up late, drink too much, and complain to everyone about how stressed we are. And who can blame us! Especially in today’s world, true peace can feel impossible and unattainable.
Well, I’m here to share that presence and peace are attainable. Even in the craziest, ickiest, weirdest of times, we can be present to the birds singing, the warmth of the sun, and the sweet laughter of our children. It just takes practice.
You can’t stop your mind from thinking, but you can redirect your thoughts.
I used to think inner peace was impossible for me because my mind “thought too much”. I thought I was this rare being who just always had anxious thoughts running through her mind. I assumed I was always going to be a high strung type of person who’d never fully relax.
Turns out I wasn’t as unique as I thought I was. I learned that all of us are thinking all the time. It’s what we were designed to do! I also learned that to experience inner peace didn’t mean to get rid of my thoughts; it meant to be more conscious about what I was thinking about.
Now, before you get worried or think this sounds too hard, just hold your horses! Learning how to redirect your thoughts takes practice because you’re essentially creating a new habit. So, if you’ve been in the habit of thinking anxious thoughts, be kind to yourself. You’re going to be working on creating a new thought pattern and it will take time.
Another fact? You’ll never think only peaceful, happy thoughts. Inevitably, stressful, anxious thoughts will come to mind. That’s normal! Your mind is designed to protect you. What we want to measure here is your “comeback rate”. How long do you stay with the negative thought before shifting it back? The success is in the shifting of the thought. The more you practice, the faster your comeback rate will get.
My technique for shifting my thoughts back to the present moment.
- Notice the negative thought. I was scrambling to finish a project for work when I started noticing the thoughts whirling in my mind. ‘You’re behind, Alissa! You’re screwed. You are going to be working so late because you didn’t manage your time well.‘ I felt my stomach tighten and I was getting really stressed! ‘Wait… I am creating this thought’, I reminded myself. Even though I was stressed, I recognized that I was creating an entire story about how screwed I was going to be instead of just doing my work.
- Ground yourself back into the present moment. A friend of mine taught me the practice of anchoring yourself back into the present moment with mindfulness. What this looks like is noticing, feeling, and anchoring into your surroundings to remember where you are. Be where you are. I breathed into my nose and felt the air moving into my nostrils. I felt my legs being supported by the chair beneath me. I watched a hummingbird fly outside my window. I started to relax as I recognized that I was just sitting in my office; everything was okay, and I was safe.
- Redirect your thought. There are a couple of methods for redirecting thoughts that work really well for me. I’ll share both.
- Gabby Bernstein’s Choose Again method. Ask yourself, ‘What would be the next best feeling thought?’ and then choose that as the thought you want to think. For me, the next best feeling thought would’ve been, ‘Even though I have a lot to do, I’ll get it done and I will be okay, like I always am.‘
- Byron Katie’s method called The Work. When you do The Work, you question the thoughts that come to your mind by asking, ‘Is this true?’. In this scenario, I would ask myself ‘Is it true that I’m screwed, behind, and will be working late?’ While I may be afraid of that happening, I knew deep down that wasn’t the absolute truth. I knew that while I may feel behind and work later than I’d planned, I’m not screwed. At the end of the day, I’m always going to be okay.
More presence means more peace.
Our internal suffering comes from spending too much time thinking about either the past or the future. And if we’re being honest, the past or the future is where we’re spending a good portion of our time. We’re either worrying about what’s to come or we’re thinking back to what’s passed.
We suffer when we glorify the past because it makes today grayer. We suffer when we wish we could change the past because it keeps us stuck, resentful, and insecure.
We suffer when we glorify the future because we’re overlooking the gifts in front of us today. We suffer when we stress about the future because it keeps us scared, anxious, and in our comfort zone.
Being where you are is the key to inner peace.
When you’re rooted in the present moment, your mind and body are in the same spot. You’re just doing the work at your desk. You’re just watching TV with the one you love. You’re just enjoying a sunny day on the beach. You’re just feeling the breeze on your skin. You’re just alive, right here, right now. It’s all there is.