Get Power Over Your Dreams and Yourself With Mindfulness

Indian-Girl-NamasteOh really? you say. Mindfulness helps people? No kidding. Go tell someone who’s been living under a rock for the past ten years.

I know, I know, mindfulness is nothing new. But it is still astonishingly hard to incorporate into our everyday lives. Personally, I struggle with it mightily. Every time I fixate on the past, I’m letting a bygone version of myself take control. Every time I talk down to myself, I’m sending the message that all my dreams, hopes, wishes, and determinations are stupid and futile. I slip unthinkingly  into negative patterns that degrade my self-worth and make me think others think less of me as well.

Healthy.

So lately I’ve been thinking about ways I can draw myself back to the center of who I really am instead of spreading my energy all over every neurosis or psychosis that pops into my madly whirring little brain. And though I was already planning this post this morning, the heavens must have aligned, because in inbox I found not one but two emails about this very subject.

From the very wise Barrie Davenport comes the post Mindfulness Practice: 8 Powerful Benefits, which advocates actively, intentionally staying in the present as a way to reduce stress, improve memory, stop negative overthinking and reduce emotional reactivity. It also, she says, reduces fear, makes us more flexible thinkers, betters our relationships and improves sleep. Sounds terrible.

And according to the University of California, Berkeley’s blog The Greater Good, mindfulness even plays into body image. Students who approach situations open-mindedly and live in the moment as opposed to the past or present are more accepting of their bodies, indicating that acceptance of outside events is correlated with inner acceptance. However, a lot of time spent observing emotions and thoughts tempered this acceptance, indicating the students might be better off if they avoided this other aspect of mindfulness. Food for thought indeed.

For me, the important idea here is not that we can feel better about how we look or get more sleep, although those are incredibly important benefits that I wouldn’t mind reaping. But to me, the takeaway is that we have control over our thoughts and the effects they have on our lives. When I spend too much time in my head, in the past, and in the glorious future (which is never quite as glorious as it promises to be), I’m not as happy. Staying in the present moment can help reduce the emotional weight I put on myself.

That, in turn, leaves me with more energy to pursue the things I really care about: writing, art, food, family, friends. And fine, I admit it: sleep too.

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A Simple Way to Remind Yourself It’s Okay

HeartDo you ever wake up thinking it’s going to be a good day and quickly realizing you’d rather be anywhere — anywhere — else, doing anything else, being anyone else … than where you are, what you’re doing, who you are? Like, you thought you’d just get some work done then take a nice walk … and instead you’re scraping soggy vegetables out of the bottom of the dishwasher and on hold for two hours with the insurance company, dreaming about mainlining a stiff cocktail?

No. Me neither. That’s why I’ve started using HiFutureSelf, an awesome app that helps me out of my funks and keeps me in the present.

Deep thought coming here, people: life isn’t always easy. It could be the baby. It could be the man we love, or the woman. It could be our home, our work, our friends, our hormones. We respond to these periodic feelings of irritation/anger/sadness/totaleverlastingdespair in various ways, sometimes with determination, sometimes with tears. (Sometimes with that cocktail.)

Recently I’ve come to recognize that something I’ve relied upon for a long time, willpower, won’t always save me. It isn’t always enough to just tell yourself, Buck up! The reasons for this are good: if you are already stressed and tired, you’re low on the very substance — glucose — upon which willpower relies. My hubby and I like to tease each other about our glucose levels, but the fact remains that when you don’t got it, you don’t got it.

So what’s the answer? If you can’t cheer yourself up, and there’s no one else around to do it, what should you do?

Well, sometimes nothing works. But sometimes a relatively tiny boost will really do the trick. The app really helps, actually. I can send myself positive affirmations for the future, and strategically schedule them for times I know I’ll be a little bummed out, or even times I’m happy. For instance, I just scheduled a text to arrive a week after I move this month, asking “Do you love it as much as you thought you would??” I know receiving that text — probably out of the blue, as far as my no-brained future self is concerned — is going to make me think about how much I longed to be done, set up, decorated, and how grateful I am to be in a new, bigger, better home. I also scheduled a text for Monday, when my daughter is home with me, at noon. This is when she melts down completely and I start to have second thoughts about the whole idea of parenthood. The text?

“You had her on purpose.”

A Simple Way to Get More Time in Your Day

Clock-Face“It’s a numbers game.”

How often have I heard that? When applying for college. (I got into the only school I sent an application to.) When trying my hand at insurance sales. (It didn’t end well.) Every time I come across pretty much any post about successful blogging. (I’m not sure how much I love that ethic.)

And yet … it’s all true. Numbers work in your favor, if you work for them. The math is simple: how much work do you get done if you put in eight hours of work? How much if you put in one hour, or none? Hours don’t have to be the only metric, of course: Anthony Trollope is famous for writing 3,000 words every morning before heading off to his full-time job at the Postal Service.

We all want to be productive, of course. It’s a rare person who makes it to the top by doing nothing. Sure, we tell ourselves, but I’ll be productive when I get inspired. When the muse strikes. When the siren call of my work or my art is stronger than the call of all these comfy things I’m doing right now.

Weeeellllll. I’m the first to admit that this thinking pretty much describes me. But when we allow ourselves to think that way, how much actually happens? Even when we fill our calendars with all the to-dos of the day, how often do we actually check off the list? And even if we do, are we really utilizing our time as well as we can?

Personally, I’m freaked out by the passage of time. I always want more of it. More time to read, to write, to cook, to spend time with my family, to be active … to slack off. Is there any way to make it?

Yes, says Cal in A Productivity Hack That Will Help You Get More Done. He advises not only deciding what you’ll get done in a day, but when you’ll get it done. That way you don’t waste time, you push yourself to achieve within the block you’ve allotted to that task and you’ll accomplish as much in an organized 40-hour week as you’d get done in a disorganized 60-hour week.

For me, deadlines are key to productivity, and this is a simple way to institute more of them in your life. To keep you in the present, focusing on the now. Of course, some of us need fewer deadlines, in which case, think of this as your de-stressing strategy. Either way I’m trying it. If it gets me more time to plan, to dream, to write, to be inspired, to move forward, then I can’t see how it could possibly hurt.

You Are You

FrameYesterday I was hanging a picture. It was in one of those frames with the fussy little bendy pieces of metal that hold down the backing, the kind that cut you if you use your fingers instead of a tool and break after you bend them too many times. The really annoying kind. I finally ended up attaching the backing with bright blue painter’s tape and calling it good. When I turned it around and hung it, voila! It looked fantastic.

And that’s when I realized: this picture frame is a lot like life.

Who doesn’t spend too much of their life looking at someone else and thinking, “If only I were them.”

You would have a sweeter car, a nicer house, a better spouse, a more gratifying/glorious job, whatever. These thoughts are powerful, pulling us out of happiness, out of the present, and away from achieving our own dreams. They can eat away at us, especially when we compare ourselves to truly unmatchable models: I will never have Jennifer Lawrence’s hair; I will never have one of the Internet’s most popular blogs; I will never run an ultramarathon or have legs that look like pistons.

The thing to remember, though, is that you are seeing only the picture frame. The people we compare ourselves to hide their faults the same way we do. Their career paths contain humiliating setbacks we probably don’t know about. We might not see them in sweats with their hair in a moppy bun, but they rock that style in just the same way.

They are hiding their blue tape.

So why spend so much time trying to match ourselves up? The next time you see someone’s amazing vacation photos on Facebook, or are grinding your teeth as you hear about their career success, or are licking your lips over their new significant other, stop. Remind yourself that you have attributes others admire and wish for too, and that this isn’t healthy behavior. At the most, let yourself be inspired. At the least, remind yourself that they are them, and you are you, and nothing will change that. Which is a good thing.

This Is Your Moment

forestYou can’t live in the past. You can’t live in the future. All you have is the present.

These seem like obvious things to say, but they aren’t. If I had a quarter for all the time I waste each day wincing about past mistakes or yearning for future successes, I’d be rich. (Which would give me even more time to wince and yearn, I guess, but wouldn’t accomplish much else.) So we’re supposed to go boldly forth into each moment without wasting thought or breath for the before and after.

And yet, isn’t pursuing a passion all about striving toward the future? Don’t we have to think about it if we’re to be successful?

Yes. And no.

Every time I start a new project, I’m thinking about the end product. The joy of writing a chapter gets lost in dreaming about a published book. Each act of crafty creativity in my attic is subsumed by the idea of starting an art shop. Even the pleasure of chopping vegetables for soup gets pushed to the side in anticipation of the final project. Which amounts to nothing more or less than missing little pieces of my life. Precious pieces, because this time will never come again. Even when I’ve got a goal in mind, I’m learning to content myself with the present experience, and not get caught up in what might be.

This is not unconventional wisdom. Breanna Rose talks on her pretty blog about reminding herself to remember “This is where you are.” Gretchen Rubin loves the last line in Little House on the Prairie: “Now is now. It can never be a long time ago.”

Now can seem pretty prosaic sometimes. Many days all you want is to get through “this moment.” But someday you might look back and realize this was your moment, and you let it pass you by. I don’t want to regret anything, so this is my moment.