The mind is a funny thing. It’s useful, and we need it. But at the same time, it often causes us a lot of strife. Our minds spend an obsessive amount of time in two places, either in the past, or in the future. Both of these are important of course. Reflecting on the past can help us avoid mistakes in the future.
Visions of the future inspire each of us to reach our full potential. But in all of this, especially in the frenzied modern world we live in, we lose touch with the only moment that really matters, the present.
The irony is that all our thinking works in the past and the future, is often a desire to become more present in our lives. We are constantly trying to fix mistakes or to avoid them, so that life will be more pleasurable. But as we have all realised, perfection is an illusion.
As the saying goes, while you are making plans, life happens. And that’s exactly how it is supposed to be. Think about it for a moment: If nothing ever changed, if everything was perfectly predictable, how boring would that be? Nothing would ever grow. Life would lack all contrast and dynamism. Creativity would be frozen in stone.
“In the end some, of your greatest pains become your greatest strengths.” – Drew Barrymore
Thinking Isn’t Inherently Bad
It’s not that thinking itself is inherently bad, but rather what we focus on that can be. There are times to reflect, and there is a need to plan. But what we need, is the ability to discern when those moments are.
A simple question we can all ask ourselves is this, “Will focusing on the past or projecting into the future in the current situation help?” In other words will thinking in this way make any difference to the situation we now find ourselves in? The answer to this question If we are really honest, is almost always no!
So the next question is, what can we do about it?
Hacking Your Runaway Mind
The great thing about the thinking mind, is that you can use the very same ‘thinking mind’ to change it. Whenever I ask myself the question: “If how I am thinking now is helpful to changing, or improving the situation I find myself in?” and the answer I get back is a resounding “No!”. My next goal is to find thinking that will help. Every situation you find yourself in, will have thinking tasks that will immediately improve the situation you find yourself in.
The word ‘immediately’ here is important. Thinking that engages the present moment, is far more productive to the experience you may find yourself in, than thinking that may be holding onto past mistakes, or trying to plan what should be done to make things right.
Like it or not, often in life’s challenges, one is required to respond in the moment to the unfolding chaos. Finding single key words, a mantra if you will, in these moments, is a way to trick the mind into steading itself. It’s a way to anchor the thinking mind, with its very nature, thinking.
The difference this time is that you are making the thinking process purposeful. Often our minds are on autopilot, fluctuating between past and future thoughts. Any word you then choose to anchor yourself back in the present moment with, needs to be neutral.
I use single words, like breathe, calm, slow, etc. Telling yourself to breath for example does two things. Firstly it changes your thinking stream to something else. Secondly, because ‘breath’ is a single word, and it is not attached to past or future tense, its neutral.
“For the one who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends. But for one who has failed to do so, his very mind will be his greatest enemy.” – Bhagavad Gita
Find The Anchors That Best Work For The Situation
You can come up with all kinds of anchor words. Just think about situations in your life or work that really stress you out. Situations that make your thinking mind go manic. Then ask yourself, what kind of single action words could you use, in the moment you find yourself in those situations again, that would affect the immediate outcome of that experience? Often, you are looking for words that describe the opposite actions that make you upset or stressed out.
I know when I am stressed out, I tend to talk way too fast. The consequence of doing this is I forget my train of thought, or start thinking about what I should say next. Needless to say, it often results in a disaster. What I have learned to do, is to have a glass of water near by.
As soon as I recognise that I am talking too fast, I purposively pause, say to myself, “slow” and then reach slowly for the glass of water. The outcome, by using that anchor word immediately as I become aware of myself talking to fast, helps me come back more centred, and focused.