Like so many others, I frequently find myself overwhelmed with commitments and pressed for time. I become stressed and can’t stop thinking of the encroaching deadlines at work, upcoming events and plans with friends or family. When this happens I have a tendency to become very rigid and plan out every detail of my upcoming days. I decide when I’ll go to the grocery store, when I’ll eat, when I’ll exercise and more. Although there’s nothing inherently wrong with planning ahead during busy periods of one’s life, it’s important to remember that we never know what the future holds and oftentimes one’s plans may be thwarted and need to change.
In my experience life’s unexpected hiccups and changes often cause me a lot of distress and suffering when I have everything planned out. I find that I frequently resist the reality of my circumstances when the reality doesn’t match my plans. For example, last weekend I spent over thirty minutes lamenting the flat tire on my bike because I wanted to ride my bike to work and felt like I didn’t have time to take my bike to the shop. I ended up spending time sulking and stressing out over the tire instead of just taking my bike to the shop on my way to work. I’ve even noticed resistance can pop up with unexpected, pleasant events, such as an invitation to dinner at my aunts. I have turned down time with friends or family simply because I couldn’t let go of my plans and ideas about how my day would go.
In order to challenge the tight grip I can have on time, I am beginning to explore a subtle shift in my language surrounding time. Instead of planning how I’ll spend my time, I am setting intentions for my time. For example, instead of saying I will go grocery shopping after work on Tuesday, I will tell myself that I intend to go grocery shopping after work on Tuesday. This small change has allowed me to loosen my grip on the future and exhibit more flexibility when life inevitably doesn’t proceed as I thought it would. It’s easier to let go of my projections for the future when I view them as intentions instead of plans. I feel more open to the myriad possibilities of the present moment and am energized by the spaciousness I can find even during the busiest periods of my life.
What about you? I encourage you to see if you can enhance your flexibility by practicing this subtle shift in language.
What do you see when you look at a pen? When I look at a pen, I see a tool for writing, but one of my 2nd grade students may look at the same pen and see a drumstick. Much to my dismay, my dog Sandy often sees a fun chew toy when she looks at the same pen. Even though we are all viewing the same object, our different perceptions of the object influence what unfolds.
This is a truth I am leaning into more and more. Our perception truly does shape our reality and this truth can benefit us greatly when it comes to life’s inevitable curveballs. Often times our perception of challenging situations and difficult emotions exacerbates our suffering. When one faces daily suffering, such as a bad review at work, missing a deadline or forgetting a friend’s birthday, it’s easy to judge oneself and perceive the event as evidence of one’s shortcomings or ineptitude. While it is true that we all have shortcomings as individuals, by focusing on our shortcomings and failings as an individual when we slip up, we often enhance our suffering by waking up lots of difficult emotions, like shame, anger and sadness.
One way to shift our perception of our mistakes and shortcomings, is to ask ourselves “what can I learn from this?”. By transforming errors into learning opportunities, we can not only grow, but shift ourselves away from more difficult emotions and minimize our own suffering. Additionally, instead of berating ourselves for forgetting plans you made with a friend, you may be able to think of a strategy, such as setting a reminder on your phone, to help you next time. You lose the ability to problem solve and think creatively when you are stuck in negative thoughts or glued to one perspective.
Mindfulness is a way to bring awareness to your habitual reactions and perceptions of events in your life. As you practice being aware of your thoughts, you can start to notice when you immediately perceive a situation as evidence of your failings. Then, you can step back and change the trajectory of your thoughts. So next time you notice yourself spiraling downwards, pause and take a moment to alter your perception. Ask yourself, “what can I learn from this situation?” and see what unfolds.
I am thrilled to offer a Koru Mindfulness class beginning at the end of February. Koru Mindfulness is a four week class that will help you learn the skills of mindfulness and cultivate a daily practice. The evidence-based curriculum can help you feel more calm, cultivate greater compassion, reduce stress and improve sleep. You can learn more about Koru Mindfulness here and can register for my class here.
Please reach out to me if you have any questions or want to discuss whether the class is a good fit for you. I look forward to working with you!
That’s a great question! It is often easy to identify the things we want to change about our personality, habits, thoughts and behaviors. When asked “what do you want to let go of in your life?”, most people can quickly answer. Anger, laziness, mindlessness, overusing technology, distrust, worry, there are so many things we all want to let go of.
In my experience though, it is hard to let go of maladaptive or unhelpful patterns of behavior without deeply considering what you want to cultivate to replace it. For example if you want to let go of over planning and rigidity, it’s helpful to focus on creating more spontaneity and flexibility in your life.Remember that the things we need to let go of most are often also the things we hold on to the tightest. The reason it’s so hard to let go of self-sabotaging your relationships is because if you don’t engage in that behavior you are vulnerable to rejection. We have to bravely confront the truth that our knee-jerk reactions and habitual behaviors kept us safe in some way and that’s why it’s so hard to release these behaviors that no longer serve us.
Therefore, instead of continually focusing on what you need to shed, flip the dialogue by asking, “what do I need to cultivate more of in my life in order to let go of rigidity/anger/isolation/etc.?” Maybe you need more self-love or self-compassion, maybe you need a greater sense of acceptance or more flexibility. Let your energies lie there- with whatever it is that you need to foster in order to have the strength and courage to finally let go. By actively cultivating new ways of being, you are much more likely to be able to let go to the habitual reactions and patterns that no longer serve you.
And if you need a little more inspiration, Pema Chodron has your back.
What I’m advocating here is something that requires courage — the courage to have a change of heart. The reason this requires courage is because when we don’t do the habitual thing, hardening our heart and holding tightly to certain views, then we’re left with the underlying uneasiness that we were trying to get away from. Whenever there’s a sense of threat, we harden. And so if we don’t harden, what happens? We’re left with that uneasiness, that feeling of threat. That’s when the real journey of courage begins.
— Pema Chodron in Practicing Peace in Times of War
If you need help figuring out what you want to let go of in your life, try this activity!
The beginning of a new year, month, week, hell, even hour, are always a great time to take a moment and pause to reflect on your life. So often we are weighed down physically and emotionally by patterns of behavior that no longer serve us.
Here’s a quick free write activity you can use to identify something in your life that you need to release.You need a timer, pen and paper.
1. Write for 5 minutes about what you need to release in your life, places where you feel stuck, behaviors that you continue to engage in for little to no reason, etc. If you run out of ideas just keep writing and see what emerges.
2. Look at what you wrote and underline the sentence of phrase that seems most salient to you. 3. Repeat the exercise, but focus on expanding the underlined phrase. Only write for 3 minutes this time.
4. Again underline what resonates with you the most and then repeat the writing exercise for only 1 minute.
5. Underline and then distill the sentence you underlined to one word or phrase.
What showed up for you? Was it surprising?