progress — By blaze kotsenburg
This month of the Pursuit is focused on stepping back from your day-to-day life and hitting that reset button. But what exactly does hitting that reset button mean? Today’s article is not just about sitting back and relaxing after a hard day’s work (or play). The article today is going to encourage you to reset on a much deeper level so that you can motivate yourself to cut more time out of the present for the things that you want to accomplish as an individual. It is about becoming present and aware of the now and your feelings involved in that discovery. The subject is mindfulness.
Mindfulness is about having a growth mindset. It is your own awareness in the present by exploring and acknowledging the feelings and emotions in that moment. I’m not an expert on the subject of mindfulness, by any means; mindfulness takes practice and it will always be a learning process. I have found out a lot about myself and about what mindfulness means to me in these past few months as I have begun my own journey to find mindfulness and I hope to share my learning experiences so far.
I want to point out that you don’t need to have a specific reason to hit that reset button. You can be experiencing the feeling like you are at the lowest point in your life or you can be at the complete opposite end of the spectrum and feel like you are at the peak of your life. No matter where you find yourself in that range, mindfulness applies to you and you can seek it out. Regardless of where you are in your life today, becoming more mindfully aware of yourself will greatly benefit your happiness and your ability to consciously navigate your feelings and emotions. It will help you regain control of how you handle the obstacles that life will continue to throw your way.
“The Slight Edge” by Jeff Olson
Before we dive further into mindfulness, I want to share a book that really helped me regain some time back into my life. The focus of this book is about creating successful habits in your daily life. Creating time to invest in yourself is the first real step you need in order to hit that reset button. Mindfulness is a subject, and just like any other subject, you need time to study and practice it. The book I’m referring to is called, “The Slight Edge” by Jeff Olson.
We often sit back and wish that we had more time to learn something or to continue to get better at something. We also feel like we need to have hours or days of free time to accomplish that. The truth is that shorter and persistent periods of time committed to something can accomplish the same thing. Olson has a great analogy in his book that really opened my eyes to the power of investing time into myself. His analogy uses the concept of compound interest. We’ve all heard of the term and we all know what it means when it is applied to finances and investing. The more money you save, the more interest you receive; beginning a snowball effect of wealth. Olson says that compound interest not only applies to finances and investing, but it can be applied to everything you do in life. For example, a 15-25 minute daily workout may not seem like much, but over time, all of those 15-25 minute workouts add up, resulting in a much stronger and fitter “you” than you are today. Reading 10-15 pages of a book each day gets you the same result. In 20 days, you could finish a book on self-improvement or mindfulness and you will have become more knowledgeable than you were 20 days prior.
Your time is a currency that you can choose to convert into whatever you want. You can trade it for cash, you can trade it to become smarter, or you can trade it to become stronger. You get the picture. Your options are endless. Investing a small portion of your time into something every day may not seem like its doing much in the present, but it will pay off tremendously in the future. You will have compounded your time into something that improves your life. Hopefully, this motivates you to cut some time out for yourself so that you can invest in improving yourself. With this time, you can begin to invest time into the main topic of this article, which is mindfulness.
What is one thing that we, as humans, all have in common, yet, it is also what makes us completely unique from one another? The answer is -- our minds; the inner voice within our own heads. We all have an inner voice that we hear constantly every day. When we speak, it is often on behalf of what the inner voice in our head is saying. It is truly one of the most remarkable things that every human is gifted. Take a few seconds to close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Begin by inhaling slowly, then exhaling slowly. Repeat this for about 20 seconds. Notice that you can hear that voice, whether it was simply saying “inhale… exhale…,” or it was having a hard time shutting off and began rambling about something completely irrelevant to your present action. It is constantly talking to you. It is constantly causing chatter.
“Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It” by psychologist and author, Ethan Kross, PhD.
This inner voice can help us stay motivated and it can help us achieve some extraordinary things. Our inner voice can also be a real pain. It can kick you to the curb when you are feeling down. Your inner voice can make you feel completely defeated and can result in making it feel nearly impossible for you to see the good in anything. It can breed the most negative of thoughts in the blink of an eye. It has a wide range of emotions and sometimes it can sweep you away and take full control of your life. When your inner voice generates these negative thoughts, it can prohibit you from being able to reset. To help navigate through the negative side of our inner voice, I bring to you my next book suggestion. The book is called, “Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It” by psychologist and author, Ethan Kross, PhD.
This is a great book to help begin expanding your knowledge on mindfulness. It is relatively short and it has some pretty simple tools and techniques to help check yourself back into the present and harness that control over the inner voice in your head along with the emotions and feelings that are being fueled by it. One great thing I would like to point out about this book is that the techniques discussed in this book are backed by actual psychological research studies. Though the book contains twelve tools to help you harness your inner voice, there are two that I want to point out specifically because they are so simple and easy to practice.
The first tool I want to shed light on is a tool that the author refers to as distanced self-talk. Distanced self-talk can be accomplished by referring to yourself by name and by using the second-person “you” rather than speaking to yourself in first-person, using “I.” When you find yourself in a situation that might be stressful, you might feel more at ease when you speak to yourself by name and in second-person because it feels like a natural conversation. When referring to yourself in the first-person it is harder to detach yourself from your feelings or emotions and it sounds more like a statement or an instruction you would give to a computer. When you use first-person it may sound something like, “I can do this.” That doesn’t sound all to strange right? But what about, “Blaze, you can do this.” There is a more natural feel in the latter of the two sentences. It feels like an encouraging conversation rather than a statement or instruction. Kross says, in his book, that distanced self-talk “…is linked with less activation in the brain networks associated with rumination and leads to improved performance under stress, wiser thinking, and less negative emotion.” This technique used to zoom out and distance your thoughts is simple to practice and proven to work.
Another tool that Kross discusses in his book is one that has to do with changing your perspective on the situation you are in. In the book it is referred to as becoming a fly-on-the wall. This gives you the advantage to change your perspective on any given situation you are in so that you can view yourself from the eyes of a bystander. Are you someone who always seems to dish out advice to friends or family but you have a hard time taking your own advice? Well the fly-on-the-wall tool is just another analogy for exactly that. You often know the advice you need to take, but it is hard to realize it when you are in a first-person view because you are viewing the situation through the eyes of your very own emotions. Take a step back, be the fly on-the-wall. This helps give you a zoomed out perspective so that you can really see the larger picture. The idea is similar to the preceding tool in that it encourages you to try distancing yourself from your situation by using your thoughts.
I highlighted these tools from “Chatter” because they are probably the simplest and most straight forward exercises. But, in order to make them work, you MUST practice them. Being a fly-on-the-wall takes a little getting used too. Practicing with these tools will help you become aware of the feelings and emotions you are going through and will allow you to navigate through them better. These tools allow you to explore your emotions from different perspectives, ultimately influencing a growth mindset and greater mindfulness to allow yourself to reset. Sometimes distancing yourself, rather than zooming in on an emotion, can be a great technique to shed some light into your feelings.
“Unwinding Anxiety” by Judson Brewer, MD, PhD
Another important tool that I believe helps one become more mindful is from a book called, “Unwinding Anxiety” by Judson Brewer, MD, PhD. To become more mindfully aware means that one learns to explore their feelings and becomes familiar with identifying where those feelings are being drawn from so that they can better navigate through them. That’s what this book is all about. It’s about becoming curious and exploring your feelings. In order to reset, you must become aware of why certain feelings appear, how they make you behave, and what the result of these feelings are rather than reacting to your feelings. The tool I want to share with you will help you map out your feelings and increase your awareness.
Brewer views anxiety as a habit loop in his book. With a quick Google search, the definition of anxiety is, “A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.” We often find ourselves in situations where we feel anxious and then we immediately feel that we must do something now to counteract the feeling. We react to anxiety or stress and take some course of action that changes our behavior. This is the view point Brewer makes on anxiety and it makes more sense when he describes how we can map out our habit (anxiety) loops. Brewer has three different “gears” in his book for becoming mindful. This tool I’m sharing here is only the “first-gear”, so I would suggest that if you find it helpful, to pick up this book so that you can understand what to do next once you have learned to map out your habit loops. Mapping out your habit loops raises awareness, but does not necessarily fix the habit loop.
To map out a habit loop you have to identify three components of that loop: the Trigger, the Behavior, and the Result. The trigger is what starts the habit loop. Begin by looking at your event or situation and identify what it is that is triggering your feeling and write it down on a piece of paper. Next, identify what your behavior is to the trigger. Maybe you procrastinate, maybe you feel guilty, anxious, or stressed. It could be even that you begin to binge eat. Whatever it is, identify the behavior and write it down below the trigger on your sheet of paper. Finally, pinpoint what the result of this habit loop does. This could be falling behind on work, becoming avoidant or shutting out others, or even the experiencing same feeling as the trigger.
I was recently with a family member who had a full blown anxiety attack right before my eyes. A full blown, temporary loss of vision anxiety attack. After sitting with them for a while and reeling them back in, they opened up about some things in their life that were causing extreme anxiety and even a sense of regret. I grabbed a pen and paper and I told that person to write down these three words: Trigger, Behavior, and Result. In a very short amount of time, we were able to map out this habit loop they found themselves stuck in. Once that person became aware of the loop, it became much easier for them to understand why it was happening and how it affects them.
I invite you to practice this exercise by thinking of some habit loops you have in your life and writing them down on a sheet of paper. Be as real with yourself as you can, nobody needs to see what you write down. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Become curious about that feeling you get in those habit loops and really understand its role. This is going to make you feel more in control and help you better understand yourself on deeper level so that you can finally begin to reset.
As I begin to close out this article, I want to instill one more thing in you before we end. Mindfulness, as we have mentioned before, is exploring and becoming curious about your feelings. It is something that will expand your growth mindset and your self-actualization. To adopt this growth mindset, you need to sometimes detach yourself from what you know so that you can learn new things. You might find out more about yourself if you detach yourself from your preconceived opinions and thoughts. In Shannon Lee’s book, “Be Water, My Friend”, she uses the metaphor of a teacup. In short, the metaphor says that if you keep your teacup full and do not empty it, then how can you fill it with the tea from which someone else pours? In other words, if you are tied to preconceived opinions of yourself, how can you make room to grow and learn? This is the metaphor for adopting a growth mindset. With it comes wisdom and endless opportunity to see yourself grow.
Remember that being mindful is something that takes practice. It isn’t something learned just because you’ve read a book. It’s not a race to see who can be the most mindful the fastest. It is for you alone to explore so that you can be more aware of who you are and who you can be in the present. Mindfulness does not mean that you will never experience feelings such as anxiety, but it will help you learn to navigate through your feelings. Your emotions and feelings are what makes life worth living, whether good or bad. They build up our experiences through life and we learn to grow from them. They are a part of the human condition. Practice the tools provided on all emotions, positive or negative, so that you can become present and more aware of your own feelings. Try to surround yourself with other mindful people. Find people who value who you are so that you have a support system that allows you to better yourself. At the end of the day, to better yourself is what it’s all about.
Finally, I want to leave you with something that I have personally learned through my journey to mindfulness. It is a question that I have begun to ask myself every day when I wake up. Every person is presented this same question, whether they realize it or not. They are provided an opportunity and it is up to them to decide what to do with it. With that being said, I will leave you with this simple question, “Do you want to be a better ‘you’ today than ‘you’ were yesterday?” And that, my friend, is for you to decide.