Sometimes we get stuck thinking about a particular thought and it feels like we have no control over our mind. All of this brain chatter can be overwhelming and affect how we feel each day. But if we really tune into our thoughts, we’ll notice how much they wander. We might be:
- Thinking about plans for the future.
- Reliving a strong emotion we experienced in the past.
- Focusing on things we want or need.
These kind of thoughts happen automatically, seemingly out of our control. They’re like the brain’s version of biting our nails: just habits that it repeats for no apparent reason. Then without realizing it, we make decisions based on all this…brain chatter!
- We might follow an urge or craving we are feeling.
- Get stuck reliving some painful memory.
- React to future worries or past pain instead of what’s happening right in front of us.
Put simply, when you think out of habit, you act out of habit.
It’s not entirely a bad thing though. Habitual thinking lets you multitask, almost effortlessly. For example, when you walk somewhere along a familiar route, you don’t consciously think about all the turns you need to make, or even about avoiding unfamiliar obstacles. All your thoughts run on autopilot while you think of other things. Sometimes, you can’t even remember how you got to where you’re going! But there you are safe and sound at your destination!
However, sometimes your brain chatters at you when you don’t want it to… One way to manage this chatter or turn down the volume of your thoughts is by practicing mindfulness.
Mindfulness means focusing on the present moment, without judgment. It doesn’t come naturally to most of us, but the more you practice, the better you get.
One method to strengthen the skill of mindfulness is meditation. Below is a simple method to begin the practice of mindfulness meditation:
- Set a timer for one minute. From there, you can work your way up to five minutes, then 10 minutes or more.
- Sit comfortably, in a chair or on the floor.
- Keep your back straight; imagine it’s a tall stack of coins.
- Relax your body.
- Close your eyes and breathe naturally.
- Focus your attention on the air flowing in and out of your nose or belly, whichever you notice more.
- Feel your body pressing against the chair or floor. Inhale, exhale.
- Whenever your mind wanders—and it will wander—try not to judge yourself. Just notice it, and then bring your awareness back to your breathing.
- Use your breath to keep you in the present, moment by moment.
If you have trouble staying in the moment, try a guided meditation. You might try my guided 7 minute meditation called, “Mindfulness Meditation for Busy Minds.”
However, there are lots of ways to practice mindfulness mediation. For more ideas, check out my earlier post 7 Techniques for Practicing Mindfulness Meditation. But the goal is always the same: keeping your attention on the present moment. Once you get used to it, you can approach any activity mindfully. You can take a mindful walk, concentrating on feeling your steps and your breath. You can eat mindfully, savoring each bite, focusing on your food’s flavor and texture.
After a few months of practice, it’ll become second nature. And you’ll find that you can handle difficult situations better. Your brain might still chatter at you, and stir up difficult emotions but instead of reacting to those feelings, you’ll be able to step back to observe them. Once you identify them, they’ll be less intense, and you’ll be able to deal with the situation calmly… rationally… mindfully!
The goal of mindfulness is not to disconnect from your feelings. If anything, you’ll be more in touch with your emotions, because you’re more aware of them. Think of mindfulness as another option in your toolkit of well-being.
If you would like coaching in mindfulness or need support with anxiety or racing thoughts, please feel free to contact me for an appointment.