There are a lot of reasons to feel overwhelmed right now for most of us. A difficult economy, natural disasters, oil spills, war, family drama, personal conflicts, among other things. When the mind is focusing on the negative details of life, it is practicing seeing things through this lens and a cycle ensues where we even start seeing the future with this lens -- leading to feelings of anxiety or depression.
Mindfulness is about being aware of what lens we're wearing when looking at life, so we can be more intentional. The unintentional act of looking toward the future with a negative lens can really sap our motivation to make any progress toward a more fruitful and positive future. After all, if its doomsday, what's the point in even trying? This is major fruit for procrastination too.
I want to introduce you to or remind you of a practice that will help you intentionally engage your mind in a way that could lead to a more fruitful future.
Albert Einstein said, "Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions."
So here's a practice is using our imagination for good.
- Set aside at least a few minutes (this could even be right now) for this practice. You can do this in your mind while closing your eyes, write it out on a piece of paper, or create a vision board where you get pictures that illustrate this vision.
- Envision what life would be like if you were taking these steps or if you did accomplish this project. When I say envision, I mean actually take a few moments to either close your eyes or get out a piece of paper and imagine what life would be like if you dropped your anxiety or your imperfections? Or what would life be like if whatever overwhelming project you have, personally or professionally was complete?
- Take a moment to feel the feelings of this envisioned future?
One step at a time
Once you've done this, consider the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: "Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step."
This piece of wisdom has been said in so many different ways, maybe the most famous being "The longest journey begins with a single step," which was attributed to Lao Tzu.
In times of depression, when it comes to being in a moment when an onslaught of thoughts are telling you it's overwhelming or you'll never get it all done, having Martin Luther King Jr. or Lao Tzu in mind might be helpful.
Let's face it, there's times where it's a success to take a shower or get out of bed. That is a single step.
I ride a single speed bike at times over a hill. There is a substantial difference when I do it looking up at the hill engaging thoughts of disbelief at how much of the hill there is left to go versus focusing on one pedal at a time. I actually time the pedals with my breathing. When I do it like this, it seems like much less effort and I'm at the top of the hill before I know it.
This is a truism whether someone is depressed and needs to see some movement or accomplishment to get the engines going or whether there is an overwhelming sensation in life due to a personal or professional project.
So, try out this combination. Take a moment to envision what life would be like and what the feelings would be having moved passed this overwhelming situation and just take that first step in faith.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
Adapted from a publication on Mindfulness and Psychotherapy at Psychcentral.com. Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is Co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook. You may also find him at www.drsgoldstein.com.