It's important to understand that making changes in life isn't just about sheer willpower. For most of our lives, we're on autopilot and our brain is making rapid decisions for us. It references our history, mood and environment to come up with the most adaptive response. However, when we're trying to make changes in our lives -- being more mindful, for example -- we can do a simple trick to set up our environment in a way that supports our success.
If you have The Now Effect you may have found a "5 Step Cheat Sheet" in the appendix that gives you ways to prime your mind toward the present moment and reinforce a certain way of being that you aspire to.
One of the five steps references controlling your environment. Just like signs on the road may help remind us to slow down or remind us of children crossing, we can put up signs with short verses in our day to day to remind us to be how we want to be.
Note: Check for auto-pilot reaction before moving on. Take a moment to check in with any judgments that might be arising right now. For example, "Short verses? Is he nuts? How could that ever help me?" or, "What is this, an affirmation? Those never work." Or, "Why am I even continuing to read this?" If anything like this arises, this is normal, just take a moment to notice the automatic judgment, let it be, take a breath to help ground to the here and now and then gently continue on with the next paragraph.
Acclaimed author and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh uses short phrases all the time to support himself in being more present, grounded and aware in daily life. He has taught this practice to medical professionals, psychologists and students for many years now. He teaches the practices of walking and/or breathing, and using these phrases to support us in calming our distressed minds and being more present to everyday life.
I suggest reading these examples below and creating little signs in your environment at work and home that serve as reminders for you to automatically drop into more mindful moments throughout the day.
- You may take three steps while breathing in and say, "Breathing in, I calm my body" and then with the following three steps "Breathing out, I relax." You can then shorten this to saying "calm" as you breathe in, and "relax" as you breathe out.
- "Breathing in, I notice the colors all around me, breathing out, I smile." Then shorten to "Breathing in, colors, breathing out, smile." Even if we don't feel like smiling, the simple act of doing a half-smile sometimes can change the tension in our faces, which in turn can affect our moods.
- "Breathing in, I have arrived, breathing out, I am home." Then shorten to, "Breathing in, arrived, breathing out, home." Have you ever had the experience where you were rushing home to relax? It doesn't make sense, and isn't effective in calming the nervous system. Sometimes reminding ourselves that we have arrived to the present moment already and that we are home can help calm an anxious mind. We can then slow down and get home a few minutes later in a more collected and relaxed state.
- "Breathing in, I wash my hands, breathing out, may I use them wisely throughout the day." Shorten to, "Breathing in, washing, breathing out, wise hands." This practice not only can bring appreciation to one of the unsung heroes of our bodies, our hands, but also reinforce the idea of being aware of all they do during the day and being more mindful with them. This cultivation of appreciation can support us in feeling well.
These are just some examples and many more are woven throughout the writings and videos in my book. As you get the hang of it, you can make up your own that fit for you. You can do this while walking or just sitting and breathing. And of course, most important of all, don't take my word for it, try it for yourself.
If it's not for you, cast it aside, but give it a shot. Pay attention to how you are feeling physically, emotionally and mentally before doing it and then again after you do it for a few breaths.
As always, please share your thoughts and questions below. Your engagement here provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
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