I used to live in the future … and the past. I oscillated from one to the other, without ever spending any time in the present moment.
When commuting, I would often arrive to my destination having no recollection of the journey there. Or I would walk down my neighborhood streets with friends and have them ask when new buildings had been put up or old ones torn down. I often found myself agitated and confused because I constantly misplaced things. And sometimes I'd be reading a book and notice I hadn't even registered the last few paragraphs!
Then finally, I realized what kept happening — I was always distracted and never living in the present moment. I let myself be so pre-occupied that I couldn't stop to smell the roses, notice local construction sites, or remember where I had placed my keys the night before.
So what was I doing with all this time in my head? Was I writing a masterpiece concerto, answering life's biggest mysteries, or solving complex quantum physics equations? Nope. Mostly, I was just worrying.
Worried that I said the wrong thing, or that I would say the wrong thing. Worried that I had a horrible job interview, or that I said the wrong thing at the party the night before. Worried I would do horrible on my test the next day, I'd fail the course, I'd have to repeat the year —you name it, I was worried about it. It was exhausting.
Here's the other thing about worriers (I'll give you the inside scoop), we're really good at negative self-talk, too.
But here's an important part — that's not actually you who's talking. It's your mischievous mind … your mischievous, shit-talking, trying-to-get-your-attention mind. And once we understand that, we understand that we are able to separate from these thoughts and negative behaviors that keep us from living life fully.
I learned that the more you practice being present and mindful, the more you realize what an incredible impact this can have on all aspects of your being. You start to recognize that inner nagging voice as just some nervous, underdeveloped part of you that needs to be stilled. It needs to be quieted like a child — with kindness and gentleness, but also firmness and repetition.
Mindfulness is defined as: "The intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one's attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment."
By cultivating mindfulness, you quiet the voice of worry, remorse, anger, resentment, sadness, guilt, shame and more. And by cultivating mindfulness, you increase the volume of the present moment. Your experiences become richer and more whole.
So give yourself the greatest gift you can give and try these daily exercises:
1. Commit to just 60 seconds every day.
Set a timer if you wish. Find a comfortable seated position and close your eyes. Relax. Let your eyes focus on the space between your eyebrows as you focus on your breathing. Watch the breath as it comes in through your nose, fills your chest, expands your diaphragm. As you push the air out through your belly, take a moment to notice the stillness.
Repeat for 60 seconds or whatever feels manageable to you. If thoughts arise, acknowledge them and gently release them. A lot can happen in just one minute, so it's all about being gentle with yourself. There's no space for bullying here. Leave that behind you with your inner crap talker.
2. Practice being mindful in the present moment.
Whether this means walking, cleaning the house, exercising, or even washing the dishes — practice these activities with intention. Feel the warm water coming out of the tap, or the weight of the dish in one hand and the sudsy sponge in the other. Breathe deep and focus on whatever it is you are doing in that moment. Repeat as often as possible.
Mindfulness is the most important skill you'll ever cultivate. It has taught me to be kinder to myself, more aware, more engaged and more grounded. It has afforded me peace of mind. Ultimately, that peacefulness and acceptance has translated to how I show up in my life — in my personal relationships and at work with my patients. It's a win-win.