Key ingredients for overcoming procrastination: a pen, paper and scissors.
Do you have those days when the list of things you need to get done seems to grow like Bruce Banner turning into the Hulk? So huge that it is too much to look at and instead of doing anything you turn into a mindless zombie starting into space. At least that is how I feel some days.
Consider this: think about the Titanic and it's demise at the hand of that massive block of ice called an iceberg. Imagine that instead of one enormous chunk of ice, it was billions of small ice-cubes like those in your fridge. The same volume of ice, but teeny tiny parts.
What would have happened? The Titanic would have sailed right on through and everyone would have lived happily ever after. Except for those who liked the movie, as they would have missed out on Leo and Kate's onscreen romance.
You can apply this idea to your daily life - when you are feeling trapped by things you need to do, write them down on a piece of paper. Then take your trusty scissors and cut them into their own little squares. Look at all the little pieces together and notice how you feel - tense? overwhelmed? Now pick up one square, hold it out in front of you and consider it on it's lonesome. It seems much easier right? Like a task that is achievable.
Congratulations, you have just turned your Hulk back into Bruce Banner.
Somewhere woven into my daily life, amongst the tasks and conversations, I try to take a meditation vacation. Or at least a mindful rest from the thoughts that some days flow incessantly through my mind.
Not necessarily because the thoughts are overly unhelpful or problematic, in fact they are sometimes quite useful in solving problems or planning ahead. I look at it more like my thoughts have mastered the art of getting my attention and it's my role to take the spotlight off them for a while to give other parts of my living experience a turn.
Consider all of the things you are able to observe in terms of you being human: the things your body can notice by seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting, and then your inner experience of thoughts, memories and feelings.
If the part of you that can observe all of these faucets of life only has the capacity for 100% attention, why let your thoughts hog 99% of it?
By intentionally and mindfully paying attention to your physical senses you shift the focus off of your thinking mind. The thoughts are still there, but they are a little quieter in the background. Being mindful in this way takes practice, as your thinking mind has been used to getting your attention since you were a young child.
So start simple and practice. Pick a regular daily activity and see how long you can focus on your senses as you engage in it.
Take watering the garden as an example. I find I can easily slip into my mindful meditation vacation by listening to the water hitting the plants, feeling the light wind breeze of the afternoon on my skin, smelling the scent of the flowers and seeing the various shades of green in the leaves.
My mind is like yours and hooks me out of these moments with regularity, but I have learned to notice when this happens and simply come back to some part of the physical sensation of the activity.
What activity in your everyday life could you try this on? Doing the dishes? Having a shower? Or eating that bowl of ice cream with warm caramel topping drizzled over the top?
Give it a go and take your own mini vacation at home today.
Last night I was moments away from having a shower, winding down and going to bed. Peaceful and relaxing right?
The catch was all day I had wanted to jump on my bike and get some exercise; spin my legs, clear my head, do some form of training so I don't embarrass myself too much next time I'm riding with friends. That kind of thing.
I am experiencing what many new parents (and people with many life priorities) go through - where is the time for my self-indulgent activities of yesteryear? Watching the clock tick over 8pm was all the fuel my 'reason giving' mind needed: "You can do it tomorrow", "I'm too tired" and "I'm too lazy". Minds can be so convincing at times, the cheeky things.
Instead of being swallowed up by my story-telling thoughts, I stopped and reflected on how I wanted to remember myself in this moment. With a bit of space for reflection, these words came to mind: ADAPTABLE and CRAZY.
Surely jumping on a bike at 9:28pm to exercise is a sign of someone adaptable and a bit crazy? So I did. No buying into the unhelpful thoughts, letting them come and go in my mind like cars driving past on the street.
Once I was finished and about to go to bed, I did feel a little tingle of satisfaction and richness in this moment. Some joy from being connected (if only for an hour) to my adaptable and crazy self.
What values are you going to put into practice today?
A bit stuck? Check out my website www.scottwaterspsychology.com.au, scroll down to subscribe and you'll get a free workbook to help you get started on clarifying your own values!
I have learned over time that creating a 'TO DO' list is a helpful and productive daily activity. It keeps me on track, helps me to prioritise and reduces any anxiety or worry about having "too many things to do" by writing the things down on paper and out of my head.
But how often have you started your day with a 'TO BE' list? Taking the time to stop and reflect on how you want to interact with the world, other people and yourself for the day? It is no wonder that we can at times feel disconnected from the 'spark' in our lives when we focus on the doing, the tasks and goals rather than our inner desires and who we want to be. We can become lost.
The values that we want to represent are like our life compass. A compass gives you direction and keeps you on track when you are on an adventure and traveling. Your values do the same thing in your journey of life. Once you have identified the qualities you want to stand for, they can be used to guide you towards moves that bring about a rich, full and meaningful life.
Remember that values and goals (to do lists) are different. When you act on a value, it is like you are following your compass North. It gives you the DIRECTION that is important to you. You can move towards North at any time. Your goals, on the other hand, are the things you achieve and REACH along the journey - reading a book, cooking dinner for you partner or handing in an assignment.
So before you write down your list of tasks to complete today, how about trying to come up with some words on your TO BE list? Consider this: imagine it is your eightieth birthday and some people important to you (that you will see today) are there. They get up and make wonderful speeches about you, what you stand for and what you have meant to them in their lives. What words would you like to hear them use? Try to let go of your judgmental brain and imagine the words they would use in an ideal world.
When you get to the end of your day, ask yourself if you have done things (even the smallest of acts) that show you've been that person.
My TO BE list today: as a dad and in the domain of my family relationships -be playful, present and affectionate. What's on yours?
For a bit of help overcoming procrastination or uncertainty of where to start, subscribe and get my 'Living your TO BE list values' workbook.
Open up. Not in the "spill your secrets to strangers" kind of way. Open up to the uncomfortable feelings and thoughts that you experience under your skin. The things that push you around and steer you off course sometimes.
Naturally we try to stay away from things we don't like. Being chased by a sabre toothed tiger? Run away. Dislike spicy hot food? Don't eat it. Simple. But this formula hits a snag when the thing we don't like is internal. Anxiety. Sadness. Uncomfortable feelings and sensations that we would rather not experience. The catch is, these emotions are hard-wired into us (scientists agree that there are around 9 basic human emotions that we are born with).
It doesn't stop us from trying to get rid of them and control them. But they keep coming back like a John Farnham tour. Sometimes our control behaviours are fairly mundane and don't cost us (such as taking one flight of stairs to avoid the anxiety of being in a lift) but there are occasions when they really get in the way of a purposeful, rewarding life (such as using alcohol to avoid loneliness).
So what can you do when your control agenda gets in the way of life?
Resist the urge to struggle with your uncomfortable feeling and instead make space for it. Put it in the passenger seat of your 'life car' so you can drive (instead of the other way around).
Next time you are faced (or consumed) with an emotion that you would normally do whatever it takes to get rid of, try the 3 N's. Notice, Name and Neutralise.
Notice the arrival of the feeling (your mindfulness skills come in handy once again!). Observe where you feel the sensation the most strongly in your body. Is it in your chest? Your stomach?
Name the emotion. "here is the feeling of anxiety".
Neutralise the emotion. Draw a line around it with your mind. Describe it like you are a curious scientist noticing this emotion for the first time - what colour would it be? Is it hot or cold? Is it rough or smooth? Breath into the space around the emotion.
As you do this, remind yourself that you are human and as a human you feel things. It is totally normal and part of being alive.
Try it out for yourself. As long as it is for a purpose, to free up your arms and legs to move you towards an action that matters to you.
A few years ago I traveled to Nepal and found myself standing on the edge of a cliff, way up on top of a mountain looking out at the Himalayas in the distance. I was about to get strapped in to a harness on a tandem Para-glider, with a very excitable guide. He announced to me with a wild glint in his eyes, "Hello, my name is Tec, and today we FLY!!!".
Needless to say my anxiety rocketed up from my stomach into my ears! It was just me, the guide and open the edge of the mountain. I could have let my anxiety control the moment, it would have been easy to step away and get back into the shuttle bus for the drive back down the mountain. Game, set, match - anxiety wins.
But instead I notice and named the feeling, breathed around it and strapped in for the ride. I was embracing my values of being adventurous, personal growth and excitement.
It was an amazing experience and here I am, still living to tell the tale. The view was incredible and along the way I was serenaded with the song "I Love You Baby" by Frank Valli. A little weird and delicate, but balanced by the death spiral decent that left my stomach in my mouth.
Keep it simple and remember this phrase when faced with an uncomfortable feeling: "observe it, breath into and around it, and make room for it".
Fyodor Dostoyevsky once said "the secret of a man's being is not only to live, but to have something to live for". We can lose sight of this, especially on Monday morning as we get ready to face work. We go through the normal morning routines, dragging our feet. These challenging times can benefit from reconnecting with values that are important to us.
Consider Fred. He gets on the train and goes to work. He's thinking about how much he doesn't want to go, the monotony of writing reports and the frustrations of dealing with some customers. He's stuck on the idea that work is a chore and he would rather be at home. With this kind of mindset, Fred feels low, unenthusiastic and bored.
One day Fred jumps on the train and starts falling into the same pattern of thinking, but then remembers reading the wonderful blogging of Scott Waters Psychology about values and the marvelous human freedom of being able to choose our own attitude in any given situation. So he takes a moment to think about what he wants to stand for today at work: he wants to be engaging with other people, productive and helpful.
On the outside, perhaps nobody on the train will notice anything different about Fred. But internally, Fred feels different. Less tension and angst, more purposeful and open to the day ahead.
Try this exercise as a way to start identifying your own values: imagine you are 80 years old reflecting on your life as it is today. Take a moment to really imagine that part of your life and then finish off these statements:
How did you go? This can be eye-opening or at least helps you to readjust your life-compass. Thinking like this can highlight the difference between what we are doing and what we actually value doing with our lives. The closer the connection between our actions and values, the richer, more meaningful our lives can be.
This morning it is just my 5 month-old son and myself. Which means I am going to drawout my values of playfulness and being a bit silly (with a dose of being responsible of course). Drawing inspiration from this photo of my dad and I growing up, or not growing up as it seems!
Novelty can be a useful tool for making you feel more invigorated and alive in your daily moments. When you do something new or different in your life, your brain sits up and takes notice. It is faced with something new to learn and thrown new information to categorize - this takes energy and focus from your grey matter rather than sitting idly in a default 'energy saving' mode.
At the same time, with novelty comes a sense of the unknown and with it the potential for danger. If you explore a rain forest that you have never been to before, you cannot guarantee a drop-bear isn't going to ambush you. Again, your brain needs to be more alert and present. This results in the release of hormones like norepinephrine and dopamine which are associated with attention and learning. Not quite to ‘fight or flight’ extents, but just enough to make you keenly aware of your surroundings and more in the zone.
To feel alive then, try to find a rich and novel environment where you can explore and try new things. This can be a challenge in modern society where our lives can be dictated by routines with work and families. Many of us don't have the option to spend our time skiing down the slopes or white water rafting through the rapids. Instead then, we need to look for ways to get that novelty, that excitement and that danger in our regular lives.
Be creative and keep it simple - try a different route on your next run and explore new parts of your neighborhood, visit a new bush walking trail on the weekend, take more social risks (like starting a conversation with someone new) that bring butterflies and get your heart racing, or try getting off the bus a stop early to increase the new stimuli you experience daily.
By taking the time to regularly challenge and stimulate your mind with novel things that you find exciting, you stand to experience huge benefits in your mental health.
Understanding the reasons why, the behind the scene mechanics, can be a very powerful tool for improving motivation to engage in helpful behaviours. Remember when your parents told you not to watch too much TV otherwise you'd get square eyes? Maybe if they told you too much TV would increase your likelihood to be overweight, aggressive and have learning difficulties at school you would have paid more attention (ok so the 'square eyes' threat might be more effective for a little mind!). Once we understand things we feel more empowered and engaged with it.
So as meditation gains momentum in popular culture (the Kardashian's are doing it so it must be good, right?) and is in the process often watered-down in tabloid magazines, consider this as one 'behind the scenes why': it changes your brain waves in a positive way.
Studies show that busy or anxious thinking produces beta brain waves — fast, erratic and of low amplitude, while shifting your awareness onto your senses (as you might do in mediation) produces alpha waves — slow, rhythmic and of high amplitude. You can read this shift on an Electroencephalograph (EEG) after just 20 seconds of sustained sensing.
As you can see, meditation is based on a very simple principle: that by paying attention to sensory experience we trigger the relaxation response in our body and minds.
So next time your tempted to discount meditation because the Kardashian's do it (that is sometimes my moral compass - do the opposite of what they do), you can remind yourself that there is valid scientific evidence behind meditating. A genuine WHY, not just a "because I told you so" statement.
On a side note, this photo shows a real 'brain wave': I took it while traveling through Munich. No beach for a long, long way but locals are not deterred, surfing in a river that runs through a park in the city!
Imagine if every time you had a thought, instead of being words or sounds inside your head the thought materialized in front of you. It would be like walking around with your hands in front of your face all day long, each finger like a thought.
This is what it is often like for us except it happens within our own inner experience. The phrase "the lights are on but no one is home" nails this idea - our physical bodies are present but our attention is drawn out of the moment and focused firmly inwards on our thoughts.
Our minds are like the worlds greatest story tellers, they love attention and people to listen to their yarns. So the human mind has developed its craft, using a variety of themes to hook us with. Worries about the past or future, reasons why we can't do things, judgements about ourselves and others, and rules about how things should be.
It's not all doom and gloom - sometimes thoughts are helpful (such as planning or actively problem-solving), sometimes they are neutral and enjoyable (when we day-dream about the beach) but sometimes they just get in the way of doing something meaningful (the good old "I'm not good enough" story rolls out - "I'm stupid, I'm boring, I'm worthless"). So what can we do about it? The first step is to notice them for what they are: thoughts.
Just like we can notice the things we can hear, touch or see, with practice we can notice our thoughts in a similar way. By being more mindful of our thoughts (particularly when they hook us out of the moment) we can learn to let them come and go like cars driving along the road outside.
Try commending your mind by saying to yourself "Ah-ha! You got me again! Thanks mind for the 'I'm too tired' story". Or imagine your thoughts are the radio playing and simply turn the volume down when they are unhelpful in their content.
Rather than be thwarted by waiting for the often allusive 'perfect time' to engage in a formal meditation, think of meditating as something that can be quite creative and spontaneous. Perhaps not a deep relaxation, but calming nonetheless.
The magical trade-off is that these 'on the spot' meditations need no set time or place: you can treat them as a small enjoyable indulgence whenever you like.
Try the following pulse meditation - it is unlikely you will have a deeply profound experience but it does highlight the simplicity of being creative.
Begin by using your fingers to find you pulse. Feel the pressure of your blood moving beneath your finger tips with each beat.
Now simply count up to 60. If you get distracted by thought, just bring your awareness back to your pulse and the count. You may like to close your eyes so you can focus on your sense of touch. Try to notice any changes in your pulse, your breathing or any other physical differences.
Once you have made it to 60, let go of the practice and reflect on how you are feeling. Calmer? Slightly less stressed? Set yourself the challenge of doing this meditation at opportunistic times this week - while at traffic lights, in a cue at the supermarket or while your computer starts up in the morning.
One of the principles behind this exercise is the effect of biofeedback - as you notice your pulse rate slowing down, this message of 'relaxation' gets noticed by your mind which is then encouraged to relax even further. A beautiful little relaxation-loop.
#relaxation #meditation #psychology #wellbeing #wellness #relaxedbody #calmmind #mindfulness