One of the most common causes of taking life too seriously is that you’re stuck in your head. You’re simply thinking too much. The reason babies and children are so damn happy and at peace with the word is that they have quiet minds – they haven’t started to worry or give meaning to the events, circumstances, and situations that unfold. Babies and children observe life, they don’t think about life.
Then we grow up, and get a job, and take on responsibilities. The stillness in our minds shifts to a heavy metal rock concert of noise and that noise is our thoughts. Welcome to the jungle.
Adults don’t take the world in – most of the time we just listen to the stories we tell ourselves about the world. We believe the endless parade of thoughts flitting through our heads instead of actually paying attention to life around us.
This is not a post about achieving the stillness that you showed up with when you first arrived in the world, but rather it’s about utilizing the one practice that can help you make the noise in your head quieter and far more pleasant. The practice that I’m referring to is mindfulness.
The definition of mindfulness is paying full attention to the present moment and observing it without judgement.
One of the fundamental principles behind mindfulness is that we all take our thoughts way too seriously. We think our thoughts always mean something. In fact, we think we are our thoughts are one hundred per cent true and our thoughts are us. One of the reasons we worry so much and experience so many negative emotions is because we take our thoughts about the world more seriously than the world itself.
You know as well as I do that all kinds of ridiculous thoughts go through our heads. And sometimes you know not to trust them. When you’re tired, drunk, angry, or sick, you don’t take your thoughts as seriously. On some level, you know you’re not “clear headed” and your emotions are running the show.
It’s when you’re having a tough day while having an adequate amount of energy, completely sober, even-keeled emotionally, and healthy, that you can easily get thrown into the mosh-pit of the rock concert and get swept up in all that noise leaving you totally stressed out. You took all those thoughts of yours very seriously and now you’re caught up in a big ol’ story about what happened during your day. It’s those days when mindfulness can help you lighten up.
Here are some ways to practice mindfulness when you can feel yourself getting all caught up in your head…
- Be aware that you are not your thoughts. Sometimes what you think is downright dark or ridiculous, but it’s all made up. Because you think it, doesn’t make it true.
- Observe rather that judge. Rather than attaching meaning to your thoughts, let them float by.
- Get out of your head and return to your senses. Next time you’re worrying, remember that your thoughts aren’t real. Life is real. To help you see clearly, turn your attention to your senses and notice the world around you. How does that cup of coffee smell? Are you really noticing the lunch you’re eating? What sounds can you hear around you? Do you see me looking at you? (Just kidding, I’m probably not there watching you.) Rather than distract yourself, try immersing yourself in the world around you.
- Label intrusive thoughts. Give a negative/stressful/fearful thought a funny name that trivializes it: Oh, that movie, “This is going to be a huge disaster.” is on again. Oh, look, that “I blew it again.” train has pulled into the station. Oh, that “Things never work out the way I want them to!” song is playing on the radio. If you’re not into funny names, you can choose labels such as “doubting”, “fearing”, “judging,” “assuming”, “attaching”, etc.
Mindfulness is not about emptying the mind, getting rid of difficult emotions, escaping life’s problems, being free of pain, or experiencing never-ending bliss. Mindfulness is about embracing your experience and being present rather than getting all caught up in your head.
Every thought either strengthens or weakens you. When you are more mindful of what you’re thinking and telling yourself, you’re less likely to “swallow the poison”. Not “swallowing the poisons” is a concept I learned from the inspirational author, Martha Beck and it involves not internalizing toxic thoughts that in turn, causes pain, sickness, or extreme distress.
“I’m bad.” “I’m ugly.” “I never get it right.” Just hold those thoughts in your mind and feel how sick they make you. I mean physically sick—weak, tired, achy, and vulnerable to stress. To cleanse yourself of whatever toxic crap you just consumed, begin focusing on any evidence that refutes them. “My dog thinks I’m awesome.” “I drove the speed limit today.” “I have such petite ankles.”
Pay attention to the noise coming from that heavy metal concert playing in your head and shut down any song that makes you want to barf.