"If you don't like the way you feel, change the way you think." -wise words from an old tai chi master
Like it or not, we are what we think. We are a living, breathing, walking, talking, reflection of our inner dialogue. Our thoughts, conscious and subconscious, are powerful and undoubtably influence our mood, health, and wellbeing.
It is quite remarkable how our thoughts and endless self-talk can so easily effect us on a moment to moment basis. Ever laughed out loud when you were alone walking through the grocery store? Or started crying for no apparent reason while in public? Our inner dialogue is indeed powerful stuff, sometimes so powerful it can launch us into accomplishing superhuman feats or even make us sick.
Just for laughs let's try a short experiment, a little mind game. Think of a situation from the past, go way back, at least 10 years ago, that made you extremely happy. Maybe you finally got your dream job or a raise or graduated college or got a new car or won a competition or finally got to kiss the person that you have always found extremely attractive. See yourself there in that situation again. The people that were involved. Maybe even a specific smell that filled the air and the shirt that you were wearing. Once you get the memory nice and solid in your mind, check in with yourself. What has changed? Are you smiling? Has your breathing changed and your posture shifted, if only slightly?
If we fully participate in this goofy, little experiment it will without a doubt shift our current state of being. With nice memories a smile usually occurs, our breathing changes, and we start to shift and maybe even squirm in our seat a bit. But wait, this memory is something that happened 10 years ago. It has nothing to do with this very moment. The only place this event exists is in our thoughts, in our minds. It's just a memory, yet it still elicits emotions in us in this very moment that are strong enough to cause a shift in our being. Crazy, right? In a matter of seconds we were just able to actively select a memory/thought and then let the brilliance of our mind do the rest.
However, there is also the other side of the coin and negative thoughts have the opposite effect on us. When we become worried and stressed as the result of thinking about the past or future, it too has an effect on our breathing, posture, and heart rate. Usually, with stressful thoughts our heart rate increases, our posture gets stiff, and the lines on our brow get deeper. Keep this thought process up long enough and we become moody and not much fun to be around. Continue it for even longer and we start to develop conditions like insomnia, anxiety, IBS, and hypertension, to only name a few.
So how do we stop the endless, negative chatter that often occupies our mind? I mean, really, who could possibly not have negative thoughts when there is so much swirling around in our head? There are bills to pay, kids to pick up from soccer practice, and people in traffic that annoy the bejesus out of us. Yes, indeed, there is a lot of first world, human experiences going on in all of our lives. But some level of peace and sanity are always one breath and one shift of our awareness away.
The quickest way to free yourself from a stressful, negative, mental space is to take a breath, and consciously chose better feeling thoughts. Now before your mind starts judging this idea and you break into a rant about how sick you are of hearing all of these do-gooders profess, "Just think positive thoughts..." Allow me to explain the process of this practice that will truly assist you in feeling better.
First and foremost, you must commit to wanting to feel better, in this moment. The only place we can make a change to anything in our life is right NOW, in this very moment. Changes and happiness are never out there in the future. The path to the future begins right now, in this very moment, with this very breath. What you are doing right now is either moving you toward your goal or away from it. And if your goal is to feel better, whatever you are doing in this moment is either taking you toward that goal or it is taking you away from it. So, start right now with moving toward feeling good. Say it aloud, even write it down if you have to: "I am committed to feeling good!"
Now, with that full commitment to feeling better in this present moment, begin to shift your focus to a better feeling thought. Take a breath, drop your shoulders and exhale. Just like we did in the experiment earlier, shift your attention to something that you enjoy. Something that feeds your soul, something that you sincerely appreciate. Keep it simple, it does not have to be extravagant. Actually, I have found that it is easier if our new point of attention is something quite simple.
For example, when I need to chose better feeling thoughts I shift my awareness to one of my favorite beverages: rare teas, fair trade coffees, or micro brewed beer. I absolutely love all three. They nurture my being to the core because I so much enjoy the process of finding them, making them, and then consuming them. It excites me to think about the specifics of what will go into the making of them and how it will enhance or hinder the taste. Even now, in this moment, as I write about these beverages I get excited and an inner smile pours through me. (pun intended)
Once you get the emotion associated with your chosen better thought, bask in it and breathe it in. The emotion associated with the thought is what's important. After years of meditation I have come to realize that good or bad, thoughts are just thoughts, unless we believe them. Once a belief in a thought is established, an emotional response is sure to follow. The emotion created by a pleasant thought is where the good stuff resides. So feel the joy, peace, or excitement associated with your chosen thought and let it fill you to the core. Stay with it as long as time will allow and then move from that place into your normal daily activities.
When the old, negative, programmed pattern of thinking pops up again, repeat the process by acknowledge that you are thinking things that do not support you, take a breath, and find a better feeling thought. Stay with it until the thought triggers an emotion that feels good and then embrace it, appreciate it.
I invite you to make this process your thing, a daily practice, to chose better feeling thoughts, all the time. Every chance you get, shift your awareness to something that makes you happy. The more you practice this the easier it becomes. With consistency I can assure you that it will change your life.
Finally, I am in no way suggesting that you not do whatever it is that has to be done. As the old Zen quote goes, "We all still have to chop wood and carry water." But practice being full present and chose the best feeling thoughts as possible while you do it. Accomplishing any goal is proceeded by a series of choices. Chose to feel better right were you stand by choosing a better feeling thought.
What are some things that make you feel good as soon as you think about them? The sunset? Standing by the ocean? The smell of cinnabons? Anything that gives you that inner smile is perfect. Please share them with me.