When I was 25, I had an embarrassing experience. A colleague and I were engaged in a technical conversation when I noticed that I was nervous and even worse, self-conscious of it. He appeared to know more about the subject then I did and my ego was feeling a little intimidated. As I suppressed my nervousness, my anxiety grew.
Then the strangest thing happened, my cheeks contorted and my nose curled. I was effectively snarling at him, like a dog guarding a tasty bone. Recoiling at the sight, my colleague got the message and took off. The experience left me bewildered at my reaction and blemished with guilt for not handling the situation very professionally.
Why had I let my ego overwhelm me? Why the insecurity? Why couldn’t I simply be interested in what my colleague was saying? Why did I transform into a canine cannibal? Who will he tell? Why should I care?
For days, the questions consumed me. My mind was beset.
The idea that not all our thoughts are beneficial to our wellbeing enthralls me. We know that we are what we eat. But are we also what we think? It stands to reason that as unhealthy food choices affect our physical health, do unhealthy thoughts affect our mental health. We’re taught to believe in ourselves, trust our intuition and go with out guts as if every thought were pure and delicious. But should we also be checking our thoughts for the likes of sell by dates, E numbers, trans fats and artificial sweeteners?
I make it my business to research and share new insights and techniques to halt rogue thoughts in their attempt to swart our progress. I’m fascinated by how thoughts, particularly the limiting stories that hold us back, influence our peace of mind and behavior, both verbal and non-verbal, thus affecting the quality of lives in each moment.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to eradicate negative thoughts. To do so is to deny being human. They come with the job of being alive. For me, it’s more about learning to live with them, through acknowledgement rather than association, in order to and move on. But it hasn’t always been that way.
I used to suppress many of my negative emotions. There have been times when I was upset and not even aware that I was upset. Not being honest about how I was feeling had its cost. It’s takes a lot energy to suppress negative thoughts all the time. That’s why I used to occasionally outsource the task to alcohol, comfort food and the party scene.
Fortunately, my outsourcing days are long behind me. I still have negative thoughts, some of which really suck. Even now I want to write something really spectacular because I know hundreds of people are reading it. But my mind is bombarding me with thoughts of falling short of your expectations; fear of omitting something relevant or failing to finish it in time. I notice nervousness in my body and a desire to stop writing. But these days I know how to move through.
Rather than succumbing to the desire to suppress thoughts, I am the vigilant producer of mind. I ensure that the writer in me has the mental freedom to write thousands of words a day. I still feel the same anxiety. I still hear the same will to suppress and procrastinate (“I need to drink coffee first,” “I should check my email,” “I don’t feel like writing right now.”) But now, instead of identifying with these thoughts, I acknowledge them:
I have the thought that I need to drink coffee first.
I have the thought that I need to check my email first.
I feel ambivalent about writing today.
We all have negative thoughts – and always will. I find that it’s best to integrate negative thoughts into the scenery and let them pass by like the view from a train. It’s not about getting rid of them or being indifferent. To do so, would be a one-way ticket to Comatown. For it is indifference, not hate, that is the opposite of love. And love of life is a powerful tool for a calm mind.
10 ways to calm your mind and sleep like a puppy
1. Witness your thoughts
When we notice a gap between how reality is and how it should be, it is more likely that we will feel the burden of doubt and disappointment. We may judge a situation as wrong or unfair or judge ourselves, as what we perceive are our shortcomings or failures. When are minds are full of resistance and painful thoughts, it’s difficult to access our innate state of wisdom, clarity and creativity. We get caught up in our thoughts and begin to think that we are our thoughts. Through the practice of witnessing our thoughts as an attached observer, we expand our awareness and begin to see opportunities in whatever challenges we are facing to transform and grow.
2. Clear your head
Your mind is a tool. I find that keeping mine clear and free from clutter serves my peace of mind the most effectively. Rarely do I fill my mind with things to remember. First of all, my memory is not always reliable. I’m also far too lazy to maintain the energy needed to remember everything I need to do. I make progress and capture thoughts of inspiration using two techniques:
If I can do a task within the next two minutes then I do it immediately. If it will take longer than two minutes, I quickly send a message or email to myself with my phone to remind me later. Set aside time in your calendar for the tasks. Want to know more tips? Author Dave Allen has written a best selling book on the subject ‘Getting Things Done’.
When a new idea comes to mind, however small it may seem, I write it down in the a note app on my phone and schedule time to review it later.
3. Create space
Nature is such a wonderful healer. A brief walk in a nearby park, countryside, river or sea does wonders for your peace of mind. Walking in such surroundings offers you space to breathe, room for inspiration and contemplate solutions. Another tactic I find works really well is to clear the house of any clutter. I ransack cupboards, clean out draws and put unwanted clothes in bags for collection by a local charity service.
4. Sleep on it
Sometimes simple tiredness can play tricks on our minds and exaggerate negative thoughts, blowing them up out of all proportion. The idea is to acknowledge that you may be just tired. Then call it a day and head for the sheets. When we wake the next day, what we thought was a big problem to worry about, we often see as a small matter we know how to solve.
The benefits of regular yoga practice are well documented and include: lower blood pressure, reduced insomnia, improved respiration, energy and vitality. Not to mention the obvious increased flexibility and muscle strength. Source: American Osteopathic Association
At the time of writing, I have been a yogi for two years. Five times a week, I hop on the mat for an hour of mind, body and breath connection. The experience of an increasingly flexible body and focused mind through regular yoga practice has had a profound positive impact on my wellbeing.
One of the most beneficial ways to quiet the mind, gain clarity and receive guidance is to connect through mediation to your higher self or spirit. I have a daily 15-minute meditation practice, morning and evening, which is non-negotiable. A meditation cushion for sitting comfortably is a must. I sit quietly with my eyes closed and focus on slow natural breathing. Covertly, I ask my higher self what it is that I should do or say next and to whom. Then I return my focus to my breathing and observe quietly any passing thoughts and insights. Often I get a flash of inspiration while other times a simple vibe of reassurance. Either way, I find meditation increases my confidence and belief in my capabilities.
7. Is it true?
Byron Katie is a leader in the practice of her opus ‘The Work’ in which she helps people discover the life-changing power of inquiry. The premise for the work is that we only suffer when we argue with what is. By applying her powerful questioning to our thoughts, we can see things as they are, without resistance and without the confusion of inner struggle.
8. Comfort Zone Gravity
Ever noticed that when things go well we tend to sabotage ourselves? I call it Comfort Zone Gravity. We so relish the need for safety and comfort, that our minds subconsciously seek out ways to keep us firmly in our comfort zones. The problem is we excel only in our creative genius and passion when we step out of our comfort zone. There we find the peace that derives from true fulfillment. To do so, we need to shift from handling in a place of certainty and safety, to embrace new behaviors and risk-taking in a place where the outcome is uncertain. Common symptoms of Comfort Zone Gravity include: worrying, blame and criticism, not speaking the truth and hiding feelings. Want to know more? Read ‘The Big Leap’ by author Gay Hendriks PhD in which he describes the symptoms and remedies of what he calls the ‘Upper Limit Problem’.
9. Blow out the candles
Fear is just excitement without the breath. If you’re feeling anxious, here’s a quick and fun way to dissolve the feeling in your body. Take a short breath, inhaling through your nose. Then press your lips together and exhale, as if you are blowing out the candles on birthday cake. Repeat four times quickly in a row. By the forth blow I bet you’re feeling better. Try this optional advanced move: hold out your hands and shake from your wrists as your blow.
10. Talk to someone
Finding someone who really listens to you and helps you find solutions is an excellent way to dissolve the stress of life’s challenges. As a certified life-coach, I am always heartened to see my clients return to serenity after our conversations. If there is something on your mind that you wish to share and talk to someone about, don’t bottle it up inside. Make it a regular practice to ask friends, family members or a coach for a listening ear. People love to help others to find solutions and offer advice. Likewise, when you reciprocate the kindness and are a listening ear for someone else, you may find the experience uplifting and soothing.
Contributing to someone else’s success and happiness is its own reward.
Business Growth Coach
PS: Leave a reply below. I’d love to hear from you.