We know other people are a constant source of entertainment, from the things they do (cut in line) or say (stupid stuff), or wear (butt-cheeks below those shorty-shorts), and how they stroll and be-bop to their tunes. A seat at a coffee shop, alone, is the quickest way to observe your fellow human being. Add to that a park bench or music venue or airport waiting lounge and you’re good for hours.
If you really want to be entertained, study yourself. Just like the omnipresent cat videos, your mind is always available. However, don’t expect all of the joy you get from watching those cute, claw monsters terrorize dogs, shred toilet paper rolls or poop in toilets. Watching yourself doesn’t always feel so good. It can be challenging to be introspective, but if you have the right attitude, it can be pretty darn fun.
What’s it mean to “watch yourself”? Of course, you watch yourself, you are yourself. But, really, most of our mental process is spent doing one of three things: ruminating in the past, judging in the present or planning (i.e., worrying) about the future. This is common, normal and just what the mind does. Don’t worry, it’s not a bad thing. You’re human. What I’m suggesting is that you become a bit more curious. Think of it as meddling in your own mind. Here are a few things to watch for:
The Past – Ruminating, we do it all of the time. We pick some injustice or difficulty (not always, but often) to replay over-and-over. (Note to self: The way you remember past events is not very accurate.) We also tend to avoid and push away uncomfortable thoughts. The past is over and excessive rumination is just crazy-making. Practice: Notice when and possibly why you spend too much time in the past. Are they happy memories? Are the thoughts beneficial to you right now?
The Present – Watch how much judgment comes up about yourself and others. We either like or dislike (love or hate) everything. There seems to be a need to have an opinion about the most insignificant to the grandiose. At the grocery checkout do you look at your neighbor’s basket with the 2 6-packs of Bud, jumbo Coke, frozen pizza and Dorito Nacho Cheese chips and judge? I do. Do you also mentally comment on the speed of the checker or their age or how long they’ve had the job? You might. Practice: See things and events just be the way they are without the mental gyrations of labeling. Is it possible?
The Future – Get a load of how many stories you tell yourself about the future. Problem is that much of our future planning is fear-based. Will I screw up? Will people like me? What if it rains? Notice. What is the nature of your future-seeking thoughts? Practice: Paying attention gives you a chance shift or, the word of the day, “pivot” your outlook. Begin to see the future in a more positive light.
Can you tell how you divide your mental time between the past, present, and future? Does one dominate? These questions are not to be solved; they are to be observed without judgment. It’s the noticing and awareness that the key. It’ll take some practice as the mind doesn’t so much care for being scrutinized. It likes doing what it wants.
There’s one more thing. Observe your body. When you find your mind has wandered into no-man’s land, check in with your body. Most times the body is physically reacting to the emotions the mind is creating. If you’re thinking about an event that was fearful, your body will begin to act as if it was “real” and happening in real time. Your body will begin to show signs of stress just from your thoughts. Again, be inquisitive and see if you can find the corresponding change in your body with the varying thoughts in your mind. They’re there if you look hard.
I hope you enjoy spending some time with your mind. Instead of looking at it as a chore, think of it as a source of entertainment. “Wow, look what my mind just did!! Hah!! There it goes again!”.