The Mind – Self-Entertainment

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!”.

Do Less

Ever notice how much is expected of us?  Wonder Women and Men, all of us. The demands of daily living become more complicated each year and our grasp on how to live a meaningful life threatens to loosen. The Joneses never seem to move. The pressure continues to look younger, live longer, have more stuff, and climb and social and corporate ladder.  It’s a complicated merry-go-round of do-do-do.  Are we really getting anywhere?

What if we actually did less?  What would our stress and anxiety level look like?  I’m guessing we’d be a lot more chill.  We create most of our stress by overburdening our lives with being busy.  We’re oh so busy, busy, busy.  The Archbishop Desmond Tutu in “The Book of Joy” notes that it’s hard to be joyful when we have continual feelings of being overwhelmed and not able to handle our work and family commitments or the digital devices that constantly are reminding us of all the things we are missing.

The Dalai Lama in the same book added:

“Stress and anxiety come from too much expectation and too much ambition. Then when we don’t fulfill that expectation or achieve that ambition, we experience frustration.  . . . Often we are not being realistic about our own ability or about objective reality. . . Unrealistic effort only brings disaster. So in many cases our stress is caused by our expectation and our ambitions.”

The Dalai Lama is encouraging us to be more realistic with our priorities.  When we see how little we need, then we can quit grasping and find more love and compassion.  He says what we are looking for is a “settled, joyful state of being and we need to give this state more space”. I wonder if we could find that settled and joyful state by doing a bit less.

I’m listening to “The Art of Not Giving a F*ck, a Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life” by Mark Manson. He advances the message of the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu, except that Manson peppers every sentence with at least a couple of f*cks. In continuing with the Dalai Lama’s thoughts about priorities and where we spend our energy, he posits that we have too many expectations.  From his book:

“Our culture today is obsessively focused on unrealistically positive expectations: Be happier. Be healthier. Be the best, better than the rest. Be smarter, faster, richer, sexier, more popular, more productive, more envied, and more admired. Be perfect and amazing and crap out twelve-karat-gold nuggets before breakfast each morning while kissing your selfie-ready spouse and two and a half kids goodbye. Then fly your helicopter to your wonderfully fulfilling job, where you spend your days doing incredibly meaningful work that’s likely to save the planet one day.”

“But, what if doing less causes me more stress because I’m not getting things done?”, you smartly ask.  Stressing about what what we’re “not doing” is causing us stress.  We falsely think that being busy will make us feel like we’re actually “doing” something and “being productive”.  Hogwash. This is often misguided busyness.  Much of our “doing” is constantly checking our “likes” on Facebook, checking the latest tweets by Donald Trump and watching another 30 minutes of The Crown.  Then, we berate ourselves for not having time to go to the gym.  We are not giving the proper propriety to what we do in a day, because there is soooo much to do–it’s overwhelming. We have projects that have been put off, phone calls to return, parents to call, volunteer work to do, and 2.5 kids to schlep to soccer practice. As Mr. Manson writes, “Living a good life is not giving a f*ck about more, but giving a f*ck about less”

Time is what everyone says they just don’t have enough of.  Doing less buys us time. Doing less lowers stress, leads to greater creativity, enhances the immune system and generally makes us feel better. If, and it’s a big “if” you can feel okay with doing less.  It may not be easy at first, but give it a try.

When someone tries to add something to your plate, instead of using the excuse that you’re “too busy” start saying “Thanks for asking, but I’m doing less.”  See what response you get. How does that feel?  Now take that time of “less doing” and write or paint or sing or sit and read with a cup of lemon-ginger tea.  What about hot bath?  Do something that brings you joy.  I think you’ll be surprised how easy it is.  Doing less may actually give you more.