Do you ever feel bogged down at the end of the day? Or even somewhere in the middle? Perhaps you feel drained from the day’s activity or conversations, or from analyzing all the things that happened? A daily practice of “mental flossing” conceptual matters is as important as cleaning your teeth. If you allow your thoughts and concepts to build up it can be a little tougher to clean them up later.
There are several ways to achieve this and make it habit-forming. First, find a place where you can be alone with your thoughts (of course, you’re always alone with your thoughts, for no one else can know them!), away from outside distractions. Start with the positive. Identify at least five good things that happened in your day. If this is challenging after a difficult day, then start with the basics:
1.) Having food to eat 2.) Clothes to wear 3.) Air to breathe 4.) Hot shower 5.) Shelter.
Now, take a deep breath after identifying each good thing.
Here’s another example of how to practice beyond the basics. Start by lying down in your bed. Notice your breathing for five full breaths. Now pay attention to what comes to mind.
1.) Comfortable bed to lie down on. Take a deep breath. Exhale.
2.) Getting the car fixed less expensively than you thought it might be. Take a deep breath. Exhale.
3.) The great compliment my boss gave me. Take a deep breath. Exhale.
4.) My friend helping me move my furniture. Take a deep breath. Exhale.
5.) Listening to the sound of my spouse breathing next to me. Take a deep breath. Exhale.
Now you’re getting the idea. But, what about the not-so-great things that happened in your day? The thoughts that keep tugging at you, wanting your attention? This takes more flossing! For every negative thought that gives you angst, replace that thought with something good. Even if you have to repeat one of the “basics” of the day to replace the negative thought, that is what you do. More examples of good will come to mind as you continue the exercise. Next thing you know, the weight of the negative will become lighter until it disappears.
It is difficult to stop thoughts from coming, but you are the conductor and can direct them where to go. Here’s another exercise. Create some shelves in your mind. Prioritize the shelves in order of the importance or energy it takes to deal with a thought or problem. The bottom shelf is for things that are easier to deal with or move around, on up to the top shelf where something is going to take more focus or attention. You can mentally tune into these mental dividers throughout the day as needed.
1.) Allow thoughts to come to mind.
2.) Recognize them—“oh, hello, thought”
3.) Identify their importance (urgent, annoying, complex, happy)
4.) Place the thought on the shelf in order of importance—but remember—you are shelving it!
5.) Move on to the task at hand.
Thoughts are tricky. They will come back and press for attention. Continue the mental exercise until you are able to focus more on the task in front of you. When it is time, you can take the thought off the shelf, tend to it and move on. This is another way of learning how to be present—or to be where you are. You can’t be fully present if you are constantly bombarded with thoughts that want you to be somewhere else. This exercise will help you honor all your thoughts, but compartmentalize them and tend to them when it’s time.
Eventually, with some practice, you can learn to be still even amid chaos and distractions. You will be able to shuffle the more difficult thoughts so you can concentrate on what you can control at the moment. In case you didn’t recognize it, the common denominator in the article is breathing!
“Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” – Abraham Lincoln