“Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do,
but it gets you nowhere”
Have you ever thought of giving advice to your younger self? If you could travel back in time, perhaps to when you were a young teenager, what would you say? What lesson have you learnt so far in life, which could change your whole outlook? Even just focusing on the superficial, I can remember how insecure I was about my appearance, yet now when I look at photos of myself as a teenager, it is a pleasant surprise! But perhaps that is the nature of being a teenager, with hormones swirling and the adult world beckoning, to be confused and insecure.
But beyond the angst of skin problems and self-doubt, what bad pattern did you develop that may still haunt you now? The advice I still wish I could take is to stop worrying. We waste so much time thinking about what could happen, what has happened, what other people are thinking of us, that we stay awake at night. Then we deplete our energy resources even more.
I often look at those who do not appear to be infected by the worry virus, and wonder what their secret is. They exude an air of ‘que sera, sera’, whatever will be, will be. When I went back to school ten years ago, the phrase I learnt that sticks with me today was ‘it is what it is’. We often spin our wheels trying to convince other people to change when we should be accepting and moving on. I have seen students spend many minutes trying to convince us why their answer to a test question is right, rather than trying to understand why it is wrong.
But back to changing unhealthy patterns. If you can silence the endless chatter of your mind, it allows answers and solutions to appear. And like most problems, the first step is recognizing that you have a problem, and paying attention to habits that have become subconscious. Mindfulness, an Eastern meditation practice which has become popular as a solution to most of the problems of the West, advises us to begin by noticing, by being aware of those crazy thoughts that are scurrying around your mind like lab rats, and consciously stop them.
There are techniques for this, like imagining the thoughts wrapped in a balloon and allowing them to drift away and leave you alone. Another technique which is taught in meditation is to focus on your breathing. When you notice the breath as you inhale deep into your lungs, follow it all the way down, hold it, then release it, it focuses your mind away from those rat thoughts, and anchors you deeply in the present moment.
A strategy to help you develop new habits to replace old habits, is to ‘fake it till you make it’. Imagine you are that carefree, water off a duck’s back person. Try for one day to see what it feels like to look at the traffic and think: “So what if I am a little late for work, at least I am alive”. Or when your wonderful child does less than spectacularly on some school exam tell yourself “Perhaps this is the lesson he needs to learn”. There is always another way to see things, and going around the corner to find a new perspective may help your blood pressure come down a point or ten, if you let yourself.
Mindfulness also means paying attention to the way you react to things. Notice how you let your shoulders tense up as the day progresses. Wonder why you get those tension headaches? Once you detect those things you do when life throws its little challenges at you, you can try to stop. Consciously pull your shoulders down; unclench your fists or your jaw; find something funny in the situation and let out a big dutty laugh (as we say in Jamaica: BOABDL, or in the US, ROFL). There is actually a form of yoga breathing known as Laughter Yoga, which has been found to have significant health benefits. Plus, it changes the whole dynamics of any situation.
We may be in dire personal circumstances. The world may be at the brink of conflagration. Is there something we can do about it? If the answer is yes, then do it! If the answer is no, then just relax and let it happen. We spend way too much time convinced we can change things that we actually have little or no control over. And a year from now will you be able to remember what it was you were so upset about?
So on this lovely Friday morning (and my sympathies continue to go out to those who are suffering from the wicked winter of ’15) I challenge you to think of what advice you would give your younger self. And then see whether you are living that advice today, for it just may be that you still need to work on living those lessons. I know I do. And I also know I am a work in progress, and hopefully will continue to be working and growing until the day I die.
One Love Family!