How to Keep Your Thoughts from Making You Miserable
"The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” -John Milton, Paradise Lost
“What’s your ice cream?”
The question, if someone had posed it to me at my favorite ice cream shop, wouldn’t bear repeating here. But with sweat blinding my vision and me coaxing my injured left shoulder into a triangle pose, the question bounced around oddly in the tiny yoga studio.
Despite the serene view outside, a family of ducks gliding on a lake, I was very much aware of the pain in my left shoulder. A rotator cuff injury has kept me from yoga for the past six months. But that was starting to look too much like an excuse so I found myself here, listening to Donna’s reassuring voice guiding me through yoga.
“Would you rather focus on your pain or focus on the ice cream?”
Okay, how did this woman get inside my head?
“Yes, I know the pain is there. The difficulty is there.”
Uh-huh. Now get out of my head, please.
“But what would happen if it weren’t? We can broaden this to other areas of your life. Whatever problems facing you now, imagine what that would feel like if they were no longer there. Focus on that. That’s your ice cream.”
So I shifted my focus away from the pain in my left shoulder to the ducks outside. I picture the ease and effortlessness of holding this pose, and to my surprise I find my body obeying. Then something even more extraordinary happened.
No – my shoulder didn’t heal itself on the spot and the pain never left.
But it felt no less miraculous. My mind was at peace. It was floating with no effort at all like the ducks outside. My thoughts no longer make feel miserable.
When we focus on a thing, we give it importance. If we are not mindful, we focus on the things that rob us of our peace. Doing so causes us to lose perspective, and eventually, we lose our footing.
At the same time, don’t let anyone – including yourself - invalidate your feelings. Acknowledge that they – your situation, and your feelings about the situation – are there.
Now, what if without fighting, without ignoring, and without glossing over what it is that is taking away from your joy, you shift your focus?
All you need is a tiny shift.
I used to think it takes a cosmic shift. That it requires a Cheryl Strayed journey into the wild. And who hasn’t dreamed of world travel that rivals the one Elizabeth Gilbert took to find pleasure, peace and love through Italy, India and Bali?
Though my own travels were not quite the scale of Gilbert and Strayed, I’ve done enough traveling to know that you always come back from one with a broader perspective. You come back changed.
Yet for most Americans, traveling remains a luxury. It requires a bit of time and money in a culture that has yet to figure out how to balance both.
That is why you should practice the art of shifting your thought. At the moment you become aware that your thoughts are not serving you, shift.
A tiny mind shift leads to a cosmic change.
You can do so in a less than ideal situation. In the middle of a contentious conversation. Driving in rush hour traffic. In a work meeting.
See for yourself. Here’s how you would train your mind to shift.
For a brief moment, imagine your ideal condition. Close your eyes if it is safe to do so.
See how that mental picture feels in your belly.
Feel the heaviness falling away from your shoulders.
Breathe. Relax into that for a few moments longer.
Now go back to what you were focusing on before. Notice the difference in how that felt. Do you feel your ribcage pressing up against your chest? See how your breathing grew more labored?
You have a decision to make.
Choose to be in a state of peace or choose to remain in pain.
Acknowledge that your pain is real. That the situation is real. It is there today. It may still be there tomorrow. You have little control over that.
But this moment, and every moment, you have complete control over yourself.
Focus on your ice cream.
- Positive Attitude
- Overcoming Challenge
- Overcoming Sadness
- Mental Clutter
- Being Present
- Taking Action
- Positive Self-Talk
- Getting Off the Couch
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