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Road meditation

Mindfulness

Creative Commons LicensePhoto credit: Kashirin Nickolai

Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.

— Mother Teresa

I have a hard time staying in the present moment.  Maybe, you do too.  For me, this is a problem partially because the more distracted I am the less conscious I am about what’s going on in my life.  About a week and a half ago, I misplaced my rosary.  I had found it years ago and always carried it when I traveled and lately had been carrying it in my pocket to remind me of who I wanted to be.  If I unconsciously put my hand in my shorts/jeans/slacks pocket, it broke my attention to what was going on and reminded me that I had a responsibility to be a loving person – in a Christian sense.  There were times when my emotions would override the reminder, but at other times I paid attention.  Maybe for that short timeframe, I was kinder in some way.

Some mornings when I woke up before the alarm clock and I was unusually focused, I would use the beads to go through and pray for all the people that are in my life.  I never got everyone, but I got at least 50 of them (5 decades) and although I have no idea if it had an effect, it was all I could do for them.

Other times, I would use the rosary to say thank you for 50 different things.  Another exercise that hopefully made me a better person.

But, I Digress

The lost rosary is just one example of my wandering mind.  When I walk for exercise, I usually listen to a book.  Lately, I’ve caught myself becoming more conscious suddenly and realizing I have no idea what the reader is talking about because I’ve been off thinking about what I need to do, or something that frustrates me, or even, how the book applies to me, but that dang reader just keeps going.

We all have this problem occasionally, but it becomes something to focus on when you realize that being conscious is a key to willpower.  Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., author of [amazon-product text=”The Willpower Instinct” type=”text”]1583334386[/amazon-product] and The Science of Willpower blog in Psychology Today, says that part of willpower is being aware of what we’re feeling.  It’s only through our awareness that we have the opportunity to decide instead of defaulting into a particular action.

For example, cravings are the result of a tension that builds in our brains.  When we are considering having a piece of chocolate while we’re dieting, tension is created because we both want the piece of chocolate and don’t want it.  This tension makes us uncomfortable and because we dislike discomfort, we move to eliminate it by relieving the tension.  What we’ve learned over time is that by eating the chocolate, we feel better.  That feeling better comes from relieving the tension.  Unfortunately, for most of us, deciding not to eat the chocolate feels less decisive and therefore doesn’t relieve the tension as completely.

I’m a prime example of this.  If I’m not distracted, I keep revisiting the decision to not eat the chocolate.  After all, it’s still there.  As long as I haven’t eaten it, the chocolate is still sitting there saying – eat me.

Amazingly, I have a strategy that actually works for me.  I don’t keep chocolate at my desk.  Instead, it’s in a friend’s candy jar.  When I just can’t stand it anymore, I go get a piece, but instead of eating it, I put it in the freezer.  And I feel all better.  Seriously!  (Ok, I admit it.  I am truly weird.)  It can sit in the freezer all week, or longer, but I have it, just in case.  There is no danger that if I truly need it, that it won’t be there.

Surfing

Sarah Bowen, a research scientist at the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington, has found that the feelings we experience don’t last forever or until we satisfy the craving.  They come in waves and it is possible for us to ride the wave (surf) by being mindful.

Using a meditation technique of focusing on the breath, Bowen teaches people who are trying to make a major change like quitting smoking how to break the craving into identifiable chunks that can be handled one at a time.  Each of the chunks is a part of the underlying habitual behavior.  By becoming familiar with the pieces of the habit and feeling the tension that comes with it, the participant can become aware of the discomfort and learn to be aware without using the old behavior to relieve it.  This gives the participant several opportunities to interrupt the habit and by interrupting to reduce its power.

The key, though, is mindfulness.  If we can’t slow down enough to feel the feelings as they occur, we end up standing in front of the refrigerator knowing that we need something and now knowing what (or at least I do).

All of this seems like a lot of work – and it is.  Yet, the more we understand how our brain works, the more options we have.  You’ve probably heard that we only use 5% of our brain power.  Maybe, by understanding the inner workings, we might actually get up to 6%.

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