You refined your perceptions about life (including career, time, relationships, health and the like). Congratulations on starting your unconventional life journey.
Now, allow me to tell you a deeply rooted need that motivates the most of us to pursue meaningful work (especially, the type A personalities)…
We all want to be useful to the world.
We want to add value and serve people around us. Our egos derive satisfaction from the responsibilities and authority we possess in the work we pursue.
Try recalling a recent moment when you felt content. Examples include:
- you got promoted at work,
- you had a super-productive day at work,
- or you simply helped an old man cross a street.
Such instances bring satisfaction because you’ve served other people and they appreciated your support.
At the end of a day (literally):
Will you feel good about yourself when you know that you could have got more done?
Maybe, you like to gossip and scroll through your Facebook feed. But I am afraid such wasteful joys don’t last long. They only feel good when pursued alongside meaningful work where you do justice to your skills.
A bad day is a result of a person not adding the amount of value that he desired to.
On some days, you’ll meet people with different agendas than yours that will ruin your day. But if we don’t consider external factors, a major reason we fail to fill our ambitioned usefulness for the day is distraction.
We fall for the glorified FOMO and YOLO, choosing momentary pleasure over effortful work. Like we discussed in the last lesson, it’s so easy to get sucked down the instant gratification rabbit hole…it takes one tap on our 5-inch screens.
How can such a distracted person be useful to anyone?
The effects of distraction spread beyond the workday and contaminate other areas of your life. Repeated interruptions train your brain to guard against internal conflict and discomfort. Even your thinking falls into recognizable patterns (more on this later).
So when you get unpleasant emotions like stress, anxiousness and anger; you don’t sit and deal with them. Usually, you get drunk or go binge eating and suppress these feelings. Alcohol (and others) work well as a temporary solution. But long-term stress can take a toll on your relationships, body and overall health, thereby undermining your usefulness.
Ah, did you imagine that innocent taps on your mobile could lead to such depreciation of your life?
And no, I am not painting a pessimistic picture. If distraction becomes a routine for your mind, you live a life away from the present moment. You’ll act without conscious awareness of the activity you pursue.
That’s why awareness is a huge component of an extraordinary life. It’s the secret of seizing the day.
So do you need to sacrifice any component of your life to get your awareness back?
Nope, I’ll not profess you to let go of worldly beliefs like a Buddhist monk. Nor will I ask you to ‘let go of your past’ like a fucking self-improvement demigod.
Rather, I want to introduce you to a zen practice that brings your attention to the present moment and helps in dealing with challenging situations: mindfulness.
It’s the practice of paying attention to the present moment without judgment. You simply accept your thoughts, feelings and sensations. Mindfulness calls for acknowledging the subtle difference:
It’s not the emotion itself, but your reaction to the emotion that fuels your frustration.
Let me show how you can mindfully deal with stress. First, understand that you needn’t resist/ignore the stressful feeling. You acknowledge that stress is present. After acceptance, you investigate where it’s located in your body. Note the sensations – Does your stomach feel heavy? Is there a tightness in your arms? Maybe you feel a tension in your shoulders.
Don’t analyze and judge your stress. Don’t feel that stress is ‘bad.’ Stressing over being stressed will only aggravate it. Be aware and at ease with the stressful feeling. Realize that like other emotions…even stress is impermanent. Other people around you also deal with stress. So witness it with patience. If you don’t try to fight it, the stress will soon disappear.
How about adopting awareness and mindfulness into your everyday life?
You’ll learn to live in the moment and deal with negative emotions courageously, rather than trying to escape them. There’s one simple activity you can use to train yourself for these skills…
If you’re skeptical — no, it isn’t spiritual bullshit solely for religious peeps. It’s like mental reps to train awareness to your brain.
It’s a great practice for being mindful. Regular meditation improves the brain’s health, calms your mind and increases your focus endurance
If you’re the restless type and find difficulty in sitting still, then wait for the bonus material I’ll send tomorrow.
I’ve completed over 120 meditation sessions (with an average length of 13 minutes) using a cutesy mobile app Headspace. I haven’t achieved perfection: I miss days and get distracted. Still, meditation has been a great time investment. The biggest benefit I’ve experienced is awareness of my thinking patterns.
Which brings me to a fascinating aspect of our minds:
A majority of our thinking runs in circles.
If you’re distracted, you might get involved in a negative thought and fall into vicious thinking loops. Soon you become habitual of reinforcing your negative emotions.
Let me elucidate with an example. Suppose, within an hour, you’re going to perform at a Stand-up show. You’ve hilarious jokes up your alley, but it’s your first time on-stage. So you’re nervous. Your feet are trembling. You know that such anxiety is common, but your tingly mind throws a silly suggestion —- ‘You aren’t going to do well…why even bother performing?’
You could have let go of the thought. Let it burst like a firecracker, but you mull over it. So you get a new suggestion — ‘Actually, you’re not good enough.’ You get involved further — ‘You don’t deserve to get the opportunity to perform, you piece of SHIT.’
Such destructive thinking will hurt your confidence. It will serve feeling bad about yourself and your mind will freeze. Do you think you’ll be able to go on stage now?
Now, what if you already knew that you fall into the above mental pattern? Instead of letting fear of failure take over and ruin your mood, you would have interrupted your thinking…Maybe by calling a friend.
Self-awareness of your emotion trail can prevent you from falling into negative and self-limiting mental patterns.
Instead of being a part of the negativity train, you observe events from a distance. You cultivate empathy, knowing that others also experience negative feelings.
If you approach life with curiosity and moment-to-moment awareness, then you’ll let go of such ineffective and unproductive thinking patterns. You’ll live more rationally. And you won’t freak the fuck out when you’re in a stressful situation. Rather, you’ll return to equilibrium, healthy state.
So here is today’s assignment for you —
When you go through the day today, let thoughts come and go usually. Just try to notice their underlying structure. Do you start to undervalue yourself after you get one negative thought? Or do you get pumped and overestimate the amount of work you can do after a positive event?
Remember that you needn’t judge the structure of the trail. There’s no good or bad. It just is….Awareness of the general plot of the stories that you tell yourself will help you in preventing escalation at the first step.
Once you’ve identified your patterns of thoughts, come back tomorrow and fill:
You can replace your negative constructions with more empowering thoughts that help your confidence (kind of like faking it until you make it). Else, you simply train your mind to let go and not indulge in a negative thought.
Additionally, I’ve another exercise for you:
Try meditation for 10 days by downloading the Headspace app (start with 10-minute sessions if you’re short of time). I am sure you’ll start to see the benefits of setting aside this small amount of time every day (preferably in the morning within 90 minutes of waking up).
Find difficulty in sitting still at one place? Then wait for the bonus resource I’ll send you tomorrow. I’ll also share a story of a friend who finds playing a sport as meditation for his mind.
If you’ve always wondered what’s ‘smart work’, then you’ll like the next lesson. I’ll introduce a principle that has changed the way I think about my time and energy. See ya soon!