A Three-Pronged Purge into the Present

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The first step involved in any change is often a good purge.  A purge that helps prepare you for a better path than the one you are on.  Like weeding out and tossing away the crap in your basement (e.g., that exercise ball you never use), this purge helps weed out some of the crap in your brain.

The purge into the present focuses on three things you can do right now.  These are things we’ve all heard over the years, but seeing them together with some new examples might help them ring true in a new way.

1.  Learn from the past rather than dwelling on it

Human beings are an amazing species for many reasons, a major one being that we have the ability to remember a vast amount from our past.  However, when we take these memories and brood about the “woulda, coulda, shouldas”, it turns into “dwelling”.  When we take our memories and use these experiences to try something else, we are instead “learning” from our past.  It can become a fine line, one that is easily crossed.  For example, if a person with a string of unsuccessful relationships takes note of those things that would make for a better relationship and applies that knowledge to the next relationship, that would be learning from the past.  However, if this person instead fixates on all the details of these relationships and what he or she could have done differently to change the past and make one of them work, that becomes dwelling.

If there are certain difficult memories that you have learned what you can from and then start to dwell on, make your new memory about the situation be that you’re moving on from it.  Being aware of the “learning vs. dwelling” might just be the kick in the butt those bad memories need.  Over time, I’ve discovered that at the heart of what I’m really learning from any difficult situation is that it’s yet another opportunity for me to be in the present moment.

Super awesome memories can backfire too if we begin to dwell that things can never be as good as they once were.  If you put any memories up on a pedestal for too long, you then start to see your current experience as always falling short.  The memories we have of our first moments with our family are wonderful to cherish.  Just don’t cherish them to the point where the 1,000th date with your spouse can’t hold surprises or because your children no longer have the chubby cheeks they allowed you to kiss a million times a day, you can’t truly connect with them.

When a memory becomes too awesome or too difficult to think about, consider bringing yourself back to the present moment.  That moment can be as baggage-free as you allow it to be.

2.  Worry less about the future

Similar to memories, a person’s ability to process the concept of the distant future is another wondrous aspect of our genetic make-up.  However, let’s make this future something that we plan and set goals for, not one we shower with worrisome thoughts.  Living in the present does not mean we have to live life by the seat of our pants and assume that the mortgage will be paid on time, we’ll get a job by sitting on the couch all day, or dinner will somehow appear on the table.  Plans and goals are fantastic when they include what it is in the present you can do about them.  However, when a plan or a goal turns into obsessing about whether or not it will turn out as we hope, then that turns into worrying.  Aiming for a promotion is definitely a goal, but after we’ve done all that we can to increase our chances and then continue to worry about whether or not we’ll get it, it becomes a burden your brain needs to shed.  Ultimately, your boss, not you, has control over this decision.  Similarly, setting up a will- that’s good; worrying relentlessly about your untimely death- that’s bad.  You get the drift.

This leads us to discussing the worry I’ve experienced as a parent- so much of what I’m worrying about is out of my control.  This becomes especially true as they grow up and more of their day is spent with others.  I honestly don’t know if I could ever get to a place where I never worry about my children, but realistically I think I can worry much less. Worrying less is important because if I spend my days all worked up over how their day is going when I’m not with them, I’m going to miss what’s going on in mine.

Sometimes I think parents mistakenly equate worrying with caring.  As in, if we’re not worrying about all the possible bad things that could happen, then they might actually happen.  I would argue that not worrying actually frees us up to engage with our children and truly let them tell us how things are going, without them feeling like we’re always afraid of any misstep they’re going to make or horrible thing happening to them.  In all likelihood, they won’t happen or be nearly as bad as we worried they would be.  Think of these missteps instead as opportunities to help you both find ways back into the present moment.  For example, if they have behaved unacceptably, help them come up with a plan for rectifying this situation.  Or, review and make sure they understand important safety precautions but then have trust that they will follow through.  I’m sure easier said than done when you hand over the keys to the car to your sixteen-year-old.  But, the reality is that worrying won’t help them drive any better.  If anything, it will make them anxious thinking about how anxious you are.  However, the on-going plan you have in place to help them learn how to drive will make them a better driver. (Someone please show this to me again when my kids are sixteen.)

Often times our children and teenagers worry about their own missteps even more than we might know.  Teach them that they don’t have to worry about their future to show themselves or anyone else they care about their future.  Have open discussions starting at a young age about what’s on their plate, so to speak, and work together to clear it off.

For example, an upcoming math test might involve mapping out a plan to study.  Getting their mind off worrying about how they did on it might involve having them recap all the wonderful things they did to prepare for the test and then suggest a game of Monopoly to jump start moving on from thinking about it. If the results are not what they had hoped, then a new plan is in order to prepare for the next math test.  Maybe this time during planning it’s hypothesized that the poor performance is due to test taking anxiety, not the actual time studying. The general idea being that when we model for them how to plan and set goals instead of worry, you can bet it will become second nature to them a lot sooner.

3.  Let go of negative emotions

Now that we’ve discussed the past and future, let’s move onto another place the mind tends to keep us out of the present: negative emotions.  Many of these negative emotions are indeed tied into dwelling on past and worrying about the future (some of which might be best addressed with a mental health professional), but many of them are simply a matter of moving on more easily from the daily moments in life that stress us out.  Coffee spilling everywhere, the dog taking a crap on the floor, a baby wailing, a toddler tantruming, a driver cutting us off, hurtful words from a family member or boss, etc, can all lead to some bad feelings.  But, these feelings don’t have to hitch a ride with us the whole day.  Experience and acknowledge the feeling of hurt, anger, frustration, irritation, or sadness.  Don’t waste your time feeling like you should have felt okay about the situation or put a positive spin on it.  Then, once you’ve acknowledged it, just move on.  Seriously, it can be that easy.  You don’t need to always dissect what it was that angered you and why you felt so angry.  Pretend that you are like a wave and after the anger crashes in, it can also just as easily wash back into the ocean.  Allowing anger to quickly diffuse will also help you avoid doing anything with that anger you might later regret.  The next people you see would probably thank you if they knew how you’d allowed the anger you experienced to fizzle away from you to make way for positive interactions.

The best part is, the more you make a habit of letting go of negative emotions, the more difficult it is for these negative emotions to grab hold in the first place.  But, if you are finding it difficult to let go of a particular negative feeling, than develop a plan to address the person or situation causing it so you can move back into the present.  If this isn’t an option or something you’re willing to do, then default to just moving on.  If you did address it and received a less-than-desirable response, moving on becomes your best option once again.

So, ready then for your brain-basement purge?  Just remember in your purge, that dwelling on the past, worrying about the future, and clinging onto negative emotions will NEVER be useful to you, so just get rid of them!  Over time, thinking about purging these three things won’t have to be so deliberate.  Your mind will naturally gravitate away from them into the present without thinking so hard about it.  When you don’t have crap clogging up your brain, your brain starts to accept this as the new norm.  I know mine has.  But, I do need to remind myself to re-purge now and again because there’s always new crap moving down to the basement that I know I should just toss out.  My husband somehow acquired another exercise ball, that is currently sitting atop the exercise bike we no longer use.  I can think of a few things this could be a metaphor for in my life right now…so back up to number 1, 2, and 3.

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  • Present Senses’ Essays

    Present Senses’ essays contain my thoughts and opinions about how I have found ways to live in the present moment more often than before. While many have written on this subject for thousands of years in thousands of different ways, my hope is that the everyday conversational language about everyday experiences will offer something unique- especially for those with children at home- to consider and possibly relate to their own lives.

    From my earliest memories onward, if I was seeking out an answer to a question, there was inevitably an explanation out there that clicked with me. If you’re looking for an answer on how to live a more stress-free and peaceful life, I truly hope these essays click with you. And even if they don’t click, I would encourage you to keep on searching for an explanation of living a more present life that works for you. There’s a reason people have been striving to live in the moment for hundreds of years- it brings peace to your life.

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    Enjoy!