Do you ever have trouble sitting with your own thoughts?
Perhaps you go through most of your day at a fast pace... rushing out the door to run an errand on the way to work, or picking the kids up only to rush home and make dinner before running to another activity.
If so, you are not alone. We live in a fast-paced society and rarely take time to sit with our own thoughts. As a result, you may have lost the ability to simply be present, sitting with your own thoughts with ease.
Let's explore this issue and discover ways we can become accustomed to being in the present once again.
Studies done by researchers looked at this issue by asking people to be alone with their thoughts for 15 minutes. Participants were given the option to give themselves an electric shock if they didn’t want to simply be alone with their thoughts for the full time.
The results were truly unbelievable! A full 30% of men and 60% of women chose to give themselves an electric shock, rather than being alone with their thoughts.
It is interesting that anyone would rather experience the pain of a shock rather than sitting with their own thoughts, but it is not completely surprising. As a society we do not value stillness and presence, instead honoring productivity and accomplishment. For many people this culture of striving results in great discomfort when they have time to simply be.
What You Can Do Today
If you are someone that has little time for sitting with their own thoughts, you may find it beneficial to intentionally develop your ability to simply be. But with all the busyness surrounding you, what can you do to give yourself a little time alone with your thoughts today?
To begin with, start small. You don’t need to go to an hour long meditation or yoga class three times a week. Simply sit in your car for a couple minutes after doing your grocery shopping or dropping the kids off at an activity. During this time settle your heart and focus on your breath.
When your mind begins to wander, just notice it and bring it back to your breath in a non-judgmental way. It is normal to have to bring your mind back to the present quite frequently when you begin this practice, the key is to simply refocus without getting caught up in frustration.
Use Your Senses
Your senses are other great tools to bring you back into the present. The following exercise takes just a few minutes and can be done just about anywhere.
Start by getting in a comfortable position either sitting in a chair with your feet flat on the ground or lying down if you aren’t too tired. Then take a few refreshing deep breaths. Now tune in to your senses. What are 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell, and one thing you can taste?
Using Guided Visualizations
Some people find guided visualizations extremely helpful in helping them focus when they are first trying to develop this type of practice. Kristen Neff is a mindfulness expert who focuses on self-compassion.
Her guided meditations are available free online. Each exercise lasts between 5-25 minutes and can be done in the privacy of your home. It is a great place to start if you struggle to stay present in the moment.
Developing a Mindfulness Practice
As you develop your skills to be present in the moment, you are actually developing a mindfulness practice. Mindfulness had been found to lower stress, anxiety, and depression. Becoming more mindful can even help you respond more appropriately in stressful situations.
There are so many ways to develop your own mindfulness practice. It is truly just intentionally bringing your attention to what is happening in the moment without judgement. Even just a few moments of purposefully being in the moment can make a difference. There is no right or wrong way to do it as long as it’s approached with openness and grace.
Perhaps the only time you have to yourself is when you are in the bathroom or going to bed. If so, try giving yourself a few minutes alone with your thoughts while you are lying in bed or taking a shower.
These little moments will become a gift that you can look forward to giving yourself throughout the day!