Finding your Flexibility
…and no, I don’t mean learning to do the splits.
When it comes to our minds, we often fall back on associations that we’ve learned, rules that we (and others) have set up, and a lot of “should” and “should nots”.
It makes sense, as our minds are amazing connection makers, and are built to learn quickly from mistakes. Burn yourself on a hot stove? New rule entered: DO NOT TOUCH HOT STOVE.
Sure, I can get behind this rule, because…safety, but what happens when our minds create rigid rules for other areas of our life? Well, our minds often do, and the result can be a lot of stress, self-judgment, punishment, feeling “less than”, and life limitations.
Taking into consideration how our minds naturally operate, it would be impossible to turn off their connection-making abilities, and it probably wouldn’t be in our best interest. However, learning to add some flexibility and hold our ideas, rules, thoughts, and feelings more lightly, can go a long way toward reducing pressure and giving us some much-needed breathing space.
In order to hold on to our thoughts and feelings a bit more lightly, we need to get some space between us and them and reconsider the role they play in our lives.
Thoughts and feelings can come on strong and fast, and contrary to what we sometimes think, they are largely outside of our explicit control. When we hold on too tightly, we find ourselves fused with them and we become one. When this happens, we approach our thoughts as facts, and our feelings as never changing and all knowing.
The trouble with this is our thoughts and feelings come and go, sometimes in a random fashion, and other times in a more predictable pattern. But either way, what we think and feel is transient.
Now, this isn’t to say that our thoughts and feelings aren’t valid or real, they are definitely both of those. But what they aren’t, are permanent, all knowing, or factual.
I’m in no way suggesting to ignore or disregard thoughts and feelings when they arise; after all, they’re often full of useful information. What I am suggesting, is finding new ways of engaging with them, through a more flexible, less rigid approach. Doing this can allow us to really hear our thoughts, and feel our feelings, and to take time to evaluate how useful they are and how they fit in with our values and goals. Slowing things down in this way can reduce stress and pressure, and create clarity and a sense of being grounded.
Here are a few ideas to try out that may help create more flexibility in your thinking and experiencing:
- Begin by simply noticing the types of thoughts, self-talk, and images that your mind conjures up, and pay attention to your reaction to them. Ideally this will be non-judgmental attention, which is simply noticing without labeling or judging.
- Notice if and when you are getting caught up in your thoughts, and try to stay with that experience as it’s happening. You can say it out loud to yourself, make note of it internally, or write it down – as long as you are stopping to notice that the thoughts are taking up a lot of mental energy and space. Simply noticing this process is a part of distancing yourself from it, and activating the observing part of your mind.
- Create some space by saying the words “I’m having the thought that…” followed by the thought you’re having. This is a quick strategy that adds in a preamble to whatever the thought is, creating slight distance between you and the thought itself.
- Notice that your thoughts and feelings don’t dictate your action. For instance, have you ever felt guilty or worried about something, and did it anyway? Realizing that we have a lot of power and control over what we do, even if our thoughts and feelings may sometimes try to convince us otherwise, can help us meet our inner world with flexibility.