The emotional quality of our lives is dictated mostly by our perception and how we decide to interpret things that are going on both outside, as well as within ourselves. But in order for our interpretation to match reality and what is really taking place, it is necessary to get in touch with ourselves- to feel every underlying mood, emotional depth, even bodily sensations. Putting it simple- we need to pay more attention.
And before you mistake this article with dozens of others you’ve already read about mindfulness and perception and all the other metaphysic words parroted around, let me throw you a sales pitch on why this is a bird of another feather.
We are, most of us, very well trained in the practice of blindly following habits and routines. When enough thought has been placed on forming these habits and routines, especially early in our lives, we tend to do well on the long run. What happens when we break the good habits and form some out of impulse, especially in this fast-paced society, is we start to live life in a volatile haphazard fashion, never really paying attention to anything.
Non-intentional living, some would call it, and it definitely has its own way of pilling up emotional and mental issues on the long run. Our relationships, careers, finances, and every other aspect of life really tend to follow a same curve- never paying enough attention- we tend to screw them up. Predictably, life becomes harder to enjoy.
What I’m about to share is nothing exclusive per se. These are simple, yet highly effective principles, or let us call them habits, that will greatly improve the mental and emotional quality of your life. As you can guess- better mood, relationships, opportunities, and pretty much all the good stuff usually follow.
And it all starts with paying attention.
All you have to do is simply observe – here is why
We tend to skip the good moments in our lives, the good things happening, despite having the potential to enjoy them in abundance. The awesomeness is already there, yet often times we are simply not aware of it.
We already have great people as part our lives, and enough pleasant stimuli to cause us a sensory overload. There is so much to be enjoyed. However though, on the flipside, there are enough negative things to rattle our cages as well.
So here is a paradox I cannot seem to fully bend my mind around- we never focus on the positive things happening within our lives enough, but easily become masters of negative fixation.
To make things even worse, underlying issues are never fully investigated, and we, unaware of what is happening, put the spotlight on negative thoughts and behavior instead.
Paying enough attention means making sure you realize what is going on with yourself during each moment- pleasant or otherwise. It means being enough aware as to recognize fear, anxiety, panic, as well as all the other abstracts on the opposing side of the spectrum- enthusiasm, happiness…
Practicing to make yourself able to detect these feelings and emotions, you will enter another level of awareness, thus improving the mental and emotional quality of your life. And I know this sounds abstract and flowery enough, but just answer one thing for me- are you happy?
This is a trick question many people use when trying to lure you into a cradle and sell you snake oil and half-baked philosophies. The answer, as far as rational thinking is concerned, is that happiness is always within, though we are just cluttering it with negative creations of our own.
Becoming aware of what these negative creations are (give you a hit- fear, doubt, anger, pessimism, anxiety…), and being able to face them at their real value, they simply dwarf in significance. Staying with them long enough, they tend to lose the heaviness we usually associate them with. All we have to do is pay attention, become aware, and nothing more. Easy when you think about it, am I right?
I can feel everything already, that’s easy – no, it’s not, and you can’t
Intellectualizing our predicaments we get the false impression that nothing can escape our awareness. Not even close to what is usually happening with majority of folks. Most of us post-process our emotions and feelings by spinning them closer to what feels comfortable enough to explain them.
Knees deep into explanations and intellectualizing, the essential part of the emotion still stays largely undetected. Pilled long enough, some emotional issues have the capacity of escalating and changing our behavior and thus our relationships, habits, way we look at things… our live, in short.
And we are quite adept in building complex systems, through the power of habit, in order not to allow more awareness to arise. Awareness, so we’ve experienced, is responsible for discovering underlying issues. They make us feel bad, and we don’t tend to stay with them long enough in order to face them at their true value. Paralyzed out of fear not to become uncomfortable, we stifle our awareness.
Complex systems, I hear you asking? Let me indulge you for a moment…
Can you recall how many times you’ve compulsively checked your mail, bank accounts, Facebook page…?
How many times you’ve played music in your car and sang along the tune, just in case some thoughts of self-analyzing float to the surface?
How many times you’ve explained to yourself, and to others thus reinforcing the misleading explanation, that the reason why you are tired, lethargic, blue, is all because of the weather, lack of sleep, the circumstances…?
How many times you’ve caught yourself saying- I cannot get this tune out of my head?- when in fact you are the one who’ve placed it there though unintentionally.
See what I’m saying? We all think that we are living in the moment, when in fact that’s not entirely true. It takes quite some time to learn how to ignore what is happening outside as well as within, and certainly just as much time to reverse the process.
The first is done – and here is the kicker- subconsciously, whereas you have to invest yourself for the second. Learning how to live in the moment, broaden your awareness, let go of obsessive thoughts, thoughts running on auto pilot, and sometimes get out of your mind takes a lot of time and practice. It is a process, a never ending one, and a through-and-through joy to experience.
Though not an expert in the least, I can teach you a great deal; for the habits and practices you need to adopt are very easy and straightforward.
How to become more aware and gain more control?
Remember, we are not trying to change anything, simply become aware of what it is that we are going through- an emotion, a thought, a feeling. How this will change you in the process, you wouldn’t believe me even if I go and explain myself to the length of ten articles.
There are couple of basic notions I have to ran by you in order to fully familiarize you with the process.
Awareness is not something that we exercise all by itself. Sure, there are methods that might take you there and some last shorter while others go on for a longer period of time, but it is not something that you obtain just by contemplating about it. Habits need to be formed, and you have to devote to these two principles:
Intentional living and mindfulness
Intentional living, in short, stands for doing things because you’ve decided to, and not because you’ve slowly drifted away into doing them. Let me give you two opposing examples:
Singing a song because you feel like it, and want to go over the notes for couple of times would be very intentional, while having a tune stuck in your head for the length of the day and repeatedly singing it is not.
Opening your Facebook account because you’ve decided that there is a specific thing that might interest you would be intentional, while compulsively opening as to check nothing, is not.
Learning to tell the difference between the two while you are doing them is huge, and it usually takes a lot of self-analyzing during the first week or so. Use some of these experiments in order to bring yourself more towards the intentional side of living than the one where you do things and don’t even know about doing them. The more intent you place behind your actions and thoughts, or the less you act without intent, the easier the process becomes. This is the one side of the coin if you want to improve your awareness. So here we go:
Restrain yourself from doing anything compulsively
Easier said than done, for this is a habit we’ve practiced for the bigger part of our lives. Some are better in this regard and some quite worse, but regardless of the fact, every state can be reversed.
Start by your internet habits. We spend a lot of time on our computers, so it makes sense to clean the garbage there at the beginning. Less browsing sites without any specific purpose, and less checking your e-mail accounts, your social media profiles…
Whenever you catch yourself right in front of doing it, ask this question- why am I doing this right now? If the answer is not specific enough, stop right away. No harm done. If you catch yourself in the middle of the process though- mindlessly browsing through sites like Reedit- again, no harm done, simply close the tab or the browser.
Do this for couple of days and you will notice a huge burden lifting off. On the flipside though, you will notice something laying underneath. It makes a perfect sense- doing things compulsively, it takes you away from the issue at hand. And we became very well versed into this practice. Once the compulsive action is gone, there is usually something else hiding underneath- panic, anxiety, fear, insecurity, whatever…
This, for now, simply stays there. I will tell you what to do with it in the next chapter.
After your internet habits are refined, go on and continue with other aspects of your life. Are you compulsively checking your phone, your watch…? Stop right there and repeat the same thing we’ve explained.
Be intentional with your routines and schedule
We are all slaves to one routine or another for better or for worse. And I’m not trying to change that. What you need to do though, is to refine your routines down to only what is truly intentional.
In addition, here comes the second principle I was talking about, and the last step before exercising more awareness- mindfulness.
Mindfulness stands for being present within the moment, and fully experiencing whatever it is that is happening here-and-now. It means plugging yourself off of anything else in order to fully experience a taste, a smell, an activity, the flow of things… This is actually a lot harder than it sounds, and even harder than broadening your awareness to some degree. But don’t worry; you only need to practice a tiny bit of it.
Here is how:
Never be in a hurry
And I really mean it. Though it is excruciatingly hard to imagine slowing down for some, you must, for not a lot happens while in this state of limbo. You never experience things, stimuli, emotions, people, events, even the surroundings as a whole.
Be preoccupied with what is going on at hand and stay there for a while longer.
Get up earlier if need be, or leave things unfinished. Stressing yourself over the fact that you’d be late doesn’t serve to accomplish anything. This is very easy for me to preach- sitting in my PJ’s from the comfort of my home office, never worrying about deadlines- but we all have some things we need do, or places we need arrive at… It is up to you to decide whether or not you are a busy man who is always in a hurry. There are always people far busier than you and I both are, and they are still somehow managing it. So it is your perception sometimes, not reality.
Have moments when you unwind
As this holds a different meaning for the both of us, I cannot tell you what to do. Simply, find a day or two in the week, or even an afternoon, where you are not focused on a deadline, are not in any type of hurry, and enjoy doing whatever it is you want to do. Slow down. Surrender yourself to the activity, regardless of whether it is watching a movie, playing a game with your kids, walking your dog, or simply taking a nap.
Strategically place couple of such “rescue points” throughout the week, or the day if you can (doesn’t need to be anything complex or time consuming, you can simply meditate for couple of minutes undisturbed) and stay true to the habit the first week or two. Enough of this behavior piles up, and it becomes rather intuitive for you to enter these rescue zones throughout the day, and enjoy them completely thus invoking more clarity of mind and calmness.
Start working on your awareness – here is how
Awareness stands for getting in touch with what is happening both outside, but more importantly within yourself. And after a while of living more intentionally and exercising mindfulness, it is far easier to broaden your awareness.
Several ancient cultures and religions taught the way to belief and personal identity was not through contemplation, but rather though action. They understood the power that our outward actions have on our inner psyche. By living the outward ordinances, a change happens within. Same applies here- the more you exercise intentional living and mindfulness, the easier it becomes to detect underlying moods and possible issues.
The first thing you need to understand about awareness, is that sometimes things might get little uncomfortable and the first reflex, as always up until now, is to avoid staying there- with your emotion, your chore, your issue.
The second- once you manage to do this frequent enough, you will see your chores for what they are- a making of your own- and devalue them dramatically, while becoming aware of the awesomeness that lies underneath.
So, it goes like this:
- The first layer we take away is all the things we do on autopilot and without intention
- Then we learn how to detect the next layer, which consists of underlying issues that have been for long tucked away
- Making them more transparent, we become able to see the awesomeness that has always been there.
I now want to bang myself with a club for not learning Photoshop skills earlier in my twenties so the above process would’ve looked nicer. For now, it must do as it is.
Improving your awareness will teach you to perceive things for what they are, but not worse than what they are. This is a habit we all possess, and you will be glad throwing it away. It teaches you to be more action oriented, more focused, and more at ease with making decisions. Here is the work you need to put in:
Writing down whatever feels heavy enough
Good or bad, enthusiasm or fear… whatever it is that you feel strong enough and are able to recognize. Take a pen and paper and write it down each morning. Write the name of the day, fold the paper, put it aside and you are done.
By now, living intentionally and exercising mindfulness, some things have probably made to the surface. Feelings, emotions, moods… write them down each day. For example:
This morning I feel anxious out of no reason at all.
I feel angry at my friend for saying that. It gives me a sense of restlessness, and now I don’t want to do anything today…
The more you do this day after day, the more adept you become in recognizing what is really an emotion of yours, and what is simply intellectualizing with the purpose of hiding concrete things away, or as psychologists like to call it- blah blah talk. Translated in plain English, you start to bullshit yourself less and less.
What happens during this process is that you learn to detect feelings and moods quite better, and even dig a little deeper in order to discover underlying issues that cause them. Painful at the beginning, this practice becomes a piece of cake later on; much more effective, too.
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
As with this poem, the same goes for anything else- you must face your emotions, even your chores by becoming aware of them, and do nothing. Facing them is staying with them long enough. During that time you are doing nothing, simply observing your thoughts, your feelings…
As the poem says, they simply pass by and only you remain.
Easily the best thing I’ve discovered after exercise.
There is nothing in this world I’ve found to be more awareness inducing than the act of meditating. And I know this practice sounds borderline impossible for some to imagine, but I’ve been there too- a total layman, which I still am despite having some great results with it.
The act of meditating will help you access your feelings and understand them whenever they emerge to the surface. Being aware about them, it gets harder to become overwhelmed by them. Makes sense, right?
And while nine out of ten think that meditation is hard to grasp (I thought the same too), there are now easy ways to tap into the endless benefits that meditation can offer. One such example is Headspace, perhaps the most thorough guide on meditation available. They have a free trial with ten days of guided meditation that you can do anywhere and at any time from either your laptop, smartphone or any other mobile device.
This, aside from helping you with your relationship towards concepts and feelings, will do wonders in many other verticals of your life as well. And how much of a chore can 10 minutes be, right? Don’t worry, you will love your session and can’t wait to start again the next day.
This is very unusual to mention in relation to awareness, but bear with me for a while.
Exercising helps you put together intentional living, mindfulness and awareness. You are becoming aware of your body, which in turn only supplements your efforts of becoming aware of the things happening inside your mind. While with it you are learning how to devote entirely to the feeling of the moment and the flow that comes along.
I do the new P90 workout almost every day, and you can choose a routine that gets you going. Whatever it is, try to stick with it for a while.
Becoming more aware will make you somewhat more uneasy at the beginning. Face everything you get to discover within though- every feeling, every emotion, every issue, every craving… The more you stay with them, the more you realize that you are the creator of such abstracts and thus become able to dissolve them into insignificance. Once this habit has settled in, you will be able to reduce in potency every negative feeling, and increase tenfold all the positive ones.
Here is to more awareness, intentional living and a happier life!