About one year ago, I had to give a presentation at work to my fourth level manager and a sea of technical experts – engineers who through years of experience have transcended all compassion for mankind.
I felt nervous as I sat waiting for my turn to present. But I thought that it was bad to feel nervous, so I tried to suppress it.
However, the very act of trying not to feel nervous made me more nervous, which in turn made me feel even more nervous!
I then realized that my ankles, wrists, hamstrings, shoulders, and abdomen were all tense in anxious anticipation of my impending doom, so I decided to try a new relaxation technique I had recently learned.
I began bringing awareness into each body part and feeling the tension before releasing it.
Suddenly, I began to relax.
As my body calmed, so did my mind. By the time it was my turn to speak, I felt like the guy in Office Space who is hypnotized into a never-ending bliss.
This was the result of becoming more mindful – or in other words, becoming more aware of the present moment. It’s a technique anyone can use to lessen the pangs of anxiety in any situation – one that I initially learned about in the book The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle.
Here are some of my key takeaways from the book that can help you better understand mindfulness and even practice it on your own.
You don’t use your mind; your mind uses you.
Every second of our waking lives is filled with a stream of thoughts that judges, comments, likes and dislikes, and speculates on our everyday situations.
This is how we interpret our world – by creating a network of labels, concepts, judgments, and definitions and molding them into our identity. However, we can only interpret things in terms of the past, which leads to bias, delusion, and inaccuracy.
We have a surprising lack of control over our own minds, though we may not realize it. Most people can’t even stop thinking for a few seconds. Try it and you’ll quickly discover who is in control in this mind/self relationship.
Our mind is a powerful tool, but when we overuse it, it causes us undue pain and misery.
Our ego is very insecure and sees itself as constantly under threat.
How would you describe yourself when meeting someone?
Most would probably list their profession, where they’re from, their education, maybe even their political beliefs or religion sprinkled with some cliche personality traits like “random” and “sarcastic.”
These details constitute our self-identity.
But what if the person you’re meeting asserts that they make more money than you do, that your religious beliefs are fallacious, and on top of all that they randomly claim to be more random/sarcastic than you are?
Most of us would be angry and offended. Any threat to our self-identity causes us to strike back in defense while simultaneously making a big personal problem out of the whole affair.
Our minds love problems because they build our sense of identity.
We often blame our problems on outside circumstances such as other people, our bosses, or the government, but really our problems are mere figments of our minds.
We get angry, worried, or resentful when we are resisting reality, such as when we think “that isn’t fair!” or “this shouldn’t happen!” or “he shouldn’t do that!”
This is us our mind hard at work producing problems for itself, sort of like a Santa’s Workshop that cranks out deep-seated personal issues instead of children’s toys (I know, I’m so random!).
Forming convictions and conjuring up conflicts is how our ego stays alive and how we maintain a sense of purpose and identity.
Negative emotions come from focusing on the past or future.
As Tolle writes, we use the past for identity and the future for salvation, but both are illusions. We tend to disregard the present, but ironically, that is all we really have.
Our psychological fear is not based on a clear or immediate danger, but rather a fear that something might happen in the future – worrying that someone won’t like us, anxious about getting a job, nervous about an upcoming presentation, or dreading going to work.
We are in the present but our minds are focused in the future – an area that we cannot cope with until it becomes present.
Similarly, feelings of regret, sadness, or embarrassment come from focusing on the past, which is also out of our influence.
When we project our minds into the past or future rather than staying in the present, it creates psychological tension that cannot be resolved unless we become present.
The root of suffering is to be found in our constant wanting and craving; can anxious thought add a single day to your life?
To free yourself from your thoughts and anxiety, focus on the present moment.
Learning to control your mind requires building greater self-awareness. Some ways you can do this are:
- Become conscious of your emotions as they occur without assigning them labels or meaning. Just observe and feel them thoroughly.
- Notice when you become defensive and ask yourself, “What am I defending?”
- Take negative emotions as a signal to “wake up” and be more present.
- Be aware of your body and your breath throughout the day. Observe your state without judgment.
- Practice mindfulness daily. Check out my YouTube video on how I practice.
Mindfulness is a simple way to conquer your anxiety and master your mind.
With consistent practice, you will be able to better control your anxiety and emotions. Rather than reacting and getting scared, tense, angry, or whatever, you’ll be able to simply observe what’s happening, almost as if from a third person point of view. Then, you can act in a decisive and clear-headed manner rather than haphazardly reacting to your emotions.
To become different from what we are, we must have some awareness of what we are.
***To learn more about how to overcome anxiety and nervousness, and how to be more present and live more fully, check out The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle.***
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