A mindfulness practice for ambitious overthinkers
Where are my fellow discontents? My fellow day-dreamers and strategizers and ladder climbers? This post is for you, my fellow folks who spend your days up in your heads, dreaming and scheming about how things would or could be better if you only had this, or if you only did that, or if this thing was different or that thing was changed.
I am an analyzer and a fixer, a problem solver and an action-taker.
My favorite thing to do is recognize a discomfort, find a solution to the discomfort, and then make the solution happen.
This is not a bad way to be (and certainly it’s benefited me in many ways), but the price paid is that I’m almost never ever just HERE.
I’m always finding a new discomfort, setting up a new ladder, climbing it, getting to the top, and then being like “Huh, I still don’t feel the way I’d hoped I would — fuck this ladder! I shall find a new one to climb!” It’s a terrible game of whack-a-mole, and the result is a lot of climbing with very little contentment.
As part of my mindfulness practice, I’ve been trying an exercise to focus more on the sensations and less on the specifics.
Pulling future visions into present moments
The concept for me isn’t about resisting the urge to notice and want to fix broken things (because especially in this geo-political climate, there’s a lot that’s broken, and a lot that needs fixing) but rather an effort to try to pull that future vision into the very embodied present moment.
Here’s the thing with bodies and nervous systems: your body listens to your brain. This is part of how ambient anxiety works.
Your brain starts telling your body that something’s wrong, and your body is like “Ok brain says something’s wrong — RUN!!!” Then your whole nervous system is like RUN! RUN! RUN! …but the physical reality may that you’re laying in your warm, dry, safe home, and there’s nothing to run from, and actually what you need most is just need to eat, bathe, and breathe.
As in, what you actually need is not to run, but to rest. (For more about this concept, I recommend the book Come As You Are.)
If I know that my body is taking cues from my brain, then can I make the conscious choice to pause from the anxiety for a moment, and give my body positive information?
If I know I benefit from staying present in the now instead of getting ahead of myself and being a state of constant future panic and anxiety, then can I use my overactive brain to give my body positive input?
Cool concept, bro. Give me an example?
Here’s how this might look, using a real-time example from my life a few years back:
- My biggest desire was to get my third book out there! Its publication was a long frustrating process involving three literary agents, several different titles, never-ending revisions, slow moving publishers, a print publishing industry in shift, etc.
- Ok, stop.
- Close the eyes.
- Take a breath.
- What do I think it would feel like if this book was finally out there? How would my experience be different? What would the sensation in my body be? (Excited stomach! Flappy hands!) How would my life look different? What would it taste like? (Champagne!?) What would it smell like? What noise would I make when I got the call from the publisher that it was finally on shelves? Focus on tangible, sensory perceptions — not concepts (“success”) but sensations (…what would success feel like?)
- Sit with it for a moment. Keep breathing. Go through all five senses.
- Open the eyes
- Notice how the body feels now
- Get back to work
The theory here is that instead of being all up in my head in a state of wanting, craving, future-casting, I just gave my body a flood of rewards in the present.
I imagined my stomach fluttering, the taste of champagne on my lips, the squeal I would make on the phone, the ridiculous hopping around the room I would do, how the arms of my beloveds would feel when I told them and they gave me congratulatory hugs, the tingle of my hands when I high fived my son!
By imagining all those future things that I might feel, I just gave my body a flood of wonderful feelings IN THE NOW.
Basically, I just made that future sensation happen right now.
Instead of being all up in my head spinning and looping and thinking about how things aren’t ideal now, and how I want them to be different, I’ve given my nervous system a little tour of positive sensation.
It feels… kind of nice? It’s not that I don’t still want the thing that I want, it’s that I’m regrounded in my body in the present moment and it’s pretty great here, actually.
Ok, so is this just “manifesting”?
Naw. I’m not really into that word, or even that concept. I don’t think this practice makes it any more likely that I will actually get what I want.
I mean, sure: being in a less anxious, self-loathing, striving mindframe might make for a state of more ease, that would facilitate being better able to get shit done, but I don’t think the practice makes your dreams come true.
This isn’t a manifestation exercise, or secular witchcraft. If I’ve learned anything about myself and my goal-focused inclinations, it’s that sometimes I pick goals that actually aren’t great for me.
I can’t be the only one who’s picked a ladder, worked very hard to make it happen (when sometimes it really shouldn’t be happening), and then gotten what I wanted and realized it did not bring me the experience I thought it would… I want that thing! I got that thing! But oh shit thing was actually a terrible fit for me and that’s why it wasn’t happening and it did not bring me the sensations I expected at all and now I just worked really hard for something that was a very bad choice for me.
As one friend said: you gotta choosy about which walls you lean your ladder against.
MY QUESTIONS FOR YOU
- What future-time desires or goals are you dreaming of these days?
- What do you achieving those desires or getting those goals might feel like? Be specific! Spend time really considering the sensations and smells, and bringing them up in your mind.
- How might you get tiny little tangible tastes of those sensations in your life today, even if it’s just for a moment?