Words by Jacquelyn Salvador
Many of us have had the experience of driving to work, school, or the grocery store and then not even remembering the trip there by the time we get out of the car. We were so "zoned out" that we went through the entire process without being conscious of our actions (just think about all the braking, shifting gears, checking mirrors, and everything else that actually happened along the way!)
Even if you haven't had the experience while driving, you've probably had it elsewhere, whether it's doing the dishes, walking to the bus stop, or any other activity that you do on a regular basis. What these experiences all have in common is the fact that we sort of mentally "disengage" with the process, preferring to think about other things (and sadly, those other things tend to be less-than-useful).
We might replay a conversation in our minds, perhaps berating ourselves or others for what could have gone better. We might start thinking of what's on our to-do list, mounting our own sense of anxiety and stress in the process. Or perhaps we get to yearning or wishing for something that we're certain would make our lives better.
We tend to do these things especially when we’re feeling a lot of stress. It's as if the mind is trying to escape the present moment, projecting itself instead into the future or the past. Anything to avoid needing to accept the mundane present.
This has even been shown true in scientific experiments, wherein the mind prefers to subject the body to pain rather than to accept boredom. In a way, this is pretty similar to the musing that the mind tends to do on negative subjects (that negative conversation or the things we haven't accomplished or the "lack" in our lives"). Like with the preference of physical pain, the mind will also choose mental and emotional pain over boredom, if we allow our default mode to take over.
But the good news is that there is an alternative. Because do you really think it's good to remain stewing in negativity? Probably not.
So instead, there's a very simple practice you can do: tune yourself into the current moment.
Even for things that we do on a regular basis, there is immense power in paying attention to the little details that are never exactly the same as the last. Open your eyes to the specific circumstances of what you're doing. To your personal reaction and feelings that arise. In doing so, your mind is freed from its gravitational pull toward negativity, because it's already attached to something more concrete and probably necessary...and otherwise, that mindful attention might just help you to notice that what you're doing is not useful, so that you can walk away from it.
There will always be those less-than-exhilarating tasks in our lives, so instead of tuning them out and letting the brain engage in negative thinking patterns, let's make the effort to transform those moments into something useful. The more we engage in such mindful moments, the better we can improve our mood, our relationships, our work, and more by setting positive mental habits for the rest of our lives.
Author of 360 Living: Practical guidance for a balanced life, Jacquelyn is a tireless seeker of personal betterment, and she's on a personal mission to help others find their own best version of life. Her own (ongoing) journey of personal happiness started out with years of chasing the perfect approach to "the good life," but she eventually realised she was anything but happy, so she packed life into a backpack and hit the road to find it for herself on a backpacking adventure around Europe. Along the way, she teamed up with the Authentic Happiness Project to help others on their own journey of personal happiness (backpacking optional) through an empowering combination of inspiration, learning, and personal reflection.
Jacquelyn lives and works as a yoga instructor with Affordable Yoga & Fitness in Paris, France, helping others find better health and happiness through mindful movement. She shares her adventures in the art of living a good life on Instagram at @jj_moves.
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