This is a guest post by Laura Coleman.
As the train pulls into Moorgate Station, my insides explode with anxiety.
I bolt up to my feet, knocking into the knees of the person opposite me.
I feel my cheeks flush with heat and a disorienting dizziness fills my head.
I mumble incoherently under my breath, vaguely aware that to any observer I must look slightly deranged
“How has this happened?”
As I look around the train, I realise there is nothing I can do.
So I sheepishly sit back down, trying to melt back into invisibility.
Lost in Thought
Rewind nearly two hours (trust me, this is embarrassing to admit), and I had boarded my train at Moorgate.
And here I was, back at Moorgate!
I’d failed to get off the train in Hertfordshire where I lived, or even notice that I was passing stops for a second time.
I was mortified. The shame of feeling a complete idiot flushed my cheeks with embarrassment, even though no one knew what I’d done.
I was working at Canary Wharf at the time. Pre-smart phone. Workaholic phase of my career.
I was so lost in rumination and overthinking that I literally disconnected from the world around me.
So I forgot to get off at my stop.
Is there anybody here?
Research shows that 48% of the time we’re not present in our lives.
Our minds have wandered and the mind wandering makes us less happy.
Literally half of our lives we’re thinking of something else instead of experiencing what’s happening.
But we’ve all done it.
Maybe not quite to the extreme that I did.
But how often have you driven somewhere only to realise that you don’t remember the drive?
Or opened a bag of crisps and suddenly found the bag is empty and yet you didn’t really taste a thing?
Worst of all, have you been in conversation and realised it’s your turn to speak and you have no idea what was just said?
The difference between Mindfulness and Mindlessness
Our ability to pay attention is a bit like a muscle.
The modern world drives behaviour that lets that muscle get flabby.
Constant distraction. Notifications, demands to look at this, pay attention here, open this.
How many times have you picked up your phone to do something simple like send a text message and then found yourself falling down a rabbit hole…and forgetting to even send the message you wanted to send? (Guilty over here!)
Mindlessness is a state where our attention is not under our conscious control and it’s often filled with judgements.
Like a constant dialogue happening in your own head that bounces from topic to topic or endlessly on a loop.
And the big casualty of failing to pay attention is that it creates the ideal conditions for overwhelm to set in.
Mindfulness on the other hand feels very different….
And it’s a secret super power.
Bicep Curls for the Brain
Mindfulness can be described as “paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally” (Jon Kabat-Zinn)
We consciously bring our attention to this moment exactly as it is.
Dropping the inner dialogue that separates us from what’s really happening.
Ditching the endless rehashing of conversations and playing out of future scenarios.
Just being right here. Right now.
And when we do, our whole experience changes.
Suddenly, the things making us feel overwhelmed stop ganging together like a tidal wave of pressure. We can bring calm and clarity to whatever shows up instead.
But it’s not always easy.
The good news is that we can train our capacity to pay attention in this way.
3 Steps to Reclaim Your Brain and Ditch Overwhelm
Research shows that even small moments can help develop that “muscle” for attention (which is good news if the idea of trying to find lots of extra time fills you with dread).
Here’s 3 simple ways you can reduce overwhelm and reclaim your brain, no matter what’s happening.
Unless you realise that you’re slipping into overwhelm, you can’t take steps to get out of it.
This really is a fundamental first step.
Create regular points in your day when you check in with how it feels in your body.
Is there already a time in your routine where you could add this check in, without needing to create time?
Maybe while you commute or when you’ve dropped the kids to school or with your morning cup of tea… or even when you go to the toilet throughout the day.
The key is to build some cues that remind you to do it.
2. Ask a question:
When you do your noticing, a really useful question is:
“What do I need right now?”
When we’re asked a question, our minds get curious and want to answer it.
Even if it’s you asking yourself a question, your mind will slip into investigating mode.
This makes it easier to work out what’s going on without getting stuck in judging your experience.
You can even pop a post-it note somewhere you’ll see it regularly with that question: perhaps the bathroom mirror, your computer screen, your car dashboard.
3. Take a small action:
Can you allow the answer to your question to be something really small?
As I’m typing this, I realise I need to stretch my arms and legs. Just for a brief moment.
That tuning in made a difference because I was able to listen and act.
Building the muscle for paying attention and doing what I need.
How can you make it REALLY work?
As you read along to those three steps, did you experience a tiny shift?
Maybe you were able to pay attention to your experience as it is right now.
That creates a tiny ripple that reaches into the next moment and then the next moment.
Often, we sacrifice those small moments because they don’t feel big enough to make a difference.
But because small moments are more attainable, you can take them no matter how busy you are.
You can make a difference right now
Mindfulness isn’t a destination or something you achieve.
It’s made up of tiny drops that accumulate, just like water dripping into a cup.
Before you know it, your cup is a little less empty and you have the strength and capacity to turn the tap on full and create more.
What Do You Need Right Now?
“Mindfulness isn’t difficult, we just need to remember to do it.” Sharon Salzberg
Wild swimmer | Peanut butter lover (but only if it’s crunchy!)
Laura Coleman is the founder of Be. Modern Meditation. An established and highly regarded expert in the field, she is particularly passionate about helping women ditch stress and overwhelm and build a truly meaningful life using the transformative power of modern meditation.
She delivers talks and workshops for organisations, corporate clients and business communities, with audiences as diverse as Ernst and Young, The Cancer Research Council and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Her Be. More programme and Membership Community help you to unlock peace, calm and clarity, so that you can uncover and rediscover the “real you” that’s been hiding away under all the busy.
You can find out more about her at: www.bemodernmeditation.com
Laura lives in Hampshire with her husband, two teens, crazy dog and a cat who knows she’s the boss. She’s a dedicated wild swimmer and loves anything with peanut butter, but only if it’s crunchy.