Most people who want to have a happy and fulfilling life are so busy chasing their happiness that they don’t realize what they already have or what life has to offer them. They then spend their lives in a position of frustration, annoyance and sadness, moving further and further away from their happiness instead of embracing it into their lives.
Does this sound familiar to you? If not, congratulations, you’re ahead of a lot of people. Don’t keep it to yourself, share your knowledge. If you do, that’s no reason to despair. In the following, I would like to take a closer look at the most important elements that can support you on your way. So to say a short (hunting) trip through personality development for practitioners and perfomers.
If you are reading this, you are doing better than many others. You have internet, a roof over your head, running water, electricity and heating. And, most importantly and often overlooked, you are breathing! These are many reasons to be grateful for what we have. These “little” things in life are often forgotten. When was the last time you were grateful for something in your life? Why don’t you take a break from reading and think about what you are thankful for today? Get a small journal and write down three things you are grateful for every evening. Then, when a bad feeling comes up that is blocking access to happier things, flip through it. Gratitude brings us to the next point that will guide you on your journey.
You may be saying, “Sure, I am mindful.” Are you really? I keep noticing that I’ve just lost my mindfulness again. And that is human and completely normal. If we realize that as human beings we can’t be mindful 24/7, that’s a first step towards actually becoming more mindful. Because now we are aware of it.
So how do you stay mindful? By being open to what your environment is offering you, and at the same time having a clear focus on where you want to go. If you have a tendency to be careless, which we all have these days due to all the distractions around us, there are a few little life hacks that can help.
I work on the computer a lot, so the distractions of email, smartphone, etc. are pretty big. When I need a period of concentration, I mute the phone and turn the screen down. I generally have notifications on silent and popups in the computer (e.g. “3 new messages”) are always turned off.
That said, feel free to get lost in other issues. A powerful question we can ask ourselves is “What is my intention right now?” or “Is what I’m doing right now really important?”. Both questions hang on sticky notes on my computer. Then again, when I’m less mindful and stuck on social media sites, I’ll look at the sticky note at some point. Reading these questions interrupts my drifting away and brings me into mindfulness, into my focus. Of course, I then have to actively choose to do something more important with my time. But I am now in my “mindful now” and can make this decision consciously.
Our brain also likes to trick us. We think about unnecessary things way too much during the day, and use our grandiose imagination to deal with issues that burden us completely unnecessarily. This is the nature of our brain. The preoccupation with negative things (e.g. dangers) was in former times necessary for survival for us humans. Today, this is no longer quite the case. If topics come into our lives that we perceive as such, e.g. an important deadline, the sensations and effects are nevertheless the same. It’s just that today, we hardly have the opportunity to quickly reduce these stress hormones. Let’s take an appointment as an example. You have an important appointment tomorrow, which also promises to be somewhat unpleasant. What our brain should be doing is calming us down so that we can be relaxed about the appointment. What our brain does instead is to think about how unpleasant tomorrow will surely be. What could go wrong. Maybe your brain even gets really into it, you don’t sleep enough, and the appointment goes incredibly badly the next day. Lesson for our brain: it was absolutely right to have thought negatively about it. That keeps you busy for a few hours afterwards. Instead of the one hour, you spent a lot of hours in a bad aura and most likely contributed to a self-fulfilling prophecy. So what to do? When the brain is in the here and now, it doesn’t think about the future or the past. The more present you are, the more mindful you are and the less chance bad thoughts have. This doesn’t happen overnight, but it can be learned.
Meditation and breathing
If you breathe in and out slowly, several times in a row, and concentrate on your breath, you take an important step towards being present. Focusing on our own breath immediately brings us into the here and now. It is also a good exercise when everything is too much again. You briefly go into clarity, slow thinking has a chance to take over fast thinking, and you can make better decisions.
A regular meditation practice has been proven to be very helpful for a more mindful life. Resistance to stress is strengthened, and external influences cannot upset us as much. Meditation is also, especially in the beginning, not about eliminating all thoughts. Silent meditation is first about consciously experiencing and witnessing your thoughts. If you try not to have thoughts, they will eventually come anyway and just be there. Now, it’s about recognizing that a thought has come. You don’t become mindless just because a thought appears. It is through mindfulness that you realize that a thought is trying to take your focus away from your breathing. When you get caught up in the thought and follow it, mindfulness eludes you. Acknowledging that it is there and then pushing it right away brings you further into mindfulness. This takes a little practice and everyone has their own speed. Regular practice brings the progress.
When your goal blocks your way
Our goals have the greatest potential for a life away from happiness. Not so much the goals themselves, but the way we set them and deal with them. The reason we act the way we do lies in our brain, and is called the reward system. The way we normally define goals provides a massive release of hormones exactly twice: when we define the goal and feel so incredibly good about it, and when we achieve it. IF we achieve it. With this choice, we have chosen a system that will fight against us. That every day challenges our inner bastard to overcome. That costs power, that brings stress into the system and it harms us more than it helps. Humans are not made to rush from goal to goal. So what can challenge us and encourage us at the same time, creating satisfaction?
I’ll gladly give you an example that we probably all know. You decide to look good in your bathing suits again this summer. So: diet. 5 kilos have to go down. What happens now is this: a massive hormone release gives us an incredibly good feeling, this time it will work. Probably already in the first week frustration and stress will set in, invitations follow, the drawer with the snacks laughs at you, and already you are stressed. The short kick of happiness when we set the goal is forgotten.
Virtue, on the other hand, has a long-term, lasting effect. For example, you can resolve to live healthier. This doesn’t have to happen radically. For example, you can start by eating one meal of the day without carbohydrates. Or put more vegetables on your plate. You can cut out sugar. Take more, or longer, walks. You establish a new virtue in your life little by little. If you eat some chips now, you don’t have to feel guilty, because the point is to live healthier little by little. Your system begins to change, the process goes slowly but steadily, and above all, without the aforementioned stress. And all of a sudden, you realize that you can tighten your belt a little bit. The reorientation of your mindset to your virtues is supported by another factor.
Your value system determines the way you live your life and whether you feel comfortable with it. What we think of as a value system comes from external sources in most cases. If the values we think we have are instilled in us, they don’t have to be ours. It is important for you to find out your values and deal with them. If you don’t know your most important values yet, here is a value test with which you can playfully find them out. In our behavior, our values play a supporting role. The development of virtues works particularly well when they are in harmony with our values.
Live your life! All these elements have in common that they support you to be present. To live now and to do so consciously. It is not about reaching a goal somewhere that is waiting for you behind a colorful rainbow. It is about the way, about the process that takes place. The way is more important than the goal! It is about feeling your life NOW, enjoying it, feeling it, perceiving it with all your senses and absorbing it. And then, when you are in a life full of abundance that you have created, you are in the best position to support others in doing so. Feel free to share this text with them.