Are you continually bringing yourself down under the guise of pulling yourself up? How often do you admonish yourself to work harder, be better, exercise, lose weight? These types of internal judgments and criticisms weigh you down with shoulds and oughts. The end result: you are critiquing yourself into a bad mood and a downward spiral.
The key to stopping this kind of downward slide is to restore balance to your life. You want to enjoy your experiences with a sense of freedom and spontaneity, not punishment and shame. How can you best bring about this balance? The key is in slowing down, breathing and noticing.
The first step is to simply pause and breathe for a few moments. Notice where your thoughts have taken you, for example, to places of fear, sadness, worry or stress. Continue to relax and breathe deeply. Now, discover if your thinking is putting you on a downward spiral by asking yourself the following questions:
- Am I confusing a thought with a fact?
- How realistic is this thought process?
- Is there another perspective I could take, another way of thinking about this issue?
- When did I last take a break or do something just for myself?
Using this technique, it is easy to see how out of proportion your thoughts can become if left unchecked.
The second step is to dig deeper to uncover the stressors that are throwing you off balance. Again, practice deep breathing and notice what these stressors may be. If nothing comes to mind, use contrast to help identify your current stressors. Think about a time you felt strong, vibrant, fulfilled and motivated. Ask yourself:
- What was it about that time that was different from now?
- Have I taken on more than I can realistically manage?
- When did the joy go out of my life, routine and/or work?
When you discover the stressors that cause you to be out of balance, it may be time to learn how to say “No.” It is essential to recognize that there are times when you just can’t do everything you would like to be doing. The long-term cost is too high when you no longer feel the zest and joy of life.
Here’s an exercise to help you slow down, pay attention, and practice enjoying the moment. The activity involves savoring your food. When preparing a meal, breathe the smells, observe colors and forms, focus on the experience. Before eating, breathe in the aroma, look at the color and shapes on your plate. When eating, chew mindfully and notice how you feel as the flavors dissolve on your tongue. Not only will the food lift your mood when you eat mindfully, but by savoring your meal, you will also be practicing the art of slowing down and instilling balance.
When you slow down and practice staying in the moment without judgment or admonishments, you are restoring life’s balance. You can start to notice the good things in life, recognizing these essential components as the cornerstones of your wellbeing and happiness.
Psychologies Magazine, August 2011, pp. 72-73.