Some days, my mind can be a very noisy place. Today is one of those days.
It can be extremely hard to write when my brain is busy trying to process a million things at once. As a matter of fact, it can be extremely hard to do anything at all. Making to-do lists and filing memories into the appropriate file cabinets so that they-may-not-be-lost-when-I-should-wish-to-retrieve-them takes up a lot of mental space. I am moving in less than a week, I have no idea what my life will look like in six months and holy shit, where did the last year go?
I swear, sometimes my thoughts travel at a speed that gives Light a run for its money. There is no way to keep up with them all, so I find myself just sitting here watching them pass as I try desperately to focus on the task at hand.
There are fruit flies buzzing around my kitchen as I stand here this morning, and today I feel like I share their attention span. Either that or I have evolved to possess the mental capacity of a goldfish. Go figure. Go Fish. Maybe I should go play cards or clean the kitchen instead. That sounds like a good idea… or not – maybe not.
Sometimes people tell me they admire what they call my “self-discipline.” They covet the ability to choose a task, to focus and get it done, something that is not so easy in a world riddled with distractions. But let me tell you something, it is not what it looks like at all. Where they see someone who has mastered the art of motivation or productivity, I am aware that the one thing that keeps me going are habits.
I know I must do handstands six days per week if I wish to grow as a hand balancer, so I do. If I want to be able to move with any level of ease, I know I must stretch every day, so I do. I have been making my bed every day at the very least since the age of ten, so it is not a question of whether or not I should do it when I get up in the morning – my hands are pulling at the sheets long before my groggy brain has a chance to suggest otherwise.
According to the University College London, it takes 66 days to wire in a new habit to the point of automaticity.This is just a fancy way of saying it becomes easier to do the new habit than it is to skip a day out of laziness, fatigue or lack of motivation when the time comes to do the thing that you know you should do.
Often times, we set goals for ourselves then forget about the thousands of tiny steps it will take to get us there. We imagine ourselves at the peak of the mountain before we’ve even begun our ascent. When it comes to actually do the work required to get us where we want to go in life, it is much easier to give up near the start than it is to stick it out past the messy middle and trudge through the trenches to our dreams.
As human beings, we are wired to avoid discomfort. It is how we survived for so many years when the elements were against us and an array of predators sought to see us dead. As tribal beings, our instinct tells us to do almost anything to avoid being cast out of the tribe. We seek the approval of others, and would often rather go places in groups than strike out on our own.
Spending time alone can make us feel deeply uncomfortable. When you have nothing around to distract you, you have no choice but to confront the thoughts that follow you around all the time. Sometimes these thoughts upset us or make us question our decisions in life. As uneasy as this process may make us feel, it is invaluable to step back and observe the patterns of your own mind.
I’ve noticed there is a cyclical nature to my thoughts – my brain likes to run itself in circles around the same ideas, like a dog chasing its tail with little success and no end in sight. These thoughts usually circle back to either the past or the unknown future, things over which I have virtually no control.
If it takes only 66 days to wire in a new habit, we must be careful what habits we choose to wire in. Even the way in which we process our thoughts and the things that happen to us in life can become a habit if we are not mindful of where our brain routinely wanders to.
There is a point when looking to the past in order to sort through your feelings is no longer healing – it becomes rumination over things you cannot change. There is a point where planning and dreaming about the future becomes a habit of living in a time you cannot yet see.
At some point, we just have to let go and be present, as scary as that may seem. We have to accept the choices that have brought us here and make peace with those forces we cannot control. If we don’t, our life will fly by before our eyes, before we have a chance to grasp the beauty that was right there before us all along.
Over the years, I have become intimately familiar with the process of creating habits. Writing is one place where I have struggled to keep these habits more than anything else. Creative endeavours require their own special brand of motivation, and sometimes I go to the shelves to find it is simply out of stock.
I have never quite mastered the art of stillness – there is much I have yet to learn in the ways of calming the brain. My ability to write relies heavily upon my ability to exist in the moment and be present with my thoughts. If I worry what people might think of my work as I am trying to get it out of my head and onto the page, there is no way I will be able to write what needs to be said. I have to give myself the permission to wander down unknown avenues, to be in the moment and trust that the process will take me where I need to go.
It is only recently I have been able to recognize these patterns that live within my mind. When I notice I have spent a period of time stuck in the past or worrying about the future, I force myself to slow down and come back to the moment.
Your five senses are a gift. Use them. Try to distinguish the flavours of your food each time you take a bite. Take note of textures and subtle sounds. What does the air feel like today? What colour is the sky? What do you smell when you first step outside, what noises do you hear?
This is what it is to be truly alive. When I notice I have been absent from my life for a time and pull myself back to where I am, I feel like a literal weight has been lifted off my forehead. It is a much happier, lighter way to live. I am working on being a little more present every day.
As Hagrid once said, “No good sittin’ worryin’ abou’ it. What’s comin’ will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.