“Becoming more patient involves opening your heart to the present moment, even if you don’t like it. If you are stuck in a traffic jam, late for an appointment, opening to the moment would mean catching yourself building a mental snowball before your thinking got out of hand and gently reminding yourself to relax.” Richard Carlson, Don’t sweat the small stuff … and it’s all small stuff.
Building mental snowballs means putting one emotional thought on top of the other until the anxiety or fear seems overwhelming.
It works like this: Perhaps a student who has just started college might find a couple of the subjects more difficult than she expected. That might be her first thought. The second could be that everyone else seems better than her. The third could be that she’s going to be shown up throughout the year as a poor student. And so on until she finds it really difficult to concentrate on her work and considers dropping out.
It could take less than half a minute for her (or you or me) to snowball like this. It would be so much better for her emotional health to drop the snowballing and start again by asking: ‘This is tougher than I expected. What do I need to do next?’
You can also build mental snowballs about the past. When you get stuck in thoughts of the past you can build a whole mountain of ‘if onlys’ and ‘how could theys?’, making yourself feel miserable about something that is now out of your control.
Can you do anything about what happened? If you can do something that makes things better for you, then consider doing that instead of snowballing about it. If you can do nothing about it, acknowledge the painful feeling in your body and move your attention to the moment. Why your body? Because this allows the feeling to pass whereas getting lost in your thoughts just builds it up more and more.
With future events I find it helps to ask and answer three questions and to do so fairly quickly:
Our student might answer to the first, I want to pass the course with flying colours.
To the second she might answer: I fear I will do very badly.
And her answer to the third might be: I will probably struggle with parts of the course but overall I will do reasonably well during the year.
I find this exercise helps me to put my exaggerations to one side and to lower my stress. It’s like melting the snowball.
Mindfulness practices and attitudes are helpful in situations such as these by helping us to move away from the drama and exaggerations and into the clarity of the present moment. My Easy Mindfulness online course can help you to stop building that snowball. It has 15 lessons and you can pay whatever you like by donation.
Image by skeeze
See also: Don’t let excessive worry take the joy out of life
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