“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.
Mental snowballs don’t only involve a current dissatisfaction such as getting stuck in a traffic jam and ranting at road planners, other drivers, the government and so on. You can also build mental snowballs about the past and future. These too can stress you out and push up your blood pressure, among other effects.
When you get stuck in thoughts of the past you can build a whole mountain of ‘if onlys’ and ‘how could theys?’ on it, 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 come into the present moment to consider doing it and what that would involve. 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.
The same applies to the future, and especially to your fears. Anxiety can be justified but we add on lots of scary possibilities and imaginary demands (for instance, ‘they will expect me to give the perfect presentation’) that have little to do with reality. If you need to do something to prepare for the future, then that’s fine but if you are just frightening yourself with exaggerations try quickly asking yourself these three questions:
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, such as those in my online course Easy Mindfulness can help you to stop building that snowball.
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