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Leaning Into Life Right Now
Alexandra in Wearable Wisdom touting the value of living in the present
I remember oh-so-well when our kids left home as young adults. It was about the same time for the two of them, and I was in my mid-40s. I felt excitement about a new chapter along with the melancholy of realizing doors were closing. My child-bearing and formal child-rearing days were over, and the next things to come were both thrilling and frightening.
Adventures since then have met and exceeded everything I imagined, and I’m grateful. And, as is natural, my husband and I continue to enter into even newer life phases that come with growing older. There is more time for personal interests, the glories of grandparenting, and facing unexpected changes in health. These are the new frontiers for us: the first medication for blood pressure or cholesterol, the first chronic condition diagnosis, and a changed relationship with food and what we eat.
What’s a person to do when life keeps changing, especially if the changes are challenging? I say that the best strategy, the one that affords the most pleasure, is to lean in and own the change!
Coined by author Sheryl Sandberg, the phrase “lean in” comes from her book of the same title addressed to women about balancing motherhood and careers. But the idea of this “head down” and dogged focus applies for anything in life, because life will keep twisting, turning and even careening to the point that it’s easy for us to feel like we have no control.
If we resist the change, we are destined to feel the pain of fighting against it. On the other hand, if we nestle in and get curious about our new circumstances, we can find the adventure of the present as we flow with the currents of inevitability
THE PRESENT IS GUARANTEED
To be mindful and in the present is tough. I know I’ve had a long-standing issue with “dog-brain,” much like the character Dug in the movie Up. I’ve been easily distracted by “squirrels” and many times have missed out on enjoying life as it’s happening. But no more! So long as I breathe, there is the opportunity to improve.
It turns out that our brains are much like Dug’s in that we are wired to flit in and out of thoughts of the past and future as a kind of survival tool. Dr. Rajeev Kurapati over at Mind Body Green explains that our brains are designed to constantly toggle between past and future because the present is already resolved.
It’s as if the brain is saying, “Okay, the present is covered, guaranteed. I’m here breathing. Boom, done. But what about yesterday and how about tomorrow?” Can you say “squirrel?”
Dr. Kurapati suggests the best strategy to overcome the brain’s tendency to bounce—past to future, past to future—is to observe your thinking from a third-person perspective. Be your best friend or free psychologist and state what is happening, “Look at my brain trying to psych me out of being in the present. Isn’t that interesting?” This perspective may help take you out of the emotional ride your brain is traveling and give you a chance to jump back into you’re here and now.
BE IN YOUR PRESENT FOR BETTER OR WORSE
But when things are difficult, we can be in the present but so freaked out that we aren’t thinking our clearest and healthiest thoughts. In fact, we are more likely to be fight or flight reptilian brain mode with a smattering of Dug as well.
Julia Malacoff over at Brit and Co. offers some great suggestions for ways to repackage our thoughts in times of challenge to forge a calmer sense in the present. She had a dozen suggestions, but here are a few of my favorites:
Deal with the things you CAN control:
When stuff happens, it’s easy to feel life spiraling out of control, so focus in on those things you can control such as your breath. Acknowledge the thoughts racing, but think, “calm, calm, calm.” Think about self-care and giving yourself permission to chill. Do something repetitive and distracting. Scrub the sink. Sweep the floor.
Focus on the little positives:
The cat on your lap, the sun shining through the window, the friend you can call. Slow it all down and focus in on one positive thing at a time.
Role play what you would say as your best friend:
We often do ourselves few favors in moments of crisis when we think the worst of ourselves and the situation. Be your best friend for a moment and consider what you would say to you if you were speaking as your adviser. What encouragement would you offer?
THE LEAN IN TECHNIQUE
From personal experience, I can attest to the wretched headspace that accompanies trying to control what I can’t. There have been plenty of sleepless nights of resting my head on the pillow while the brain races over “what ifs” and “how cans.” Those were definitely squirrels! Honestly, I’m a new adopter of the lean in philosophy, but early reports are good and, like everything worthwhile, practice toward progress is the goal.
That’s where the shirt pictured here comes in. I believe in the “Lean in,” but a reminder can help the habit sink in. Why not wear it on your chest and see if you don’t feel a bit more resolve? Plus, it doesn’t hurt to remind others that all we are really assured of is our present, so best to focus in and live it.
What are your strategies for living in your present? How do you enrich your story right now? Alexandra and I would love to hear your tips and ideas. Who knows, they could become the next great shirts we feature on Storied Gifts Shop!