I believe that learning to quiet our critical voices can be one of the most important steps to creating a life we love. If we’re not conscious of it, the critical voice can take over our lives and wreak havoc on all our relationships. But if we’re aware of it, we can take steps to lessen its hold on us, freeing us to live with more happiness and joy.
One of the voice’s favorite tricks is to have us focus on either the past or the future. When we’re thinking about the past, we’re replaying things that happened, and it’s likely that we feel feelings of regret or anger. Just think about all the times you’ve replayed an argument in your head! The voice loves to point out things in our past that we wish could be different. When we’re thinking about the future, we probably feel worried or anxious, thinking about things that are beyond our control. Notice all the times you’ve felt stress thinking about your to-do list! The voice loves to constantly remind us how much we have to get done and how little time we have to do it.
There's a better place for our minds to be than in the past or the future. The biggest problem with being in our heads and listening to that voice is that we miss out on the present. The present moment is where happiness and joy reside, and it's the only place we can really connect to the people in our lives.
If you think of the best moments in your life, they all have one thing in common: you were fully present to experience them.
What does it mean to be present? Simply put, presence is giving whatever is in front of you your full attention. In this age of technology, it is increasingly difficult to pay attention to what’s in front of us. If we’re not conscious, we can allow our attention to constantly be diverted and distracted, which is detrimental to all our relationships.
I’ve written about the power of presence before, but I want to give you a specific example of how presence has impacted my life this fall.
As I’ve shared before, the past two months have been an incredibly busy time for my family. At the beginning of the school year, I was feeling stressed about how we would make it. Normally I love the fall. But with activities and sports six days a week combined with work, household responsibilities and full social calendars, I was feeling overwhelmed to say the least. Added to the overwhelm was a sense of melancholy that my kids were getting older and worry that I would miss out on our special traditions and the moments I love.
So, I set the intention to get out of my head. I decided to put aside the stress of our schedule, the distractions, the running to-do list and the “shoulds” and to focus on being present with my family. I resolved to stop thinking about how busy we were and to start enjoying the moments we had. This meant opening myself up to saying yes to whatever was before me and to stop resisting the moment I was in.
Want to know what happened? When I let go of the constant chatter in my head and let myself BE in the present, I found that I enjoyed my life much more! I said YES a lot. Things that I might have resented or rejected became things that gave me joy. I enjoyed driving my kids around because we talked, listened to music and acted silly. I enjoyed helping my son with his homework because I remembered things I had forgotten (6th grade is tough!) and because I connected with him during this time. I enjoyed having play time with my daughter and I actually had so much fun laughing with her. I enjoyed many things that I would normally resist, like making cookies, cleaning my house, jumping on the trampoline, learning dance moves, playing football outside and exercising. I noticed the beauty and abundance in my life more than usual, and I FELT happy and grateful. All because I focused on being present.
There were times that saying yes and forcing myself to be in the present moment was uncomfortable at first. There was a part of me that wanted to stay disconnected – to look at my phone, to think about all that I needed to do and to say no to requests. And there were plenty of times I resisted the present moment – when I did allow myself to retreat into my mind, my phone, my distractions.
Overall, the simple shift of focusing on presence lessened my anxiety and increased the happiness and ease I felt in my life - in the midst of the chaotic schedule. What can be better than that?
Now it’s your turn! As we move into the holiday season, ask yourself what you want your experience to be. How do you want to feel during the next two months? For many, this is the most stressful time of the year. What would you rather it be? How do you want to feel? You may find that you want to set some boundaries and say no to some things that you don’t need on your list or on your schedule. Once you’ve set your intention, try getting out of your head and saying yes to what is before you. A little presence can go a long way. Experiment and let me know!
Love and light,
P.S. A heartfelt thank you goes out to all who contributed to my birthday fundraising campaign for charity:water. Together we're making a lasting difference in 11 people's lives. Thank you!