Your mind hates not knowing. Your mind fears the unknown and loves the familiar. It loves knowing exactly what will happen, when, and will engage in self-sabotaging behaviors in ORDER to get what has happened before so it that much more familiar and re-inforce what it knows. It will make you assume what happened before in a similar situation will happen again, like not getting the job interview or being rejected by a person you would like to go talk to.
The mind can be an amazing wonder of nature but a terrible burden as well.
We’ve all been in our heads before. We’re thinking so many thoughts we can’t focus, our eyes hurt… We worry, we don’t know what to do. We get angry, upset, depressed… a whole slew of emotions because we can’t seem to shut the voice up inside our head that keeps talking: That fight and unknowing about our relationship. Worries about our finances. Feeling stressed with so much to do in one day. It can be overwhelming and shut your body down.
Why Does the Mind Fear the Unknown?
The mind makes millions of calculations and decisions every day. To simplify things, it uses reference experiences, or similar situations that have happened in your past to tell you whether to move forward with what you are doing or to stop (fight or flight). It does this to keep you safe without having to take in the new information.
But of course, this can be highly inaccurate. What happened before doesn’t necessarily have to happen again.
So what can you do?
There has been a huge influx of the zen view of “living in the now”, most commonly popularized by the book The Power of Now by Eckart Tolle (a must read).
“Living in the now” is so simple yet complex. All it involves is putting ALL of your focus on to what you are doing. If you are washing the dishes, you are washing the dishes. If you are giving a speech, you are giving a speech. You are not thinking about what you have to do later tonight. You are not thinking about your significant other. Those are thoughts of your mind and not actually happening right NOW.
Anchoring yourself to the now involves using your physical sensations. Feeling the water when washing the dishes, feeling the tension in your shoulders before giving a speech… any use of the five physical senses (seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, smelling) to keep yourself out of your mind.
This is FAR easier said than done, especially if you have something extremely compelling pulling at you, or that you know is coming up. But when you are in the now you will be able to tell. While separating yourself from your mind is a skill that requires practice, most people can tell when they are up in their heads versus being immersed in what is in front of them.
Tips for Facing the Unknown and Staying in the Now
- Physical sensations – practice feeling whatever is going on with them right at the present moment, and feeling your mind start wandering
- Meditation – look up on how to meditate, also the subject of a future post, which helps quiet the mind and focus on one thing at a time
- Observation of thoughts – your mind will always create thoughts, but that doesn’t mean you have to engage them. You can just see them, hear them, and let them go. Latching on to them and churning on them is what creates suffering
Most importantly: DO IT SOONER RATHER THAN LATER. Whatever it is you are starting to ruminate over, stop. Go do it. Your mind is making it seem worse that it will be, and it almost ALWAYS will. The fear will cause you to procrastinate, and make excuses out of not knowing what will happen. You fear the worst possible scenario. Get on with it, go face your fear and see what happens. It’s better to take a chance and face what you are worrying about than regret it later. Apply this to meeting someone, having a difficult conversation, making a call for a job, and so on. Fear only grows with time as you let it fester.
Don’t let imaginary thoughts of what could happen, win. There is only one way to find out what will truly occur in life. Try to pull yourself back to the present when you feel yourself start to churn and overthink. This does not mean what actually DOES happen will be positive, but it sure as hell beats trying to micro-calculate every possible scenario that could happen in preparation for the possibilities, or not doing anything at all.
Once you feel “the now”, even for a few seconds, you’ll see how beautiful the present can be, and contrast it to how terrible living in the mind can be.