We all do it and it can be one of the biggest blocks to getting us what we actually desire: Automatic Thinking. It’s like you’re on zombie auto-pilot, cranking through your To-Do List, responding and making unconscious decisions and actions without a single mindful moment of saying, “Hey — is this really what I want to be doing?”
What’s more, Automatic Thinking can back us into some serious corners if we let it. How many people do you know that are in careers they don’t love because they were told it would make them happy? (Or even relationships, for that matter).
Frankly, it’s one of the first places I start when working with new clients and creates some of the biggest breakthroughs in my practice.
The elegant solution to all of this is to practice simply being exactly where you are. Sound easy? It can be, but it’s also surprisingly difficult.
1. Create Your Moment
By creating a moment, we’re being present and our auto-pilot flips to “off-mode.” Here’s a few easy ways to practice.
Slow down a little and focus on what you are doing right then at that moment. Focus on your steps as you walk, your food and your chewing as you eat, the sights and sounds around you. Even if you experience a single second of being present, you’ve done something crucial in that moment.
The 10 Second Rule
We often go from task-to-task, and suddenly look up and it’s 9pm. Creating check-in moments in between the the busy tasks of your day will give you some much-needed space to listen to what is happening around you and quiet the chatter in your head. Take 10 seconds between one task and the next to simply be still, breathe, and look around (try it now!), and settle into your breath before moving onto the next thing on your list.
Commit to creating meaningful connection with others throughout your day. When we’re “busy,” we can sometimes see people as hurdles to get what we want. Instead, consider seeing these moments as an opportunity to connect with who you are, and a space for others to do the same — they may really appreciate it. Make eye contact, smile, and if a compliment arises in your mind, express it.
2. Manage Your Stress Reaction
The steps above may sound fairly easy, but they can be downright impossible when we’re overwhelmed. When we experience real stress, we oftentimes go into “Flight or Fight” mode, which completely disconnects us from our conscious mind (If you ever have thought after a disagreement, “Wow, I really wasn’t myself just then”, this is why).
First, try creating an overall daily practice to check in with yourself. Taking five minutes to meditate and creating conscious intentions throughout your day can have lasting effects. The Journal of Positive Psychology (link here) notes that doing so improves our emotional stability, with 74% of those studied saying that they would continue the practice in the future after the study was completed. By practicing mindfulness, you’ll have a greater chance during those stressful moments of connecting to your usual self instead of possibly injuring and re-injuring an already tense situation.
3. Abolish Your Ground Rules
Ground Rules are the “rules” of what’s acceptable and not acceptable that we live our lives by. (We can thank our families, friends, and our overall cultures for this one). Sometimes they can be broad, as in “I can’t burden others by asking for help” to something more specific like, “Being successful means getting a promotion every year until I’m at xyz level in this specific field.” They may sound easy to work around, but these rules run deep, and we interpret them as important to our social and physical survival (it’s also where feelings of unworthiness come from). So, how do we uncover them and renovate them? Since this is one of the biggest, juiciest causes of Automatic Thinking, I created a free download for you to do just that. This PDF guide (with a bonus mini-podcast) will step you through what your personal Ground Rules are, and give you an opportunity to actually do something big and new with them. Sound good? Good! You can download it here (click here).
Practicing even one of these steps is a great way to untangle your Automatic Thinking and start living a little more presently.