"Chilling out" can be the smartest action
On the way to the office one day, I noticed a man in the car beside us in the right lane. He appeared to be in his thirties, and he was driving a Champaign-colored sports utility vehicle. Yet thats not why he stood out from the line of cars working their way toward downtown San Francisco.
This poor fellow was clearly in "high anxiety" mode. Hed press on the gas, jam on the breaks, shift lanes, speed past a few cars only to stop and repeat the process. After each cycle of doing this, Id notice that he would end up right where he started: right beside us. I could see his knuckles, red and white from gripping the steering wheel so tightly. And it was pretty clear that he was yelling and cursing at everyone and anyone who he deemed was "slowing him down."
I found myself wondering, as I observed him, what he thought was so important that he would waste all of that energy just to get to the same place he already was. This guy was choosing to see the morning traffic not as a reality, and certainly not as an opportunity, but as a hostile enemy that was keeping him from
what? Getting to the office five minutes earlier? Being ahead of the car in front of him? Moving himself that much more quickly to a heart attack or stroke?
Did he have any idea of the choice he was making, and would he someday find himself regretting that choice?
Consciousness means that youre aware of where you are, and why youre choosing to do certain things or be a certain way. Youre aware of your moods and their potential effect on others, and youre aware of the effect youd ideally like to have on others. Youre aware that when you eat certain things or are around certain people, you feel or respond a certain way. You realize that, in many cases, the things that you complain about are simply results of your own choices. And you use your observations the same way that you use any other data gleaned from research: to make better choices, to bring your ways of being into line with the model that is most healthful, rewarding, effective or enjoyable.
What to do?
To be conscious, start with practicing to be present. Sounds weird, doesnt it? Think about it, though. How often are you really just not paying attention? How often do you, without much thought, make a decision or do something that you later regret? How often do you put yourself or others in danger because youre doing two or more things at once for example, eating or talking on the phone while driving (or perhaps youre thinking about something else altogether, and arent really even in your body while driving)? Meeting with someone while preoccupied with something else?
Practice tip #1:
To practice being present, notice where you are and what youre doing throughout the day. Have the intention to be conscious of what youre doing, while youre doing it. If youre driving, drive. If youre meeting with someone, be fully present at that meeting, focusing completely on what someone is saying. If you find your mind wandering to something else, just notice that and return your attention to your primary activity whether thats driving, meeting, talking on the telephone, eating, relaxing, reading
Practice tip #2:
When you notice yourself tensing up or unnecessarily speeding up sitting at your desk, for example consciously notice "Im going faster than I need to be going" or "Im tensing up and I dont have to tense up." Gently straighten your back and sit upright, relax your shoulders and hands, and feel the breath going into your body and then out of your body as you breath. After that moment, bring your attention to what youre doing and where you are. Notice a gentle smile forming as you inhale and exhale, and resume whatever you were doing.
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