…but there’s a reason why he’s grinning.
See the bad-ass in the bottom left? He is the actual Larry. And you too, can be as happy as him.
So why do too many of us spend a fair chunk of time feeling general miserable and dissatisfied?
Recent studies show that most humans spend around 47% of their waking hours in autopilot mode; roughly defined as a ‘cognitive state in which you act without self awareness’.
Essentially that means that for half the time, when you’re not blissfully unaware of life , busy
snoring, farting and blanket hogging recharging your batteries, you’re wasting precious time existing in a sense of purgatory, the lights are on but no-ones really in…
Instead, we’re busily introspecting – more specifically, focusing our attention on our internal narrative. You know the little voice reading this out to you in your head?*
That’s your internal narrative or monologue; also known as a stream of consciousness.
An ongoing sequence of thought, observation, query and muse, this little voice has a massive effect on your general outlook and mentality.
In a perfect world, it would be jumping up and down, waving metaphorical pom-poms and always encouraging, congratulating and generally having your back during the roller coaster of life, a hybrid of the best friend ever, combining the optimistic attitude of Buddy the Elf, wisdom of Albus Dumbleore and the invincible bounce-back-ability of Chuck Norris; the world’s most awesome mentor as it were.
Unfortunately, McDonald’s still don’t deliver, the snooze button will never fully satisfy the need for ‘…five more minutes’ and your internal narrative can, quite frankly, be something of a complete bitch and according to aforementioned study, most of the thoughts delivered to us through it end up making us feel pretty unhappy.
If you’ve ever suffered with depression, you’ll be aware that this little voice inside your head can, on times, become bogged down with bad vibes, leaving a feeling more like a canal of negativity than a stream of consciousness.
These bad vibes are often responsible for some of the
shittier less productive pearls of wisdom that our stream of consciousness has to offer; affirmations of negative self esteem, low self worth, lack of confidence; all of these things contribute towards a less than cheerful outlook.
Ever been warned about the dangers of over-thinking things? Over-analysing a situation? People tend to do this over relationship issues, often to the detriment of their own sanity, well being and – ironically, the relationship itself.
In this state, we become self conscious, evaluating and assessing ourselves and our circumstance.
Often, our findings see us falling short of preconceived ideals or unrealistic expectations; what we should look like, who we should be, what our lifestyles should be like, our relationships, aspirations…
A lot of the time, these unattainable concepts aren’t even actually desirable to ourselves, set forth by the media, reinforced by our friends, family and social surroundings, we find ourselves – in autopilot – blithely accepting them to be true. This can leaving us feeling inferior and unworthy – thus, endorsing the distorted negative cycle.
So, every now and again, it can be incredibly helpful to remove yourself mentally from the downer, returning tickled pink. Or at the very least with, a fresher and more productive perspective.
That’s all very well you say – but I can’t just turn it off.
As a matter of fact, you probably can.
For a while anyway.
With a bit of practice, there’s no reason why anyone can’t silence the mental chatter, step out of the auto-pilot haze into the sunshine and enjoy actually experiencing life rather than going through the motions.
And the best bit?
You can practice this – anywhere. You’ve got all the equipment you need already.
A nice quiet space is ideal, try and keep your back relatively straight while being comfy – we’re aiming for somewhere in between the slump adopted at the end of a night of alco-overindulging and ‘rod stuffed up your ass’. You may prefer to close your eyes, it’s entirely up to you…
Completely focusing on your breathing is a nice, simple way to start. It’s literally as straightforward as paying attention to the inhale and exhale process you automatically do thousands of times a day.
Employ all your senses in with this, try and focus entirely on taking a breathe deeply into your lungs, feeling the air entering through your nostrils – if taking a deep breathe feels a bit strange, try putting your right hand just below your bellybutton, it makes it easier.
Experience the sensation of your rib cage rising and expanding as it fills – and exhale, slowly.
The falling of your chest, the gentle release of breathe – listen to the noise.
You’ll probably find your mind wandering, don’t worry about it – be aware of the thought without following it, realise it’s passing, like the melting of a snowflake – and bring your attention back to the breathing.
Try counting ten intentionally, slow, rhythmic in-and-out breathes; it’s impossible not to feel calmer afterwards.
And – far from putting a dam in the stream of consciousness, so it all comes flooding out afterwards, this technique – with a little practice – can help drastically reduce the time we spend in our own heads getting verbally bashed.
Officially mindfulness is defined as; bringing complete attention to the present experience on a moment-by-moment basis. Basically, the opposite of zoning out.
Practicing mindfulness in this way needn’t always be a case of setting time aside either. In traffic, washing dishes, peeling potatoes, having a bath? The time spend on activity where your mind is prone to wandering can be used.
It’s been proven that mindful meditation in this way can have a hugely beneficial effect, both psychologically; positively impacting mood, memory and mental capacity – and physiologically; reducing stress responses, lowering anxiety, blood pressure and boosting our immune system and energy levels.
So now you know. Instead of playing the ‘…spotting people picking their nose game’ in traffic, take the opportunity to indulge in some light mental relaxation. The chirpy looking fella below, looking remarkably pleased with himself, does.
“How does one practice mindfulness? Sit in meditation. Be aware of only your breath.”
*I’m assuming you’re reading this in your head and you’re not being hand-fed grapes, under an umbrella whilst someone with dulcet French tones reads aloud to you. If this actually is the case, I’m really quite jealous. That sounds lovely.