As human beings we have a tremendous capacity to respond positively and purposefully in the face of challenge. We have the ability to act on our goals and commitments even when we don't feel like it. As a society, we have an unprecedented capacity to feed, clothe, educate, provide healthcare, and share useful information. Why then, despite our most sincere efforts, do we get stuck in repeated patterns and fail to follow through on our best intentions? Why does life sometimes feel like a struggle even when we have everything we need? The answer to these questions lies in the human brain.
Your brain is designed to instantly assign meaning to whatever is happening. Therefore, you experience some of the stuff that shows up in life as pleasant, fun, or "good," and you experience other stuff as unpleasant, unwanted, or "bad." This is the nature of life with a brain. People have tried to live lives without discomfort - using chemical substances, relationships, work, money, sex, fame, travel, power, and even violence, to avoid or escape physical and emotional pain. So many people have been working on this for so long, that if there were a strategy for creating a life without discomfort, it seems like someone would have figured it out by now.
Still, we hold out hope that we can get everything just right and live happily ever after. But, experience demonstrates that when we focus on our circumstances as the primary source of our happiness, we end up riding a rollercoaster where we desperately cling to the ups and avoid the downs. So, how do we live a life where we are not victimized by the waves of ever changing internal and external circumstances? Research suggests that focusing on what is under our control makes a huge difference. The real power and freedom of being human comes from paying attention to what we practice.
The practice of well-being includes intentionally cultivating rich internal experiences and responding to life based on what is deeply important to you. You can cultivate awareness, gratitude, compassion, acceptance, patience, love, courage, and curiosity. In any given situation, your options for response boil down to three categories: 1.Taking action 2. Letting go 3. Spinning (worrying, blaming, or complaining). The great thing about option #3 is that it accomplishes nothing, but at least it drains your energy and diminishes your quality of life.
You always have the choice to take action when it will make a positive difference or let go when it will not. Research on human health and performance shows that when you feel that you have no choice or control, your levels of stress can rise to a point where you struggle to function. The simple conscious choice to let go or take action can reduce a tremendous amount of stress. Letting go does not mean that the issue will not return and taking action does not mean the issue will go away. However, returning to the awareness that you have a choice, and exercising your freedom to make it, can reclaim the energy that would otherwise go into endless spinning.
It all begins by bringing your awareness to the present moment and noticing what you are cultivating and how you are responding. In other words, paying attention to what you are practicing. What are you practicing right now?
Dave Mochel has been a neuroscience teacher and well-being coach for twenty-five years. He is committed to helping people and organizations be happier, healthier, and more productive. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.appliedattention.com