“I need this job! If I get it, I’m all set,” I said.
“What does ‘all set’ mean,” he asked.
“It means I’ll be happy! Where is your mind today?” I snapped.
“Chill out, I’m just kidding,” he smiled. “But what happens if you don’t get it?”
“You’re my friend, right? Don’t play devil’s advocate!” I said.
He laughed. “But seriously, will your life get worse?”
“Of course. I don’t have a job. I need money. You’re paying today’s pizza bill too, remember?”
“And you’ll never be happy again?”
I shrugged. He spotted the ‘you-just-don’t-understand’ look on my face, and dropped the topic.
Things are different now. Though I’m not old enough to justify my white hair, I’m wiser. It’s taken seven long years, but I understand what he was trying to tell me.
I’ll come to that in a few seconds.
We yearn for happiness, chasing it all life. After all, we are taught to put all our energy into pursuing what we want, right?
And yet, despite chasing happiness, we don’t find it. Eventually, we give into society’s lies. We resign ourselves to the daily grind. We grow old and cynical, and tell anyone who will listen that happiness is a myth.
But we are wrong. Happiness exists. And only one thing holds you back from achieving it – the thing which my friend knew, and was trying to tell me.
He wanted me to see that I was holding onto fear. Fear kept (and still keeps) me from being happy in life.
Fear of failure, abandonment, rejection, getting hurt, not being good enough… even success. But most importantly – fear of the unknown, of not knowing what lies on the other side of the opaque fence.
So you choose comfort, predictability. You choose the safety net. You hold on tight to your thoughts, your relations, your boring work and mundane life. “Controlling things around will make me happy”, you tell yourself. You hold onto something so tight that it either pushes back or suffocates and dies. But guess what…
“Every time we choose safety, we reinforce fear.” – Cheri Huber
You know fear sucks your blood and strength out. Yet, it dominates your life. Why? Because you assume that what life sends your way won’t be good enough. You relive unpleasant instances of the past, imagine horrible events in the future, and turn them into monsters. And whom do these monsters turn against? It’s like the Terminator series, where Skynet – the Artificial Intelligence, slaughtered its own creators.
But rarely are things as bad, or as good, as we expect them to be. Yes, sometimes they are worse, or better, but those are anomalies. Don’t make a rule for the anomaly. Make a rule for the norm. You’re capable enough of handling an anomaly as it comes.
Which rule am I talking about? Well, more than a rule, it’s a promise you make to yourself. A promise you can keep during normal or turbulent times. The promise of living in the moment. Of not focusing on the past, or future, but on the Now.
Past and future are thought forms, mental abstractions. The past, an event that took place in the Now, can only be remembered Now. The future, when it comes, is the Now. So the only thing that is real, the only thing there ever is is the Now. – Eckhart Tolle
Living in the Now sounds demanding. It’s more than just positive thinking. You feel like the mind wants to hold onto the past or worry about the future. But in truth, it loves staying in the Now. It loves feeling liberated and exploring the beauty of life.
If you want to start living in the moment, here are six simple steps to take:
1. Focus on One Task
Do you treat this moment like it’s an obstacle to overcome? Do you ponder more over the future and the past?
Almost everyone lives like this most of the time. Since the future never arrives, except as the present, it is a dysfunctional way to live. It generates a constant undercurrent of unease, tension and discontent. It does not honor life, which is Now, and never not Now. – Eckhart Tolle
The past isn’t here, neither is the future. All you have is the present moment. You cannot escape it. So instead of resisting, welcome it like you warmly welcome a friend.
Makes sense, right? How can you train your mind to achieve this? Read on.
2. Create a Mental Switch
Have a mental “On-Off” switch. When you begin a task, say “Switch On!” aloud. And when the time’s up, say “Switch Off!” If you find your mind referring to a previous (or future) task or emotion, say “Switch Off!”
Keep saying this until you focus only on the task at hand. You can utter these words under your breath. That’s okay. You don’t have to say them loudly enough to grab others’ attention.
3. Stop Multitasking
Research states that multitasking reduces our productivity by up to fifty percent. Since multitasking is as fashionable as the French, it’s always in demand. This means we function at fifty percent capacity forever. Imagine a production line where every machine functions at fifty percent output. That’s how we are today. Is it surprising that we do a hundred things, but are unable to give any of them our best? Or that we are less happy in life?
Multitasking is like a rocking chair. It makes you feel like you’re moving, but you go nowhere. So when your mind craves to multitask like a toddler craves for ice cream, stop! Use the mental “on-off” switch. Make a conscious effort to give the existing task one hundred percent. Work on it for twenty five minutes. Then experience the satisfaction of being productive. Do it again. And again, until it becomes a habit.
Mediation is the most effective way to reduce the clutter in your mind. Meditation doesn’t mean surrendering yourself to a higher power (although it’s great if you do). Simply find a quiet spot, get comfortable, and focus on your breathing. Start with two minutes and increase it to five after a week. Gradually increase the time you meditate, and feel the difference in yourself. If you find your mind drifting, gently bring it back to your breathing without judgement.
Meditation has many scientific benefits. It increases your immunity and decreases pain (emotional and physical), including inflammation at the cellular level. An interesting study conducted by Yale University also proves that meditation decreases activity in the Default Mode Network (DMN) i.e. the monkey brain. And reduction in the DMN is associated with more happiness.
5. Try New Experiences
The mind is mired in the past or worries about the future when it has nothing to look forward to. New experiences fill your mind with freshness. It helps your mind stay in the moment. Gradually, the mind distances itself from unproductive thoughts and focuses on the Now.
Instead of watching a drab, good-for-nothing movie every weekend, try new experiences. Read. Travel to a sparsely populated village. Learn a new hobby. You will be happier. Such activities will also stoke your creative spirit.
Imagine how much you can accomplish when your creativity increases!
Exercise is proven to improve your emotional state, encouraging positive thinking. The released endorphins trigger a positive feeling in the body. This helps you get back into your state of flow – the Now.
Working out at the gym five days a week is not necessary. Taking long walks or going on runs (without talking on the phone) will suffice. Also maintain a healthy diet.
A healthy body leads to a healthy mind. Make exercise a part of your routine.
Will life turn out the way you want? No.
Is that bad? Hell No!
Try not to resist the changes, which come your way. Instead let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come? – Shams-e-Tabriz
Yes, change is terrifying. But instead of resisting, embrace it. Let life flow through your veins. Let it take its course.
Fear is the only emotion standing between you and happiness right now. When you let go of fear, something amazing happens. Through serendipitous events, life turns out better than you had thought. True, in the immediate moments, things seem bleak. But when you look back at this time a few years from now, you will notice how everything turned out for the best.
You owe yourself happiness. It wants to ‘come and softly sit on your shoulder’. So make a promise to yourself. A promise to live in the moment. To give your mind what it deserves – freedom from fear and the liberty to explore the beauty of life. Suddenly, nothing will get in your way of leading a purpose-filled life.