Constant access to phone, email, texts, tweets, and a 24 hour news cycle keeps us connected and up to date. And this access can keep our nervous systems vigilant.
We are capable of putting ourselves on alert first thing in the morning and keeping ourselves there until we fall asleep (if we can fall asleep).
We are also capable of getting so caught up and overwhelmed that we overlook or miss out on the relationships and experiences that are really most important and meaningful to us.
I know this from personal experience. I have what I would call a reactive nervous system. It is constantly scanning the environment for potential threats and it is capable of going from zero to sixty in a split second when the world is not how I expect or want it to be. My nervous system is also capable of buzzing at a high level of anxiety for long periods of time.
We do not need to be victims of the frantic world we live in or to the way our nervous systems respond.
We do not need to indulge or resist stress and anxiety. We do not need to curse the heavens for having a reactive nervous system nor do we have to wait for the day when we no longer experience these things. We can develop practices that change everything.
Freedom from stress and anxiety does not mean absence of these things.
Freedom comes from working skillfully with these things. It begins with an awareness and acceptance that discomfort is part of life. We can witness the experience of stress and anxiety without being overwhelmed. We can cultivate resources such as gratitude and compassion in the presence of stress and anxiety. We can choose to put our energy into meaningful and effective action. This is the practice that builds the skill of freedom.
And here's the thing about life - everything you do is practice.
It's that simple. When you argue, you get better at arguing. When you listen, you get better at listening. When you complain, you get better at complaining. When you are kind, you get better at kindness. When you treat yourself or others harshly, you get better at that. You are always practicing something.
Everything you do is shaping your brain and your life.
Your brain rewires itself based on what you do. Your brain does not care whether you want to get better at something, it only cares that you do it. When you sleep at night, your brain organizes itself to get better at what you did during the day. This is how a habit is formed.
Most of what happens in life is outside your control.
Weather, traffic, other people's behavior, feelings and thoughts that pop up - these things are the result of an almost infinite number of variables. The more we let what shows up determine the quality of our lives, the more we are like a ping-pong ball hit back and forth by the paddles of circumstance.
You cannot choose what shows up in life, but you can choose what you practice.
The more we focus on how we spend our time and energy, the better our health, happiness, relationships, and performance. We can learn to be more conscious of what we are practicing. We can put more of our energy into practicing what really matters - what we want to get better at - what we want to have more of in our lives.
You can live a life that is full without being frantic.
It begins with paying attention. It can be as simple as setting aside 2-10 minutes every morning to do nothing except pay attention to what is going on in your body -- paying attention to breathing is a great place to start. This is not necessarily relaxing - it can include sitting quietly with discomfort. Of course there are all kinds of reasons not to do this -- you have too much to do, it's boring, its not productive enough... This is how your brain motivates you to remain a victim of anxiety and stress.
The practice of observing restlessness without doing anything about it is the beginning of real freedom.
Being with your experience for a few breaths creates the space to cultivate internal resources such as gratitude, curiosity, joy, and compassion. It facilitates putting our energy into what is most important even when we don't feel like it. We can pay attention to the results of our efforts, and when we realize that our attention has wandered and we have fallen back into old habits, we can simply begin again.
Be careful what you practice, because you are going to get better at it.
Dave teaches proven practices for working effectively with stress, anxiety, resistance, frustration, distraction, and the feeling of being stuck. The result is that you experience fulfillment, growth, and connection that does not depend on your circumstances. He offers individual coaching and well as keynote speaking, in-services, retreats, seminars, and ongoing consultation. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to his website at www.appliedattention.com