Animals Know What We’ve Forgotten
- How to focus, then let go of disappointment fast
- How to release muscle tension when stress passes
- How to be in the present moment.
Reaching goals can bring out our best and worst. The thrill of leaning into a goal needs weighing against the angst of making slow progress. It can be a stressful business.
And while 75–90% of all visits to doctors are stress related (estimation), it’s time to take onboard these 7 ideas:
1. Judgement Relies On Certainty
Marcus Aurelius wrote: “Have certainty of judgement in the present moment”.
If you’re operating like a set of traffic lights at a busy intersection during peak hour, there’s a good chance dis-ease is brewing. Why? Because most accidents happen when running red lights at intersections.
- Focus is lost: Leading to distraction.
- Frustration rises: Tensing muscles, tightening joints and holding toxic stress internally.
- Impatience swells: Thoughts go random, indignation rises and emotions feast on the internal melt-down.
Certainty of judgement is lost as the mind stops thinking rationally and the present moment is given over to random thoughts that lead to missing goal targets and amplifying confusion around what you’re really aiming to achieve.
It’s here that unhealthy emotions kick-in. And this can lead to being pulled in different directions — ‘the divided self’.
2. Re-Connect ‘The Divided Self’
“There is a great deal of pain in life and perhaps the only pain that can be avoided is the pain that comes from trying to avoid pain.” — R. D. Laing.
Psychiatrist R. D. Laing wrote of ‘The Divided Self’ in the book of the same name. A theory around the challenge of forging an authentic identity while denying the one pre-defined by family.
The result: A person of two minds. In two minds. Acting out of duty. Going out of their mind. Incapable of certainty because the present moment feels like a collision between the past and future. Indecision. Frozen to the spot.
The divide goes deeper. Like a self-emulating pattern on a snail shell, a pine cone or a spiral, the divided-self continues splitting. Becoming more tense and fractured with each layer of stress that’s ignored in the pursuit of the goal.
Clarity is near impossible while attention is diced with information overload. Information that’s added to the vault of dis-ease thinking causing a burning or knotted sensation in the gut.
It’s in exposing yourself to mixed messages of how to live, who to listen to, what to do and when to do it, that personal judgement begins to feel like a fogged-over rear-view mirror. Of what you should have avoided, rather than keeping the focus on what you’re moving towards.
And in this constant rush, the moment is missed and energy wasted on avoiding the imminent collision you’re maneuvering through.
Take-away: Clarity comes by seeing the past as past, living in the present moment and planning for a future designed by you — not your family or friends. Focus means not mixing messages and acting in random ways — but sticking to the course chosen with daily habits and rituals that reduce time-wasting energy on ‘reinventing the wheel’.
3. Focus On The Outcome: You Are The Director Of Your Thoughts
“The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.” — Marcus Aurelius
Remaining true to your goal becomes impossible if you’ve lost focus on the meaning behind it. The reason for its birth in the first place.
Repeating actions over and over from a robotic state of mind, rather than an energised and purposeful focus, leads to round-about thinking — a never-ending loop building to frustration.
You know that maintaining focus means directing how you think about a person, an event, a decision. Your thoughts have power. In choosing how to think, and how you want to perceive what’s happening in your life gives you a positive edge. Because many are led by the pack mentality of ‘fad think’ — of following the latest craze blindly, not the direction of personal focus and thought that leads to self-fulfilment.
Directing your thoughts helps you engage with the outcome you want. Done the right way it brings an energy capable of ‘forward-thrusting’ you from stationary to momentum.
To maintain focus and direct thoughts try this:
Hold the image of your goal in your mind. Imagine you can walk around it. See it from all perspectives — above, below, beside it. Give the goal, or your dream, space to shine in all its fullness and richness. As you’re imagining this space where you see your goal, look further. What could be inhibiting it coming to fruition? What may be slowing its progress? What can you do to ease the path and free flow your movements towards it?
This is a powerful tool. Use it.
4. Be An Artist, Not A Slogger
“Solitude helps you to convert your time into clarity of purpose.”
― Sunday Adelaja.
I was challenged to reflect more on artistry than sloggery when reading a Facebook post from my writing mentor and coach. When I read it, I noticed a strange sensation in my gut. (Always a sign to investigate further). And so four pages later in my morning journal I found the reason for my hesitation and the gut squeeze.
Something inside me felt perceptually out of alignment. While ‘doing-the-do’ of daily writing my body had fallen into an old pattern dredging up a few skeletons around ‘busy work’ — not real work.
I could have replied to the Facebook post with a quick glib answer. But checking-in with my gut and then having a dialogue with inner ‘mini-me’ (via the journal) resolved the tension and offered insight. Around what ‘hesitation’ really meant for me. The difference between ‘slogger’ and ‘artistry’.
Outcomes and perceptions are linked. What your desired outcome is may not be aligning with your internal perceptions around what you believe is possible. When life feels out of balance, and success feels elusive — your gut has the answers.
Check-in with it often. Then journal.
5. Clarity Of Purpose
“Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.” — David McCullough.
It’s easy to daydream when sitting in traffic. It’s not wise, but an easy habit to fall into. The alternative is to direct thoughts and guide them, rather than allowing them to wander.
Thoughts are like kittens — they go where the latest shiniest and most wiggly thing is. Distraction is a given.
Thoughts, like our mind, need direction. And direction happens with structure. When traffic lights break down, a traffic officer takes over. There’s no random directions being given — the officer follows a set sequence, mimicking the normal pattern followed by the lights.
It’s a process allowing order out of what could be chaos.
Building a relationship with your thoughts, and letting them know you’re in control takes skill.
>> Action Step: Be mindful. Of being present to the moment, and releasing wayward or bothersome thoughts with ease.
Presence, and the skill of being in it at any given moment takes practice. And if this is unfamiliar thinking, the easiest way to begin is with gratitude. An attitude towards blessing what you have received. You are where you are because of how your past has aligned with your thoughts, your choices and your actions. Be thankful they’ve brought you here.
To begin ‘presence’, come back to breath. Noticing one breath after another. Choose not to be distracted. Choose to remain present. Choose to build your mind and guide your thoughts to what you want them to focus on. The moment you find distraction drawing you in — return to breath. A simple focus. A rich reward.
You are the master of your mind. Be it’s leader.
>> Action Step: A second way is through journaling.
Listening to the body and being sensitive to what your ‘inner-you’ is saying extends the mindfulness of presence. Journal writing is a simple clarity-seeking way of connecting moments of discord.
Ask questions. Wait for answers. Enquire. Explore. Investigate. Be curious. Your journal is a private place for you, your thoughts and your goals. Use it. Befriend it. And it will return the favour.
6. When Things Don’t Go As Planned …
“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Regardless of what you plan, what you hope for, what dreams you want — events will unfold in different ways. It’s the nature of planning.
When this happens, the mindless person blames whatever is convenient: the weather, a person, the traffic, the economy, the government, God, the universe …
The mindful person, who knows how to live in the present moment and mine the essence found there, accepts what’s outside immediate control.
Releasing the past and not condemning the future means accepting what is. Not wasting energy on ‘what isn’t’.
In younger years my love life was all over the place. Any boundaries I placed were shifted easily to accommodate people who cared less about them. Things changed when I finally accepted who these people were — they’d told me the first time I met them. I’d chosen not to listen.
In the end, I realised that change was possible. For me. I moved far enough away to start again. I firmed up the boundary. And made a decision to never control anyone other than myself. Other people’s actions are theirs to choose. I’m responsible for what I do, what I say, what I achieve.
In my personal life, choosing to focus on ‘me’ and personal growth helped me become a better version of ‘me’. As is often the case, the medicine didn’t kill me, it returned me to better health. It helped me see that every action I do needs to be “for the common good in the present moment” (Marcus Aurelius). Inclusive of my needs, respectful of others — whether I agree with their actions or not. This doesn’t mean ‘acceptance’ — it means choosing a different path if alignment isn’t possible.
Release what’s beyond control, covet what’s yours to control: your thoughts, your actions, your emotions.
7. Not Reaching You Target Is A Moment In Time; Not A Life Sentence
“Remember that failure is an event, not a person.”
– Zig Ziglar
A cat is no less a cat because a lizard or mouse escapes its pounce. She doesn’t give up and decide lizards aren’t her thing because one got away. She’ll be out there stalking those tiny creatures (and anything else that looks wriggly) tomorrow. It’s in her nature to go after what she wants.
Her self-perception of whether she’s good enough to be a cat is neither positive nor negative. It’s irrelevant to the action at hand. She is a cat. Doing what cats do.
- There’s no internal dialogue of: “It’s out of my comfort zone.” or, “That lizard’s too fast for me to bother.”
- There’s no mind chatter of : “What will other cats say?”
- There’s no discussion within the cattery community of: “What if I fail?”
She knows her capabilities and stretches her skills until her natural instincts match her needs.
She learned this the hard way. She was a stray. Discarded as a kitten. She became a survivor. And at around 6 months of age she took up residence in an abandoned dog house hidden under a tree in the back yard. The instincts that kept her alive, won’t be relinquished easily.
Like each of us, survival is at our core.
There’ve been times in my life I’ve had to dig deep and find the survivor within. To withstand the workplace bully. To claim my place rather than disappear into a shadow. To live in the present moment with clarity of judgement based on values and tested beliefs.
Times when the divided self was evident. Split and torn between stay-or-go decisions that allowed stress to burn like out-of-control bush fires. External battles fought internally holding tension on a knife edge.
Personal development and growth. Reading. Learning. Doing courses. Loads of emotional maturing. New skills. Taking responsibility for my results (personally and professionally). Believing in myself. Taking chances. And getting up day after day — seeking the opportunities that were there waiting.
Cats don’t see themselves as ‘divided’. Nor conflicted by whether they ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ do. They seek out every opportunity. They map out a mini game-plan. And then they act. Sometimes they win. Mostly they don’t. And afterwards, they let go of the outcome while planning for the next lizard to come along.
It’s an analogy worth considering:
Living as divided? Or whole?
Being distracted? Or focused?
Fuzzy goals? Or clarity?