Feeling constantly distracted and not in the present moment? Here’s why.
If I were to ask you what is your mind running in the background right now, how quickly could you come up with an answer?
You could be responding to the obvious: that you’re reading this article, absorbing its content and deciding whether it helps you or not. However, your mind could be on completely different track right now.
For example, your mind could be running this in the background:
“How foolish of me. I need to finish that project, yet I’m wasting time reading articles on the internet.”
“I should be writing right now, not reading articles, if I plan to keep my 30 day writing challenge.”
“So glad that I managed to take a break from all the work and relax with a good article.”
or you could be scanning absent-minded the article, reading it but not really reading it because your thoughts are wrapped around what you’re going to eat later or where do you need to be in an hour.
Every moment we engage in some activity (or even when we don’t), our mind is running in the background, collecting input from the outside, processing the input and coming up with results in the form of conclusions.
Often times, we take these conclusions for granted without questioning their manufacturing process. The subsequent result? We get into the corresponding state.
For example, the other day you could’ve had a short disagreement with a coworker.
While you’re now reading this article, your mind can still run in the background the whole dispute, process the conversation between you and your coworker and come up with some result of you feeling bad and not enough because you couldn’t state your point earlier this day, yet again.Corresponding state? Frustration, blaming yourself and not feeling good.
Or, for example, you could be reading this article right now, yet your mind could be dwelling and ruminating on how irresponsible you are for reading this article now when tomorrow you have this presentation at work that you should get prepared for. Corresponding state? Guilt, fear, and feeling overwhelmed.
So, you may believe that you’re reading this article now and that you’re 100% here, yet your mind keeps on constantly sending you outputs on whole different scenarios.
And these are just some examples, it can happen anytime, in a whole bunch of different contexts. You see,
We do things, speak to persons, read stuff, work on projects and a whole bunch of other activities, assuming that our mind is there with us. Often times it’s not.
Whether we like it or not, our mind has one job only: keeping us alive. The rest is optional. It does this by constantly scanning the environment for potential dangerous stimuli, processing, coming up with information, sending us outputs on how to behave, thus keeping us alive.
And, of course, our mind does not only scan the present situation. It‘s constantly scanning back and forth, past and present, present and future, integrating information, coming up with solutions, making sense of the world. And because of this, it can sometimes go astray.
And it goes ashtray in the form of rumination, intrusive thoughts, obsessive thinking or negative emotions such as excessive worrying, generalized anxiety, depression, guilt and so on.
So, if we want to take control of our lives, we need to understand how our mind is working.
The key word here is understand.
Not change it, not control it, just understand it.
If you take a look back and think about it, you’ll see that in almost any sort of activity, you can talk to yourself in two ways: “congrats, you did well.” or “it’s a failure, you’re not enough.” These are extremes, but any other sorts of self-talk are just derivations from these two.
This happens because in the mind of each and every one of us, two voices fight for the main stage: our inner critic and our inner supporter. We all have both of them. The problem is that, often, one of the first two is more vocal than the other.
If our inner critic is more vocal, we could be used to thinking like this:
“how can you rest when you’ve got so much to do.”
“you should’ve done better.”
“you should be doing that, not this.”
“it’s not good enough. next time, you need to do it better.”
“you’ve yet again failed at it.”
“there’s a whole lot of improvement, this is not enough.”
If our inner supporter is more vocal, we could be used to something like this:
“it’s OK for now, there’s nothing wrong to doing less than expected.”
“it’s OK to not competing for the best.”
“it doesn’t have to be perfect, it has to be good enough.”
“you’ve done your best.”
These two voices are the ones that constantly distract us, thus making noise inside our heads.
The thing is, we’re not automatically aware of which one of the two voices is more vocal. That’s why we need to work on training the third one: the observer.
So, in the following paragraphs, we’ll talk about what is the observer, why is it important and how can we train it to come on stage.
What is our inner observer?
Our inner observer is our voice that talks about things and facts, without judging them, without tagging them.
It simply tells us that things are, not how they are, not if we like them or not, but simply that they are.
Like a camera taking a photo. A camera doesn’t make inferences about the captured shot. It just captures it.
Our inner observer is our thinking about thinking. It can help us rise above all and look at what our brain is doing to us, look at which one of the two voices is more vocal and decide whether we want it to remain that way or we want to bring the other one also on stage.
Our inner observer can also help us monitor our thoughts and look where our thoughts stay longer: in the past, present or in the future. Where are we living? Dwelling on the past, staying in the present moment or looking forward to things that haven’t happened yet?
Our inner observer helps us stay in control. By understanding where is our mind drifting when it’s free: past, present or future and which one of the two voices is more vocal, we can understand our patterns of thinking and break free from them if they’re not helping us.
Why is our inner observer so important?
If we work to develop our inner observer, we can understand what our mind is doing to us and why. Then we can understand that our mind is doing what it’s been trained to do and what it can do in the context of our life history and situations we’ve been through.
Our inner observer can sometimes show us that:
We’re never felt like we’re enough because our inner critic is on stage all the time.
Our inner critic voice lowers our self-esteem and constantly drives our desire for self-update
Other times, it can show us that:
Our inner supporter is there all the time, keeping us in comfort zones, safe and cozy yet sabotaging our growth.
Our thoughts are constantly dwelling on the past because we’re currently not living on our highest priorities.
Or it can show us that:
Our thoughts are constantly caught up in the future because during our lifetime, the present moment was too hard to bear and our mind kept us alive by staying focused on the future and on the hope that something better is coming.
Training our inner observer is like training a muscle. The more we access it consciously and with effort now, the easier and more natural it’ll come on stage later.
Training our inner observer helps if we’re feeling constantly distracted and having to bear a lot of noise inside our minds. Below are two suggestions on how to do that, which worked for me:
Observe your mind at work in its natural state
You can do this whenever you feel to. Choose an object or color from your surroundings. After you’ve chosen, let your mind naturally bring you memories/thoughts related to that object.
Let your mind make associations between the object and what currently exists in your mind related to that object. Then look and assess whether your thoughts are related to the past, present or future.
You can do this on a regular basis, not only with objects but also by practicing meditation and letting your mind flow free. So, if you let your mind wander free, where does it go?
By consciously noticing in these mini-exercises where your mind naturally goes, you can start to record your patterns of living: present, future or past.
Ask whether your thought is a habit or a reality
Whenever a thought bugs you or you’re feeling down, ask yourself if what you’re thinking is a habit or a reality.
For example, is your partner really wrong or are you accustomed to seeing the worst in everyone’s intention because you’ve been betrayed in the past? Or is the situation really bad or are you accustomed to worrying on a regular basis?
You could be amazed at how many of your thoughts are close to reality and how many of them are just patterns of thinking that you’re accustomed to.
A note here: our thoughts/perception never reflect the reality around us per se but let’s just assume that for the sake of demonstration. Sometimes we have a more balanced perception of reality and sometimes our perceptions are pure results of habitual thought patterns.
We need to get used to differentiate on that. Is it, for example, a truly worrying situation or is it just my habitual pattern of thinking to see the worst in a situation because I’ve been faced with too many problematic situations during my life?
Observing our mind in its natural state and questioning whether our thoughts are reality or just a habit of thinking allows us to break the barriers of our own thought processes and start thinking about our thinking.
Results: freedom, opportunity to choose what we focus on, relief and a greater sense of control over our world that leads to us being empowered in our own life.
Our mind is running on well-trodden paths that, on the course of our lifetime, became highways — shortcuts in thinking that keep us in the loop, relieving the same conclusions over and over again. These are our habitual patterns of thinking, that are not right or wrong, just familiar.
Because our mind is working non-stop, it’s not going to take itself the time to adjust the highway it’s working on. We have to consciously, deliberately change or at least adjust our way of thinking.
Unless we do that, we’ll fall into the trap of believing everything we think and as a result, get caught up in whatever our mind is feeding us.
That’s how we reduce the noise.
As Eckhart Tolle said:
“What a liberation to realize that the voice in my head is not who I am. Who am I then? The one who sees that.”
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash