Changing Just One Single Thing Has the Power to Start a Domino Effect
People who come to see me often figuratively sag when they realize how much they would be well-advised to change in their psychological and emotional make-up in order to improve not only their blind reactivity, but also their self-regulation, and their emotional maturity – all part and parcel of a healthy emotional intelligence that leads to inner well-being and inner peace. Yet I always say to them that changing just one single thing can start a domino effect that can literally change an entire life.
I remember a friend long ago in the 70’s in Houston who drank around 12 cans of soda drinks every day. Obviously she gained a great deal of weight. Back then the noxious effects of sodas and sugar were scarcely talked about, but one day a doctor advised her to cut out those 12 cans and drink water instead. It was very hard for her, but she did it, and of course that started a domino effect of increasingly improved health markers for her in many other ways than simply losing weight.
So what I want to say here today is much, much easier than stopping a sugar addiction such as the one she had. I simply want to encourage you to begin a habit of spending a few minutes every day being here and now; being conscious and aware. And because of that, being in a space where you are focusing on this very moment, and only this very moment.
The importance of this should not be underestimated because such a process trains neural pathways in your brain to stay in a single lane, so to speak, and to not meander off to the right and left. Why is this so vital to psychological and emotional well-being? Think of a child diagnosed with ADHD. We all know (assuming the diagnosis is correct and not fuelled by schools that want docile children) that this means that the child has great difficulty concentrating and focusing on the subject at hand, and will wander off – not only mentally but perhaps even physically - making it challenging to say the least, to learn whatever is being presented in the classroom, or to attend to his homework. If this child could be taught to be less scattered (to have a lower attention deficit), he would automatically be able to listen more closely, comprehend more precisely, integrate information more logically, and in general, be more capable of accessing better learning skills than he does while he is not focused and therefore meandering off, so to speak.
In your brain – although you probably don't have ADHD (or at least, this is not about children, teens, and adults with ADHD) – something quite similar happens when you are not able to - when you have not trained yourself - to be here and now, present, focused, and aware. Not so much with respect to learning, as you are probably quite able to focus when you need to learn or concentrate, but with respect to what happens to your thoughts.
If you were to put up a series of post-it’s throughout your home and office, where each post-it asks the questions “What am I thinking; what am I feeling?”, and you were to see these multiple post-its multiple times per day, you would be jolted into this present moment each of those times and check your inner dialogue to see what exactly you were thinking and feeling. The more you do this, the more you become aware of the present moment instead of being lost in thoughts that come to your head willy-nilly, and that most generally plague you with their presence. Ruminative thoughts of worries, anxiety, stress, and pain. This happens, as said, these thoughts form part and parcel of your daily routine simply because you are not present and aware. If you were, you would be able to manage them, as well as the emotions they create.
So changing just this one single thing could start a domino effect. And while the post-it’s are not a bad idea to accompany what I really want to encourage you to do, they are not the priority of this article.
Your daily mindfulness practice
What you can do is to begin a daily mindfulness practice by simply taking a brief, 15-minute walk every day, a relaxing walk, not one in which you walk so fast that you can't catch your breath. The main focus of this walk is to become aware of your present surroundings by using the beauty of what there is.
Simply focus on the first beautiful thing you see or hear - perhaps an oak tree that has just begun to show its first green buds in the spring, or the song of robins; perhaps you perceive the perfume of a jasmine in flower. As you look at, smell, or listen to whatever it is you have chosen, literally fill yourself with its beauty, and then feel grateful for that presence in your life just now, and notice a light sensation of relaxation or peace in your solar plexus. Now notice the next thing. Perhaps you now see a crocus bursting through the ground or you hear the sound of wind through the trees. Again, notice the beauty, feel the gratitude, and notice the sensation of peace. Now perhaps you see a kitten trying to catch a fly, or you hear the sound of wind through palm fronds. Remember to notice the beauty, feel the gratitude, and then notice the sensation of peace. And this time perhaps you see a trail of busy worker ants carrying tiny bits of a crumb into their hill, or you hear the sound of cicadas. As before, notice the beauty, feel the gratitude, and notice the sensation of peace. Simply continue to do this for 15 minutes until you come to the end of your walk.
Here is what typically happens. You will feel great during those first few moments of awareness as you take in beauty and notice peace. Then, before you realize it, you will very quickly forget the purpose of your walk and will go into a relatively unaware world of thoughts and hence back to stress. And only when your fifteen minutes are up, will you realize you meandered off, and remember what you were supposed to be doing.
Don't worry. If you do this every day for about three weeks, your neural pathways will begin to change and you will come closer and closer to managing the 15 minutes of noticing beauty and feeling appreciation and gratitude, and hence feeling more relaxed and at peace.
What literally happens while you are focusing on beauty and gratitude as you practice this deceptively simple exercise, is that you train yourself to remain present and aware. In doing this, your neural pathways begin to take on new shapes. There is an enormous amount of neuroscientific research that supports this, and that has demonstrated that by so doing, you bring yourself to greater and greater states of inner peace - inner peace that you are able to summon at will after practicing for some time, no matter what your outer circumstances. Changing just this one single thing can start a domino effect in you and may impact many, if not all areas of your life. The price? 15 minutes of your time each day. So simple. All you have to do is decide to do it.