Super highways vs. foot trails

If someone were to tell you that according to Stanford Research Institute, the average human has approximately 50,000 thoughts a day, would you be surprised?  And of those thoughts, 70-85% are negative and up to 98% of them are the same ones we had the day before.  Clearly this is a serious waste of mental power!

“Psychoneuroimmunology” in medical terms, is the connection between mind and body.  When we’re tired, thinking clearly is more difficult and, conversely, when we’ve been doing mental work, we’re exhausted physically at the end of the day.  How often I’ve thought it unjust that after working all day at my desk and feeling completely exhausted, I didn’t burn a single bloody extra calorie.

Grace, now 3 years old, is the messiest child I have ever had or seen.  She is like Pig Pen from the Charlie Brown comics.  It doesn’t matter what we do, or how many layers of bibs or painting smocks we put on her during dinner, inevitably she manages not only to cover herself in food, but the table, floor, walls and anyone in close proximity.  No amount of “don’t spill”, “pay attention to your food”, or reminding her that she should try to not make a mess, will deter her from destroying the room.

Even though I am fully aware that anything negative one tells a child becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because of that 70-85% or super highways of negative thoughts, it’s so much more natural to tell a child what NOT to do, than to turn it around.

This morning, I decided to contain my frustration, also asking James to kick me if I lost my temper, and begin with encouraging Grace to aspire to greatness.  I told her how I was confident she could eat breakfast without making a mess and that how proud I already was of her because I knew she could do it.  Sure enough, she rose to the occasion and managed one meal without total annihilation of the kitchen.   She was very proud of herself and as a result I was much calmer walking out the door this morning.

So how do we stop dwelling in the past, or the perceived future? How do we stop obsessing about things we can not change, wallowing in self pity or thinking about times we’ve been deeply hurt?  It seems to me that one way is to focus on what is truly important and the only thing we know to be true—our present moment.  The past can’t be changed and the future is never certain.

Ian was one of thirty students in his school of approximately two thousand selected to join a special leadership group studying mindfulness.  My understanding is that their goal is to help students increase their awareness of negative and false thoughts and become cognizant of how they can improve their lives, by traveling on the mental foot trails of positive thought rather than the negative super highways we all seem to have.

I think we could all use a course in mindfulness.  But for now, if we can catch ourselves thinking something negative, and stop it, we’re on the way to closing down that super highway and paving the foot trails, giving us more energy and a better outlook on life and who wouldn’t want that?

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