Practicing Mindfulness by Letting Go of Woulds, Coulds, and Shoulds

Living mindfully
Blue Lagoon, Iceland. 2013
As I’ve gotten more comfortable with my meditation practice, I’ve started practicing mindfulness is all areas of my life. It’s quickly made me realize how much power I give my thoughts. I used to regard them as the wisdom of my subconscious. If my thoughts were stewing over something then I’d better pay attention because it could be important!

But as I’ve cultivated more time for stillness, I realize that most of my thoughts are actually pointless. Most fall into the “woulds, coulds, and shoulds” category. I’m either thinking about things I would’ve done differently if only I’d known better (dwelling on the past). Or I’m thinking about things I could be doing with my time instead of whatever it is that I am doing (not living mindfully in the present). Or things I should be doing, preferably RIGHT NOW (focusing on an undetermined future).
 
My mind wanders a lot. As an INFP Libra middle child, I spent a lot of time alone growing up and cultivated a rich inner world. I could happily go days without talking to another person. And I decided this meant that my inner narrative is and worth the attention it demands.
 
But as I practice disconnecting myself from my thought process, I realize that most of my thoughts are time wasters. A lot of them sound more like a bully on a playground (“I can’t believe you’re wasting time AGAIN when you should be doing this other thing”) than a wise and compassionate companion.
 
I noticed myself spinning off in the shower the other day. It started with thinking about the grocery list. Then I started thinking about how I need to eat better. It quickly veered into self-hatred territory and I started beating myself up for not exercising enough. Once I noticed what was going on, I took a deep breath. “Is this what I want to be thinking about right now? No. Is this negative self-talk helpful or constructive? No. So I’m going to choose to let it go.”
 
I took a deep breath and immediately felt more connected to myself. Then I asked myself, “Ok, so what do I want to spend the next 10 minutes thinking about?” I decided I wanted to focus on blog topics. By the time I got out of the shower, I was bursting with exciting new ideas that I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.

How I’m Practicing Mindfulness

These days I’m getting better at prioritizing when to give space to the woulds, coulds, and shoulds. I keep a running to-do list at hand. If I think of something important that I feel like I should be doing, I write it down so I can tackle it at the right time.
 
If I find myself stewing over how I wish I would’ve acted differently, I journal and release my regret onto the page. By writing it down, I revoke my permission to dwell any longer. I can focus on how I want to move forward, but regrets only get enough time + attention as it takes to fully process the lesson I need to learn from them.
 
And when I notice myself focusing on things I could be doing, I gently try to redirect my attention to where I am now. I take a deep breath and feel the earth beneath my feet. I notice how the air feels against my skin. And I bring myself back to the present.
 
It’s kind of amazing to realize that you are in control of your mind and not the other way around.

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