It’s so easy for our days to get thorny—for us to get tangled up or in a funk, feeling like we’re spinning out of control and losing sight of what really matters.
When I’m feeling that way, I sometimes wish I could just reach into my head for a list of things that would help get me out and set me back on track—things that are within reach even if I’m overwhelmed. So I wrote this one.
I do not practice all of these things every day, but I’d love to get there. Some of them are pretty personality and season-in-life dependent, so they may not work as well for you as they do for me. (But I’d love to hear about other practices that do work for you—bonus points if you know your Myers Briggs type, because I’m always curious how that ties in.)
1. Writing Something Down On Paper
It could be a to-do list, a blog post draft, a letter, or emotional journal words—it doesn’t really matter what it is. For some reason, the actual, physical act of putting pen to paper and inscribing words changes my thought process and makes me more purposeful in my actions.
2. Placing Myself In My Body
Okay, by this I basically mean exercise; but I say it this way because it has always been my tendency to float away on a cloud of thought, emotion, and imagination and forget that I actually have a body here that needs my attention. Any form of intentional movement helps counteract that, “grounding” me in my body. I’ve found Yoga to be particularly effective. (But I don’t practice it enough!)
3. Refusing the Internet My Attention
Obviously, this is not always possible. But despite the fact that I am doing this work of writing and sharing online, I find that the vast majority of time I spend on the computer is firmly in the “draining” column of my (imaginary) energy tally. Facebook is particularly problematic in the way it draws me into its whirlwind of words, images, relationships, hopes, fears, conflicts, etc. It is not wholly bad, but I do have to be very careful in how I approach it. (And I’m often not.)
4. Pausing to Look Through My Son’s Eyes
Looking through someone else’s eyes is always beneficial, but I find it is particularly helpful in parenting my 19-month-old son—who also happens to be the person I spend the most time with every day. It’s so easy for me to get swept up in my own desires, projects, or frustrations and view my son communicating with me as an “interruption” or “just another thing to deal with.” Those moments always turn out best if I have the presence of mind to just STOP what I am doing and focus on what Wendell is thinking, feeling, and needing. This not only allows me to care for him better, but it also snaps my mind out of whatever track it may have been running in circles on.
5. Reading An Actual Book
Another incredibly centering practice for me is taking some time—even just a few minutes—to read a physical, paper-in-my-hands book. For some reason it’s very different for me than reading on a screen, and that interaction with another person’s words and ideas always invigorates and focuses me. (This effect is magnified if I have a quiet space, a warm drink, and a window with light streaming through it while I’m reading. These additions are not always available on short notice, however.)
6. Being Outside
If the temperature is moderate, then walking outdoors instantly relaxes and refocuses me. I can’t help but believe that we were designed to spend much more time in, and be much more in tune with, the natural world than our modern lifestyle encourages us to be. Trying to make this “reconnection” is an ongoing project for me; I still gravitate toward primarily indoor activities (as has always been my wont), but my toddler gets me outside more and more—and I am so glad.
Last but not least, prayer. Speaking to my Creator, putting into actual words my gratitude, hopes, wishes, and fears, is a truly transformative process. I used to be something of a prayer skeptic, but as I’ve matured in my faith I think the call is clear: if you believe in God, you should be talking to Him. It’s one of the main tools God uses to change our hearts and focus us on what’s most important.
That’s it! Once again, let me know in the comments if you have your own, different, list. I’d love to hear it.