As a kid, one of my favourite times when visiting my Granny and Grandpa was when we would gather in the lounge and make a huge pile of delicious hot buttered crumpets for tea. Granny had a long metal toasting fork, which she would deftly use to spear a crumpet, and if we were good we then got to hold and toast our own crumpet in front of the gas fire to hot crunchy perfection.
The crumpets were then piled onto a plate and slabs of golden yellow butter layered onto the top and left to slowly melt into all the crevices and holes. Cholesterol hadn’t been “discovered” back then. All we knew was the heavenly dribble of melted butter that would run off our chins when we bit into the crusted top.
Rituals, habits, customs are all what contribute to our way of living and our culture. Our brain loves them because it provides us with certainty. We know what to expect. That delicious anticipation can sometimes be even better than the experienced reality.
Our lives are directed by so much automated thought and behavior in our busy worlds it can became quite challenging to set aside time for more creative and innovative thought and time also for insight and self awareness.
It’s about providing our brain with the right amount of balance: to enjoy those rituals of morning coffee in a favourite café, a special place returned to for memorable holidays, even the family home which all provide anchors of safety and pleasure. Whilst at the same time setting out to explore new ventures, apply for new jobs, travel to new places that provides our brain with much needed novelty, to challenge ourselves and stimulate new synaptic connections and increase our cognitive reserve.
But it is at those times when we are over stretched, over stimulated or simply overwhelmed with too much to do that our brain seeks the easy way out. This is when we revert to those patterns of thinking that have been time tested and gotten us out of trouble in the past, even if it is a pattern we have been trying to overcome and replace.
This is what can happen for example if you choose to give up smoking. All is well and good as you replace your previous pattern of behavior with a new habit, until your brain experiences that one extra layer of unexpected extra stress. It could be a bad day at work, someone who cuts in front of you in the traffic, your boss yelling at you, or you miss out on a deal. That extra stress which doesn’t always have to be something huge, can be enough to tip you over the edge and you find your self reaching for a cigarette once again, or you give up on your diet or you decide that your relationship isn’t working any more.
It was Ed Hallowell back in 1995 who described our modern way of life as “hyperkinetic”. It promotes more disorganized and cluttered thinking and a greater stress response to our everyday lives sometimes resulting in loss of perspective and balance.
Regaining that balance though can be achieved by following a few simple steps.
- Press the pause button from time to time.
- Monitor your self-awareness of how your body and mind is responding to different situations.
- Check in when you last took some time off: a short holiday, a weekend break or a day to yourself.
- Go back to the basics – the real basics of what is required for optimal health and function. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating healthy food? Are you doing enough physical exercise? Are you getting enough time to do those things that matter the most to you?
- Schedule in time (each day) to start paying attention to where you are focussing your time and energy.
- Become more mindful. Mindfulness is the practice or discipline of “noticing” what is happening right here, right now. It’s what allows you to see what is in front of you, to hear what is being said, to feel what is in your environment.
It was Neale Donald Walsch who said, “We are human beings, not human doings.”
What are you doing to manage your balance?
What are your favourite memories, activities, places?
Is it time to stop doing so much - so you can just be?
It’s time to get those crumpets ready for tea.
Photo Credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/35758494@N08/5313428441/">East Bristol Bakery</a> via <a href="http://compfight.com">Compfight</a> <a href="http://www.flickr.com/help/general/#147">cc</a