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Have you ever tried to stop your mind from thinking? It’s not so easy, huh? The truth is that thinking is what your mind is meant to do! Your mind produces thoughts, just as your ears hear sounds and your eyes see your surroundings. Also, thinking isn’t a bad thing; it’s just that we’re preoccupied and often obsessed with it. Our thoughts rule our lives. We believe that what we think is actually the way things are, that our thoughts perfectly reflect our reality. As a result, we become attached to our stories and end up engrossed in and even imprisoned by what we’re thinking.

Your busy mind is made up of a mix of thoughts, emotions, doubts and fears (along with various other thought patterns). By the way, it is the same for everyone. In our society of more and better, our minds operate with constant mental noise: planning, judging, analyzing, commenting, remembering, forecasting and so on. You don’t realize how much your busyness controls your day until you collapse on your bed at night.

In order to understand how your thoughts and emotions may be ruling your world, it is essential to get to know your busy mind. Let’s look at it more closely.

1. Sloppy Brain

I call my busy mind my “sloppy brain” when I’m distracted and feel clumsy and out of sorts. Let’s face it, sloppy brain happens to all of us. Recently I went to work with my slippers on. No joke! Luckily, as a yoga teacher, I spend most of my workday barefoot, but that still didn’t protect me from the loving abuse I took from colleagues and students. I see examples of sloppy brain on the highway, in the grocery store—everywhere. Too many of us are sloppy in how we show up in our day-to-day lives. This isn’t a judgment, just a fact.

The distracted, sloppy busy-mind is in a weakened state. It speeds through life and doesn’t slow down to take even a few seconds to tell you to, say, mindfully place your phone and keys in the same place, set your teacup away from your laptop, or notice the stop sign in front of you.

2. Crazy Busy

“Crazy busy” has become a common phrase and an accepted way to live. We’re so addicted to getting things done that we’re oblivious to what’s really happening around us. Just look around any public area, and you’ll see most people looking at their phones while waiting in line, walking or even talking with others.

When you’re in “crazy busy” mode, you’re not really focused on what you’re doing or whom you’re with. Your mind is too busy processing stuff to do, daily activities and places to be. Being “crazy busy” can make you feel as though your world is spinning out of control and there’s no end in sight. It’s not just you. It’s most of us. How often have you greeted friends and boasted about being “crazy busy”? The bottom line is that you cannot feel awake and fully alive when your mind is “crazy busy.”

3. Autopilot

Many of your daily activities are repetitive, like brushing your teeth, checking emails, taking a shower. The thoughts streaming through your mind tend to be repetitive as well. Many of today’s thoughts were yesterday’s thoughts—they keep replaying in your head. For example, you might think, “I have to go to the post office,” over and over for two days straight until you actually go to the post office. The script for autopilot is often a thought loop that keeps running in your head: “I need to lose weight,” “I need to make more money,” “I should clean my closet,” and so on. When you’re on autopilot, you think the same thoughts over and over without being aware of it. Living on autopilot is exhausting and will leave you feeling drained at the end of the day.

I observe autopilot in action all the time. Students rush through the doors, throw down their yoga mats and lie down for a moment before class to “quiet their minds.” I’ll see them glance around for their cell phones (which are not allowed in the yoga room) or look for someone to talk to (no talking before class either), unaware of these mental habits and tendencies, especially the need to be constantly entertained.

4. Information Overload

Everywhere we look, we are surrounded by information to process and choices to make. Experts tell us to do this, buy that and eat this. Bombarded by advertisements, news, emails and senseless posts on social media, our mental hard drives become overloaded, inefficient and sluggish. Every day, your busy mind tries to absorb and remember the onslaught of information coming across your mental screen. In our overstimulated society, living in the busy mind can lead to exhaustion and fatigue, chronic stress and even depression.

5. Overthinking

Last, overthinking is a major cause of chronic stress in our highly demanding culture. On any given day, you experience thousands of repetitive thoughts, many of which are tainted with judgment and anxiety. Too much planning, worrying and replaying these loops is exhausting. Incessant thinking creates tension and robs us of peace. Although thinking is useful, overthinking is draining. Although stress is necessary to flourish at times, chronic mental stress causes chronic physical stress, which is harmful to your health.

Gut Check: Your Busy Mind

Do you live with a busy mind? Are you distracted much of the time? Welcome to the club! Let’s get to know what this busy mind of yours is so busy doing.
Take a moment to answer these two questions either on the lines below or in your journal. Your answers will help you get to know your busy mind and how living from it affects your daily activities, relationships and overall sense of well-being.

List three times during your day when you’re most likely to be distracted, hurried or anxious (for example, when you’re driving, reading, answering emails, or eating):
1. _______________________________________
2. _______________________________________
3. _______________________________________

Off the top of your head, list three traits that describe your busy mind (for example, feeling overwhelmed, scattered, anxious, rushed or drained):
1. _______________________________________
2. _______________________________________
3. _______________________________________

Your answers to these questions will offer you new opportunities throughout the day to become familiar with your busy mind. For example, if you tend to space out while driving, use driving as time to practice noticing your direct experience of driving. Turn off the news or music and notice everything around you. Notice the sky, the light on the trees, the noise around you and how your body feels behind the wheel. Then notice when you forget to notice, when you drift back into your stream of thinking. This is how you train your mind to show up. You notice, notice, notice.

Becoming familiar with your busy mind and how it works is your first step toward understanding how to shift beyond it. You do this by getting to know how your mind operates with mindfulness. Mindfulness is your capacity to show up in this moment and be fully engaged from the level of mind, body and heart. It’s your ability to notice your firsthand, direct experience of what’s happening—no matter if what’s happening is good or not so good. To be mindful is to simply notice when you show up and when you don’t, when you’re on the verge and when you’re not.

You become mindful when you notice that you’re distracted. The moment you notice that you’re not paying attention, you wake up—instantly! Noticing is enough, every time.

The Wall

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