We all have set routines in life, especially during the week, that may involve some variation of the following: Wake up, exercise, tea or coffee break(s), work, lunch, chat with friends, walk the dog, dinner, TV, read, sleep. The cycle then repeats all over again with similar events. From a macro perspective, quite a simple and non-remarkable daily existence, so much so that we often function on autopilot as we go through the motions.
If most of our days are so similar in routine, how can they vary so much in how we feel about them? How can the experience differ so greatly one day from another when we are following our quite ordinary and mundane schedule? On Monday you may say Today was a great day! followed by Tuesday Everything felt like a struggle, swimming upstream! Yes, of course, there are external events that can positively or adversely impact our days: You just received a promotion at work; your daughter failed an exam; your favorite TV show is on tonight. But the quality of your moments and your general highs and lows of the day are more a product of your inner mental state, the thoughts flowing in your mind, rather than external factors.
Let’s follow the life of Sarah for two typical, consecutive days and observe her frame of mind. Try to imagine her inner dialogue while viewing the events of the day unfold before her.
Monday: Sarah wakes up feeling overwhelmed with the daunting work week ahead as she has several important meetings capped off with a major project deadline due Friday. The gym is crowded and she feels lethargic with low energy on the treadmill, staring down at the floor with the weight of the world on her shoulders. She’s impatiently fidgets in the long line waiting for her latte at Starbucks, constantly checking her iPhone, as she keeps replaying the argument she had with her sister at the family dinner last night. She shuts her office door at work but cannot focus and daydreams about this weekend when she can finally relax and be herself. At lunch, she snaps at the waiter for putting onions on her burger yet eats it so fast she forgot what it tastes like. She returns home mentally exhausted and kicks off her heels. But Rover is excitedly jumping all over her so she takes him out for a walk, feeling like this is a chore and texting the entire time as they hastily circle the park. She watches some mindless TV as she keeps drifting back to what her sister said before finally collapsing into bed, thankful to put herself out of misery and cursing God for such a dreadful Monday.
Tuesday: Sarah wakes up feeling refreshed and alive, resolute in making this a great day. She skips around in the gym, bursting with energy and saying hello to the very same people she purposely refused to make eye contact with yesterday. Starbucks is crowded, but she chats up a funny conversation with the barista, all the while noticing the robust aroma of the coffee beans. She sips her latte purposefully, it never tasted so good. She walks the halls of her office and engages in a hilarious water cooler conversation, noticing for the first time the beautiful flowers that were delivered over the weekend in the lobby. Her burger at lunch was delicious as she savored every bite wondering if it was seasoned differently than yesterday. Rover jumps up and down and Sarah passionately returns the love with a big hug, leaving her iPhone behind on their walk and relishing the late afternoon breeze and blue sky. She meditates instead of watching TV and peacefully crawls into bed, saying a silent prayer to thank God for such a blessed day.
Despite feeling a stark difference between Monday vs Tuesday, Sarah essentially did the exact same things. In fact, she encountered the same people at the gym and in line at Starbucks, worked with the same colleagues and had the same dog (unless Rover is outsmarting her). The weather was sunny both days and her daunting project is still due on Friday, how could Monday feel like such an overwhelming burden and Tuesday be so effortless?
The duality was in Sarah’s mind as the external events only varied slightly. On Monday, she shut down all the potential joy by not allowing herself to experience the beauty in her world. Her mind dominated all her attention whirling between patterns of past memories and future expectations, causing great anxiety and agitation as she was swept up in emotions. On Tuesday, she was more consciously aware as she opened up her senses to fully experience the world around her by being present and allowing each moment by moment to unfold. It was simply a shift in her inner mental state, with present moment awareness, rather than being immersed in compulsive thinking. This is the very essence of Mindfulness.
Listen to your inner voice over the course of a day, as your inner dialogue becomes your reality. How often are you present, fully in the moment? Be mindful of your thoughts and observe your relationship with the present moment, you may be surprised how often you are dwelling in memory or fantasizing in the future. Thoughts do indeed have wings and can sweep you away for minutes, hours, even days, robbing your of the precious moment you are in NOW. We can all choose how we want to experience the events of each day, often unaware that we can greatly influence the quality of each day even while trapped in a routine existence. The scenario with Sarah illustrates a very simple example but there’s nothing trivial about the outcome as we have the ability to change how we experience our lives through the powerful mastery of mindfulness.