You are not what your mind tells you that you are. You are more.
Life seems to have a mind of it’s own and most days, life doesn’t share it’s plans with us.
I have heard it said that if you want to know God’s purpose for your life, look backwards. Looking backwards may feel like focusing on the past, but it does not need to be this way. When you look backwards, you can see how your life fits together.
Tired of getting more of the same?
Psychologists call it projection when our anxieties, biases and prejudices become the only way that we see the world. They become an invisible set of glasses. If we only look forward, we run the risk of only seeing what we have always seen.
I have experienced seasons of depression that twist my moods and impact my productivity, take over my focus and uproot my entire sense of well-being. The moods eventually lift, but the experience leaves what feels like a scar somewhere in my mind. In these times, looking any direction feels painful. Reflection becomes cruel and twisted.
Depressive moods can cast a painful and negative storm over our minds. But if we are honest, looking backwards can help us to rip small holes in the dark skies. Sure, right now, we may feel depressed, dark and in pain. But just last week you felt hopeful about something. And the other day you stopped and smelled some flowers and then smiled because of the joy coming from children playing in the park. And a few days ago at work, you felt a little lighter when a coworker genuinely spent a few minutes talking to you about how your weekend was and how your week has been.
Your feelings of depression (or anxiety, or PTSD symptoms, or past painful memories, or addiction triggers) are not your entire experience. They are only a part of what you are thinking, feeling or experiencing. Learning to take in and accept what your emotions are telling us, along with our thoughts, our recent experiences can help to tear holes in the clouds.
When our thoughts run wild, these can add fuel to our anxiety, depression or triggers to numb with food, alcohol or drugs.
One of the byproducts of mental health experiences or a history of addiction is that our minds become trained to expect more of the same. Our mind tells us that difficult emotions will take us down. We think that we can’t handle anxiety. We tell ourselves that we don’t deserve to be happy because of what we have done or because of painful experiences.
Like I said earlier, if we only look forward, we run the risk of only seeing what we have always seen.
Your mind will tell you that you are what is going on inside your head: perhaps it is your dominant emotions, powerful memories, triggers to use drugs or alcohol, your fears or even things you are excited about. But what your mind won’t tell you is that your life is more than just your thoughts or the emotions are experiencing. You are not what your mind tells you that you are. You are much, much more than the sum of all of your thoughts, emotions and experiences.
Learn to pay attention to your attention
Take a moment and close your eyes. Pay attention to the chatter in your mind. You may have a busy mind. You are reminded of your work projects, appointments that you have, things you have forgotten to do, thoughts about a conflict that you had with your child or you significant other, and anxieties about what people think about how you look in your clothes.
But if you pay closer attention you will notice another side of your experience. You may hear the chatter, but what else do you notice? Your back is aching a little. Your feet are sore because you went for a long walk. This morning you spent some time in the sun and it felt good. You recently had a good conversation with your partner. You are enjoying your coffee. You may not always have enough time, but you still enjoy playing hockey, painting, reading or card making.
Life has more in store for you than your thoughts and emotions. Pay attention to the other sides of your life. Notice the experiences that make you feel more alive. Notice relationships that you value and why they are important to you, and notice values that you hold as important to you (like creativity, health or mental health, relationships, being in nature, giving back to other people).
Learning to slow down and notice more of your experience can change how you see your life and yourself.
Listen to your experience, not your mind. Hayes, Strosal and Wilson (P. 191, “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.”)
This week, take time to take time. Your mental health will thank you.
If you enjoyed my writing, I invite you to read some of my other work:
I write articles that talk about the kind of changes I am trying to make in my own life. I hope that my writing also helps you. My topics include addiction and mental health recovery, relationships, and personal growth. I work as an Addiction Therapist, an Editor for the Good Men Project and freelance writer, and Adjunct Professor at City University, Edmonton. But what is most important is that I have a family and I am in recovery from depression and anxiety. My mental health experiences are part of my personal University degree, but they do not define me.
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Keep it Real
Photo by Chris Price