Updated: Mar 7, 2021
I love going to Costco - that big warehouse store full of TV's, tools, toothbrushes, tires, and when you are lucky, toilet paper. But there are times when I go there and I get sucked right in, roaming up and down every aisle, losing track of all time and budgeting sense. Before I know it, I'm pushing my cart out the door piled high with things I probably didn't really need, (except the Acai bowl...I needed that) and wondering what just happened to my earlier promise to myself to make it a quick trip. Sound familiar?
Help! I'm stuck and I can't get out!!! That's what it can feel like when we get stuck in the world of our mind. The mind can be a pretty cool place, full of wonderful memories from the past and exciting plans for the future. But it can also be cold and drafty, full of past regrets and anticipated worries. It's helpful to know when you are stuck in the world of your mind, what to do when you find yourself there, and how to get out if you want to.
I like to think of the mind like a great big Costco warehouse. There you are, all alone in the warehouse, walking down the center aisle, boxes stacked from floor to ceiling as high as you can see. Each box has a label with a description of its contents, completely unique to you.
On the left side of the aisle are boxes full of memories from your past, experiences of things both good and bad, like how you felt wearing your first pair of bell-bottom jeans, the time you tried to smile your way out of a speeding ticket, or - the painful memory of hearing the loss of a friend or family member. On the right side of the aisle are boxes from your anticipated future, the events that haven't happened yet in your life, like that trip you want to take when it's safe to travel again, the dream of a future grandchild - or a vision of a world 20 years from now if we fail to attend to our climate crisis.
Running around the rafters of the warehouse is your gremlin, that little monster of the mind. He has a job, and he takes it quite seriously. He's pushing out the boxes that scare you or tie you up in knots of indecision. Because he knows everything about you, he knows which boxes tempt you, which ones repel you, and which ones you habitually pull off the shelf without thinking.
But you're the boss of your warehouse. You get to choose what to do when a box is calling for your attention. You can ignore it, stand and think about it, walk right past it, or simply notice it. You could even choose to take out some of the box's contents, and leave other things in it. For example, if you find yourself habitually rummaging around in a box labeled "Unfinished Projects", you might choose to take out one of the ideas you want to explore again, but leave any judgments you have about yourself as a non-finisher in the box.
Because you own this warehouse, you can come and go as you please. But the trick is knowing when you're IN the warehouse in the first place. A good rule of thumb is if you find your attention focused on the past or the future, you are in the warehouse of the mind. If you don't like what you're experiencing in the warehouse, there are two ways out. One is by focusing your attention on your breathing, feeling the air as it touches your nose or throat. The second is by touching something around you, like a pen, a mug, or my personal favorite, one of my small glass hearts. Either of these options will take you out of the warehouse of the mind and bring you back to right now, your very own here and now.
The next time you're in Costco, use it as a practice ground. Pay attention to when you enter the warehouse and when you leave it. Each time you pull something from a shelf and put it in your cart, notice what you are choosing and remind yourself that you can put it back if you want to. And when you're standing in front of the food court window on the way out, remember that you always have a choice…pizza, ice cream, hot dog, or get out of dodge before you add another 1000 calories to your cart!
Adapted from the teachings of my friend and mentor, Rick Carson. For more on gremlins and his method for taming them, check out his book, "Taming Your Gremlin: A Surprisingly Simple Method for Getting Out of Your Own Way".