Do you ever find yourself walking on the beach, hiking through a forest or some other natural setting and realize you’re stuck in your head thinking about what restaurant you want to eat at later or the easy three-foot putt you missed earlier in the day that would’ve allowed you to break 90? If that never happens to you, my hat is off and I’m envious.

Because it does happen to me and probably many of you, too. Why? Because our minds love to chatter.

Our chiming in minds

Doesn’t matter if we’re having a romantic, candlelight dinner with the love of our life or watching the most majestic Hawaiian sunset imaginable, our mind will want to chime in with its thoughts about the dinner, the sunset or a million other topics.

I don’t know about you, but I find this frustrating. I live a few miles from the beach in Southern California. And that means breathtaking sunsets and frequent trips to the beach, usually with my seven-year-old daughter who, not surprisingly, is impossible to extricate from the water come departure time.

ME: Okay, honey. Five more minutes.

VIOLET: Awww. Ten minutes?

ME: You go higher and I go lower. Four minutes.

VIOLET: Okay, five!

Eight times out of ten, it comes down to me packing our stuff and starting to walk away, at which point she comes a running.

Point is, I so often find myself gazing out at the rugged cliffs, with the seagulls soaring overhead and the vast expanse of ocean in front of us and think to myself,

“Man, this is so beautiful. Why can’t I just stand here and drink it in without these useless thoughts spoiling the party?”

Breathing techniques help

One popular remedy for this ailment is to use our breath to bring us into the moment. There are oodles of breathing techniques out there, most of which you’ve probably heard about. Box breathing, alternate nostril breathing, diaphragmatic breathing and scores more.

I’ve tried all of these and they work, but mostly in the form of alleviating stress and anxiety. I’ve found that for a breathing technique to work while we’re out walking or hanging out in nature, it needs to be uber-simple.

Which brings me to the bike ride I took a few days ago around the Back Bay here in Newport Beach. It’s a gorgeous setting with all kinds of water, sky, cliff and bird views.

I wrote an article a few years ago (link here) about how I struggled on these rides to keep my mind from boarding the train to Thoughtlandia. The technique that helped me was to simply count to ten breaths, and while doing so, look around at the scenery. I’d try to do that five or six different times on my ride. And it worked pretty well.

The wrinkle I added to my breath counting

But a few days ago, I came up with a tweak on that technique. Instead of simply counting ten breaths, on the inhale I’d say “one,” and then on the exhale I’d also say “one.” Then I’d say “two” on the next inhale and “two” on the exhale. So it’s ‘1,1…2,2…3,3…” until I reached ten breaths.

Why this tweak? Because I found that while counting ten breaths, I’d still end up losing my attention. Why? Because the inhale and exhale can take too long for just one count. So repeating the number of the breath on the exhale increases my ability to stay present.

While counting this way, I’m still able to look around and take in the scenery; i.e., I can count and experience at the same time.

You know what’s hard to do while I’m counting my breaths, “1,1…2,2…” and looking around? Think useless thoughts.

The takeaway

Yep. That’s the whole point of this. Filling the present moment with two actions — watching and counting — has the effect of crowding out my ability to do anything else…like think.

Again, I’m sure many of you have tried various breathing techniques. But I’ve found that this one really helps when I want to just be here now with nature.

Anything that helps us commune with nature is worth a try, right?