I was having trouble coming up with an article idea yesterday so I did what I often do when stymied. I went for a walk.
I walk on a beautiful path that overlooks the Back Bay here in Newport Beach. I love watching the myriad species of birds flying around.
At least I usually do. Yesterday was different. Bad different.
I got stuck in my head
Why? Because I couldn’t get out of my head. I kept thinking, thinking, thinking. Troubling thoughts.
Which was to be expected. The subject of my last article (here) was about the loss of one of my oldest and closest friends a week ago.
That kind of tragedy can throw one off one’s path. It weakens the psyche and makes us vulnerable to everything. It’s sure had that effect on me.
A thought came to me about slowing my thoughts
Anyway, after a few minutes of this thought-overwhelm early in my walk, I decided to try something that I do in other situations when my mind goes into overdrive. It’s a specific technique.
It’s pretty intricate so bear with me. I randomly pick a number between 1 and 23. Then I double it and add up the digits. So if the number was eight, that doubles to sixteen and add those two digits to get seven.
Then I hop on my left foot seven times and my right foot seven times, while chanting “You deserve a break today. So get up and get away…to McDonald’s!” I finish by dabbing three times, Usain Bolt-style…
As usual, my spiritual technique is exceedingly simple. I’ve found that complexity and spirituality rarely mix well, especially when it comes to techniques.
My actual thought-slowing technique
So here’s what I do, and what I did yesterday on my walk. I simply counted five breaths. In, out…one. In, out…two. Up to five.
After the first one or two breaths I throw something else in (I’m being serious here…no more jokes). While I’m counting the breaths I look around and survey my surroundings.
Yesterday there were some cool wispy clouds under a beautiful, blue sky. So I looked at those.
There were kids playing in a park. Palm trees swaying in the breeze. And buildings in nearby Fashion Island.
And that’s it. It’s just counting breaths while looking around. The objective is simple: Place my attention on something other than the negative thoughts swirling around my head.
It usually takes a few rounds to calm the thoughts
In a big thought storm like I had yesterday, it takes at least a few rounds of this. I do my five breaths. Then maybe immediately five more. Then walk for another few minutes and…
BANG! I’m back in Thoughtlandia. So I do five more breaths.
If that sounds onerous or tiring, think about the alternative. Would you rather those breath-counting sessions be replaced by unpleasant thoughts? I wouldn’t.
You can do this anywhere. I do it in the car, looking out the front windshield for anything interesting while I count. And also while doing my cycling workouts where my mind typically turns faster than my tires!
The middle of the night thought hurricane
One place where the look-around thing is difficult to pull off is that oh-so-fun thought party raging in our heads when we wake up at 3:30 in the morning. If that happens to you (I’ve heard countless people say this happens to them), try to be vigilant with the breath counting.
See if you can count up to fifty breaths. Make these breaths slow, deep and long. This will often do the trick of simultaneously stopping the thoughts and getting you back to sleep.
Bottom line: When you find yourself stuck in a thought storm, count five breaths and look around. And if the thoughts persist, simply start counting again.
Five breaths and look around. One reason it works is that it’s so easy to remember. Give it a try and see if it works for you.
Thanks for reading and I hope you have a wonderful day.