Two years ago we bought a Prius. Suddenly the entire world was filled with silver Prii. (and yes, that’s the correct plural of Prius ~ I looked it up). The day before we bought our car I hadn’t noticed even one Prius, and now it seems every other car was one.
What’s going on?!
Now, granted, 4 or 5 other people in our 1000 person town have purchased a Prius in the last couple years, but that’s not the only thing creating this phenomenon. It actually has to do with the brain.
A tiny little part of your brain called the Reticular Activating System. Now, stay with me. (You can share this little tidbit with your friends, and look really smart.) The Reticular Activating System (RAS), is basically a filter. Your brain is inundated with bits of information all the time, if you tried to pay attention to all of them you’d literally go insane. This is where your RAS comes in, it takes cues from your conscious mind and acts on them in your subconscious mind. It helps you notice the “important” things in the world.
Back to the Prius. We bought a Prius, we were excited about it, my conscious mind was saying, Prius! Prius! Prius! so my RAS (working for me as always) started saying, There’s one! There’s one! There’s one!! It’s been a couple years and now my conscious brains is more saying, wow my RAS is still noticing Prii, which makes my RAS say there’s one! there’s one! there’s one! 🙂
So, who cares. What does this really have to do with anything meaningful, other than being distracted by the thousands of Prii I see driving down the road these days?
Everything. It has everything to do with the rest of life.
Let’s talk about our spirited kiddos. My guess is, if your kiddo is driving you nuts, your mind is mentioning, replaying, grousing about all the things your kiddo does “wrong”. I bet you reenact all the situations where you lost it with your kiddo, and have come to expect, no matter what, your kiddo is going to be difficult in any given situation. You dread taking them anywhere for fear of the meltdown that might happen, and the resulting looks, and maybe even “advice” you may receive. It is a scary place to live in fear of leaving the house because you just never know what the kiddo is going to do, and how you’re going to handle it when it happens.
The problem with this kind of thinking is this: you are sending a very clear message to your reticular activating system. This behavior is important… point it out every time there’s something that annoys me about my kiddo. And your fine RAS is doing just as you’ve asked, and it is pointing out every.single.thing your kid does that might annoy you just a little. You’ve got your “I’m going to be annoyed” notifications on, and guess what… you’re annoyed. A lot.
Believe me, I get it. I was there for about 6 years.
This past weekend we went to the lake for 4th of July. My husband finally got our new boat in working order (after weeks of work). He was excited about it, about our family being on the boat fishing and catching fish (with the new fish finder he installed).
I went out on the boat with him, and things were still not quite right. It was a little bit “not fun”, and I decided to stay on shore and read a book instead. The kiddo went out on the boat, but unfortunately “her” life jacket was left in the truck so she had to wear a different one (you know where I’m going here right?!). She did not enjoy the bouncing of the new boat, and refused to fish with the wrong life jacket.
They all came back to shore, the kiddo got out. My husband was frustrated, and disappointed, but he left with another family member and went back out to go fishing.
The kiddo was being a little clingy, standing 2 inches from me, putting her arms around me, looking over my shoulder, doing the things she does.
I gave her a hug. I talked to her a bit about the boat trip, what went wrong, what could make it better next time. I started suggesting things she could do with us on shore. My mom and I were just sitting in chairs reading books. 🙂 (YAY introverts!!) The kiddo finally decided to wade in the water, after asking what you do while wading. 😉 As she walked toward the water (finally), my mom said to me (again), “Better you than me… I don’t know how you deal with her.” There have been many years where I have agreed with this statement, but that day I nearly started to cry, because at the very moment she said that, I was looking at my daughter walking away thinking to myself, “She is perfect, just the way she is.” <3
She got about 4 feet away, found something on the ground (I believe a dead fish head lol) and came right back to show me. She got about 5 feet away the next time, (found the fish skeleton and came back to show me). She made it to the water the next time, where she walked around and then found a live Zebra Mussel. Which of course she brought to show me.
My mom quickly said… throw it in the fire pit! They are bad. Trying to get her to go play on her own.
I however, started talking to her about invasive species, and then we cracked that thing open with a rock to see what was inside. <3
Again, so what?! What does this lovely story of our 4th of July have to do with you, your life or anything?!
You see, a few years ago I would have been so frustrated, and overwhelmed and I’ll admit it, probably furious, about this whole interaction. I would have been like my mom, and wanted her to just go play. Leave me alone. Find something to do. I would have been thinking things like, why are you the only kid in the world who needs attention 24 hours a day? When I was a kid (and I was an only child too!), no one ever gave me attention 24 hours a day, I just found stuff to do on my own…. why can’t you be more like that?!!!
But… now, I was not.
Why you ask?
My Reticular Activating System.
I started a few years ago noticing all the things she did that were “good”. I started noticing when she had good days, hell, good 5 minutes. I started telling my brain I wanted to see those moments. I started telling my RAS THOSE were the important things, and being a fine RAS it started yelling “THERE’S ONE!!” every time it noticed.
I stopped expecting the worst in every situation. I stopped expecting her to be a huge PITA every time we left the house.
Was it easy?
Was she automatically good?
Did it happen over night?
Did I screw up and focus on the “bad” things.
You betcha. A lot.
So, how did I get refocused on the “good” stuff?
(Did I lose you there?!)
Stay with me.
Mindfulness is simply being present and staying tuned into what really is. Which means, not worrying about the thing that happened yesterday, or 5 minutes ago, or worrying about what’s going to happen when we leave the house and go grocery shopping. What is happening right now? In this moment?
The more you stay in the current moment, the better off for everyone. The more you stay present the easier it’s going to be to find those good moments, and deescalate the bad ones as they happen. It’s only when we get gripped by the fear of what’s happened before, and the expectation that this situation will be just like that last miserable one, that we close ourselves off. When we fall into thinking this situation will be just like the last we lose our ability to make different choices.
When we stay in the present, and calm (aka don’t lose YOUR shit because your kid is losing theirs), we open ourselves up to a myriad of possibilities. You’ll be amazed at the ideas that come to you when you are in the current moment, instead of that 2 hour meltdown that happened last week.
So how can you get started with this whole “mindfulness” thing.
It’s super simple.
Just start noticing. When you find yourself ruminating over something that didn’t go as you’d planned or hoped, notice, and then ask yourself, “what’s going on right now?!” What does the present moment look like?
Chances are, it’s not as bad as the one in your head.
Quick example: this is the current moment; not the fiasco repeating itself in my head of last night trying to get her to do the dishes!!
Now, don’t be too hard on yourself. They don’t call it a mindfulness perfect for a reason. It’s a practice, and the work of the practice is in the coming back. It’s in the catching yourself going back to that 2 hour meltdown and reliving it again, and bringing yourself back to this moment. Over, and over and over again. That is the practice. If you’re having to come back again and again… you’re totally doing it right.
It’s a muscle, this mindfulness thing, and it gets easier, and you get stronger by working the muscle over and over (coming back again and again).
While general mindfulness is amazing, I found it even more helpful to have some specific mindfulness. I started being specifically mindful to things that made me feel good, smile, or laugh. I’d been in a bad place for a long time. I felt like I had forgotten how to be happy, so I used my brain (RAS) to remind me I had not, in fact, forgotten how to be happy, I’d just turned off the notifications for happy in my brain. With the notifications turned off I wasn’t registering how many times a day I smiled, or felt good, or how many things there were in the world that could make me smile or feel good.
When I consciously sent a message to my RAS that smiling, feeling good, and laughing were important things, and I needed to be notified when they happened… all the sudden it was like seeing a Prius every time I got in the car. My RAS started picking up on the things that made me smile, and showing them to me. The more I smiled the more things it found to make me smile.
It was kind of an AH-HA moment. It’s a crazy simple thing, and yet it’s made all.the.difference.
It didn’t take long, once I had the notifications turned on for happy. In fact, 30 days can change everything. That’s why I’ve started the 30 Day Happy Place Challenge. I started it to help keep myself on track and finding my happy places every day… but also for other moms out there who are in the same challenging places I’ve been, and have maybe turned off their happy notifications in their brain.
What is the Happy Place Challenge?
It’s a combination of a mindfulness and gratitude practice. It’s a private Facebook group, where we share the things that made us smile, laugh or feel good (no matter how small… actually, the smaller the better). It’s that simple. Stay present in your day, alert for the notifications coming to you about something that makes you smile. Go ahead and smile! Then share it in the group.
The group is a safe place to flex your mindfulness muscle, and meet some great new people to support you in your journey. We’d love to have you. Just enter your email address below, and you’ll also get a free copy of 30 Ways to Find Your Happy Place, you know, to give your RAS a little direction. 🙂 You will immediately be taken to the group where you can just click the “join” button and I’ll accept your request. It really does make a difference, so come on in, and give it a try.