Forbidden Thoughts – How Do You Cope With Them?

“I wouldn’t dare, or would I?  Where is this coming from?  Is there something wrong with me?  Am I crazy?  Am I the only one who thinks like this?  Should I tell someone?”

Introduction

Have you ever thought of……

cheating on your spouse?  What about slapping an obnoxious colleague?  Or ramming some jerk off the road?  Have you ever had thoughts about taboo or wild sex?  Or divorce?  Or leaving home?  What about harming someone close?  Or even harming yourself? 

Then there are the tamer varieties:  Do you not fantasise about food, for example, when you are on a diet?  Who has not gloated over someone else’s misfortune or coveted a neighbour’s house, car, or flashy lifestyle when we want to picture ourselves as perfectly content?

Few of us would dispute the notion that humans spend time thinking thoughts we’d rather not have.  Maybe not all the time, but we’ve all been there at some point.

Most of us will never act out our forbidden impulses.

Yet, just the fact that we can think such thoughts may be so disturbing that we make Herculean efforts to repress them, to keep them secret.  “I couldn’t even tell my husband,” recalls Beth, a gentle mother of three, after experiencing vivid thoughts about hurting her own children.  “I spent a lot of time asking myself, Am I sick or something?  Have I really lost it?  What does it mean”?

For as long as humankind has celebrated the creative and wonderful powers of the mind, we’ve been forced to confront the more darker side of the imagination — thoughts so mortifying, so frightening, so contrary to social custom and our own principles that we recoil in disgust, guilt or fear.

History

In 1852, nearly three decades before the founding of modern psychology, author Herman Melville offered one of the more poignant observations on the workings of the mind.  “One trembles to think,” he wrote, “of that mysterious thing in the soul, which….in spite of the individual’s own innocent self, will still dream horrid dreams, and mutter unmentionable thoughts.”

More recently, C.S Lewis in his book “Surprised by Joy” is very descriptive and vivid or graphic in relation to our inner self-talk and thoughts in that he says that when he looked inside himself he found “…a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds“.

In times past, we blamed these dark impulses on the Devil, or on our own weak moral character.  We regarded thoughts as but a step away from deeds, and beat up on ourselves — or were reprimanded by others — to squelch the inappropriate notions at every turn!  It was “sinful” to even have the thoughts in the first place.  (No coincidence, surely, that five of the seven deadly sins – anger, avarice, envy, greed, and lust — refer specifically to states of mind.)

Even today, after more than a century of scientific exploration of the mind, Melville’s “unmentionable thoughts” still raise vexing questions.  What causes them?  Do they reflect the “real” us?  Should they be read as warning signs?  Are some thoughts truly off-limits?  If so, when does a thought cross the line, and how should it be dealt with?

“For a lot of people, it’s like discovering they have an animal inside them,” says University of Washington sociologist Dr Pepper Schwartz who studies sexuality and sexual fantasies.  “Oftentimes the feeling is ‘My God!’  Am I one of those weirdos you read about in the paper?”

Research is yielding some intriguing, if not altogether reassuring, data.  Forbidden thoughts — thoughts we feel we shouldn’t have because they violate unwritten, yet ingrained, cultural codes — are universal, although the specific content varies across cultures, populations, and historical periods.  Unwanted sexual fantasies, for example, typically involve behaviours our culture tells us are inappropriate, such as adultery, homosexuality, incest, and rape.  What emerges is an intriguing and complex picture of the mind, encompassing everything from genes and neurotransmitters to self-esteem and “family values.”  Ultimately, the dilemma of forbidden thinking rests on the courage to believe in ourselves.

Where Do They Come From?

Studies suggest that our individual vulnerability to forbidden thoughts is partly inherited, and that some of us are simply “wired” to dwell on worrisome thoughts.  Yet studies also show that nearly all of us can be made vulnerable thought a variety of external influences — influences that, in many cases, are intensifying.  In fact, some psychologists speculate that our culture’s increasingly fluid and permissive value systems may paradoxically be rendering us more vulnerable to forbidden thoughts — and less able to cope with them.

“At one time, we had much narrower standards of what thoughts were right and wrong — and nearly everything was wrong,” says the University of Washington’s Schwartz. “Today, it’s far less clear where those lines are.”

This is especially prevalent in the sexual arena.  Ours is a culture that promotes sexual fulfilment and liberation while simultaneously insisting on restraint and “responsibility.”  Absent any clear standards for “healthy” thinking, some individuals attempt to ban their own sexual thoughts with such vigour that they close off an entire sector of experience.

The notion that we somehow create forbidden thoughts may sound strange.  Yet many investigators argue that what we commonly refer to as “thoughts” doesn’t begin as either “good” or “bad,” but simply as a stream of randomly generated “value-free” images and symbols.  “If we were somehow able to build a thought recorder, what we would record would be just about every kind of thought imaginable,” states psychologist Dr David H Barlow, Director of the Centre for Stress and Anxiety Disorders at the State University of New York, Albany.  “Sexual thoughts, violent thoughts, some of them are very strange and bizarre — but for the most part, fleeting.  They go in one ear and out the other, and a millisecond later you’ve forgotten about them.”

Why Do They Stick?

Where things get complicated, and where the trouble can start, is when thoughts aren’t fleeting.  For a variety of reasons, the brain seizes on a particular thought, holding it up for scrutiny and determining whether action is required.  In some cases, however, this scrutinising mechanism appears to go haywire.  The partly processed thought somehow becomes permanent, or “intrusive,” and can generate unpleasant emotional or physiological responses.  In other words, researchers say, it’s not the thought itself that is forbidden, but our reaction to it — a reaction that can involve intense feelings of shame, guilt, and even fear.

Precisely how this fixation occurs is not fully understood, but investigators have identified several main factors that can bring it on.

  1. Some fixation, for example, is clearly chemically induced.  Research on individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), who appear genetically predisposed to focus, or “ruminate,” on painful or strange thoughts, suggests that vulnerability has a neurological basis.  Similar conclusions arise from studies on stress, a condition that can temporarily alter neurotransmitter flows and make subjects more likely to fixate on particularly unpleasant thoughts. These findings could help explain why drugs like Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft can inhibit or moderate the fixation process.
  2. One factor may be what psychologists call “controllability.”  Researchers have also identified certain higher-level cognitive factors that can influence the kinds of thoughts the brain latches on to, and how it interprets them.  Closely related to self-esteem, controllability is the measure of an individual’s sense of power, or control, over events in his or her life.  The more in-control we feel, Barlow says, the less likely we are to interpret any event, whether external or coming from inside our heads, as worthy or concern or rumination.  “On the other hand,” says Barlow, “if you feel that events are essentially out of your control, you’re probably going to be much more vulnerable” to forbidden or unwanted thoughts.  In other words, the vulnerable individual is likely to “read” more into a forbidden thought, just as a chronically anxious employee, for example, tends to read more into the boss’ tone of voice or facial expression.
  3. Dr Frank Fincham, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Wales indicates that, “how people react to unwanted thoughts depends a lot on his or her level of self-esteem.”  If we have low self-esteem, somehow or other, we feel more vulnerable and less able to cope.
  4. A more central and complex factor, and one that researchers are just beginning to unravel, is the link between our forbidden thoughts and our larger system of values — our internalised template for judging right from wrong.  A forbidden thought is, by definition, one that violates that template, and the resulting pain, researchers say, is part of what helps us to function as social beings.  Displeasure over a fantasy of violence or adultery, for example, “may simply suggest that people approach life in a principled way,” argues Dr Norman Epstein, a psychologist in the family studies department at the University of Maryland.  “If a thought like that pops into your head but you’re not bothered by it at all, that could be a problem.”  The absence of this painful response may help explain some violent and other antisocial behaviour.
  5. Studies also suggest that past experiences, especially during upbringing, play an enormous role and that individuals from authoritarian backgrounds are far more likely to overreact to, and overcompensate for, forbidden thoughts.  Research shows, for example, that persons raised in heavily religious households, where “evil” thoughts are regarded as evil deeds-in-waiting, are more likely than their non-religious counterparts to fixate on thoughts they feel are sinful or otherwise inappropriate.  Their “God’s will” world view may have produced a low sense of controllability and self-esteem, and thus a higher-than-average sense of vulnerability.

If I Sit on Them and Suppress Them Will That Work?

Ever since Freud, psychologists and the lay public alike have understood that suppression of thoughts and feelings can have unintended consequences.  But in the mid-1980’s, research by University of Virginia psychologist Dr Daniel Wegner, gave a whole new meaning to the word “backfire”:  The harder one tries not to think of a particular thought or image, Wegner found, the more likely it is to become intrusive and repetitive (ever had someone say to you, “Now, I don’t want you to think about pink elephants” – and what do you do? – of course, think about pink elephants!)

Wegner’s experiments were ingeniously simple.  He set people in a room with a tape recorder and asked them to say whatever came to mind, with one caveat:  They were not to think about a white bear.  “People mentioned the bear about once a minute, despite the fact that they weren’t supposed to be thinking about it,” Wegner says.  “They would try all sorts of tricks, but it would keep coming back to them.”

So, why does it keep coming back? 

  1. It is suspected that in suppressing a thought, the mind is still “monitoring” the “contents of consciousness” for any vestige of the painful thought, and is thus more sensitive to that thought.
  2. Another theory is that in attempting to distract ourselves from one thought by thinking of another, the brain creates associations between the two thoughts.  As a result, the distracting thought actually helps bring back the thought it was intended to mask.
  3. Still other researchers theorise that by suppressing a forbidden thought, the brain never gets a chance to fully process the thought.  The individual then is never able to see that the forbidden thought is unrealistic and extremely unlikely to be translated into action.  In short, without full processing, the thought may remain unresolved and will keep re-emerging in the consciousness for more processing – and more suppression.

How Do You Get Rid of Them?

  1. Not unexpectedly, many researchers and therapists suggest that the way to loosen the grip of forbidden or unwanted thoughts begins with the de-suppression of them.  Wegner and psychologist Dr James Pennebaker, at Southern Methodist University, advocate confiding one’s forbidden thoughts.  In other words, tell someone about the thoughts.  They have found that subjects who do discuss their thoughts can feel better both emotionally and physically. Part of it may simply be getting a troublesome thought off our “chests.”  But research by Dr Roxane Cohen Silver, a psychologist at the University of California-Irvine who has worked with Vietnam vets and other trauma survivors, believes that sharing helps us realise we aren’t alone in our anguish, that others have unwanted or forbidden thoughts as well.  This, she says, can help reduce the stigma that often creates the forbidden thought in the first place. That may mean seeking professional help, especially if we feel a thought is in danger of breaking out.  A good rule of thumb:  If a thought is causing pain, or interfering with your life, it’s probably time to talk to someone.
  2. We should not blindly rely on culture to supply our mental standards.  We must be willing to take matters into our own hands. In severe cases, where an individual is paralysed by his or her reaction to forbidden thoughts, drugs or intensive therapy may be needed.  In less serious instances, however, counselling or therapy helps people to recreate or recover a healthier, more realistic perspective on their thoughts.  And while these treatments are often conducted in the controlled environment of a therapist’s office, psychologists say, they may also be effectively applied in everyday situations.
    1. Some therapists, for example, give their clients “permission” to think the forbidden thought for a specific period of time each day, which, in less severe cases, allows our normal mental processes to wash away the anxiety associated with it.
    2. Others recommend what might be called the Big Picture approach.  “What we try to do is have clients step back and look at their life as whole, to be objective,” says Epstein.  “To what degree are the thoughts having an impact on the way one leads one’s life?  Do they tend to live by basic principles?  Do they tend to treat people in a fair way?”  Often, he says, people troubled by forbidden thoughts “have highly unrealistic standards for themselves.”
    3. The key is to consistently strive for a sense of perspective and realism.  As Neil Jacobson, professor of psychology at the University of Washington puts it:  “The fact is that to be married to someone is to sometimes think he is an asshole.”
  3. Whether we go it along or seek counselling, psychologists say, confronting our forbidden thoughts ultimately requires courageCourage to create, and live by, our own rules.  Courage to face our own worst fears, and to question our own self-prohibitions with the same intensity and passion with which we question society’s rules.  But it is also the courage simply to believe in ourselves. Forbidden thoughts may prevent us from committing heinous crimes and other regrettable acts.  They may help us to survive as participants in an intricate social dance.  But they can also serve as a means of undermining ourselves, of seeing ourselves in a primarily negative light in the end, the most damaging “forbidden” thought, the one we have been trained to block at every turn, may simply be that we are really okay.  “Most of us have had some pretty off-the-wall thoughts, and when we question ourselves, to some extent that’s part of the mental health process,” says Seattle therapist Michael Donnen.  “But we have to learn to be gentle on ourselves.”

Forgiveness – What Is It & How Do You Do It?

It’s not a topic often talked about.  From the psychologist’s office though, it is probably true to say that it’s the most necessary thing that client’s often need to do.  Forgive.  Forgive a friend who wronged them, forgive a boss who bullied them, forgive a parent who abused them, forgive an aunt who cheated them, forgive a sibling who upset them.

Why bother with forgiveness?  Is it really just a bit “old hat”, or maybe just a bit “too religious”?

I once heard a story about large, somewhat obvious sign which hung behind the desk of a typically tough U.S. Marine major:  The sign read, “To err is human; to forgive is divine–and our policy is to do neither!”  Interesting comment indeed.  But what’s our own “policy” when it comes to forgiveness? We certainly know what it is to err, to do ‘stuff’ that we’re not proud of, to overstep the line, but what about forgiving?  What does forgiveness really imply, and should we be interested in promoting this virtue for others around us and particularly for ourselves?

What is Forgiveness?

Forgiveness entails a series of changes that occur within an individual who has been offended or hurt in some way by another person.  In other words, you choose to forgive.  You make a choice.  Forgiveness cannot be coerced, but must be freely chosen by the one who was wronged.

When individuals forgive, their thoughts and actions toward the transgressor become more positive (e.g., more peaceful or compassionate) and less negative (e.g., less wrathful or avoidant).

A Process Model of Forgiveness

Developmental psychologist Robert Enright provides a process model of forgiveness outlined in the Chronicle of Higher Education in 1998, he outlines the following nine steps toward forgiveness:

  1. Acknowledge your emotions. Whether you are angry, hurt, ashamed, or embarrassed (or some combination of the above), acknowledge your emotional reaction to the wrongdoing.
  2. Go beyond identifying the person who hurt you and articulate the specific behaviors that upset or hurt you.
  3. Make the choice to forgive.
  4. Explain to yourself why you made the decision to forgive. Your reasons can be as practical as wanting to be free of the anger so that you can concentrate better at work.
  5. Attempt to “walk in the shoes” of the other person. Consider that person’s vulnerabilities.
  6. Make a commitment to not pass along the pain you have endured — even to the person who hurt you in the first place.
  7. Decide instead to offer the world mercy and goodwill. At this stage, you may wish to reconcile with the other person (but that’s not necessary).
  8. Reflect on how it feels to let go of a grudge. Find meaning in the suffering you experienced and overcame.
  9. Discover the paradox of forgiveness. As you give the gift of forgiveness to others, you receive the gift of peace.

Why should we Bother to Forgive?

Basically, we make up rules inside our heads about how people should react and behave towards us and others.  When they “break” those rules, we get upset (or hurt, annoyed, resentful, frustrated, angry etc).  We play it cool and are aloof; we sulk, we try to give the other person(s) a hard-time.  Sometimes, if we think it’s bad enough, or we’ve been hurt a good deal, we don’t forgive them.

But really, in a nutshell, not forgiving and feeling resentful or badly towards others for breaking our rules is ridiculous.  Somehow or other, we believe that we can punish others by refusing to forgive them.  “If I don’t forgive you, you suffer.”

Know what?  Actually, its us that suffers.  We’re the ones who feel tense, its our stomach that churns, we’re the ones who lose sleep, we’re the ones who feel fatigued, we’re the ones who get headaches, we’re the ones who feel miserable.

If you believe though that consciously you’re not suffering because you won’t forgive, then it is still argued that whether you can accept it or not, you are affecting yourself subconsciously.  At a deeper level, you are impacting yourself (whether or not you are prepared to consciously admit it), and that impact is negative.  It affects your “psyche”.

Forgiveness Distinguished

Forgiveness needs to be distinguished from condoning, excusing, reconciling, and forgetting.  So, what’s the difference?

When someone condones or excuses, he or she realizes there was no unfairness intended.  If, for example, Frank just takes Sarah’s car to drive an injured child to the hospital, Sarah, on realizing what had happened, would not need to forgive Jack, but would excuse him under the circumstances.

Reconciliation involves two people coming together again in mutual trust, whereas forgiveness is one person’s choice to abandon resentment and offer beneficence in the face of unfairness.  One can forgive without reconciling.

Forgiveness does not always mean forgetting.  When one forgives, he or she rarely forgets the event.  People tend to recall traumatic events, but on forgiving, a person may remember in new ways — not continuing to harbor the deeply held anger, resentment or emotions.

What helps Forgiveness and what doesn’t?

Forgiving those who have wronged us belongs in the “more easily said than done” category.  Think about your own forgiveness history.  Whom have you forgiven?  And what seemed unforgivable?

Research on forgiveness has identified several conditions or factors that make forgiveness more or less likely:

  • People tend to be more likely to forgive when the offense took place within a close, satisfying relationship.
  • Forgiveness is related to the character strength of empathy. Individuals are better able to forgive when they can empathize with the offender.
  • The relationship between forgiveness and justice is complex. Traditionally, researchers have suggested that a strong belief in justice can be a barrier to forgiveness. However, more recently, it has been demonstrated that individuals are actually more likely to forgive when they are first primed to think about justice.  Researchers hypothesize that whereas a “retributive” (eye-for-an-eye) sense of justice may be a barrier to forgiveness, a broader, more “pro-social” sense of justice may in fact, promote forgiveness.
  • We are better able to forgive when we do not blame the offender for the act (e.g., “It was an accident”). In contrast, we are less likely to forgive acts that were intentionally committed — especially if they have severe consequences.
  • A tendency to ruminate makes forgiveness much less likely.
  • We are more likely to forgive as we age. Young children tend to be the least willing to forgive, and older adults are the most willing.
  • As you would expect, apologies help. We are more likely to forgive if we receive an apology from the transgressor or the one who wronged us.

Forgiving Ourselves

Forgiving yourself is critical.  Philosopher André Comte-Sponville once said the following:

“Can one forgive oneself?  Of course, since one can hate oneself and overcome self-hatred.  What hope would there be for wisdom otherwise?  Or for happiness?  Or for peace?  We must forgive ourselves for being merely what we are.  And also forgive ourselves — when we can do so without injustice — for feeling hatred or pain or anger so strong that we cannot forgive.  Fortunate are the merciful, who fight without hatred or hate without remorse!”

Living without forgiving yourself would be like living with an inner torment, an inner torture.  Why so?  Do you think that you are so bad that you can’t be forgiven or that what you’ve done can’t be forgiven?

In the Christian tradition, forgiving yourself frequently means “repenting”. Repentance has three components.  A failure to make genuine change and transformation is because we have failed at one of the  3Rs of repentance:

Recognize:  That you are doing something you don’t want to do.  Without awareness we will never recognize our need to change.

Regret:  Being conscious of the cost to others and ourselves of our actions.  If we don’t truly regret our actions we will not change.

Reorient: Turning from what we don’t want, to what we do want.  If we continue to focus our attention on what we don’t want we will persist in that behavior.

Interestingly, the failure to reorient is one of the primary causes of why people don’t achieve the change they want in their life.  It keeps them trapped in the pain of regret, trying to do less of an unwanted behavior which in turn is a guaranteed way of maintaining that behavior in focus and ensuring that it will persist.  Reorientation occurs when we turn our attention to what it is that we do want and orient our life around that preferred behavior.

In essence, it’s about accepting that we’re all human, we all stuff up.  It’s about realising that there is a special message re forgiveness found within the Christian scriptures.  The whole of the Easter period in the Christian calendar is about Jesus’ message of forgiveness.

How do you Forgive?

It could well be what is called a “defining moment” when an individual chooses to forgive.  Forgiveness is a decision that is made.  “I choose to forgive him” or “I will no longer allow my anger to eat away at me.”

Alternatively, it could be a gradual process which takes time and sustained effort. This is part of a longer journey.  Individuals may decide they want to “let go” and “get on with life”, but then struggle with continued anger or resentment.

What’s the Final Answer?

This is not a cop-out, but the answer is within you.

Don’t punish yourself, by trying to punish someone else.  It’s futile.  It’s senseless.

Give up trying to make others feel badly.  Take charge of yourself by stopping your negative thoughts and turn them around.

Forgive.  Whether it’s forgiving yourself or forgiving others, it will be one of the best decisions you ever made.

What Is Your Basic Life Question?

Ever thought about thinking?  A funny question I know.  But that’s what thinking is.  Thinking is simply the process of asking and answering questions.

Thinking starts from the moment we wake up in the morning to the time we go to bed at night (and sometimes it stops us from going to sleep because we worry or think some more!).  Ever wondered how many questions we might ask ourselves in a single day?  I know it’s not the kind of thing that you’d normally think about, but now that I’ve asked it, what would you guess?  100 questions a day?  1,000 questions a day?  Maybe 5,000 a day?  While it can’t be empirically measured, Dr Wayne Dyer in his book, “Your Sacred Self” has estimated that we ask around 60,000 questions a day!

Now in that myriad of questions that involves both your conscious and unconscious thinking, there is one basic life question that keeps getting asked over and over again.  Did you know that you have a basic life question?  You may or may not know it, but you do.  You may not know it because it is generally asked so often in your head that you get used to it and probably do it so automatically.  What’s more, this basic life question influences and impacts everything that you do in life.  It impacts your choices, your behaviour, your actions.  It influences the whole of your life.

If it is true that we ask this basic life question daily and maybe a number of times daily or hundreds of times, and if it is true that this basic life question guides and directs our life, then maybe it is worth finding out what it might be.

Generally though, for most people, it tends to have a negative spin on it.  This basic life question therefore is a prime driver in our life (whether we are aware of it or not).

So, what is your basic life question?  What is the one question that you ask yourself daily?  What is the one question that directs the majority of your behaviour?  What do you consistently focus upon?  What is the question that has extreme consequences if it is not fulfilled?  This basic life question is one that is designed to assist you to avoid pain and gain pleasure.  The question often has survival implications attached to it and it is generally directly linked to your identity.  Finally, it has intense emotional impact.

For example, my basic life question for the earlier part of my life was, “Am I good enough?”  This meant that by continually asking this question throughout my day, everything was filtered through this question and I would generally act in such a way that I was good enough.  For example, I would work hard, be conscientious, get things right, be driven and strive in order to be “good enough”.  This often meant working long hours in the office and feeling “stressed” in order to produce and meet impossible deadlines.  Sometimes I would please others or not be sufficiently assertive so that others would like me and I’d be “good enough”.  Sometimes, I would not speak up so that I’d be “good enough”.

Do you get the picture?

This basic life question is generally one that you make up in your childhood as a way of surviving.  The only problem is that we hold onto it even when we are big people.

A colleague of mine said that his was, “What’s the matter with me that they don’t recognise how good I am?”  People in his church would overlook his products (eg, books, CD’s, tapes, manuals) and look elsewhere including overseas for speakers and information that he had provided right on their very doorstep.  He would get angry and depressed because others would not see his talents.  He had other life experiences constantly where he felt that he was not worthwhile and his talents were not identified by others.  On the other hand, his wife’s basic question was, “Who is going to take care of me?”  This meant that she was concerned that her husband produce, be the provider, and become wealthy so that later in life she could be cared for.  Of course, this put him under pressure and his identity was wrapped up in having to produce and provide.  If he was “overlooked” and he did not provide, it would mean that he would become depressed (and then probably later be angry).

Another friend confided to me about his situation.  After years of foolish philandering leading to financial failure, Ross could only ask, “Why don’t I ever get my fair share?” and “What’s wrong with me that I can’t keep hold of my money?”   Today, he is a competent coach and collaborates with other business leaders.  He has a long term marriage, financial security and many friends.  He tells me that his life changed because his Basic Life Question changed.  His basic question now is, “How can I help the next person get what they want out of life?”

Can you identify your basic life question?  What do you think it might be?

 

If you can, your challenge now is to re-make your question.

Your original basic life question is probably a negative one – it needs to be changed into a positive one.  How do you this?  You need to ask a better basic question that possibly preserves the initial positive intent behind your old original basic life question.

For example, a new basic question might start with, “How can I appreciate even more….” or “How can I express even more….”  In this regard, my new basic life question is, “How can I appreciate even more the gifts of God that flow through me”.

Check if the new question fits for you.  Does it feel right?  Are there any downsides or negatives to it at all?  If there are, change it and play with it until you are happy with it.  Remember, this basic life question is going to be with you a long time, and it has a profound impact on the whole of your life, so it is worth getting one that is a better fit you for you.

Living and Experience The “Now”

All you have really got is “now” – the present moment.  Now is now.

What on earth do I mean about living in the now?  How is this supposed to help in life?

So many of us make a very basic mistake in life in that we move out of the “now” and try either to anticipate life and think or worry about the future; or alternatively, spend time thinking, worrying or perhaps feeling guilty about the past.  Think about it.  You spend most of your life outside what is present and current and, instead, spend time worrying about the past or planning and being concerned about the future.

I recall seeing a man recently who had been physically threatened by a customer and he was spending countless hours worrying about what might happen if the customer returned (“what if….”).  He was anxious and tense and his relationship with his wife was starting to suffer.  Among other things, he made a deliberate effort to focus on living in the present moment; and he reported the following week that this little strategy had been very helpful.

Many people worry and think about their futures, trying to anticipate, plan and prepare for what lies ahead.  As a result, I often hear people describe themselves as “worry warts”; and they have trouble switching off, especially at night when they want to sleep.  They do not enjoy life because they are so preoccupied with possible future events or situations.

Similarly, I have talked to many people who have let past mistakes, regrets and tragedies continue to plague them in the present.  They report being depressed or “down” and do not cope as well as they would like.

What is it about children that allows them to have so much fun, be spontaneous and natural?  Simply put, they are great at enjoying each moment as it comes.  They seem to involve themselves totally in what they are doing.  They have not yet learned to be anxious about the future or to let past regrets or mistakes influence their present.

You and I have only the now, this present moment.  This is what we can each know about.  We cannot do much about the past; it has already happened.  We do not know if there will be a tomorrow.  We can experience, however, and know about what is called the “now”.

Look around you.  As you read this article you are in the now.  Whenever you spend time appreciating, acknowledging, responding to the now you are at one with your environment.  You are in the “now”.

Interestingly, the psychotherapist Fritz Perls says that anxiety, for example, is experienced only when people step out of their present situation and worry or try to anticipate the future.  In other words, anxiety fills the gap between the now and the future.

Living life in the now is one recipe for peace.  As you experience your present moment, you have the potential for recognising peace.  Of course, there are some present moments that do create tension.  But usually they get worse by excessive thinking or worrying.  Try a little exercise the next time you are tempted to move away from the present moment by excessive thinking and worrying.  Look around you.  Is there anything in the present moment to cause you concern?  The answer is typically “no”.

Say to yourself: “It’s safe in this place right now, the walls are not falling in on me in this present moment; there’s nothing to fear or to be concerned about.”  Living and appreciating the present moment is a way also of having more energy with which to live.  It stands to reason that if you spend less time wasting energy living in the past or trying to live in the future, then you have more energy to experience what is happening right now.

In other words, you are not distracted by what has gone before or what you think might happen in the future.

The message is that it is important to live in the now, enjoying the present moment to the full, being thankful for each moment and making the most of it.

Isn’t this a lesson for us?  The principle is to be totally involved in what you are presently doing and enjoy the moment fully.  It might even be mundane things like mowing the lawns, driving a car or cleaning dishes.

But being thankful for the present moment and enjoying it is important – as though there were no tomorrow!  Be thankful, for instance, for the fact that you can see, feel the sun on you, feel the breezes, hear the rain falling, and drink in the scenery.  Decide that this present moment is for you to enjoy.

Even if you are lawn moving, make each strip enjoyable.  Maybe make it better than the last.  Be thankful for the exercise and endeavour to make the most of it.  This is one recipe for peace, happiness and contentment.

Living in the now and living every moment to its fullest means that we end up living life itself without undue anxiety and in the way that it was intended.

What would it take for you to commit to being thankful for the very moment you are in?  What would it take for you to trial living in the now, even for say, a week?

Fed Up? Frustrated? Annoyed? Bitter? Irritated? Down In The Dumps? Someone Else The Cause Of Your Troubles?

Call it what you will.  We’ve all been there. 
Let’s go over it in more detail.

What’s the Background?

  • Someone has done or said something that we don’t agree with.
  • Someone hasn’t lived up to our expectations.
  • Someone has stepped over our boundaries.
  • Someone has offended us.
  • Someone has asked too much of us.

What’s the Actual Situation?

  • Your boss has made a unilateral decision without consulting you.
  • Your management have made ridiculous, poor, or irrational decisions.
  • Your supervisor is playing “favourites” with specific staff.
  • Your spouse is playing games with you.
  • Your manager is pushy, dominating or sarcastic.
  • You have been blamed for something you didn’t do.
  • Your family are difficult to get on with.
  • Your friend has said something you didn’t like.

What do you say to yourself?

  • “It’s not fair.”
  • “How dare he/she!”
  • “It’s so unjust”
  • “Who do they think they are!”
  • “I’ll show them!”
  • “How could they?”
  • “It’s so unnecessary.”
  • “What’s the matter with them?”
  • “They’re so insensitive.”
  • “Why me?”
  • “This is ridiculous”

What’s our Reaction?

Here’s how it is.

We make up rules inside our heads about how people should react and behave towards us and others.  When they “break” those rules, we get upset (or annoyed, resentful, frustrated, angry etc).  We play it cool and are aloof; we sulk, we try to give the other person(s) a hard-time.

But really, in a nutshell, feeling resentful or badly towards others for breaking our rules is ridiculous.  Somehow or other, we believe that we can punish others by refusing to forgive them.  “If I don’t forgive you, you suffer.”

Know what?  Actually, its us that suffers.  We’re the ones who feel tense, its our stomach that churns, we’re the ones who lose sleep, we’re the ones who feel fatigued, we’re the ones who get headaches, we’re the ones who feel miserable.

What’s the Answer?

This is not a cop-out, but the answer is within you.

Don’t punish yourself, by trying to punish someone else.  It’s futile.  It’s senseless.

Give up trying to make others feel badly.  Take charge of yourself by stopping your negative thoughts and turn them around –

  • In the total scheme of life, does it really matter?
  • Are you going to remember this incident in a week or two, a month or two?
  • Are you going to remember this incident in twelve months time?
  • Is it really a big deal?
  • Is it really going to make front page of the local newspaper?
  • Is it really worth it?
  • Are you going to allow them to continue to make you feel miserable?
  • Are you going to allow them to continue to rob you of your peace?

What’s the price of you continuing to be fed up?  It’s simply not worth it!