simplicity

A Toddler’s Guide to Mindfulness

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Have you ever watched what toddlers do or listened to what they talk about?  There’s something special about the way children interact with the world.  As adults, we can become consumed by timelines and schedules and priorities.  But those things don’t matter to kids – they see things through different eyes.

Before I became a therapist, I worked for a few years as a childcare provider for young children.  One 2-year-old I watched was notorious for getting easily distracted – a simple walk along the sidewalk could take what felt like ages, as he would stop every few feet to point out an insect, pick up a rock, or comment on the leaves scattered around the neighbor’s yard.

One day, I followed him up the stairs so he could get dressed, chatting about what we were going to do that morning.  In my mind, I was planning each step for our entire day, almost by the minute.  To be honest, I was rushing him a bit too.  (We were going upstairs, which is always a several minute production for a toddler learning to climb...and always having to do everything without my help.)

I started listing off our plans for the day.  "Okay, after we get dressed we're going to get ready to drive in the car, and then we're going to go to Target to get something and look at the Christmas trees, and then we'll have our playdate, and then..."  The little one suddenly stopped on the stairs and said, "NO."  I assumed he meant he didn't want to leave the house, so I started reminding him of all the fun things we were going to do and how he would have to leave in order to do those things.  He stopped me again, and said:

"No.  Getting dressed upstairs."

And it hit me.

While I was fluttering around thinking about all the things we were going to do that day, this little one was focused on the one thing right in front of him.

Which was, evidently, going upstairs to get dressed.  Honestly, I was probably overwhelming him by hitting him with all these plans and ideas when he could only handle thinking about one thing at a time.

How often do we do this in our lives?  We mentally jump so far ahead into the future and end up trying to juggle thinking about 27 things at once.  For me, it can start simply, where I'm thinking about whatever's coming next in my day.  Or it can happen on a long-term level, where I analyze my career or my relationships.  Or deeper still than that: I can feel such concern over my dreams and ambitions, or my fears of failure, or not measuring up to a professional or spiritual standard.  These worries can cripple me in a place of discouragement and hopelessness at my lack of progress.

And just like this 2-year-old, if I let all those worries flood into my mind, I get overstimulated, overwhelmed, and I shut down.

This moment spoke a truth to me that I needed to embrace at that point in my life: just stop.  Stop trying to figure out every detail.  Stop trying to think about the next big thing, the next stage I want to enter in life, or all those questions that I feel the need to have answered.  Let go of the obsessive anxiety and attempts at gaining control over my circumstances, which I think will keep me safe and protect me from harm.  The pride I had in believing I could control my life was being shaken by the wisdom of a toddler.

The truth reinforced in me that day was this: when we become caught up in negative thoughts about the past, or worries about the future, we lose sight of the beauty of the present moment.  We miss all that is happening right in front of us when we’re caught up in those stresses.  While planning and creating a vision for the future has a time and place, on a day-to-day basis, it is important to take things just one step at a time.  When we choose to be mindful of the present moment, we experience fewer negative emotions, less stress, increased focus and memory, less emotional reactivity, happier relationships, and plenty of other health benefits.

When I walk in the present moment of life, I feel so much more gratitude for the things around me.  I experience the grace that comes with knowing I don't have to have it all together, and I don't have to be perfect or achieve all the things I desire to achieve in my life.   And I can rest in the simplicity of life where I'm not always rushing ahead to the next thing and trying my hardest to control every outcome.

"So don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries.  Today's trouble is enough for today." Matthew 6:34 (NLT)

Who knew a 2-year-old would have a wiser outlook on life than I would.

One step at a time.

This article was originally posted on February 9, 2017.

If you’re in a place where the world around you seems to be moving too quickly, your mind is racing with thoughts and worries about what’s in the future, and you have a hard time slowing down enough to focus on the present moment, I’m here to help you. Restored Hope Counseling is an Ann Arbor and Novi therapy office where I focus on helping you navigate through anxiety and depression, giving you the support and tools you need to slow down your anxious thoughts and move toward a happier, more wholehearted life.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to hear more about how I can be a support to you.

Self-Care Saturdays: Keep it Simple

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Welcome to Self-Care Saturdays, a series of bonus blog posts that will be released on the last Saturday of each month.  In a world where we are constantly faced with demands on our time and energy, it can feel impossible to slow down enough to pay attention to our own needs and take steps to care for them.  These articles are meant to get you thinking about one small step you can take today to practice kindness and care for yourself. 

Simplicity has become an increasingly popular concept in our culture.  In a time when technology is advancing faster than we can keep up, multitasking is the norm, and we’re constantly accessible through our phones and emails, we can feel overwhelmed by complexity in our lives.  De-cluttering and minimalism are trends made popular by Marie Kondo and other organization gurus.  We find ourselves reminiscing about “the good old days” where life was just a little bit slower and a whole lot simpler.

This summer I read a childhood favorite book series of mine: Little House on the Prairie.  As I read, I thought about pioneers and felt a longing in my heart to live in the simplicity of that generation.  When I'm overwhelmed by stress and complexity in my life, it is easy to forget how technological advances have made our lives simpler and more automated.  I find a need to balance using technology to create more simplicity in my life without letting it rule over me.

It can feel near impossible to create simplicity in your life.  You may be in a season where simplicity is unrealistic because of the demands of family or career.  Often, as we grow older and gain more responsibilities, simplicity seems like a pipe dream.  We need to begin to create simplicity by eliminating the extras that add unnecessary overwhelm to our lives so that that we can focus on the areas that bring us life and that fit alongside our values.

How can you create more simplicity in your life?

Breathe.

Stop for a moment and notice your breath.  When was the last time you physically felt the breath in your body as you inhale and exhale?  This process is unconscious: we can go for days without actually noticing our breath.  Slow down today and remind yourself to breathe.  Practice mindfulness exercises or meditation throughout your day.  Use a meditation app like Headspace to do a daily meditation or to meditate at various points throughout the day.

Take a Sabbath each week.

I’m a recovering perfectionist.  I have a tendency to overfill my schedule to the point of overwhelm and sometimes even burnout.  When I see this happening in my life, I know that I need to prioritize a day off for myself.  A Sabbath is my go-to way both to recharge myself and to spend time reconnecting in my relationship with God.  Spend one day a week intentionally doing things that refresh you and help you to go back into your work recharged.

Allow yourself to feel bored.

With the easy accessibility of iPhones and media, we are constantly within reach of being entertained.  Because of this, we have become intolerant of boredom.  When we feel bored, we can always find a way to keep our minds occupied and our thoughts entertained.  When you notice yourself becoming bored, allow yourself to sit in that emotion instead of immediately seeking a way to be entertained.  If you’re standing in line, choose not to check your phone.  If you’re waiting for an appointment, choose to sit and wait rather than finding a way to distract yourself.

Get rid of clutter and unnecessary items in your home.

It can be easy to accumulate massive amounts of material things over the years.  Sometimes we don’t even know how we got it, but our home is suddenly full of "stuff".  Often we don’t need or even really want some of these items, but the effort it takes to get rid of them can feel like too much.  Spend a day going through your closet or drawers and clear out anything you don’t love.  As Marie Kondo suggests in her book, save the items that bring you joy and trash or donate all the remaining items.

Say “no” more often.

Simplicity in our schedules is near impossible when we have overcommitted ourselves.  It can be easy to say yes to everything we are asked, especially if we’re people pleasers.  In her book The Best Yes, Lysa Terkeurst talks about learning to say no more often so that we can give our best yes to the commitments that align with our values, bring us life, and fit within our gifting.  Save your yes for those moments, and begin to practice the tough work of saying no.

Uni-task.

Multitasking wears on our brain as we’re trying to focus our limited attention on several different items at once.  Our brains become overloaded by this multiple focus, so we tend to do each task to a lesser quality than we would otherwise.  Choose to focus on one task at a time and spend your energy in that one direction of focus before moving on to the next.

How will you choose to press into simplicity this week?

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Have you been struggling with feelings of overwhelm or burnout?  Do you feel like self-care is a lofty goal that is outside of your reach? At Restored Hope, we’d love to help you find space in your life to live more mindfully and experience care.  Our Novi and Ann Arbor counseling offices offer therapy to help you experience freedom from the anxiety and depression that can accompany these seasons of busyness.  Give us a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to hear more about how we can help.