In my life, I have spent the majority of my time living a life of the mind—rather than living in the moment.
Missing out on experiencing so much.
Special moments with my grandmother, the woman who raised me, because I was living in my head versus truly listening.
Celebrating when I received a promotion in my previous job, because I was already focusing on how it wasn’t enough money or what I wanted to do next.
Enjoying a meal with a lovely Italian family in Egypt, because I was more concerned with how I was coming across the entire time.
This list could go on for a long time, but you get the point.
I missed out on those moments because of never-ending mental chatter. Chatter about everything that could possibly be or go wrong. Everything I wanted or was inspired to do. And for many years, non-stop chatter about what was wrong with me. Why I’m bad. How I’m defective. How I fall short of being good enough for this or that.
Ever afraid of the consequences we may face in our lives, so many of us hide—we stay silent, we hold back, and we give up.
We say something is important to us. We say this “something” has been a “dream,” a “goal,” or, “what our life is all about.”
Yet, it seems we are living two lives.
The one where we show up to our jobs every day. The one where we pick up our kids from school. The one where we pay our mortgage. The one where our actions say something different from what we say we want.
And then there’s the other life—the life that most of us live.
The life inside of our heads. The life of the voice only we can hear. The life that we can control a bit more. The life where we can quietly dream, judge, criticize, and worry.
The life spent listening to the voice that only effects us. The voice that either propels us forward, or holds us back. The life spent worried about the future, or obsessing about the past.
While fear is felt and experienced in the body, our mind—this second life—possesses the “panic” button, which perpetuates what we fear most. This is the place from which we create our lives.
Running on endless thought loops of worry, self-doubt, and fear—we spend our time analyzing everything.
We analyze what we did do. What we didn’t do.
What we should have done. What we shouldn’t have done.
What we want to do. Why we can’t do what we want to do.
Why we screwed up because we didn’t do what we said we want to do.
How we are wasting our lives by not doing what we say we want or should do.
Why we are justified for doing what we did or didn’t do.
How it’s someone else’s fault that we don’t have, or didn’t do, what we say we want to do.
When we recognize that this is what we are doing on a non-stop basis, we can also begin to see a few things:
1. How exhausting it is to spend so much time thinking, analyzing, and trying to predict the future. The truth is, we cannot predict the future with 100 percent certainty.
2. How this cycle actually keeps us from changing much of anything. Because while we spend countless hours on repeat, like me when I find a song I like, the clock keeps ticking.
3. How behind this need to plan, predict, assess, and think lies an undercurrent of fear. Fear that we are going to drop the ball. Fear that someone is trying to trick us. Fear that we are missing out on life. Fear that we are not living up to our own expectations. Fear that we will fail if we try. Fear of making any decision at all. Fear that we will be laughed at if we don’t know something. Fear that we will end up homeless if we start a business. Fear that I’m an imposter and not qualified to make an impact on the world. Fear that my spouse will leave me. Fear that my child is on drugs. Fear that someone from another walk of life is dangerous. Fear of feeling my emotions. Fear of facing my limitations. Fear of being wrong. Fear of being questioned.
The list goes on and on…and on.
I recommend taking a step back to observe the nature of our thoughts, and how behind most of them lies fear. I also recommend not spending too much time there, as we have done that our entire lives.
Tick. Tock. Another minute has passed by. Now another day. Now another week. Now another month. Now another year.
But what I have come to learn is that to believe everything we think is to limit ourselves and our lives.
To paraphrase Michael Singer in his book, The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Ourselves:
“Our minds are like a roommate that never shuts the hell up. Take a step back for a moment and observe the voice in your head. If you are thinking to yourself, ‘What voice in my head?’—I’m talking about the voice that said that.
Listen to the non-stop chatter of your mind. Picture the non-stop judgments, criticisms, statements, or questions coming from a roommate.
Now, picture your mind, this roommate is sitting on the couch next to you during a movie.
How long would you tolerate this much talking? How long before you decided this friendship is not going work out?
And yet, we tolerate this within ourselves every day.”
I’ve also learned that we do have moments, some of us more than others, where the chatter is absent. Where there is no voice heard.
And in brief moments of no chatter, there is calm. There is a sense of well-being that we can not describe in words. We may call these periods of “flow,” being “in the zone,” or “in creation.”
We have all experienced those moments of inner quiet at some point in our lives.
I will leave you with this—an opportunity to take a moment and give yourself some space to answer these questions:
What am I afraid of?
What thoughts connect to those fears?
What do I perceive these thoughts protect me from?
How true are those perceptions?
How are those perceptions limiting my experience of life?
And more than anything, ask with this new awareness: What would I like to change?
It’s important to note that you don’t have to do or not do any of this. It’s your life. It’s your story. If you are content with where life is currently, and are happy, I celebrate you.
But, if you are like me, and have had a sense that you are somehow holding yourself back by living in your head, don’t ignore it. I invite you to reflect on the questions above.
And if you are open to taking that first step. I invite you to take one more. Because one of the greatest questions we can ask ourselves—a question that can help us remove the disparity between the life in our heads and the life everyone else sees is:
How are my thoughts influencing the life I see myself living?
When we allow ourselves the time to answer this, often we will come to see how fear has been in the driver’s seat of our life. And how it’s held us back in our careers, marriages, and businesses. From this place of awareness, we can choose what we want to do with that information.
And remember to be patient and compassionate with yourself. Often we talk to ourselves in ways that we wouldn’t dare to with another human being. If other people don’t deserve to be spoken to this way, why do you?