What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered? – Phil from Groundhog Day
For as long as I can remember, my glass has been half empty. I’ve been known to get trapped in repetitive, negative thoughts about pretty much anything. If every day seems exactly the same (like it often does for workers, parents and couples) try these five ways to free your mind from life.
1. Take a breather from Netflix.
You watch one new TV show, and before you know it you’ve watched all 150 episodes. The messages we get from watching the same show non-stop are insidious, and you won’t recognize them unless you really pay attention to your thoughts during and after the show. You’ll see your life starting to reflect the themes of your current obsession: chaos, drama, bizarre thoughts about backpacking or moving to the Midwest. If you’ve considered cooking meth after zooming through 3 seasons of Breaking Bad or accused your spouse of cheating after watching Nip/Tuck on repeat, think again. You’ve become a part of the show and are no longer just an observer.
How to Act: Turn off the TV and think about the episode as if it were book-report material. Themes, characters, irony. Is this box of lights infiltrating your brain?
2. Do the opposite.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results (so says Einstein). If you keep reacting in the same way to a situation, you’ll continue to be trapped by the outcome. It’s OK to experience the same old feelings when faced with a fight, argument, or frustration. What if you do the opposite of what you’ve been doing? Sometimes all it takes for the world to shift is for you acknowledge your first thought and ignore it. In a fight with your spouse, put on your best hugging face and wrap your arms around the offender. Or, leave immediately and buy him or her a gift. Upset with your kid because she turned the fridge into a watercolor masterpiece? Laugh, smile, grab a paintbrush. Besides, painted fridges are cool. It’s doing the opposite that forces you to see what a small action it is in terms of a whole life, and later, how incredibly irrelevant.
How to Act: Eat a whole chocolate bar. Tape the wrapper to your front door and write on it, “I ate the whole thing in 5 minutes.” Do you feel guilty or great?
3. Step away from your shadow.
Your past isn’t as rosy as you remember it. Time has muffled the screams, for sure. And the sobs. And the decades you were hideously dressed, wore nerd glasses or had a pig laugh. If you’ve kept a journal (and aren’t a self-deceiving lunatic), you’ll be able to fashion together a real version of your past. Then, you’ll realize that your response to life has been the same for a long time. We can’t keep holding onto a shadow of what we were, pretending that we were deliriously happy all the time. It’ll just keep growing and the you of today will shrink. To free your mind, forget yesterday.
How to Act: Purge your memory box. The things you want to remember will stay in your mind, until senility trashes them. Consider putting the mementos you do keep on display. This is a surefire way to determine if they are worthy.
4. Take a long walk alone, with no cell phone.
Authors are always talking about writing novels in their heads during 7-mile walks in the woods. If they can create and solve problems in a fictional world by walking, you can also to create a space in your life for your story. Removed from the home environment, you’re no longer distracted by things “just being there.” Focusing on the simple action of walking will allow you to retrain your thoughts and free your mind. It’s on long walks alone that we figure out answers; sometimes it’s the only way to physically escape the mindless chatter associated with living with others.
How to Act: To see more of the big picture, try walking in a place you know but have few emotional connections to, like near a friend’s house. Alternatively, you can try a hike you’ve taken with others, but never alone.
5. If nothing else, close your laptop and daydream like a kid in Math class.
Ahh… high school. Your brain was developed enough to think about meaningful things, and still hopeful enough to daydream. Consequences were small (when considering those of an adult), and you had little responsibility except to “prepare” for the future. It was just you, the back of your crush’s head and the drone of the teacher. Your mind was free then, but you were clueless as to the real potential of this. To properly daydream nowadays, one must consider costs and ramifications of the dream at hand. Don’t let the burdens of adulthood scare you from setting aside some time to dream like a kid again. The best way to free your mind is to not trap it in the first place! Start with the idealism of a new college graduate and don’t stop dreaming until you’ve done something. For once, ignore the how and the why. If you keep tripping up your plans with the important details, you’ll never start anything.
How to Act: Tomorrow will hopefully be a new day (for everyone but Bill Murray), so think of something big and don’t be cautious! You can always make a spreadsheet later.