As much as we try to balance our lives and all that we cram into them, times will arise when life’s pressures and demands get to be a bit too much.
Instead of pausing to breathe and check-in when we feel the pressure mounting, most often we’ll spiral into one or more of the three most common, stressful, and indulgent emotions:
Unconscious of the connection between our thinking, feeling, and behaving, we’ll confide in, even cling to these emotions believing that they’re useful for solving or “fixing” our problems.
Whereas these three emotions, which are activated inside the survival part of our brain, can signal our attention, remaining in a state of confusion, overwhelm, and worry most often does not result in a useful solution or relief.
Likewise, it can be challenging to think clearly and rationally when consumed with confusion, overwhelm, and worry.
For example, say you woke up this morning and your first stream of thoughts were, “Yikes, I’m late! I have too much to do. I won’t be able to get it all done. How will I manage? What if I screw it all up? I just can’t do it all!”
Of course, this combination of thoughts is a petri dish for overwhelm, worry, and confusion, even anxiety.
You’ll rush around, spill your coffee, snap at your family or pet, forget your lunch, speed through traffic, and race through your day without even noticing if you’re breathing.
This is anxiety-making at its finest!
Over time, living in this type of perpetual state of flight or fight can erode your health because of the stress it places on your mind and body.
Plus, these emotions can drive an array of unhealthy actions such as anxious eating, drinking, and well, you know what you do when you feel this way.
The best way to solve this type of indulgent emotional stress is by learning how to manage your mind through the daily practice of mental inquiry.
“By way of watching your mind, you will see life beyond a mere set of habits, emotions and beliefs.”
Mental inquiry or “thought work” is the practice of observing the negative thoughts that replay in our mind, questioning their validity, and loosening their grip on our emotional health using powerful questions.
Just as we exercise our body, mental inquiry exercises the prefrontal cortex part of the brain, which is wise, executive functioning part of the brain that we rely on for decision-making and problem-solving.
It’s also the part of the brain that relays to the fight or flight area of the brain that we’re okay, everything’s fine, and we’ve got this.
When practiced consistently, mental inquiry reduces the negative thoughts that cause us to feel overwhelmed, confused, and worried; thus, reducing anxiety.
When first beginning the practice of mental inquiry, I recommend practicing daily and using a journal to capture your thoughts.
In time and as you clear out your mental clutter and grow your emotional resilience, your daily practice might evolve into a few days a week.
A sequence of powerful questions to ask yourself when practicing mental inquiry are:
“What thoughts are causing me to indulge in confusion, overwhelm, and worry?”
“Are these thoughts true?”
“Can I absolutely know that these thoughts are true?”
“How are these thoughts making me feel?”
“How are these feeling causing me to act?”
“What results am I experiencing because of thinking these thoughts?”
“Why then am I thinking these thoughts?”
“Can I think of one good reason to continue thinking these thoughts?”
“What would I have without these thoughts?”
“What would I be doing without these thoughts?”
“Who would I be without these thoughts?”
Then, simply move forward with your day noticing how you feel and observing how you show up in your life.
By contemplating these questions when negative thoughts arise, we begin to dismantle old thought habits and stories that solve nothing and cause us a lot of emotional stress and anxiety.
Through the consistent, regular practice of mental inquiry, we begin to realize that most of what we think is not true.
We start to realize that we actually do have control over what we think, how we feel, and how we act.
In other words, we begin indulging less in what we don’t want and start creating more of what we do want.
We start to own that we are capable and competent, that every day can be amazing, and we can feel calm and confident no matter what life tosses at us.