I’m a big fan of Gretchen Rubin and her book, The Happiness Project. While waiting for my nails to dry one day (something I’m never very patient about), I pulled out my smartphone and visited her website. There I found a description of her 12 Personal Commandments, which are basically her core values. Since only a few minutes had passed and my nails were still wet, I thought I’d make a list of my own personal commandments. Now Gretchen said this process took her months, but my busy brain figured I might as well start right in.
The number one item on my list? Present, as in stay in the present moment. I once heard the quote, “Don’t borrow trouble from the future.” I like this and can certainly relate. It’s easy to drift into the land of What If, especially if you live with an unpredictable chronic illness. For example, I’m frequently asked to make decisions about taking medications that have a very long list of side effects. This alone is enough to encourage me to wander down the What If path. Because I choose to try different medications if I feel confident they may improve my quality of life today, I choose not to focus on the long-term side effects. I make a conscious choice not to read those lengthy inserts that often accompany my medications, but instead listen to my trusted doctors and make a decision based on the information they give me in the present. Although it’s true my husband and I have dealt with some major medication side effects over the years, overall this coping strategy has served me well.
I must admit that I do work very, very hard to stay in the present and not worry about the future, but it’s not easy. Busy Brain particularly likes to take nighttime forays into the land of What If and she’s not easily persuaded to alter these thoughts. Still, I’ve found strategies I can use to help me redirect this line of thinking. First is to recognize these wandering thoughts for what they are: counterproductive and fear inducing. Next, by focusing on my breath—either by counting breaths or saying something as simple as IN on the inhale and OUT on the exhale—I’m brought back into the present.
Although my list of personal commandments is a work in progress, I do know that living in the present and not focusing on the past or future gives me a profound sense of calm. This calmness is something I value greatly. Perhaps Present isn’t a commandment, but staying in the present is certainly something I am choosing to work on not only in the coming year, but in the all the years ahead.