How do you spend your time?
That which you resist, truly does persist.
How do you spend your time? I don’t mean what you do externally. How do you spend your time internally? I do a lot of workshops and presentations and as I look out at my audience, I’m deeply grateful for all of the interested, even eager, faces looking back at me. It energizes me, motivates me and makes my work fun and rewarding. But invariably, there are one or two people present who clearly have no interest in being there. Slouched in their seats, arms crossed, facial expressions ranging from boredom to irritation, all before I’ve even opened my mouth! They’ve clearly been forced to attend my event by their boss, or perhaps a significant other, or maybe they need continuing education units. They make it clear that they may “have” to be present, but they will do their best to resist learning anything.
I am always amused and curious by these 'Resistors'. They’re clearly unaware that they’re making their time more miserable and that actually, the core of what I speak about is understanding how to be content with whatever circumstances we find ourselves in. That is one of the best benefits of practicing mindfulness.
The same amount of time passes - regardless of what we are doing. It may feel like it passes differently due to relativity, but there are always 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 1,440 minutes in a day. Always. So why not spend our time making it as enjoyable as possible? If we feel stuck in a “have-to” situation, we still have total control over how we spend that time internally.
First, a slight modification to what I just said. We never actually have to do anything. We always have a choice and it’s important to keep that in mind because when the brain gets the message that we have a choice, it releases different hormones into our systems than when we send the signal saying we’re stuck or trapped. Being trapped sends stimuli to the brain that prompts a stress response that we’re in danger or trouble. If we started off resisting the event, we now find ourselves being flooded with cortisol and adrenaline which make us feel even more stressed. But it’s not real. We chose to attend this thing we’re now resisting. We find ourselves in this 'trapped' feeling when we make a choice based on avoiding the consequences of not doing that thing, and don’t recognize that we made that choice.
I’m “having” to spend a lot of time at dentists’ offices lately. Once or twice a month since last July and which will continue through most of this year. Fun stuff, right? In the waiting rooms of those dentists, periodontists, and oral surgeons, with all of the other patients who don’t want to be there, I can always spot the Resistors. Same facial expressions as at my events. Same body language, too. Before I say more, let me preface this by saying that I am very grateful to my dentition team, they’re doing a great job and they’re honestly all really kind people. But seriously, who likes going to the dentist?
I don’t have to go. I could choose to ignore the bone loss I’m experiencing and just let all of my teeth fall out. But I don’t like that consequence, so I’m choosing to see dentists more than I see some of my friends for the next year. Resisting my own choice at each visit, however, doesn’t serve me. It only makes the experience worse. So I choose to spend my time as pleasantly as possible under the circumstances.
I start before I leave the house. I dress in comfy, soft, warm clothes (why is it always so cold in that dentist’s chair?!). On the drive, I listen to an audio novel. When I park, I take several deep breaths before exiting the car. I chat with the receptionist if she’s not busy when I arrive. I spend a few minutes when I sit down in the waiting room to breathe again. To relax. I listen to the banter between dentists and their assistants. I always feel better, and more confident, as I notice that they seem to love their jobs.
If it’s the first time with a specialist, I share that I have a lot of anxiety about dental procedures and that it helps me if they don’t surprise me. Every single time so far, they have taken the time to tell me what they’re about to do at each step. That shifts the experience from someone doing something to me, to a more collaborative experience. I can cooperate with what they’re doing instead of resisting, making the whole procedure better for everyone. I then pamper myself after each appointment. Nothing fancy. Maybe just crawling under the covers and watching Netflix for a couple of hours, allowing my healing to begin.
If I went to the dentist’s office full of resistance, I’d be stressed and physically tense, both of which increase pain intensity. An hour would feel like three. I’d make the staff’s job much more difficult and stressful. And I’d be miserable before the appointment, worrying about it, highly stressed during the appointment, and probably fretful afterwards. Instead, although I don’t like going, I’m calm and use my relaxation tools to support me. I stay aware of how I’m feeling, where my stress level is so that I can adjust, and positive about taking action for my health. I even feel pretty good after the appointments and I heal quickly. Whenever I falter, I do still struggle with the sound of the drill or spotting smoke exiting my mouth, I remind myself that this is simply a series of events that I have chosen to undertake to better serve me in the long run. And of course, that they will pass.
Now hopefully sitting through one of my presentations is less painful than going to the dentist, but for those Resistors, maybe not. The odds are low that they’ll learn any simple tips or tricks on happiness or productivity, much less any life-changing lessons being offered. They won’t enjoy the humor (I am pretty funny sometimes) and because of their resistant body postures, they’ll probably be physically uncomfortable. That’s a pretty miserable way to spend 4 to 8 hours! What’s not evident without mindfulness is that those Resistors are unconsciously choosing to be miserable. With awareness, they could choose to attend for their CEUs, or to avoid the disappointment of a boss or significant other, and try to find the pleasure in it. They could be open to the experience, or to just observing what’s going on around them. They could choose to daydream throughout the entire event about something they’re looking forward to. Wouldn’t that be a better way to spend internal time?
I have a lot of empathy for my Resistors. I choose to comply with my contracts and attend training events or conferences that are frequently full of really depressing topics that don’t directly relate to what I do for a living. So sitting through presentations on human trafficking, domestic violence, child abuse, infanticide and other serious world problems is not something I necessarily want to do. But I attend knowing that it is my choice and knowing that I can control my internal time by being open to new knowledge, being aware that I can internally check out if the subject matter is bothering me, and that it’s only 8 hours out of my life, which will pass. I might also meet interesting people, learn something useful, and ultimately, feel good about myself and my choices because I’m honoring my agreements.
I’m also grateful to my Resistors because they are typically the only people in my audience to challenge me. While their intention may be to further their resistance, they inevitably provide me with the best examples to further my point. They actually help me help others. Their intention doesn’t matter. All that matters is that I’m aware of my intentions and that I choose to use whatever resources are available. It’s ironic that while they are trying to resist even being present, they are enriching my presentation and increasing the learning outcome for the other participants.
We all find ourselves in situations that are unpleasant on a regular basis. That’s just life. But time keeps ticking, whether we’re enjoying an experience or not, so why not spend that time making the best of it? We have to step up and take responsibility for the fact that we made a choice, consciously or unconsciously, that put us in this position. We can make a conscious choice to participate in whatever the activity is with a positive frame of mind to not only lessen discomfort, but hopefully to expand our awareness of both ourselves and others.
What’s an uncomfortable activity you’ve recently experienced? A trip to the DMV? Being stuck in a traffic jam? Doing your taxes? Does resisting it do anything to make you feel better about it? Of course not. It’s just a simple shift in thinking that makes all of the difference. You chose to go to the DMV. You chose to drive to a location requiring you sit in traffic. You chose to do your taxes. Seriously, you could skip filing your tax return, but the consequences could be steep, meaning that the alternative is worse than the thing you want to avoid, so you make yourself do it. You choose.
This is the key to making any changes. We typically don’t make a change until the discomfort of what we’re doing is worse than making the effort to change. We resist change until we can’t stand it anymore, then we change. But just like resisting, we can choose to make a change before we’re in misery or pain, but we have to shift our mindset to one of awareness and responsibility. No one can make us do anything. It’s always our choice and we are responsible for making that choice.
Mindfulness includes allowing and accepting. Allowing for opportunities or experiences to present themselves without judgment. Accepting that we’ve made a choice to be somewhere or to do something, and that we’re responsible for that choice. We were introduced to the concept of resistance a few weeks ago on this podcast and hopefully, you started paying more attention to resistance. This week, try to notice what you resist at a deeper level. Keep in mind that what you resist, persists. That report you’re procrastinating writing, which is resistance, doesn’t go away. The nagging and perhaps even dread in your mind just gets stronger, affecting your ability to enjoy anything else. Until you stop resisting and get the report done, that is. Consider that as you notice what you resist. When you recognize resistance, try deep breathing while you think about what you’re resisting.
Consider the consequences you’re avoiding by making the choices you’re making. See if you’re ready to let that resistance go. Make a choice to spend your internal time wisely, so that it best serves you and allows you to enjoy the time you’re spending.