Drop and Give me 20


Choices (Photo credit: kaili willows)

There are times when my mind is spinning like the little browser wheel on a page that never loads. I feel like I’m in an endless loop of indecision. It’s so uncomfortable being on the cusp of a resolution that even making a bad choice can feel preferable.

But, I can’t pull the trigger.

I’m afraid to make any choice at all. I dither on options until, like the crest of a wave, I break through and choose anything simply to relieve the tension.

This isn’t mindful decision making. It doesn’t matter whether the problem I’m trying to solve is large or small. It’s the cumulative effect of these decisions. And, arguably, more important, it’s an unhealthy thinking pattern.

Fear-based resolutions are not how I want to determine the direction of my life. It’s not something I wish to model for my kids, either. What I do want for myself and for my kids are tools to handle the stress of decision-making.

Infinite Loop

Infinite Loop (Photo credit: Franco

I subscribe to the Ms. Frizzle school of decision-making: “Get messy! Make mistakes!” The truth is that my fear of making a decision is not about making a mistake. My fear comes from making a choice that does not reflect who I really am in that moment. By in that moment, I mean, fully present in time. Then there is no possibility of choosing something that false. (according to mindful living, being entirely present in the moment also eliminates choice. There is only one path and it is reality pf choice. But that can be a little esoteric to consistently reach for when your stress is rising.)

In other moments in time, things may be a little different. But, there is always a core thread running through the center that can be felt when I’m fully present.

I want a clear head and heart so that I can feel, no matter the outcome of my choice, that I chose from what was true for me at that time.

To get there when you’re not on the horns of a dilemma, of course, there’s meditation and mindfulness practice. This situation is exactly what all of that practicing is for. You have trained the mind just like you train your muscles to slip into clarity.

But, for whatever reason, when you can’t access mindfulness techniques. There is a shortcut to use in the moment. It’s an off the mat mindfulness tool that anyone can use no matter how stressed out to consult with their inner self and make a calm decision.

When your head is spinning with possibilities and you can’t think for all the chaos, try the following:

  1. Close your eyes, if possible, or soften your gaze.
  2. Check in with the breath. This means notice it, but don’t try to change it. Is it fast or slow? Is it deep or shallow? Is the inhale or the exhale longer?
  3. Ask yourself the question specifically and in a yes or no form.
  4. Take one inhale and exhale.
  5. Counting down from 20 to 1, mentally say a number to yourself on every inhale, repeating it again on the exhale. If you’re more visual, picture the each number on the stairs of a staircase and visualize yourself stepping onto and off of the numbers for each breath cycle. If you lose count or your mind wanders, that’s no problem, take your best guess where you were and resume from that number. This can happen more than once on the countdown. Don’t let it fluster you. Notice it, let it go, and approximate where you were then begin. You’d be surprised how difficult or easy it can be to count backwards. This is simply a reflection of the turbulence of your mind before this exercise.
  6. Once you reach the last exhale at the number 1, ask yourself the same question again. There are several possibilities that may arise here:
  1. The first yes or no that pops into your head is your answer. Go with it.
  2. You realize that you don’t need to decide. That the question will resolve on your own if you relinquish control.
  3. You realize that your question wasn’t specific enough and you need to ask again, either now or at a later time. Feel free to repeat this exercise to get answers to more specific questions.
  4. Your mind begins to spin again before you can get an answer. Then perhaps doing 20 breaths and asking if now is the time to make the decision is the question you need to ask first.

Now, you have two options before reading further. Ask yourself if reading about why this technique works would help you use it or if it would work better for you as it is, without knowing why. Both are valid choices, but stop now if you choose the latter.

Clinical research shows Buddhist mindfulness t...

Clinical research shows Buddhist mindfulness techniques can help alleviate anxiety , stress , and depression (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This technique works because it combines single-pointed attention and breathwork. Single-pointed attention is a mindfulness meditation technique that trains the mind to focus on one thing, ignoring everything else. The more often it is practiced, the easier it becomes to not get caught up in trains of thought or to jump off of them more easily.

Breathwork is another technique that not only focuses the mind, but also stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system to calm the entire body. Even without conscious control of the breath, the simple act of noticing it or utilizing it as in the counting exercise above will slow the entire breath cycle, which reinforces the body’s response to be calm after emotional stress.

Single-point focus and breathwork during decision-making can become the default reaction for the body over time when stress arises. Instead of spinning, the brain will learn to enjoy calmness like slipping on a pair of comfortable slippers.


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Post for NaBloPoMo
(Since I’m writing most of these late at night, in bed, while tandem nursing twins, I’m choosing to concentrate on writing rather than formatting, proof-reading, researching or editing as much as I’d like. Please forgive the extra typos and non-nonsensical grammar. Thank you.)

NaBloPoMo November 2013

12 thoughts on “Drop and Give me 20

  1. Pingback: Mind Full of Creativity | TouchstoneZ

  2. Oh, I love this! I have the same trouble sometimes with making decisions, and I could really use something like this to focus my attention on the present and be able to make a mindful choice (instead of defaulting). Pinning for later!

    • Thank you, Amy. I have to say, it has been a rough week around here between the anger while sick and today the weepies while well! I’ve been stretched thin and avoiding decisions. Between your HALT-TOT & my 20, Ive been able to stay in the peaceful zone.

  3. I’m going to encourage my daughter to try this. She’s having trouble with a decision about a homeschooling co-op this winter, and I think a little calm might really help her. (At the very least, doing the practice with her might help me feel less stressed about her indecision.)

    • CJ, I’m sorry to hear that you are both having some stress around the coop. We’re experiencing something similar here and I’m struggling to find family harmony around it. You know your daughter best. Focusing on counting backward from 20 may be too much focus for a child (it can be difficult for an adult!) so if you don’t mind some ideas that may support you in creating something that works for her, perhaps singing the numbers, counting down from 5 or trying the chakra sounds along with placing hands on each area may work well? As long as it’s enjoyable for her and doesn’t cause more stress.

      • Thanks for the suggestions. I freely modify all things of this type (and most other things as well), so I’m very open to kid-friendly changes. I want to try and get the kids into the habit of alleviating their anxiety through mindfulness. That way, they’ll have a 30(+)-year jump on their mom with this kind of practice.

  4. I really hope WP lets me make this comment. I LOVE this post! Just what I need to read this morning. Sometimes I make decisions based on fear or out of anger and I’ve noticed when I relax my thinking is so much more clear. Then I’m able to make the best decision. It’s not always the easiest one to make, but I’m able to make them from a better place.

I love comments and try to reply to each one. I look forward to connecting with you. Namaste

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