You wake up to the sound of an alarm, press “sleep” three times, and then begrudgingly roll out of bed to execute your daily morning routine: shower, brush teeth, get dressed. You rush out the door and before putting the car in drive, you connect your iPhone and press play. You take the same mindless route while music acts as background noise. Once you arrive at work it is business as usual. You interact with your co-workers on a surface level and count down the hours until the day is over. On the way home, you grab dinner at the nearest drive through, barely glance at the window attendant, and then zone out in front of a screen until bedtime. The day slips away and you drift off to sleep having never emerged from the haze of day-to-day monotony, missing out on your need for genuine human interaction and inner connectivity.
This daily schedule is becoming increasingly more common as our society places its focus on being busy rather than practicing presence. Are you are passing through your life more like a machine than a human being? When is the last time you slowed down enough to look someone in the eye, learn their name, say thank you? If your answer isn’t “today”, perhaps it’s time to become re-connected with yourself and with the world around you.
Forcing yourself to slow down and become grounded sounds simple enough, right? Not quite. There’s no jumping to the finish line when it comes to experiencing true human connection. In order to feel fully in sync with the world and those around you, you first must find that harmony within yourself. According to psychotherapist Jennifer Kogan, LICSW, “We need to be grounded in who we are before we can have healthy relationships with others.”
So how do we become more grounded in our minds and bodies while living in a world where we are bombarded with messages to fill our schedules, achieve maximum productivity, and use human interaction as a tool for self-advancement? While this is a life-long practice that takes continual awareness and effort, there are many simple ways to encourage self-connection on a daily basis. Work these five practices into your go-go-go schedule in order to bring yourself back down to earth, re-connect, and actively participate in your life.
Establish a Morning Routine. Set a goal for a realistic time to go to bed and wake up. Abide by this every day! Yes, even on the weekends. The quiet hours of the morning are ideal for practicing a new ritual whether it be meditation, journaling, or preparing a healthy breakfast. This may be as easy as committing to hit the hay at a reasonable time and setting your alarm for 15 minutes earlier, which is certainly a fair trade for personal connection!
Commute in Silence Once a Day. When is the last time you drove to work or rode the subway without the comfort of music or a podcast? Silence can make many of us feel uncomfortable or on edge. Getting used to being alone with our thoughts requires patience and practice, but it is worth the effort. Not only does silence provide a space for deeper reflection and connection, studies also show that it can improve our overall efficiency by training our brains to focus on a single task, ultimately resulting in more spare time and a slower lifestyle. In Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csiksentmihalyi writes, “unless one learns to tolerate and even enjoy being alone, it is very difficult to accomplish any task that requires undivided concentration.” So next time you are about to press play, think twice and choose to stay in silence.
Breathe. Sure, our bodies naturally take care of this essential task for us but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t intentionally participate from time to time. In order to become fully present in our lives, a great place to begin is by engaging in a fundamental activity that keeps us alive: our breath. This is a tool we can practice throughout the day as it only requires a moment or two. First, bring your awareness to your breathing and remain present as you inhale. Experience the way the breath feels as it enters your nose, fills your lungs, and expands your belly. Then observe the sensations as you exhale. Repeat as many times as you’d like.
Move Your Body. It’s easy to become so wrapped up in being on the move, that we forget to actually move. In modern society, it is possible to go weeks, months, or even years without giving our bodies what they needs at a physiological level! By nature, our bodies are meant to be active, and by sitting behind a screen in favor of getting our blood flowing we are denying ourselves our full potential for connection. Maintaining a strong brain-body connection is essential to personal groundedness and movement is a key component in establishing this inner harmony. “There are clear differences in brain health in fit, older adults compared with their more sedentary counterparts. And these differences carry consequences for thinking and reasoning as well as for memory”, stated Sian Beilock, a professor in the Department of Psychology at The University of Chicago. Don’t be sedentary! Carve out time in your day to go for a hike, practice yoga, walk instead of drive, take the stairs, do a 15-minute workout, or even dance in the living room. When it comes to establishing a solid mind-body connection, no activity is too small – you can start anywhere!
Acknowledge and Accept Your Feelings. To become truly connected, we must first become acquainted with our emotions. Practicing this is as simple as naming a feeling when it arises. If you can speak the word for what you are experiencing, you are a step closer to becoming one with yourself. Once you are familiar with your emotions, the next step is to accept and observe what you are thinking and feeling. Many of us jump right to judging ourselves for what we are feeling when it is much more beneficial to simply notice what we are feeling. Our emotions are not something we ought to “fix” but rather to witness. They exist in order to tell us something and it is our job to listen, not critique! This takes courage as we frequently experience difficult and painful emotions but by conquering our fear we will learn new compassion for ourselves which, with enough practice, will result in a greater compassion for others and our world.