Can You Give Yourself a Break?


February 7, 2019

navigating change |

By eM Life Teacher Mike Engle

Life is Unexpected

Think about those times when things don’t go as planned.  Maybe you plan a big, meaningful event, perhaps a gathering or a presentation, and no matter how many times you rehearse or prepare something still goes wrong. Have you ever stood in front of a group of coworkers and found your presentation falls flat? Perhaps the line that you thought would get a big reaction draws blank stares instead? Sometimes it seems that the more we get out of our ordinary routines the more chance there is that things don’t go as planned.  Consider traveling: flights get delayed, checked bags get lost and don’t arrive until the end of the trip, food poisoning forces us into bed instead of lounging on the beach.  How do you react when things don’t go the way you thought they would or wanted them to? Do you get stuck blaming yourself? Do you blame others?

When Things Don’t go as Planned

So many of our experiences in our lives are out of our control.  With the world constantly changing it’s impossible for us to guarantee our way all the time, and we need to have the flexibility of mind to adapt to a changing world.  The problem is that our minds often tense up when things go awry.  We enter into some internal conflict, the mind gets blocked, and we judge ourselves for not doing better.  If we had just prepared and rehearsed more for our presentation we wouldn’t have botched the most important part; if we had just researched a better restaurant we wouldn’t have gotten food poisoning; if we had just carried on our bags we wouldn’t have to waste half our vacation trying to resolve lost bag issues.  Or perhaps the mind judges and blames others, taking the responsibility from ourselves so that we feel better but at the same time keeping us stuck in the situation. In fact, what we need is a mind that can let go of our stories and judgments of ourselves and others and instead be creative about how to move forward.  We need a mind that accepts how things are instead of pushing against reality in a way that digs us into more of a hole, a mind that creatively finds solutions and relates to the world in a way that actually benefits us.

This is why our mindfulness practice can be so helpful.  When we practice we’re not only developing the skill of being able to let go of distraction and direct our attention, we’re also cultivating attitudes of mind that change the way we relate to our experiences.  Attitudes like non-judging, patience, letting go, and acceptance slowly take root as we intentionally bring them to mind again and again during our practice.  We start to change the way we relate to the experiences that come up as we sit, both the good and the bad.  We become more patient with our wild thoughts and scattered mind.  Slowly, slowly we begin to treat ourselves and our experiences with a flavor of acceptance and kindness.  This gentleness is a way of loving ourselves and the world we encounter, and the more we train the more it flourishes, changing the way we relate to ourselves and others.

Although it might seem easy to do this when things are going the way we want, the truth is that we usually drop into our autopilot habitual reactions when the going gets tough and the clarity and openness that we might have in our good moments disappears.

Overcoming Intrusive Thought Patterns

The mind that judges and blames ourselves and others is a habitual pattern that we’ve developed over the years that’s quick to take over when we have a difficult moment.  That’s why it’s so important to cultivate beneficial habits in our mindfulness practice on a regular basis.  Of course, things aren’t always feel-good-easy when we sit down to practice mindfulness, but slowly we develop the capacity to train our attention even when things are a bit rocky.  This training eventually gives us the ability to apply those same skills in challenging circumstances instead of falling back into a habitual reaction that doesn’t serve us.  In this way, we begin to depend on our awareness to cut through this blaming and judging mind when life throws our plans to the wind.  Through training, we can recognize when the mind is taking us down the rabbit hole and shift our attitude to one of patience, acceptance, and kindness to ourselves. We can develop an attitude that is kind to ourselves even when things don’t go as planned, an attitude that can take a hit and without getting stuck there see a way to move forward.  We might even find that we can smile when we mess up instead of condemning ourselves.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could give ourselves a break?

Give Yourself a Break

Learn how mindfulness practice and learning how to meditate can help you see beyond internal conflict and intrusive thought patterns. Develop more awareness, focus, and ease so you can mindfully overcome the intrusive thoughts that arise when things don’t go as planned. Sign up for eM Life and gain access to expert instructors, a community of support, and practical life skills. Already have an account? Sign in.

About the Author

Mike has been passionate about training his mind since he was first exposed to mindfulness at the age of 16. Since then, his desire to understand and work with his mind has led him to earn degrees in Psychology and Philosophy, to research attention training in monastic education in Nepal, and to sit four and a half years in intensive solitary retreat. After finishing his retreat Mike began to teach mindfulness to others, and after starting his own family he became interested in bringing the benefits of mindfulness to parents, children, and families. He currently lives in Barcelona with his wife and sons where he spends his time teaching mindfulness, coaching, and working in the field of Tibetan translation. Mike has worked as an eM Life instructor since 2017.