It has been said that a problem is like a muddy pool of water, the more you stir it in your mind, the more cloudy it becomes.
That sounds true.
How many times have you turned around at night thinking about a difficulty in your life only to wake up the next day feeling even more agitated, tired, and stressed?
How many times have you had a brief conflict with someone that may have lasted for minutes, just to keep playing it in your mind for days, weeks, or even months, causing you constant anxiety or distress?
And how many times have you not really been present at a party, at the table, or at work because a problem weighed you down mentally?
Recognize the “problematic mind” for what it is
This tendency to think about problems is due to the way our minds have evolved over the last 200,000 years. You see, the human mind is a machine for solving problems.
Detects hazards, analyzes situations, predicts results, and makes plans. That’s what’s good. This is what helped our ancestors stay alive in a difficult and dangerous world.
But the same skills that led us to our success and survival as a species now also lead to some of our greatest inner struggles.
Life is not a problem to be solved, it is an experience to be lived
The challenge is that our problem-solving skills work incredibly well when it comes to logical tasks in the outside world, but when those same logical skills escape us and go back inside, all it can become a problem, something that is not good enough, that is not how it should be, something that needs to be fixed, improved, changed.
Your job, your finances, your thighs, your relationship, your neighbor’s lawn, your child’s life choices. The mind may be caught in this fixation by problems as you end up relating yourself as if it were a problem that needs to be fixed and you never let yourself be. It’s exhausting and sucks the joy of life (it’s been there).
And you can also end up relating your life as if it were a problem to be solved … instead of an experience to live.
It causes a lot of constriction and tension in the mind when we never just let ourselves be, when we never relax and let life be.
Office hours: a mindfulness practice to regain peace of mind
So here I will offer you a little metaphor. University professors work office hours once or twice a week. They don’t give their students access 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, because if they did, it would be totally overwhelming and debilitating. They could never do any other job.
Now, in the same way, if we give our worries and problems access to our care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it will be just as debilitating and destructive. We can’t focus properly and we can’t relax and enjoy our lives.
Choose constructive problem solving over rumination and stress
What if, like those teachers, we set up office hours to solve problems? What if we make a deal with ourselves to set aside a short time each day or week to do some focused thinking and solve problems constructively?
After office hours we let it go.
If we can do that, then whenever we start ruminating or worrying outside of “office hours” we can give ourselves permission to leave it for now knowing that we already dealt with it yesterday or that there is a time and a designated space to deal with later today or tomorrow.
This week’s invitation: let go of the problem, lower your stress
I invite you to occupy the office hours for the rest of this week and see how you are doing. Remember, every time you find yourself ruminating on a problem, just remember to go back to office hours, when you set aside deliberate time to solve your challenges in a deliberate and thoughtful way.
By practicing office hours like this, you can let go of the “problematic mind,” let go of struggle and stress, and find more joy, clarity, and peace of mind in everyday life. You can also face life’s challenges in a more focused, calm, and effective way.
I wish you a wonderful practice with this and of course feel free to ask questions in the comments section below.
PD You can get all my meditations, talks, courses and daily mindfulness coaching at Mindfulness.com. Joining it is free, so come and try it today.
Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission.