By Dr. Alexis Emich
A few weeks ago, eight words profoundly impacted me. Eight words yes that is it. Quite frankly, the power came from just four words, “Dying old no guarantee”.
Hearing the words I was reminded of the idea in psychology that people often prolong living the life they want because they believe, often subconsciously, that there will always be more time. Paralyzed by this myth of time, we hold off pursuing something new, wait to have an important conversation, and delay our next adventure. Our life passes and we do not fully live.
Of course I intellectually understand this concept, however emotionally connecting with it is another story. Yet that is exactly what happened this time around. I felt the words deeply within my skin. Even now as I sit to write, my breath shortens, heart pounds, vision fades, and mind swirls. It is almost like a shot from a movie where my life’s past and future simultaneously flash on the screen.
So time both moves and ends, yet both are out of our control. How then are we to live with some sense of comfort and fulfillment? Try following these steps as a start in challenging the myth of time:
(1) Hit Pause – Slow Down
Literally press your life’s pause button, at least long enough to think through the following steps with your full presence. Work to stop wishing experiences (and the accompanying time) away. Instead, embrace it with a present focus. All too often we spend our time living in the past, recounting experiences, or living in the future, assuming what lies ahead. It is a fact that in this moment we cannot change the past nor control the future. All we have is this very moment. Stop long enough to contemplate living the life you want to live.
(2) Breathe – Deeply (& Out of your Nose!)
Understandably all of this focus on time can be distressing and overwhelming. Possibly your breath swallows and shortens. Take a minute to breathe slowly and deeply in and out of your nose. Provide your brain with fresh oxygen, while calming your heart and lungs. A deep breathing strategy that can ease relaxation to allow your mind, body, and spirit further clarity and energy to proceed is called Name Breathing. Simply break down the letters of your name and alternate staying them in your mind as you slowly breathe in and out. For example, “Alexis: Breathe in A, Breath out L, Breathe in E, Breathe out X, Breathe in I, Breath out S”); Repeat for at least four deep breathes.
(3) Connect With Your Values
Knowing that the time left in life is unknown, you may begin to question your meaning and purpose. Who am I? Who do I want to be? What is important to me? What do I want to stand for? What kind of life do I want to live? Such questions often trigger a deeper exploration of your values; values by definition activities that give life meaning rather than concrete goals (e.g., getting that job). To challenge the myth of time and refocus on creating more meaning in your life, begin to identify and connect with your values. Possible values include accountability, balance, boldness, compassion, curiosity, discipline, health, humility, joy, love, openness, and practicality. Write yours down! Know that your values are unique to you. *
(4) Commit Yourself to You
Today and each day forward commit yourself to you. When needed, hit pause, slow down. Pour your life back into you. Recognize that in order to be your most treasured self, for both you and others, you must start by connecting with you. Start one day at a time. Make a short-term commitment to yourself leaving room to reevaluate. Write a basic contract of values seen and signed only by you. Schedule five-minute daily check-ins to hold yourself accountable (try using the alarm or reminder feature on your phone). Stick a note with a positive “you-centric” message to your mirror; a personal favorite, “Pour Life In”. Remember the value you hold in your life. Commit to you.
When you fall prey to the myth of time and stagnation takes hold, remind yourself that doing something new or different typically does not come easily or without effort. Be gentle with yourself as you allow time and space to practice again and again. Come back to this list – Pause, Breathe, Connect, Commit. Maybe even try on a positive mantra to keep you going, “it may be challenging and I got this!”
Oh, and for those curious, the full eight words that had so much impact weeks ago, “dying of old age is not a guarantee”. Take just four or the whole eight, either way death is inevitable. What is not inevitable is what you chose to do until then.
* For further information on value-based work, please explore Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).