How can I stop being serious?

A Harvard professor reveals a strategy for how you can finally stop brooding

Flickr / Icare GirardHave you ever felt that you couldn't turn off your brain? Do you worry about worrying too much?

In challenging times, we all struggle with it.

But there is a way we can manage these worries without the need of a straitjacket or alcohol.

The answer is several thousand years old - but only now has science been able to substantiate these ancient ideas. You have probably heard of it: mindfulness.

The term is currently on everyone's lips. But no one has ever bothered to explain what it is and how to do it.

We're going to change that now.

You are not your thoughts

What is mindfulness In his book Mindfulness as a Path, Ronald Siegel, an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, gives good answers to this question.

Here is an excerpt from "Mindfulness as a Way":

One definition of "mindfulness" that my colleagues and I find helpful is the conscious perception of current experiences and their acceptance.

Now you could say: I am aware of myself, am present, and I accept that.

I would answer: No, you are not.

You are not aware of yourself because you are looking at your smartphone.

You are not present because you are concerned about the future.

You don't accept things, you get mad at traffic because the world doesn't correspond to the ideas in your head, that is, “how it should be”.

Very often we hold onto the ideas in our head.

We don't let the world in. We only listen to the stories we tell ourselves about the world. Instead of paying attention to the life around us, we trust the endless succession of thoughts flashing through our minds.

One of the fundamental teachings of mindfulness is that we pay far too much attention to our thoughts. We always think that our thoughts must have some meaning. In fact, we believe that we are our thoughts and vice versa.

This is one of the reasons we worry too much and have so many negative feelings - because we consider our thoughts about the world to be far more important than the world itself.

Another excerpt from "Mindfulness as a Way":

Mindfulness exercises reveal all kinds of insights into the way the mind works. Perhaps the hardest thing to grasp is that thoughts are not reality. We are so used to following a common thread in our life and believing in our story that it can be very challenging to take a different point of view.

You know as well as I do that all kinds of ridiculous thoughts are floating around in your head. Sometimes you know that you can't trust them. When you're sick, drunk, tired, or angry, you don't take your thoughts so seriously.

Mindfulness means going one step further because you always have crazy or silly thoughts. These can make you anxious and pull you down.

The well-known psychologist Albert Ellis said that we should deal with our irrational thoughts. Good advice, but it can be difficult at times. Because you have to be extremely rational for this to work.

And sometimes dealing with these thoughts can be like a “Chinese finger trap” - the more you resist, the more you get caught up in it.

So what can you do about it?

Observed. Do not judge.

Sometimes such worrying thoughts cannot be dealt with. Mindfulness then advises you: let them go.

Here is another excerpt from "Mindfulness as a Way":

Mindfulness practices help us break out of the trap of our counterproductive thoughts by learning how to let them go.

You cannot turn off your brain. Even if you have been meditating for years, you cannot completely empty your head. But one can see these annoying thoughts, recognize them, but not get lost in them and believe them.

Flickr / Pawel Maryanov

In "Mindfulness as a Way" it says:

Remember, this exercise is not about clearing your thoughts or breaking away from negative feelings. Nor is it about running away from life's problems, being free of pain, or attaining never-ending bliss. Mindfulness exercises are about accepting your experiences as they are - and sometimes what is right now can be uncomfortable in that moment. We usually try to feel better by lessening the intensity of painful experiences. In mindfulness exercises, on the other hand, we work to increase our ability to accept and endure them.

Scientific research has shown that this really works. People feel better and more engaged after practicing mindfulness exercises for eight weeks.

Here is another excerpt from "Mindfulness as a Way":

Dr. Davidson and Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn selected a couple of pressured bio-tech company workers and taught mindfulness meditation to half of them. This happened three hours a week for eight weeks. Then they compared this group with the other colleagues who had not done any exercises. On average, all workers had shown a tendency to use the right prefrontal cortex before starting meditation. After eight weeks of training, however, the meditation group showed more activity on the left side than the non-meditators. The meditators also reported that their mood had improved and that they were more committed to their tasks.

I know, I know, this is easier said than done.

Ignore your own thoughts? Just let it flow by? That sounds great, but how the hell do you do that? Especially when it comes to particularly strong feelings such as worry?

The key to success is paying attention. Yes, the very thing that many of us don't seem to have anymore.

But you can get them back

Don't be distracted. Dive in.

I've written before about the importance of attention to happiness. One of the most important exercises for mindfulness is meditation. This improves alertness, as scientific studies have shown.

I am a great advocate of meditation, even though it is often difficult and time consuming. Is there any other way? Yes there is.

The next time you worry, remember that your thoughts are not real. Life is real

Focus on your senses and on the world around you. (No, not on your smartphone.)

How does the cup of coffee smell? Have you even noticed the people around you?

Don't be distracted. Immerse yourself in the world around you.

In "Mindfulness as a Way" it says:

The mindfulness exercise approach teaches people with a certain emphasis not to take every thought too seriously, but rather to give oneself to one's senses in the here and now. Instead of thinking about engaging in the next conversation, you can focus your attention on the impressions and sounds that you are experiencing while standing in line, buying a coffee, or strolling down the street. Instead of being frustrated because the train is late, you can discreetly observe the other passengers, admire the architecture of the station or devote yourself to the sensations of your body while you sit and wait. There's always something interesting to do - just see what's happening right now.

I know what some of you are thinking now: worry is coming back. The smell of the coffee didn’t drive her away.

No problem. We have tools for that.

Noticing and labeling

Instead of ducking, arguing, or distracting yourself, all of which will lead you to keep these thoughts within you, just acknowledge them. Notice them.

You do not prevent your thoughts, you acknowledge them, and then you can return your attention to your senses. On your breath. On the chair you're sitting on. To the person sitting next to you.

You should consciously label thoughts that continue to spin in your heads like a broken record. Siegel suggests giving them a fun and trivial name. Oh, the record “this won't work” is already playing in my head again.

Here is another excerpt from "Mindfulness as a Way":

When the thoughts return, silently name them before letting go. You don't need many categories. You can use labels like “plan”, “doubt” and “judge” or something like “fantasize”, “be obsessed” and “criticize”. The names are not important. It is important that you use them so as not to get caught in endless loops. Once you've put a thought into a category, you can redirect your attention entirely to yourself. If you catch yourself repeatedly distracting your attention from certain stories, give them funny names. Give your biggest hits names like “I screwed it up again” or “I don't get any respect” or “I never get what I want” and so on.

Sounds like weird hippie bullshit? You know the worries that pull you down and make you sad?

One study found that mindfulness therapies were just as effective as antidepressants. In fact, many who have practiced them regularly have been able to stop their medication afterwards.

Here is another excerpt from "Mindfulness as a Way":

In another recently published study, mindfulness therapies were recognized as being as effective as antidepressants in preventing depression from relapsing. This also enabled the drug to be discontinued.

Let's put that into a simple system that you can use.


Here's how you can stop worrying and be mindful:

  1. You are not your thoughts. Sometimes these are just ridiculous. Just because you thought something doesn't mean it's true.
  2. Do not judge. Acknowledge the thoughts and let them go. Don't fight with them.
  3. Don't be distracted. Dive in. Don't check your email for the 400th time. Participate in the world around you. Focus on your senses. This is real. Your thoughts and stories that you tell yourselves about the world are not.
  4. Notice and indicate intrusive thoughts. Yes, the thoughts strike back. Acknowledge them. Give the intrusive thoughts funny names.
  5. Come back to what your senses are telling you. Really pay attention to the world around you.

And when I say that you should take care of the world around you, I mean not just things, but people as well.

What is the death of many relationships? "You didn't pay any more attention to me. "

When we make an effort to let go of the thoughts in our head and embrace the world around us, we can focus more on the people we love.

As mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn points out, “mind” and “heart” are the same word in some Asian languages.

Mindfulness is not a cold and clinical process. It can also be translated as "cordiality".

Let the thoughts flow by and turn to the people you love.