Friday, 27 May 2016

How to Stop Living on Autopilot and Make Life More Exciting

Senior couple standing by their vintage red car

Senior couple standing by their vintage red car

“If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.” ~Stephen Hunt

Isn’t it funny how metaphors for life exist in all of our everyday experiences?

I found myself on a mountain the other day (no, that’s not the metaphor), where the route through the particularly rocky bits was marked with cairns. (For those non-mountain runners, a cairn is a man-made pile of little rocks indicating the pathway.)

Even though I was following a fellow runner, I liked to lag behind to enjoy the solitude and absorb the surrounding energy of nature. That’s the hippie in me.

There were a few times when I found myself gazing around, feeling lost, hands on hips, looking for those all-important cairns.

I yelled, “Where’s the path?” to my patient partner far up ahead, who replied, “You’re always looking for the path! Just come straight up!”

And there it is… my metaphor!

My personal epiphany was that in my life, I’ve always looked for that proverbial path. The straight and narrow. The safe way. The known route traversed by many. Need I go on?

Looking for the known path narrowed my focus to the immediate surroundings. It kept my world and experience small.

Had I forged straight up the mountainside, I would have had to navigate through unknown territory on high alert, and with extreme attention and interest. I would have seen different views and experienced a sense of accomplishment and exhilaration.

Yet, I followed the path.

How often do we do the same in life?

Ten years ago I ricocheted in and out of a volatile, toxic relationship.

Each time I left I would vow to have a clean break and move on. Yet many times (way too many times) I found myself back in this destructive relationship simply because it seemed easier than finding the courage to venture into something new.

I felt comfortable and safe, as I knew what I was getting. It didn’t matter that I was unhappy; it was the known path.

We can get from A to B on the known, safe, predictable route, or we can explore a new route and open ourselves to new experiences, adventure, and opportunities.

So where do we start?

Acknowledge the Mundane

Become aware of your daily routines and how they make you feel.

Start noticing those things you do on automatic pilot, things as simple as your grooming routines. Do you brush your teeth the same way every day? How about what you have for breakfast and lunch? Do you make the same thing because it’s easier and quicker?

And what do you feel when you’re doing these things? I’m guessing very little.

Identify the New Possibilities

Look at ways to do things differently, yet achieve the same (or better) results.

Ever tried brushing your teeth with the other hand? Trust me, it’s more of a challenge than you think. (And it’ll make you laugh!)

How about a completely new flavor of coffee? Or tea?

Or step it up: try yoga in the park instead of the monotony of the gym.

A spontaneous road trip somewhere new instead of yet another weekend of Netflix.

The options are endless. Let your imagination lead..

Plot a New Course for Excitement

Decide how you’re going to forge new “paths” into your current everyday existence.

Start with small steps and jot down a few things you can do differently every day.

Take a different route to work or try a completely new recipe for dinner.

Try soya milk. Or almond milk. You get the picture.

Again, observe your feelings as you try new things. Any intrigue? Fascination? At least a bit of interest?

The Benefits of Switching Things Up

And now the good bit: You get to reap amazing benefits when you make changes.

It encourages mindfulness.

You’re more present, which means your life experience becomes richer and more relevant.

If I run the same route every day, I fall into autopilot and lose myself in my head. I don’t notice my surroundings at all.

In today’s chaotic existence it’s not unusual to spend most of our conscious day either looping helplessly in thoughts of the past or fretting aimlessly in thoughts about the future. Both are essentially useless and serve only to create (mostly) bad feelings.

Being present is calm, interesting, and open.

It fosters a sense of accomplishment.

Can you imagine that sense of exhilaration inspired by something new and exciting?

Go on—think of the last time you felt exhilarated by achieving a new goal. Can you?

I remember when I completed my first ultra trailrun. I was completely undertrained, yet managed to drag myself through 80kms of mountains only to finish at the back of the field.

Yet I was completely exhilarated! I’ve never felt more alive and able to conquer the world.

Absolutely anything has become possible to me as a result of that achievement. I was Super Woman! (My version, at least.)

I know, it’s a big example, but the message here is to seek out that sense of accomplishment. Daily.

Smaller goals, more regularly.

It inspires a sense of adventure.

When you try something new, there are no habits and fewer rules in how you approach it. The task becomes an avenue of adventure. It’s like a blank slate. Perfect!

When we repeat things over and over again, it’s human nature to start comparing ourselves.

If I run the same route every day, I always start comparing my daily performance.

Was I as quick as yesterday? Do I feel as strong?

Unfortunately, this generally comes with a hefty helping of self-judgement. Not cool.

If I’m slower I feel despondent. Down. Flat.

Who needs that? Really?

Varying my routes (and leaving my watch at home) leave me interested and open. Far better.

Leaping into the unknown can be scary, but it can also be exciting!

Which leads right to the next point…

We get to overcome our fears.

Most of us follow the same paths because they’re safe. By diverting ourselves into the unknown, we’re facing our fears and challenging ourselves to be more courageous.

I once entered a trail running event that scoured three peaks of a glorious mountain—at night!

That in itself is a challenge, but add awful weather (gale force wind and horizontal rain) to the mix, and it becomes almost ridiculous!

Yet I sucked it up and forged forward. Six exhilarating hours of being battered by the elements (did I mention it was dark?), with all my senses on extreme high alert, was nothing less than exhausting. But I cannot begin to describe the multitude of feelings I felt when I finished.

Stimulated, rejuvenated, accomplished, simply brilliant!

And if I can do that, what is there that I can’t do?

Who’s afraid of the dark now?

Our world expands.

We know there’s no growth without expansion. When we look for new options we have no choice but to grow.

To say that my little adventures into the mountains have had a domino effect on the rest of my life would be an understatement.

Over the last five years I’ve made more changes and taken more risks than I would ever have imagined! Some worked out fantastically and some were more challenging, yet each time I’ve stepped onto a new path my world has expanded. Literally and figuratively!

I’ve changed careers, relationships, and cities. In that order.

It was scary, risky, and some would say stupid. Yet I feel great! And that’s just the beginning.

Ultimately, the question remains: Why waste time doing something uninspiring? Life is simply too precious not to feel good feelings as often as we can.

Are we actually aware of how much of our day falls into the category of the mundane?

It’s easy to change.

And it can be fun!

Just “get off the path.”

Profile photo of Jacky Exton

About Jacky Exton

Jacky helps people break away from the mundane and embrace living lavishly! She’s an avid trailrunner and yoga enthusiast with a love for everything authentic. You can read more of her musings or enlist her help at www.jackyexton.com.

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