Have you ever had days where life seems to be spinning out of control? One thing after another keeps happening--you can’t find your keys and you’re late for an important meeting, you have another argument with your spouse, and while you thought your checking account was ok until pay day, your account has over drafted. These are the shower day, and on days like these, it’s easy to become irritable and stressed.
Sometimes, rather than having just a bad day, you find yourself smack in the middle of a storm. During storms, life’s stressors are more severe such as—a recent loss—a job, a partner, a loved one, financial troubles, or health concerns. When this happens, it’s easy to become anxious, depressed, or both!
While you can’t always control the weather, by skillfully managing your inner world, you can dramatically influence how you feel in a positive way.
Inner world? What’s that?
Your inner world is what I refer to as your private experiences. These are your perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. Much of what happens in your inner world is significantly influenced by what is happening in your outer world. Negative experiences typically lead to negative thoughts, which generate negative feelings, and sometimes lead to negative behaviors.
For instance, using the scenario above:
Negative experience: Lost keys -> Negative thought: I’m going to be late for the meeting -> Negative feeling: Anger, anxiety, frustration -> Negative behavior: snap at spouse
Again, we can’t always control outer experiences, but by managing your inner world during stressful times, you can greatly reduce your suffering and even find peace.
So how do you begin the practice of managing your inner world?
Below are three suggestions for working with your inner world in order to create a sense of calm and peace to weather life’s showers and storms.
1. Practice Tuning In to Your Inner World
Become intimately familiar with your thoughts, feelings, and automatic behaviors. When something negative happens, before reacting, ask yourself the following:
- What am I thinking right now?
- What feelings am I experiencing right now?
- What do I automatically want to do right now?
By repeating this process frequently, you will begin to recognize common patterns and themes where you can begin to explore, understand, and change what is no longer helpful to you.
2. Practice Daily Peace Pauses
Several times a day, conduct frequent check-ins to see how you are feeling, positive, negative, or neutral, in any given moment. To check in:
- Slow down, focus your attention inward
- Notice any thoughts, feelings, or body sensations
- Try not to judge what is going on, but simply observe it
- Practice deep, relaxing breathing. Try breathing in slowly to the count of five and breathing out slowly to the count of five for six cycles.
Daily peace pauses will not only help you get to know your inner landscape better in a more holistic way, but provide you the opportunity to calm your nervous system and create a moment of peace through deep breathing.
3. Practice Self-Compassion
By tuning in to your thoughts, feelings, body sensations, and automatic reactions, you will quickly recognize the three possible feeling states: positive negative, and neutral. When negative feeling states arise, practice self-compassion. Try the following:
- Talk to and treat yourself as you would a close friend who was going through a similar experience
- Ask yourself what you need at this time, and do your best to meet that need
- Affirm your experiences through compassionate self-talk such as:
o This feels hard
o I’m not alone
o I can be strong
To deepen your self-compassion practice, you can try these exercises or practice the RAIN of self-compassion.
Learning to manage your inner world takes learning new skills and lots of practice. Regular practice will increase your self-knowledge, psychological flexibility, and resilience. Your outer experiences don’t have to control your inner world. By managing your inner world, you can have peace, no matter what.