Are You Time Traveling?
You may be doing it all the time – transporting yourself back to the past or thinking about the future. Remembering the past and imagining the future are what we call mental time travel. Although this may sound exciting in theory, the reality is when we mentally time travel to the past, we often relive unpleasant events in our heads or get stuck thinking about how they could or should have been different. This can lead to feelings of anger, sadness, depression, and frustration. When we time travel into the future, we are often thinking about unpleasant or scary future scenarios, deadlines, or to do lists, which are often accompanied by worry, stress, overwhelm, and anxiety.
Not the Best Travel Destination
Studies show that about half of our waking hours are spent with our minds wandering. These studies also show that although sometimes this can be pleasant, the vast majority of the time “a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.”
Here is a quick way to check-in with yourself, see if you are mentally time traveling, and start to re-wire your brain to land in the present more often, for less stress and more joy, peace, and contentment.
How to Set Your Course
As with all mental skills, this takes practice. Like building any muscles in the body, building mental muscle for better mental health takes willingness, a commitment to try, and intention to make positive change. Here’s how to stop mental time travel and land in the present moment for greater wellbeing.
Step 1: Notice when you are time traveling.
Notice when you are fixated on a thought, memory, or worry. Your first clue that you are mentally time traveling is usually how you are feeling. So, if you are feeling stressed, upset, angry or sad (to name a few emotions you may be feeling), see if you can identify the thoughts or beliefs that are prompting those feelings. Pause and pay attention to the thought or belief itself. Say it out loud, mentally note it or write it down.
Step 2: Are you stuck in the past or in the future.
Ask yourself where you are mentally traveling and label these thoughts as either past or future thoughts.
Examples of past mental time travel:
- This should not have happened.
- I wish that would not have happened.
- If only I/she/he/they had been different or acted differently, that would not have happened
Examples of future mental time travel:
- I don’t know what will be.
- I won’t be able to do this.
- I won’t get it all done.
- It’s going to be a disaster.
- I/he/she/they won’t be OK.
Step 3: Notice how it feels to mentally time travel.
Notice how this time travel makes you feel – nervous, anxious, sad, angry? If you are watching a really bad movie, do you want to watch it over and over again. Or do you want to leave the theater? You can make an emergency landing anytime you want.
Step 4: Make the choice to land in the present.
You HAVE the choice and the power to make an emergency landing. Ask yourself these questions to decide whether you want to land back in the present moment:
- Do I want to feel this way?
- Is this mental time travel serving me or those around me in any positive way?
If the answer is no, which it almost always is, then choose to let it go by landing in the present moment.
Step 5: Make an emergency landing.
Stop your mental time traveling by landing where you are. This may seem difficult and it does take practice, but it IS something you have the power to do over and over again. You do this by pausing and taking a moment to notice what is actually happening right now. Be curious and interested. Notice where you are, what you see, feel, smell, and hear? Take in all that is actually happening right now. Remind yourself, “I am here.” Then, find something pleasant about being where you are and really explore how it feels in your body to arrive here.
Take a Break from Mental Time Travel – Enjoy Being Where You Are
We can always connect to a bit of peace, contentment, OK-ness, and even joy, moment by moment, in the simple pleasures of our lives right now, if we choose to. We can do this and make it our mental habit and routine.
So, re-route your mental itinerary and make less frequent stops in places you don’t enjoy. Instead of mental time travel, which can be exhausting and stressful, land today, and every day, in your life right now and open to the simple pleasures and joy you can find right here. Open to the joy and pleasures of the your life right now. It’s a great destination! 🙏🏻