When I was still early in my 20s, my counselor quoted a friend of hers saying:
“Turning 30 was the best thing that ever happened to me!”
She was trying to encourage me, that despite our cultural obsession with youth there is a lot of inner peace that can come with maturity. Recent research, in fact, proposed 36 as “the happiest age,” at least among middle-class North Americans. Now that I am nearing this age bracket myself, I look back on my “tumultuous” teens and twenties with an appreciation for the hard-won lessons. Life so far has largely been a story of accepting certain truths about myself, quitting what didn’t work, and charting a more direct course towards what truly fulfills me.
Oh, and with less concern for how I look!
Still, on the flip side of all that rosy retrospection is a hard truth: 2021 has been a very up-and-down year for me mentally. These past months have NOT reflected the kind of inner experience I hope to enjoy over the next decade. Universe, help me be an emotionally stable 30-something, happier than ever, for the highest good of all. I accept that some things are out of my control. But I will do my part to build my best possible future, mentally strong, and I invite Life’s support.
I’ve got a year to be 29. Here are the negative thought patterns I plan to significantly improve, through dedicated practice, as a gift to my future self turning 30.
1. I will stop living in the past. I will live in the present and into the future.
My meditation habit has grown and it is teaching me the value of staying present. Though not as badly as before, I still can be nostalgic and feel stuck in the past. I daydream of going back in time, with the wisdom I know now, and making everything turn out better! Such “magic lamp” wishes as these feel good for only 5 seconds, till I snap back to reality.
Reflecting on the past has its place, so how do I find balance? Therapist Tim Hill illustrates the difference between “rumination”—which is not productive—and its better-behaved cousin, introspection. Introspection is where we get conscious of a remembrance that’s eating at us, and we find ways to put the past to rest. This can include finding lessons and focusing on what we can do now.
I decided to combine Tim Hill’s advice with a little habit my friend “S” recently told me about. S reserves a 5-minute time slot in her day to write freely about her worries. That way, whenever she’s tempted to fret, she knows she’ll soon have an opportunity to address whatever’s nagging at her. She can set it aside and get on with her day.
I love the idea, and I can’t wait to see if it helps with my rumination issue.
In other news, I’ve been asking myself why I frequent the past and not the future. I realized it’s because the future feels like responsibility! With the future, I can actually change things. But instead of seeing this as scary, or trying to control everything, I shall practice pondering the future with curiosity. It’s okay if most of my future visualizations don’t come true. I don’t have to prematurely commit them into goals, unless I’m quite certain of something I wish to create. I’m simply an explorer of what could be; that’s all. The future is my imagination playground!
So the next time I get caught up in a memory I wish I could change, what do I do? I imagine a future possibility that redeems that past and that makes me smile. Then, I forget about it and I let it go. I take a step in the present moment that aligns with the spirit of my hopeful future. And if something from my past is still bothering me at the end of the day, I’ll have my 5-minute time slot to r̶u̶m̶i̶n̶a̶t̶e̶ introspect all I want!
2. I will stop thinking I’m embarrassing. I am human and I am okay!
Related to my dwelling-on-the-past issue is that I am embarrassed by my past. Throughout the day, I tend to remember random moments when I was mortified, and I can’t help but slap a palm to my forehead.
These have been dubbed “cringe attacks.”
“Have compassion for your 15-year-old self who woefully failed to impress your crush. Take good care of the version of you who was insensitive when your friend disclosed an illness. Forgive yourself for scoring a goal for the other team all those years ago. In short, let go of the expectation that you never do anything cringey. Give yourself permission to have a full range of human experiences, including dumb mistakes.”
—Ellen Hendriksen on how to deal with cringe attacks
Do my past experiences really mean that I was or am a fool? That I have something to be ashamed about?
What if, instead, I practiced reacting to those old memories as if there were nothing to react to? As if they were no big deal, things that could happen to anyone?
Journaling exercise: Try writing about a time you felt embarrassed, but write about it neutrally, as if it were perfectly understandable and okay. Don’t feel you have to explain or justify every detail of why you did what you did, or how you wound up in that very human situation.
“When I was in college, I dressed up as a college graduate for Halloween. While wearing the cap and gown to class, I decided that I could have picked out a cooler costume idea. Then, the moment passed. The end. Thank you for coming to my Peaceful Dumpling confessions article!”
3. When tempted to worry, I will focus on what I DO want and on serving others.
I’m happy to report I’ve already been making headway on negative thought pattern #3!
An old audiobook Maximum Achievement by Brian Tracy made me picture what my life would be like if I could go an entire day focusing only on what I want. With no ability to worry or devote a single shred of thought energy to what I don’t want. Wow. Can you imagine?
When I catch myself worrying about myself, an even bigger turnaround is if I refocus my attention on others—wishing for them to get what they want. This focus is best summed up by the words often recited in a loving-kindness meditation: “May you be happy; may you be healthy; may you live with ease.”
I actually started making lists of things I am happy for people for—as well as prayers for their well-being. “I am happy my stepmama gets such joy out of holiday decorating. May her heart feel as merry today as she has made the house feel.”
For the past couple of days, I have done this for around 15 minutes. Near the end, I shone the loving awareness back on myself, by which time it felt like a very bright flashlight of self-compassion.
Monitoring my mind 24/7 is unrealistic. I am bound to slip back into thoughts of desperation sometimes. However, I am getting hooked on my loving-kindness meditation, usually in typed/written form, which I have gradually increased from just the few minutes a day I was doing originally. As I keep this up, I hope it may serve as a powerful “compassion spell.” May I retrain my mind to stay lovingly focused on serving others in my daily life, and be happier and more helpful as a result.
Yes, I admit I am a worrywart, but I am on my way to being… a hopeyheart?
I’m so glad I took the time to contemplate what some of my biggest mental roadblocks are, and how I might strategize my way around them. Now I have 3 new positive thought patterns in the making… with a whole year to practice them. Watch out, 30s! I’m coming towards you fast, and I’m preparing to live our best life yet.
Also by Phoenix: Can You Be Grateful For The Worst? A New Way To Gratitude Journal
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Photo: Gean Montoya via Unsplash