Have you ever driven to work and when you arrived you realized you were not even aware of the drive? Your mind had been somewhere else the whole time. You were operating on pilot control. We have different areas of our brain and when we are living on pilot control we are not living in the present. It takes practice to live in the present. The prefrontal part of our brain has the function of placing us in control of our life and making conscious choices that give us more control of our life. We still feel emotion, but we rise above the feelings and decide how we want to respond. Our brain is a muscle and if we do not use this part of our brain it does not develop. As we practice being present and being aware of ourselves and our environment it also helps us build better relationships with the people who are important to us, because we are more attentive.
More and more research is being done on the brain and a big question is where does our brain stop and our mind begin or are they integrated? If you have ever had an addiction you understand how complicated the process of the brain and mind is. No matter how hard you try to stop doing the behavior, it feels like the addiction takes on a mind of its own and you cannot control what you do. It takes a lot of discipline and help from others to kick it.
When we practice awareness and being present we are exercising what is called executive thinking. An article written by NCLD editorial group, “defines executive functioning as a set of mental processes that helps connect past experience with present action. People use it to perform activities such as planing, organizing, strategizing, paying attention to and remembering details, and managing time and space”. It develops in our teen years, if we are in a healthy, supportive, environment that encourages us to take responsibility for our thoughts and actions. Parents that are over protective and do not allow children to suffer the consequences of bad choices can delay executive functioning.
Sadly there are many adults that have not developed their executive functioning and have not taken responsibility for their life and are dependent on society or parents to take care of them. Keeping a job and being a productive person in society is very difficult if not impossible to accomplish.
Some of the ways you can practice being present and aware is through meditation, prayer, yoga, and other forms of relaxation and control. If you have not tried it, it is very difficult at first. It is hard to stay centered and focused. Your mind will want to rebel and think about other things and you have to keep reeling your thoughts back in and refocus on being present. The more you practice the easier it becomes and the more developed the prefrontal part of your brain will develop and mature. The ability of our brain to change and grow is called neuroplasticity and it is a powerful way to take control of our brain and start thinking and living better. The result is more peace of mind and tranquility. It can transform your life.
If you feel like your life is out of control and you operate on pilot control, start practicing being aware of your environment and relationships. Think about what you are thinking and where you are and what you are doing and why. Be aware of your feelings and be open to different ways of looking at things. Be more flexible and let go of rigid thinking. Let go of expectations. If your feeling like your life is full of chaos, be proactive and take control of the things you can control and let go of the things you cannot. Take care of yourself by having balance in your life. Get enough sleep, exercise, and eat a healthy diet.
Taking responsibility for your life has to be intentional, it will not just happen. The work will be worth it. Let today be the first day of the rest of your life. It is never to late.
Vickie Parker, LMFT
vickiemft.com, Online counseling