We all know what happens when we overuse our muscles and joints. We get sore, stiff and we have to recover before we can exert the same power again. We ought to watch out for overuse of our mind in unproductive ways as well!
It takes a lot of brain power to ruminate over the past, reviewing how we could have done something better, or how we could have been more authentic, or how an interaction with someone might have gone better. So many things that are already past are there for the taking if we chose to direct our thoughts that way. And the future…how ripe is that for imagination, rehearsal, and anxiety. Sadly, all that thinking about the past and the future is for things that are not actually real. Overuse of our brainpower judging the past and worrying about the future is depleting our focus on the only thing that is real…which is the present.
Everyone has their own mix of past, present, and future thought “allocation”. My own experience leads me to believe that it is a bit of a zero-sum game. Spending time on the past and the future can be exhausting and crowds out attention to being aware of and appreciating what is happening right now. Must we risk a “sore brain” on things that are not actually real?
As Eckhart Tolle has written in “The Power of Now”:
Life is just a series of present moments.
All pain is a result of resistance to the things you cannot change.
You can free yourself from pain by constantly observing your mind and not judging your thoughts.
I have been focused on helping people through the challenges of transitioning from full time work to “retirement”. I find it particularly important to improve the skill of being present when you retire. During a full-time career there are performance expectations set for you and the pressure of a busy routine. For many, it is extra hard to chill out, be mindful and present, because there is so much going on. But when your career routine slows way down, you do have time “affluence” and the chance to reorient your thought “allocation”. Letting go of your work life is understandably hard. Being skillful at mindfulness is especially important. And not only do you have less to distract you from being present; smack in front of you is the realization that your remaining time on this earth is limited.
Practicing mindfulness techniques is useful always, but especially so those “muscles” will be ready when you have the freedom of retirement life. Overusing your mind in retirement for things you can’t change takes away from appreciating how wonderful your last chapter can be.