I was listening to a podcast the other day on happiness and some things that help us to be happier. Many of these ideas are not new to me – living in the moment, simplify your life, slow down, take care of your body and mind, etc. These are things that I talk about with my clients and I try to practice myself (keyword is practice because I have yet to meet someone who has mastered these things, certainly not me). But in this podcast there was one researcher, Matt Killingsworth, who used an app he and his colleagues created to ask people in-the-moment questions about their happiness levels, and what they found was new to me. One of the questions asked is “Are you thinking about something other than what you are currently doing?” and, if yes, is the topic of those wandering thoughts pleasant, neutral or unpleasant. I would have previously thought that if one was in the middle of an unpleasant activity and they allowed their minds to wander to a more pleasant topic, it was like a shield to carry them through the original unpleasant activity. Of course now this seems a little silly, given what I know of staying focused and staying in the moment, and the research did find that people are much less happy when their minds wander, no matter whether the topic is pleasant or not. Put another way, we are happier when we allow ourselves to be fully in the present moment.
This is something I talk about in the childbirth classes and to my clients. It can be so easy during labor, birth, parenting to spiral out and think about other things such as, “I’ve been in labor for 24 hours, how much longer?,” “I don’t think I’m breathing right, I bet I’m going to mess up my labor,” “my friend said her labor was awful, what if mine will be too?” It’s so very easy to get stuck in these thoughts – probably everyone does at some point in labor, whether you are going through labor yourself or you are supporting someone who is. The solution takes practice but it’s simple – the solution is to guide your mind back to the present. When I catch my mind wandering, especially to an unhelpful place, I try to take a pause by repeating a word in my head, like breath or love, then I get back to the present moment as best I can. It may take a few attempts.
When you are pregnant and preparing for labor by taking your classes, gathering all the supplies and food you’ll need, making a space for your coming baby, remember to take the time to guide your mind back to the present when it wanders. The mental preparation is equally as important as a healthy body and healthy baby. You can weather even the most intense sensations for a minute to a minute and a half if that’s all you’ve got to think about. Then you are in the break and that’s the new moment to be focused on. You can do this, and be proud of each surge your body goes through because they bring your baby closer.
When I was putting together my flyer for my childbirth class series I came across a quote that I really like. “You are constructing your own reality with the choices you make … or don’t make. If you really want a healthy pregnancy and joyful birth, and you truly understand that you are the one in control, then you must examine what you have or haven’t done so far to create the outcome you want.” – Kim Wildner We cannot control all of the outcomes but we can get ourselves mentally and physically prepared to be in a good spot when life gets intense. Most solutions take practice, but are simple to achieve.