It’s so easy to get lost in your own head.
…I do it all the time.
Sometimes, when I’m in a meeting and a colleague is talking, I know I should be listening, but instead, I’m thinking about something my wife said to me the night before, or what I’m planning to eat for lunch, or when I’m going to schedule that dentist appointment, or daydreaming about 5pm when I bust out those doors and can do whatever I want.
Then suddenly, I realize four people are staring at me, waiting for a response to a question I didn’t hear. And never mind the question — I missed the entire 5 to 10-minute discussion leading up to it.
“Sorry guys, I was off in another dimension for a bit there…can we start over?”
And therein lies the problem — we all exist in the present moment but we are rarely aware of it.
What’s Going On?
I don’t think I’m alone when I say that my mind is easily distracted and disoriented. I frequently disengage from the physical world and get lost in my head — agonizing over past events and dreading future problems.
It’s SO INCREDIBLY EASY to get lost. If not careful, one passing thought drags me along for a ride, stopping at all his thought-friends on the way and down a rabbit hole that I never intended to explore.
Meanwhile, life is happening all around me, except I don’t notice because I’m on a different planet in my mind.
To put it simply, I’m anywhere but present.
I call this phenomenon living in limbo.
It’s akin to the feeling you get when you’re texting a girl (or boy) and she’s responding in rapid-fire succession. But then you ask her out on a date, and she doesn’t respond for over an hour.
What’s she gonna say? Is she ghosting me? Why is she taking so long to answer?
That feeling sucks. She may say yes, or she may say no, OR she may say nothing at all — you’re stuck waiting it out. This is what living in limbo feels like. All day your mind ping-pongs between the past and future but never engages in the present.
What’s the big deal?
Limbo can be a treacherous place.
Have you ever zoned out while driving? Sure you have — no need to lie. We ALL have. Driving down the road like a zombie lost in thought, miles passing by with no recollection.
“Did I really take my exit and drive for several miles without noticing? What the…”
Yep, you sure did.
You’re obviously there but lost in your own head, not fully engaged in what’s going on. Terrifying.
Similar events happen to me ALL the time during the day. I lose my phone. Pens venture off my desk. I can’t find my keys. Pages of books flip by without being internalized.
Where am I when these things happen? I’m right there, but not really. No one is moving my pen into my shirt pocket except me. It’s like I lose all awareness of my place in the physical world.
Fortunately, my mind has an auto-pilot feature. Unfortunately, anything goes while that’s in operation…and I usually don’t remember squat.
I don’t know about you, but I’d like to spend less time in my head and more time in the real world. Plus, it would be really nice not to misplace my phone for the fifth time today.
Thoughts Aside, What About How You Feel?
Being lost in your head isn’t the only symptom of living in limbo — how it makes you feel is a real problem, too.
Imagine you’re at a concert, drinking and having a good time with your best buds. Feeling = happy.
Then, the musician on-stage starts playing a song that triggers a painful memory. It’s a song you and your ex used to listen to…at least until he cheated on you with your roommate. Feeling = pissed off.
Randomly, a thought pops into your head about a work project due tomorrow. The concert is awesome and all, but now there’s a legitimate chance you might miss your deadline. Feeling = stressed to the max.
Only the concert is happening in real time — the rest is in your head — but now you have all these mixed emotions swirling about. You can guess how confused your body might be.
Should it feel happy?
Should it feel angry?
Should it feel stressed out?
The conflicting signals from your brain prove to be a dilemma. Have you ever seen those old-fashioned death sentences where a man is tied to multiple horses, then they all run off in different directions?
That’s how your body feels in limbo.
It’s an emotional rollercoaster — thoughts bouncing back and forth in your head so fast that your body doesn’t know to translate them into physical feelings. Instead of happiness or sadness or anger…you begin to feel anxious.
This is the worst part of limbo. We’re all running around like a bunch of anxious fucks due to the fact that we’re anywhere but present.
However, there is a way to escape.
Snapping Back to Reality
In this moment, right here, right now — I am merely breathing and existing. No past regrets to haunt me and no future problems to stress me out.
Forget me for a second and let’s focus on you. You might’ve recently gotten dumped, and you might not nail your interview tomorrow, but if you remove those thoughts from your mind’s view — you’re just you. Sitting and breathing (and reading this). No matter what’s going on in your head, the present is almost always a neutral place — a safe haven.
That’s why I strive every day to live more in the present…but it’s harder to do than it seems.
Limbo is a shitty place to be, but it’s damn addicting. Some jerks might try to tell you, “stop daydreaming” or “just pay attention.” But uh, that’s not really how things work. Have you ever tried to just pay attention? It’s hard!
Go ahead, set a timer for five minutes and just sit there. Try to “pay attention” to that spot on the wall. Or even your own breath. How long does that last? How long until you’re several layers of thoughts deep and don’t realize it?
Is something wrong with you? No. You’re human. It’s likely that you’ve just never learned how to train your mind. You’ve never practiced being present, so it’s not easy to sit there and focus. You learn how naturally it is for your attention to wander.
Fortunately, there is a way out. You can practice being more present — it’s called mindfulness.
Mindfulness, like in a video game, is a trait that you can level up over the course of your life. Every time you practice being present, you get a little bit better at it. Before long, you’re rarely misplacing your phone, losing your keys, or forgetting why you walked into the kitchen.
Being more present — more mindful — is something we should all aim to achieve. Limbo, with all the thoughts and feelings that accompany it, is not where I intend to live most of my days. I want to enjoy every moment I have while I’m here, and so far I haven’t been the best at that…but I’m getting better.
Who knows how much longer each of us have, you know?