How we show up each day is largely determined by our attitude and outlook. Despite the challenges that we might be facing in the day ahead, what we choose to focus on plays a big role in how we get through our day.
I have had days filled with stressors and hurdles that I have moved through with grace, courage, and presence, while on other days, filled with far fewer stressors, I have plodded through with irritability, negativity or anxiety.
It didn’t have to do with what was unfolding during the day as much as what was happening in the space between my ears. When I wake up too early and can’t fall back to sleep, and focus on thoughts of how tired I am going to be and predictions of doom and gloom for my day ahead, I set myself up for irritability. On the other hand, on the mornings when I wake up too early but sit outside and take in the early morning solitude that I so often miss at this hour, I show up very differently in my day.
I have been experimenting lately with something that I call “the sandwich effect.” I notice how easy it is for so many of us (myself included) to begin the day full speed ahead, starting with checking our electronics and emails, then coming home after work and zoning out in front of electronics or TV, or plowing ahead into the evening (doing housework, taking care of children, attending to bills or other necessities), without much time to reflect on some of the things that matter most, and without much time to sit still in the space between the doing.
How we set ourselves up for the day ahead is not only determined by what we do when we wake up, but can also be affected by what we do before we go to sleep. Going to sleep depleted, drained, out of touch with our selves, or wired on electronics, can not only affect the quality of our sleep but also can also affect our attitude about the day ahead. We can often miss that opportunity at the end of the day for a “reset,” a chance to take inventory, or a moment to reflect on some of the positives in our day and life that can easily go unnoticed.
The Sandwich Effect is a way of starting and ending our day (sandwiching our day) with a few minutes of something nourishing, restorative, reflective, or mindful. It is a way of creating a small space in which we can choose how we show up and where we want to focus our attention.
I offer a few suggestions here for how to do this, but you can experiment with your own ideas and notice what works best for you. Each of these only take a few minutes and can be easily built into the course of your day without needing to set aside much time. (Pick one to start with, or try multiple suggestions at a time).
Ideas for Starting Your Day:
- Before you even get out of bed, take two or three minutes to think about who you most want to be today, and how you want to show up in your day. What qualities are most important to you? Do you want to be patient today, compassionate, focused, determined, self-nurturing?
Do you want to go through your day more present, more loving, more calm, or something else?
Envision what this might look like in your day ahead, and what actions and choices align with this vision. If you want to be calmer and more patient in your day, you might visualize yourself making time for short mini-breaks, pausing before you react to heated conversations, moving through your day with a sense of trust that you can handle what arises, and reminding yourself of times when you have been able to be patient and calm in the past.
- Before you check your electronics, take two or three minutes to look outside (or go outside if you can) and take in something in nature – the birds, the clouds, the trees, the sun. Look at nature in a way that you might not otherwise do – noticing colors, textures, or other details you might easily overlook.
It amazes me that we often look at the same things repeatedly, but don’t actually see them. I have a beautiful backyard that is surrounded by woods but in my rushing around I can look out the window and not see the beauty of what is actually there.
- Take two or three minutes to look inside, at whatever feelings are arising this morning. Just notice what is there without trying to push anything away. See if you can greet whatever you notice with compassion and kindness, even if it may be unpleasant.
If you wake up feeling anxious, for example, see if you might allow yourself to take a curious look at the anxiety and sense into what might be underneath it. When we attend to ourselves in this way we can sometimes discover what is most needed, even if it is just sending ourselves some compassion for a difficulty we are going through.
Ideas for Ending Your Day:
- Take two or three minutes to think back on your day and reflect on any moments that were positive, nourishing, uplifting, inspiring, or any small moments for which you might be appreciative or grateful. Perhaps you might rest in a sense of accomplishment for helping coworkers with a problem at work, or for making a difference in someone’s life in some small way. Perhaps you might appreciate the kindness of the person who let you go in front of them at the grocery store, or appreciate that you took the time to exercise today even though it would have been easier not to.
- Before you get into bed, take two to three or more minutes away from electronics, where you can reset and restore. You might practice mindfulness meditation and just follow your breath as it comes in and as it goes out. You might engage in a mini-relaxation where you picture yourself at a beautiful, safe place, in all of its detail.
You might call up a time when you felt deeply relaxed or peaceful and allow yourself to re-experience those feelings now, as you call up that scene in your mind. Alternatively, you might choose to listen to a few minutes of soothing music, experience some aromatherapy, or something else that is soothing to your senses.
If we want to show up as our best selves, it helps to start and end our day with something nourishing for the soul, even if only for a few brief minutes. By carving out this time on either end of the day and making space for some quiet electronics-free reflection or mindfulness, we create a space that can help to bring out the best in us.