Take a moment to consider: When you experience something for the first time, what is your reaction? What happens first? For example, walking into a retail store your body may react to the smell, lighting, or color of the décor. Do you expand or contract? Your mind may respond in judgment to the sales people, the music playing, or the prices. One thing I first notice is the way a space is set up – if it’s crowded, cluttered or unorganized I may not stay long. I notice that my mind becomes overwhelmed by trying to understand the order of things. Other people might enjoy the amount of items to look at and enjoy the stimulation. We are all a little different.

This awareness is a muscle I ask people to exercise from time to time, through different mindfulness practices. The same way we can learn to study the ways we perceive and how our mind and body respond to something like a grocery store, we can learn to notice our response to more emotional situations that may cause us pain or suffering.

We all are a little different. Many people tend to fall into two categories: thinkers or feelers. Thinkers like to live in their heads, solving problems, looking for answers, philosophizing, tinkering with gadgets, and so on. Often thinkers can get tangled in thought and spin around and around, generating tiresome anxiety. Feelers tend to be more heart or body focused, becoming enraptured with their emotions, enjoying the intensity of an experience, often creating as an expression of their emotions. Feelers can be more susceptible to depression as they gorge on the intensity of a negative emotion, simply for the experience of feeling. In general we are all a little bit of both, with a stronger leaning towards one.

Practicing awareness of the ways we perceive can be very helpful in finding balance. Figuring out if you tend more towards the head or the heart can be helpful by moving in the opposite direction in difficult times. For example, if you consider yourself more of a thinker, getting caught up in cycling thoughts of worry, you can experiment with moving your awareness to your heart. Do something that feelers do: draw a picture, read a poem or story, move your body and go for a walk or take a yoga class. You may find the thoughts in your head begin to quiet and clear. If you are more of a feeler and flooded by emotion, you might try journaling, talking with friends, working on a project that involves following directions such as cooking from a recipe or building something. This allows the feelings to disperse as you move your awareness to your head and distract yourself from unpleasant feelings or thoughts.

There are many ways to learn to regulate your thoughts and emotions when you become distracted or flooded. The first step is to notice that it’s happening and mindfully respond, instead of mindlessly reacting. Next time you become aware that you’re heading down the same path of reaction, which you don’t like, pause – and mindfully move in the direction which will feel most liberating for your head and your heart.

By Nick Venegoni