5-4-3-2-1

The human mind is a personal teleportation device.

While sitting at home or in a cafe, our minds can fly us through the grazing green beauty of the Alps or dive into the clear blue water of the Bahamas.

Likewise, our minds can fly us through a hurricane where we feel completely out of control or drop us on a gloomy deserted wasteland where life feels meaningless, and the world seems to end.

I've been on both ends of this spectrum.

While a mental vacation isn't as bad, wandering down the dark alleys of my mind, second-guessing my decisions and worrying about the uncertainty of the future certainly takes a toll.

Regardless of whatever direction my mind pulls me in, I've found a 2-minute exercise called 5-4-3-2-1 that helps me snap back to the present physical space in a moment.

Here's how it works:

Whenever you feel anxious or lost in your thoughts, focus your attention on:

  • 5 things you can see. Actively find five things to look at around you. These can be objects on your desk, things outside your office window, people passing by or anything present in your physical space.
  • 4 things you can physically feel. Feel the various sensations on your body, such as the touch of your clothes, the ground beneath your feet or a cool breeze on your face. Pick things up and feel their texture on your fingers. Activate those touch points in your body and absorb the space you're in.
  • 3 things you can hear. Try to listen to the minute sounds around you: traffic, dogs barking, people speaking, leaves rustling, or the whirl of a nearby fan.
  • 2 things you can smell. This can be tricky, but try to identify a couple of smells around you. I often put my head out my workspace window and smell the earthy scent of the garden outside or pick up a reed diffuser on my desk and smell it.
  • 1 thing you can taste. You don't have to start eating anything for this; gauge the taste in your mouth right now. It could be neutral or a residual taste from something you ate.

This exercise engages all five senses, pulling you out of your mental dreamland and into the multidimensional physical space you're in.

It works because the closer you come to your physical surroundings through your sense of sight, smell, touch, feel and taste, the more you drift away from the made-up world in your mind.

I've found this lightweight exercise helpful in two cases — anxiety and general disconnection.

When I'm anxious or ruminating about a potentially harmful scenario, this grounding exercise pulls me out of that negative spiral and into a world that's not so bad.

While life remains uncertain, reconnecting with my present surroundings helps me overcome needless worrying about things I don't control.

On a lighter note, while writing blog posts or chapters for my book, I enter a state of flow and mental visualisation that disconnects me from my physical space.

Doing the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding exercise helps me return to the physical space after I'm done writing and visualising.

Think of your mind as an aeroplane taking off on flights of thoughts. The 5-4-3-2-1 is your landing gear into the reality.

It's a simple but multifaceted exercise you can do throughout your days to spend less time in your thoughts and be present in the moment.

Try it right now.

Take two minutes, wherever you are, to see five things around you, feel four things on your body, hear three sounds nearby, smell two things around you, and taste some food or the residual taste in your mouth.

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