Taming the Monkey-Mind
This practice lets you take back control of your ‘monkey mind’. Often our minds are darting around from one place to another and it can be difficult to focus. You might have noticed yourself that your thoughts tend to wander off to the same places, perhaps to something bad that happened last week, or something you’re worried about in the future. Spending too much time in the past or the future not only steals from what is happening right now, it can also feed depression or anxiety.
A practice such as this one strengthens your attention muscle, so you can make better choices about where to put your attention.
Aim to do this several times a day for the next week. (It may help to set a reminder on your phone.) Each time you practice, know that you are doing a little more to break the habits of your automatic thinking, and take control of your life.
“Most people don’t realize that the mind constantly chatters. And yet, that chatter winds up being the force that drives us much of the day in terms of what we do, what we react to, and how we feel.” ~Jon Kabat-Zinn
What if? Or What is?
If you pay a little attention as you go through your week, you might notice yourself living in "What if" land. You'll know you're there because you will be having thoughts like:
I don't know a single person who doesn't have thoughts likes these, so don't feel bad if you have them! The funny thing is though, if you do have these thoughts, then you likely are making yourself feel bad. By wishing things to be different, you are doing two things:
If you can change this "What if" thinking into "What is" thinking, you bring acceptance to yourself and the situation. You are starting where you are, and not from a place of lacking (I/This is not good enough).
Examples of "What is" thinking are:
Set a reminder to check in with yourself as you go through each day, and if you find yourself "What iff-ing", change it to "What is", see how different you feel.
“You'll never get anywhere if you go about what-iffing like that.”
Thoughts Are Not Facts
What happens in the privacy of our minds often remains unquestioned, we tend to believe every thought we have. Why is this a problem? Because our thoughts are so easily influenced by our moods.
Imagine this scenario: You didn't get a great sleep last night, then, in work, you're told you didn't get the pay rise you had requested. You walk down the street at lunchtime and see a friend on the other side of the street, you wave but she doesn't respond. Given your already crappy day what are you likely to think? "I must have upset her"; "She must not like me any more"; "She's so rude!"
Now imagine this scenario: You slept like a baby last night and bounce in to work feeling energetic. You meet with HR and they tell you you got the pay rise you requested and they thank you for the great job you're doing. On your way to lunch you see a friend across the street and you wave, she doesn't respond. In your good mood you might think: "Ah she mustn't have seen me"; or "Gosh that's not like her to pass me, I must check in with her to see if she's ok".
When we are in a negative mood, our thoughts can follow suit. Negative thoughts lead to a more negative mood, and the cycle continues. The opposite is true for the positive mood and thoughts.
Remember this as you go though your day, and see if you can hold your thoughts lightly, question them to see if they are really true, or if they are a reflection of your mood. Questioning your thoughts gives you back control over your day, and stop the cycle of negaitivity.
"In mindfulness, we give our thoughts less importance. We know that while our thoughts can be useful, they can also be deceptive and unhelpful. One of the benefits of practising mindfulness is that your thoughts begin to take their proper place in your life. They become the servant and not the master."
Dreaming a New Reality
With the change in season, many of us undertake a change in ourselves too. We sign up to a class to learn a new skill, embark on a new diet to shed a few summer holiday pounds, decide to take a break from alcohol until Christmas.
Whatever your change might be, it may come along with a nagging voice that says: "Catch yourself on, remember the last time you tried? You lasted a week and gave up!".
Predicting our own failure can stop us in our tracks, and become a self fulfilling prophecy—we tell ourselves we'll never finish what we start, and so, we prime ourselves to drop out.
What about if we did the opposite? What about if we were to tell ourselves that this time, we will do it. AND, really feel that in the body. Picture yourself on the last day of the pottery class taking home your wares. Picture yourself feeling lighter and brighter in those jeans that haven't fit since before the summer BBQ's.
When I say 'picture it' I mean let your mind daydream there for a while. What does your body feel like in this daydream about your achievement? Is your posture different? Perhaps you're standing a little taller and breathing a little more deeply? Are you smiling? Do you feel a sense of pride well up in your chest at your job well done? What else do you notice in this daydream?
What you're doing here is breaking old habitual neural pathways and introducing new ones. Even by imagining fully that something is true, the body and brain will believe it, as it isn't that great at knowing the difference between a thought and reality.
There have been studies done on how people who just imagine themselves working a set of muscles, actually strengthen those muscles. Your mind is a powerful tool, use it to your advantage!
Set a reminder to do this daydream exercise every morning, just for a few minutes, and before your desired change activity. This will keep your intention strong, and reinforce those new neural pathways.
“By taking just a few extra seconds to stay with a positive experience—even the comfort in a single breath—you’ll help turn a passing mental state into lasting neural structure.”
The Weekly Minute is a blog I write each week with the aim of providing proven tools to help promote positive mental health.
The collection of short, practical mindfulness and therapy tools for self-reflection and self-improvement, can equip people to take their mental well-being into their own hands, and improve their quality of life.
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