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.”
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."
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.”
When we decide to make change in our lives it can be tempting to think that it will happen overnight, and we will all of a sudden be new and better versions of ourselves. Life isn't a TV movie though, and the reality can be quite different.
Change comes through choosing to do something differently every day, over and over, until the choice becomes less of an active process, and more of a natural habit.
This isn't very glamorous, I'll admit. I remember one of my tutors sharing this idea when I was training, and I was so disappointed, I wanted it to be more instant, more profound, more dramatic! But much of life isn't dramatic, it's lots of normal little moments put together one after the other.
If we take a minute to look at this, we can see the huge potential for little changes offered to us in a day, if we can change our attitude to celebrate the little wins.
Whatever you are trying to change, celebrate each small decision that contributes to that change. Every time you choose an apple over a cookie, a walk over the sofa, a minute of mindfulness over the pull of worry or rumination, clap yourself on the back for taking another step forward. This is change in action.
“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.” - Mary Anne Radmacher
It's the last Monday in January, and I am hearing lots of people talking about how tired they are feeling this time of year, and how difficult it is to find the motivation to get things done. It would be nice to be like bears and find a nice cave to hibernate quietly in until the flowers bloom, but, life goes on for us humans.
What can help us get through our daily tasks with greater ease is to begin them with a smile. When we smile, the facial muscles used in turning the corners of the mouth upward send signals to the brain, telling it that something positive is happening. We essentially trick ourselves into being more positive, and when we approach tasks with a positive attitude, they are more likely to go well. And seeing as we are not bears, we may as well put our best foot forward as we walk on toward spring! :)
"Start every day off with a smile and get it over with." - W. C. Fields :)
With 7.53 billion people on the planet, the odd disagreement is bound to happen from time to time. Add to that the daily pressures of work, family, bills, and it's easy to see how we can get into arguments with each other!
Being at war with someone (or something) can exert a severe toll on you mentally and physically, we can spend lots of time mulling over what was said, full of outrage at the wrongs that have been done to us, or insulted by the injustice of it all!
The truth of this is that the person who you are at war with is not suffering from all this thinking, you are. Thinking stressful and angry thoughts take their toll on the body, and on your peace of mind, and by keeping it up you are serving the person you are fighting with, not yourself!
So, a helpful question to ask yourself when conflict arises is: Do I want to be right, or do I want to be happy?
If we can take the long view, and remember that in a week this conflict will likely be forgotten, then is it really worth the mental anguish now? Isn't life too short to be stressed and unhappy?
Maybe we can put our own well-being ahead of the need to be right. It might be a challenge, but it's worth it!
"Resentment is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die." - Unknown
We've all heard that having a positive attitude is a good thing, and can help your day go better regardless of what's happening around you. This little exercise is proof of the pudding, and it shows you how to shift yourself into a more positive state of mind, so you can "fake it til you make it"...
I love these little exercises that allow me to physically understand a theory, and realise for myself it's impact. I've been using this one to shift into a more positive state of mind when I don't feel it, and it has really helped. I hope you find it helpful too! :)
"If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude." - Maya Angelou
Instructions for "Tight Spots"
We are entering a busy time of year, I have noticed the traffic in Galway begin to increase this past week, as well as the queues in the shops! Being stuck in traffic, or standing in a queue, are great opportunities to practice mindfulness and let a little stress go. It's not serving you, it never makes your day better, so let it go.
Set a reminder to do this practice several times a day wherever you are, and you'll notice the benefits.
Remember, the more often you do it, the more natural it will be come, and you will find your stress diminish over time, and your mindful calm increase.
"...the brain changes physically in response to experience, and new mental skills can be acquired with intentional effort, with focused awareness and concentration. Experience activates neural firing, which in turn leads to the production of proteins that enable new connections to be made among neutrons, in the process called neuroplasticity." Daniel Siegel
Instructions for "Finding Your Feet":
Your feet are the furthest place from your head that you can get, and they are quiet experts at supporting you. Tuning in to the direct sensations in your feet facilitates a time away from the endless chatter in your mind, and lets you get in touch with the here and now.
This is a great practice for when you're stuck in a queue, when you feel anxious, or as a time out from a busy day at work. It's also fun to just do it outside on the grass or on a sandy beach when you feel like it, just like when you were a kid.
Grounding regularly is important when we live so much in our heads, so when your head gets busy and you need a break, find your feet.
"And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair." ~Khalil Gibran, The Prophet, 1923
It's been a while since I wrote a Weekly Minute, I deliberately took two weeks off in August, and those two weeks turned into 5! Apologies for leaving it so long!
It's been an interesting process watching the guilt build over the weeks, and still not sit myself down to write. The excuses each Sunday evening and Monday morning were reminiscent of avoiding school homework as a kid, putting it off until the last minute and never just getting it done so I could allow myself the joy of being free to play all weekend.
Observing this little dance of guilt and self-torment finally got boring (thankfully) and over the weekend I sat down and had a little chat with myself, to remember why I started the Weekly Minute in the first place. I remembered that:
This little chat with myself got me back in touch with the 'why' of sitting down each week to do this. When I forgot my 'why', it became another thing on my list that I had to do, and the joy and fulfilment went out of it.
If there's a practice that you have let slide, and you're doing the guilt dance, take this opportunity to hit reset. Sit yourself down, and remind yourself of why you started it in the first place, remember the values that inspired you in the beginning. Make a decision to let go of the guilt of not having done this thing, and just do it. There's no time like the present! In fact, there's only the present....
“Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one's own actions or lack of action.” ― Audre Lorde
The Weekly Minute is a blog I write each week with the aim of providing legitimate 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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