Today is the third Monday of the New Year, and some say it's the most depressing day of the year. Most of us are still skint from Christmas until the paycheck comes in, lamenting the death of our New Year's resolutions, and dreaming of sunshine and warmth to take away the winter chill.
Some say there's no such thing as Blue Monday, and I don't want to debate it's reality today, instead, I wanted to share what I like about the idea.
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Socrates
Have you ever noticed how much thought can go into something, and the thing itself might never get done?
Maybe you had great plans for the exercise you were going to start in 2020 but the running shoes haven't hit the road yet?
Maybe there's a work project you've been mulling over and over in your mind but you haven't started yet because you're unsure how to start it, or afraid won't work out?
Maybe you have the January blues and you're mind is full of negative thoughts?
If any of these sound like you, see if you can bring your attention to the amount of mental energy you are giving to something, without actually doing anything about it. If your thinking is constructive, such as making solid plans and acting on them, or troubleshooting an issue, all good. But, if the thinking is sounding more like a broken record, and bringing feelings of negativity, then do something. Anything.
Take a walk.
Chat to a friend.
Get yourself out to a yoga or meditation class.
Take some action around the work issue, even if you're not sure it's the right action.
Do something to break the cycle of thinking, and get unstuck. Where there's movement, there's change.
"Any action is often better than no action, especially if you have been stuck in an unhappy situation for a long time. If it is a mistake, at least you learn something, in which case it's no longer a mistake. If you remain stuck, you learn nothing." - Eckhart Tolle
One of the things that really stuck with me from my training to become a therapist was also one of the most annoying things I heard. A tutor told us that we should encourage gradual change as opposed to radical change, as we humans handle change better when it is in smaller increments. He told us 10% was a good rule, "Only take the client 10% from where they are right now."
I remember being so disappointed when I heard this! I had notions of great eureka moments in which the client would dramatically drop old mindsets and begin new lives immediately! Over time, I saw the wisdom in what he told us. Sure, there are people who make bigger changes, and some who make smaller, but as a general rule, humans aren't fond of change and need to take bitesize pieces.
Why am I bringing this up? Well, New Years resolutions are often times when we try to make radical change, and then we get annoyed with ourselves when it doesn't work out. How about this year, try taking change slow. Set your resolution, and then break it into smaller goals of 10% chunks.
Slow and steady wins the race.... ;)
“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”
The best gift you can give yourself or anyone else this Christmas is to be present.
When we are present, the mind can't wander into the past or the future, where worries and regrets live. Staying in the here and now allows us to connect with our lives and those in them as they are, and we often realise that life is better than we think.
This Christmas, try as best you can to stay in your senses, and not so much in your head. Set a reminder on your phone to prompt you to reconnect with what is actually happening: what you can see, hear, feel, and (not forgetting the dinner) smell. :)
You can also use the breath to come out of your head and into the body. If there's anxiety present, make the exhale a little longer than the inhale.
“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”
My niece was wearing a sweater with this slogan on it: "When nothing goes right... go left."
I loved it, it's good advice. BUT, how do we actually do that? What does "going left" actually look like? Slogans like this, and inspirational quotes we see online are great, but how we use them to actually make our lives better?
Here are a few practical ideas for "turning left" when nothing seems to be going right:
Whichever method(s) you choose, the most important thing is to remember to take that step to the left, and ignore all the reasons your mind might have to not take that step!
"An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching." - Mahatma Gandhi
We can often feel like victims of time: maybe we've noticed how quickly it passes from one week to the next, or a feeling that we never have enough time in a day to get everything done, or maybe we've noticed our youth fading and how helpless we are to turn back the clock.
However, time can be a friend if we learn to see it as one.
Many people say they're too busy to do the things that feed them--they just don't have the time to meditate, they're too busy to do yoga, or take that walk. But, these are the very things that calm us, and take us out of stress mode. When we are calmer, we are more focused, efficient, and more resilient, leaving us in a better position to use our time well.
Also, time is a healer. The only certainty we have in life is that things change, and if we allow time to do it's thing, we see how our feelings change, no feeling, either good or bad, lasts forever, and this can be a great comfort if we let it.
Lastly, we can recognise that time is always on the march, and in light of that, how will you live your life? Each day counts, so what will you do today that is worthwhile? As Eric Thomas says: "Change your 24 hours and you will change your life"
"Life, if well lived, is long enough." - Seneca
This week's exercise requires you to be a bit of a detective in your own life.
Take a fresh page in your journal or on your phone and make 2 columns, head one "Nourish", and the other "Deplete".
At the end of each day, take your page and note in each column what Nourished you during the day, and what Depleted you.
When considering your day, give as much weight to your internal life as your external life. For example, you might have listed Work in your "Deplete" column, but don't stop there. Were there thoughts about your work that also depleted you? Maybe you were thinking about work while you were having dinner with your family? Note these too.
At the end of the week, look back and see what you can adjust so there's more nourishment in your life.
If you feel stuck in terms of making changes in your circumstance (after all, we all have to work!), remember that you have control inside your head. Set an intention to be fully present at dinner with your family, so you can receive the nourishment that spending time with your loved ones has to offer, instead of allowing thoughts of work to deplete you further.
If there's not much in your "Nourish" column, make a plan to add to it. You are the best equipped to take care of yourself, and you can't take care of others if you're empty.
“Where is your water? Know your garden.”
When's the last time you had a good laugh?
Sometimes, adult life can become very serious, with too much work, too many bills, all those things to get done, all the people to look after—and all that before we watch the news!
It's important to remember that life can also be fun, and one of the purposes of life can simply be to enjoy it.
This week, take a look at your schedule and see where you can insert some fun. It doesn't have to be a big commitment, even setting time aside to watch a show that makes you laugh (I go for Benidorm on Netflix, don't judge me), or playing a silly game with your kids, or having lunch with a light-hearted friend can do the trick.
Much like the Two Wolves we talked about last week, remember to feed the Fun Wolf, the Responsible Wolf gets enough to eat!
An old Chief and his grandson sat in the shade of an ancient tree, staring at the river below.
The elder looked troubled.
Softly the boy asked: “What is the matter Grandpa?“
The old man frowned and said: “It is as if there are two wolves fighting in my heart.“
"Tell me about the wolves?” said the boy.
“Well, one is a nasty, vengeful, aggressive wolf and the other wolf is gentle, forgiving and peaceful.“
The boy thought about this and then asked: “Which one is going to win?“
“Ahhh, my boy….“ replied his grandfather and his face lit up “That’s easy …… the one I feed.“
I look at this little story and apply it to where I put my attention. If I allow my thoughts to wander into the past, and bad things that may have happened, or wrongs people have done to me, I am feeding the wolf of hurt and anger.
If I am reading all those negative stories online about Brexit, climate change, who is richer and prettier than me, I am feeding the wolf of fear, helplessness, and inadequacy.
However, if I am out for a walk with a friend, taking in the beauty of the countryside and chatting, I am feeding the wolf of connection and joy.
If I choose to do a meditation, some yoga, or a gratitude practice then I am feeding the wolf of self-care and self-love.
We are what we do, and each day is another opportunity to feed the right wolf.
Check in with yourself regularly this week, and see which wolf is growing fatter.
"Whatever we put our attention on will grow stronger in our life." - Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
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
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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