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.”
The 3 Minute Breathing Space is a fundamental part of all mindfulness programs. It trains us to step out of the auto-pilot mode we spend so much of our time in, and see where we are at inside.
Checking in with our internal weather in this way opens up the opportunity to make adjustments as necessary. If we find we are stuck in thoughts of the past, or worries about the future, we can reconnect with the present moment. If we find some areas of the body are holding tension, we can invite the breath to relax those areas.
Set a reminder on your phone or smart watch to pause for a 3 Step Breathing Space at least 3 times a day, and if you feel a strong emotion, see if you can remember to use the practice.
Step 1 - Become aware of your inner experience in this moment.
What thoughts are in your mind? As best you can, see them as mental events, don't get involved with them. Label them, 'thinking'.
What feelings are present? Acknowledge whatever is present, and if it's unpleasant, try to turn toward it, and not away.
What sensations are in the body? Quickly scan the body to see what you notice, are there any sensations of tightness or contraction?
Step 2 - Focus your attention on the breath at the abdomen.
As best you can, focus on the sensations in the abdomen as it rises and falls with the breath. Remain here for at least three full breaths. If the mind wanders, gently and kindly bring it back to the breath.
Step 3 - Expand the attention to the body as a whole. Expand the attention again to include the body in the room and any sensations of touch or pressure on your chair or the floor. Gradually begin to open your attention to sounds in the room, the feeling of the air around you, and when you're ready, open the eyes and continue with your day.
"The breathing space sets us up to encounter life in a different frame of mind, coming fully home to the present, rather than just giving ourselves a break from thinking." - Teasdale, Williams, & Segal
Self-trust is good thing. It can help us act more confidently and wisely in daily life, it can reduce anxiety and indecision, and it allows us to make better choices for ourselves based on our own needs, and not what others want of us. But, it depends on which part of yourself you trust.
We are all made up of many parts, and they tend to reflect what's going on inside and outside of us. If I'm in a hurry I can be impatient/dismissive Claire, if I'm feeling insecure I can be miserable/defensive Claire (she's not much fun). If I am in a good mood I am kind and generous Claire.
Trying to remain consistent in life, and the choices I make is pretty challenging with all these different selves at the steering wheel on different days!
Making a simple decision like going for a walk every day becomes a roulette depending which part of me is in charge of getting off the sofa and putting my coat on. Impatient Claire sees it as just another thing to squeeze into my day and does something 'more important', Miserable Claire thinks it is all pointless so doesn't bother, Kind/Generous Claire dances around the walk no bother (if only she was around every day...).
There is another part of me that I can trust consistently though. Sometimes, it speaks so quietly I have to strain to hear it, sometimes, I can be too caught up in being annoyed or sad or busy to listen for it, but as time passes, and painful lessons are learned, I have come to realise the importance of it.
It's the part of me that sits back and observes all my other selves squabble over what's best for me, and, when I choose to listen, offers me the most loving response.
Daily meditation is how to hear it. When I meditate every day, the volume of the other parts of me dims, and I get to hear my own steady inner wisdom.
This part of me is loving and kind, patient and forgiving. It wants the best for me, and waits calmly for me no matter how many times I ignore it, mess up, or repeat old mistakes. It knows me well, and will show me the way, whenever I choose to ask.
See if you can sit in awareness every day. Try not to strain or reach for your inner wisdom, just see if you can quieten enough to make room for it. Notice what comes. You might find some real self-trust.
“We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.”
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
One of the major contributors to anxiety is the habit of worrying about, or trying to predict the future. We might think we are being sensible, we might think if we can plan ahead enough we can prevent things from going wrong, and keep ourselves and our loved ones save from harm.
Of course, a little bit of forward thinking has it's uses--e.g., if you're going on holiday get travel insurance, regularly check your car tyres, oil, and water (or get your Dad to do it like I do...:)), eat healthy foods and take some exercise. Taking actions like these make sense, they help put your best foot forward.
However, many of us can stay stuck in a place of fortune telling, and this actually has the opposite of the desired effect. It's tiring, stressful to mind and body, and it can have us in such a state of fear that we become afraid to life life to the full. Th irony is that being stressed out, exhausted, and fearful will make the world seems like a more dangerous and dark place, so it's actually making your fears come true!
This week, take a mindful pause several times a day (I set a reminder on my watch so I don't forget), and check in with your thoughts.
If you find yourself fortune telling, STOP.
Ask yourself if there is anything practical or helpful you can do to help whatever you are thinking or worrying about.
If there is, do it, or make a note to do it later.
If there isn't, let it go. It's robbing you of the present moment, and this moment IS your life.
"How much pain have cost us the evils that have never happened." - Thomas Jefferson
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
Instructions for "Right Now?":
Revisiting the past and trying to anticipate the future are helpful only to a small degree, for example, it can be a good idea to see where we can improve on past behaviors, or plan ahead to use up the leftover veg from last night's dinner. However, many of us (me included) stray into realms of unhelpful time travel such as mulling over the wrongs people did to us, mistakes we should have known better than to make, saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, fretting over next week's work presentation, or that family wedding we are dreading next July.
Dwelling in the past or future only invites them into your present, making 1 day next July last the 7 months from now until then. Do yourself a favour and spend no longer on it than the time it takes to pick a killer outfit, or take that lesson from the past mistake (i.e. attend to it in a practical way), and then leave the day in the past or the future, where it belongs. Your life is right here, right now, and corny as it sounds, each new moment is a new opportunity.
-Apologies for the long break between posts, took me a while to get out of holiday mode!
"The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly." - The Buddha
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.
The Weekly Minute is posted here every Monday, or you can sign up to get it delivered to your inbox via the link below.
Follow me on social media (see below) to make sure you don't miss one!
Get the Weekly Minute delivered straight to your inbox, or follow it on social media!
By subscribing to Claire Shannon Therapy you are agreeing to receive a weekly blog post via email.
I use Mailchimp to store and manage this mailing list and your data will not be shared with any third party. You are free to unsubscribe at any time using the unsubscribe button which appears at the end of every blog.