"Go as far as you can see,
Then see how far you can go."
- My Dad's Friend
I have this quote on the wall in my office to remind myself and my clients that while goals are very useful things, sometimes they can become overwhelming, or a stick to beat ourselves with. A goal can loom over us and discourage us by it's very size, or it may seem so far off that we are disheartened by the length of the journey ahead.
It's important to remember that we reach any destination step by step, day by day, breath by breath.
If you're looking to make a change in your life, or if there's a goal you want to reach, have a picture of where you want to eventually end up for sure, but then break it down into bitesize pieces that you can celebrate as you go.
For example, if you want to drop a stone, you might want to break that down into 2 pounds a week and acknowledge that win each week. The encouragement and sense of achievement you feel will keep you motivated to proceed.
If you're working on letting go of depression or anxiety, then acknowledge the 5 or 10 minutes of calm or light-heartedness you felt today, they really do count. Keep working, with compassion and care, and those 5 or 10 minutes will be come 15 or 20, 25, or 30, and some day, a reversal will happen, and there'll be more joy and calm than dark and worry.
Have faith and be steady on your course, as long as you are moving in the right direction, you will get there.
"I long to accomplish a great and noble task; but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble." - Helen Keller
It's in our nature to attempt to foresee difficulties in life so we can prepare ourselves for them. This skill has helped us stay alive back in the days when we lived in a hunter-gatherer society, when danger was always around the corner. It has helped us develop safer and more comfortable ways to live in, and get around our world. This skill helps us live our own lives with more ease and fewer nasty surprises.
However, some of us overdo this. We look into the future and see only darkness and hardship, we may tell ourselves that we are only trying to be prepared, or not leave ourselves open to disappointment, but what we are really doing is allowing the future that may not happen ruin the present. This can leave us stressed, tired, and depressed.
This week, see if you can catch yourself worrying about the future, or thinking of the bad that may happen.
Remember that you are not a fortune teller, and you cannot know the future.
See if you can notice three good things in your life right now, in this moment. (No matter how big or small)
Remember that each time we actively look for the good in life, we are training our brain to be more naturally aware of the positive. You never know, you might find that life is better than you think.
"I am an old man and have known many troubles, but most never happened." - Mark Twain
Back in the days of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, it was necessary to constantly scan for danger, as we were never far from the threat of being dinner for some larger and faster beast than ourselves. This tendency to be on the lookout for what bad thing may happen to us is still alive and well in the most primitive part of our brain today. So if you ever wondered why you remember the one bad thing your boss said about you, and you see to have forgotten the ten good things he or she said, our 'negativity bias' that kept us alive for thousands of years is the answer.
So how do we learn to allow the positive in as well?
We can train our brains to be more aware of the good things by bringing our conscious awareness to those good things.
Each night this week, write down at least 3 things that were good about your day. These things can be big or small, anything from a sweet birdsong you heard on the way to work, to a great performance review, it doesn't matter. What matters is that you consciously look for the good, not allowing the negativity bias to run the show and paint your days grey, when there's so much colour out there if you look for it. :)
"What we focus on, we empower and enlarge. Good multiplies when focused upon. Negativity multiplies when focused upon. The choice is ours: Which do we want more of?" - Julia Cameron
The beauty of coming home to the breath is that you never have far to go. The breath is always with you, and once you learn to work with it, it can be a source of refuge from the ups and downs of life.
A long deep breath signals the nervous system to calm down, that everything is ok. We all know that if we're anxious or upset, having someone tell us to calm down is likely to be of no benefit. Emotions can feel overwhelming, and the chatter of the mind deafening, leaving us feeling powerless and at their mercy. But a few minutes of long deep breathing targets the body directly, bypassing the chatter in your mind, and shifting focus away from emotional overwhelm.
The trick is to stay with the breath, and when the mind pulls you away again and again, come back again and again. Watch out for thoughts such as 'this isn't working', or 'this is too intense', and return to the breath, it will guide you to safety if you can remain patient and persistent.
As with any practice, making it a routine part of your life is key. See if you can commit to taking a few minutes out to belly breathe each day this week, and connect with the sense of safety and peace within.
“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh
Thought creates feeling, and feeling creates action.
Imagine this scenario: I wake up in the morning and immediately think of all I have to do today, it's a long list, and the thought comes "How will I ever get all this done?", quickly followed by "X always looks so in control, and she's busier than me, why am I such a failure, when will I ever get it together?" In response to this thought, my heart sinks, my shoulders slump, my head feels heavy. I feel tired already, so I turn over and go for a snooze. When I wake, it's late and I think "sure half the day is gone, what's the point??".
This is the power of thought.
Now imagine an alternate scenario: I wake up in the morning and immediately think of all I have to do today, it's a long list, and the thought comes "How will I ever get all this done?" --I immediately step in and ask myself "Where will this thinking take me?". I decide instead to remind myself that I am a person who can get things done, that even if it all isn't done by evening, that doesn't make me a bad person, and, that I am worth the effort to do the work of choosing to think and act differently. (It does take effort, especially in the beginning when all evidence points to the futility of even trying, but persist, and it will get easier.
Are you worth it?
"Your thoughts are a catalyst for self-perpetuating cycles. What you think directly influences how you feel and how you behave. So if you think you’re a failure, you’ll feel like a failure. Then, you’ll act like a failure, which reinforces your belief that you must be a failure." - Amy Morin
“When a person has a reaction to something in their environment, there’s a 90 second chemical process that happens in the body; after that, any remaining emotional response is just the person choosing to stay in that emotional loop.
Something happens in the external world and chemicals are flushed through your body which puts it on full alert. For those chemicals to totally flush out of the body it takes less than 90 seconds.
This means that for 90 seconds you can watch the process happening, you can feel it happening, and then you can watch it go away.
After that, if you continue to feel fear, anger, and so on, you need to look at the thoughts that you’re thinking that are re-stimulating the circuitry that is resulting in you having this physiological response over and over again.” - Jill Bolte-Taylor, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Sceintist’s Personal Journey
This quote reflects what Mindfulness training is all about.
As long as we are alive, as long as we love and care for people and things, there will be joy and pain. We can't avoid our emotions, and efforts to do so usually wind up causing more pain. Better to learn to form a healthier relationship with our emotions, so we can live and love fully and fearlessly.
If you would like to learn more about mindfulness, and how to apply it in your life, click here.
"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." - Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning
One of the trickiest things with depression and anxiety is that they can steal your motivation to do the things that will take you to a better place mentally.
Any of us who experience depression or low mood will know how it is to have the internal battle of knowing that a walk for example will make us feel better, but struggling to find the energy to get up and go do it.
Those of us with anxiety may relate to feeling wound up, having the thought that doing a mindfulness meditation will help us, but feeling that we'll be too anxious to make it through to the end of the recording.
It's a catch 22 that we need to stop in it's tracks. If we wait til we feel like doing the thing that will help us, we'll never do it. Anxiety and depression will see to that. However, if we can do our best to ignore the feeling and do it anyway, over time, the depression will lift, and the anxiety will soothe.
If you're not feeling great today, do something. Take a walk or do some yoga, do a meditation, phone a friend, something. It's a step in the right direction. Do the same tomorrow and you've taken another step, same the next day, and the next. Before you know it, you'll be in a better place.
In times of uncertainty, instability, and change, it's really important to ground ourselves, and connect with the inner stability we are all capable of.
This short meditation is excellent for tapping into our inner stillness and strength, see if you can manage to do it every day this week.
(It may take a few seconds to start after you press play, thanks for your patience!)
Stay safe and well.
“Look well into thyself; there is a source of strength which will always spring up if thou wilt always look.”
The effects of the Covid-19 situation are being felt by all, and there's not much we can be sure of at the moment. That in itself is a challenge, we humans tend to feel uncomfortable in the face of uncertainty.
It would seem that things will be this way for a while, and our best bet is to take good care of ourselves until life returns to 'normal'. Instead of fighting against what is, or getting stressed, we can learn to accept, and turn toward the difficult, and not allow an already challenging time to defeat us.
This week's Weekly Minute is a meditation which teaches us to be with difficult thoughts, emotions, and sensations in an easier and more calm way.
As with all mindfulness practices, it's the doing that helps, so see if you can challenge yourself to revise this meditation daily, knowing that each day, you're building your tolerance to be with the uncomfortable.
The Guest House
Fact: The Weather is Bad (For everyone but the ducks)
Thoughts about the fact: Oh my God if I see one more day of rain I'll go crazy. I'm sick of the cold, the wet, the weekend storms, the grey. I can't go anywhere, I can't do anything, this has gone on so long I can't remember summer, no wonder I'm so porky I can't get out to do any exercise. I was supposed to have the garden prepared by now and it'll be too late by the time this stops, it'll be ruined for the year now.............
Thoughts about the fact: Wow the queues into Tesco this morning, everyone is out buying up stuff, should I be out buying up stuff? Where would I put it, this house is so small, imagine being quarantined in here I'll climb the walls! What if we all get it, will we turn on each other for supplies? I hear they're shunning people who recovered from it in China, what if that happened to me? What would I do if all my friends and family shunned me?.........
The mind can run wild (and often does) when we are faced with adversity. There's the fact of the thing, and then the thousand thoughts we have about the fact.
We are programmed as humans to problem-solve, and this part of our brain kicks into action when a problem arises, this is generally a good thing. However, when we are faced with a problem we don't have much control over, many of the thoughts we have about it are pointless.
We can only do what we can do (remember your umbrella in the rain, wash your hands properly to avoid Coronavirus etc.), then, we should try as much as we can to let other thoughts go. Worrying increases our vulnerability to stress, and can have an impact on the body. To be at your best so you can effectively face life's challenges, let worry go, that means, choosing to disengage from worry thoughts.
"The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another" - William James
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.
The Weekly Minute is posted here every Monday, or you can sign up to get it delivered to your inbox via the link below.
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