Sometimes our minds are like a broken record, we mull over the same thoughts, memories, or problems without reaching any clarity or resolution. We can even feel more confused after wandering through the maze of our own minds endlessly.
When this happens, it can help to ask for help, and we can do this internally.
If you find yourself this week struggling with an anxious thought, a dilemma, a dark mood, pause and take a breath.
Connect to the present moment by tuning in to your senses.
Think of a person you trust or admire, they can be someone in your life like a parent or teacher (living or dead), it may be a public figure, or a spiritual leader.
Then ask yourself: "What would (insert name of your chosen wise person) do right now?/say to me right now?"
Listen for the answer - it may come right away, it may come later, be patient.
“Thoreau writes, “Is there a greater miracle than to see through another’s eyes, even for an instant?” ― Tara Brach
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
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
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.”
When you notice yourself getting caught up in your thoughts or emotions, pause for a minute, and take a couple of belly breaths, then:
You just moved out of story and emotion, and made contact with what is actually here right now. This practice is grounding and calming, and a nice reminder that right here, right now, everything is ok.
"Awaken to the mystery of being here and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence."
It's that time of year again, and the to-do list might be looking quite long at the moment! It's very busy out and about, and during some time out in the stores yesterday I saw more than a few frayed tempers! A lady swore at me (in front of children) for getting in her way, and the cashier in the supermarket told me she couldn't wait for the day to end as so many people had been rude to her that day.
I get it, crowded streets and shops, combined with the pressure of a never-ending to-do list form the perfect recipe for bad moods and short fuses, AND a perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness.
As we go about our Christmas business, would it be possible to check in every hour or so to see how the mood is?
If we find it's darkening, perhaps we could pause, take a belly breath, and remind ourselves spirit of Christmas - to share love and joy with family and friends. Make this feeling alive in your body, feel the warmth of it.
Then perhaps it would be possible to soften the hard edges of anger and frustration, and see the humanity in each other - the cashier in the shop, the stranger in your way, the old lady counting out change at the till?
See what a difference this attitude can have, not only for you, but for everyone.
“If you can't find the spirit of the holidays in your heart, you'll never find it under a tree.” - Michael Holbrook
Imagine the difference it would make if we took care of our mental health in the same way as we take care of our physical health. We know that brushing our teeth is important to keep them healthy and avoid fillings. We know that eating our 5 a day is going to encourage better health. We know that taking exercise will contribute to our overall health and fitness levels.
Can we apply this same thinking to our mental health? Can we apply the 'An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away' principle, to our heads?
Here are a couple of suggestions for practices that are easily integrated into a day, and have a huge impact on your mental health. Choose one, or perhaps you have your own favorite practice?
Do a gratitude practice.
Do some relaxing breathing.
Exercise in the morning.
Watch your thoughts pass by.
Ground using your body.
"Change your life today. Don't gamble on the future, act now, without delay." - Simone de Beauvoir
Ever heard the saying “Your can’t pour from an empty cup”?
We all have people in our lives that we love and care for, but life challenges can sometimes deplete our energy, making it harder to be there for our loved ones. Practising mindfulness fills your cup, so you can in turn, fill others.
Also, studies have shown that moods are contagious. In 1993, an experiment in Washington showed that crime rates dropped by 23.3% due to a group practising focused meditation. http://www.worldpeacegroup.org/washington_crime_study.html
So, when you practice mindfulness, you are giving to those around you, as well as yourself.
Here’s a simple way to practice generosity to yourself, and others:
"Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present." - Albert Camus
For many moments of our waking lives we are being told by social media, advertising executives etc. what we lack, and how if we just buy X or Y we will be happier, more content, more accepted by our peers. We are susceptible to this as our brains are programmed to seek out what’s missing, it was an integral part of securing our survival as we evolved.
When we practice gratitude it shifts the mind from ‘not enough’ to ‘enough’, which brings a sense of peace and calm to our lives. As it’s not the default position, we need to train our minds to be grateful—we need to practice it consciously each day. As we do so, like any muscle we train, it will begin to be stronger, and you will start to see the good things in your life more and more easily.
Here's a super simple practice to help cultivate gratitude:
Each night this week, jot down three things you are grateful for in your day. It doesn’t matter how big or small they are, pick anything that made you smile, or feel good inside.
"I don't have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness - it's right in front of me if I'm paying attention and practicing gratitude." - Brene Brown
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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