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
This week in The Weekly Minute, two guided grounding practices, so the winds of life (and outside!!) don't blow us away.
It's important to have a grounding practice so we feel stable and rooted within ourselves. As we know, life can be full of surprises, and change is inevitable, but if you feel grounded, you'll be more able to face challenges without falling.
Think of a tree, they grow so tall and sturdy because they have strong roots under the earth.
Practice these a few times this week, so you get familiar with them, and they are in your toolbox, ready for when you reach for them.
“Flying starts from the ground. The more grounded you are, the higher you fly.”
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.”
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
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.”
How we view the world is coloured largely by two things: how we feel on the inside, and our evolutionary bias toward scanning for danger.
Maybe you have noticed that if you're feeling a little blue, your daily interactions and activities will tend to feel flat and dull. Or if you're feeling anxious, they may seem to be tinged with an unnameable fear.
You might also have noticed how we hold on to the one negative comment but quickly forget the five positive ones. This is a genetic pre-disposition from our hunter-gatherer days, when we were constantly on the lookout for things that could eat us, and, our need to be accepted as part of the group as there is safety in numbers.
These are two good reasons to not trust the first interpretation your mind offers you, and to actively seek out other ways of seeing a situation.
An example might be when you send a message, and you see the two blue ticks that tell you it's been read, but your friend doesn't reply. You might instantly think: "Oh no! What did I do to offend her??" - but don't accept that. Come up with at least 2 other ways of interpreting the situation. Maybe your friend got distracted; maybe she was just about to go into a meeting; maybe her phone ran out of battery just then.
If you find it hard to come up with other ways of seeing something, ask a friend to help you, or pretend a friend has asked you for help. Give it a try, and see how it feels!
"In effect, the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones. That shades “implicit memory” – your underlying expectations, beliefs, action strategies, and mood – in an increasingly negative direction....But you don’t have to accept this bias! By tilting toward the good – “good” in the practical sense of that which brings more happiness to oneself and more helpfulness to others – you merely level the playing field." - Dr. Rick Hanson
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
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.”
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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