Back in Lockdown, many of us are spending more time in our own heads as the things that usually distracted us from ourselves have been removed.
An important thing to remember right now is that Thoughts are NOT Facts. Not everything you think is true, and so it is helpful to develop a practice of questioning your thoughts, instead of taking them at their word.
Left alone to wander, the mind will tend toward negative thinking. This is just how we are built, it's something that has helped us evolve and stay alive over the centuries - the mind scans the environment for potential danger so we can prepare for it. A certain amount of this thinking is obviously helpful, but too much can paint a dire picture.
Add to this the tendency for our mood to colour our thinking, and a mild sadness can spiral into a depression without us even noticing.
Make it a practice to bring your awareness to what is happening inside your mind, and question it. Here are some questions I find helpful:
"Thoughts simply aren’t facts, they are mental events that pop up in the mind and are dependent on our mood." - Elisha Goldstein
So many of us are feeling extra pressure and strain as a result of the pandemic. It has affected all our lives, and yet, many of us are giving ourselves a hard time for not being able to proceed as normal, keeping up with all we have to do, staying happy and calm.
The reality is that life is different now, many of our comforting structures have gone with working from home, our social lives have diminished, and uncertainty is a part of daily life.
With this change in how we live our lives, it's wise to adapt accordingly.
I am encouraging clients (and myself) to take some of the pressure of, and lighten the expectations we place on ourselves.
When you're making your to-do list this week, be aware of your energy levels. If you are feeling tired or stressed, can you take a few to-do items off your list? Is there anything that isn't absolutely necessary?
Give yourself permission to take it easy if you need to, what's the worst that can happen?
“The first step towards true enlightenment is to lighten up on yourself.” ― Bashar
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
Take one minute three times each day to put your worries, thoughts, troubles on a shelf, and just be in this moment.
Breathe deeply and allow the muscles in the shoulders, face, and stomach to relax. Don't worry, anything important will be there when you come back, but for now, rest in the moment.
The more we can allow ourselves to follow this prescription, the more peace we create in our lives.
“The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.” — Abraham Maslow
"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
"We have 60,000 thoughts a day, and 98% of them we had yesterday" - Tara Brach
Take a moment to think about this, is this true of your experience? I know it is of mine.
Often I find myself watching re-runs in my mind ranging from the mundane and necessary "What will I have for dinner today?" to the detrimental "Remember that time I said (insert stupid comment) to (insert person's name)? What an idiot I looked!".
What would happen if we opened up to this moment instead of watching re-runs in our minds?
Sure, there's comfort in watching a re-run, you know what will happen, you know how the story ends, there are no surprises, and there is a time and a place for that. But what are we missing out on by doing this? What new possibilities would open up if we were to be present and aware in this moment? What new things could we learn about ourselves and our relationships? Our work and our lives? What new story would we get to tell?
This week, set an intention to come back to your senses a few times a day and notice what's actually happening in the here and now. See if you can be curious about your inner and outer world, you never know what you might discover. :)
“Always hold fast to the present. Every situation, indeed every moment, is of infinite value, for it is the representative of a whole eternity.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
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
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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