An introduction to mindfullness

You may have heard the term ‘mindfulness’ before, but many people are unaware of what mindfulness is and how it can be extremely beneficial, not only to those going through periods of emotional difficulty, but for everyone else as well.  Along with the likes of Yoga and Meditation, mindfulness can help the body and mind to relax, allowing improvements in concentration, focus and stress levels. 

Over the coming blog posts, we'll be exploring mindfulness along with ways to incorporate it into your everyday life.  In this post, we are going to take a brief look at what it is and a basic mindfulness exercise which you can begin at home.

 


Mindfulness is a technique of becoming fully aware of yourself in the present moment. Studies show that people who practice this technique experience positive changes in their lives, including better focus, reduced stress and improved self-esteem.

In mindfulness we learn to stop making judgements about what is ‘positive’ or ‘negative’. We simply learn to accept our thoughts as thoughts. Although the technique stems from Eastern thought and Zen Buddhism, medical professionals are only now beginning to recognise the health benefits of applying these practices to everyday life. Studies show it has a measurable effect on brain processes, and can be used to help people with depression.

Here’s a seven step guide to a basic mindfulness exercise:

1. Make time

Mindfulness only needs to take 10 minutes out of your day. Commit to this 10 minutes – make it a part of your routine, just as breakfast is, or walking the dog is. Ideally you will practice mindfulness at the same time everyday (to get your body used to the routine) but this is not imperative. Simply choose a time when you’re least likely to be disturbed.

2. Find space

Whether it’s your spare room, your garden shed, or the living room before the rest of the family are up – make sure you set out a space of your own where you can practice mindfulness without being interrupted. Make sure you turn your phone off, close the door and turn off all TVs, radios and any other distractions.

3. Get comfy

Mindfulness isn’t about punishment – you’re allowed to be comfy! Sit on the sofa if you like, or put a cushion on the floor. Make sure your back is straight and let your hands fall in your lap.

4. Breathe slowly

Take five, slow breaths breathing in as deeply as possible. On the fifth breath, shut your eyes.

5. Focus on now

Now think about how your body feels, how the cushion or floor feels against your legs, how the room smells and any other sensations. Let these thoughts drift through your mind but don’t think about the implications, just the facts.

6. Relax

Staying still for 10 minutes is more difficult than you think. As your mind focuses on the present moment, it’s likely it will try to wander to other things, like what you’re going to do after the 10 minutes is up, or all the other things that are normally on your mind. Don’t panic – you’re not doing it wrong. Every time your mind wanders, simply bring it back by focusing on the position of your body and the sensation of oxygen filling your lungs.

7. Ease yourself into the day

When the 10 minutes is up, make a goal for the day – even if it seems small and insignificant. It could be to go and make a cup tea, or it could be to go and make a start on your work. As you get on with your daily tasks, think back to your 10 minutes of mindfulness, and how it felt to focus entirely on the present moment.

 

In later posts, we'll be looking into this technique further at introducing new mindfulness exercises for you to try at home!

Sitting with your feelings (no matter how uncomfortable!)

There are many in society who believe that experiencing negative emotions such as fear, anger, sadness, jealousy, etc. is wrong.  They believe that those feelings are unhelpful and should be conquered through the use of positive thoughts, cognitive thinking and behavioural changes.  In fact, a lot of the concepts around Cognitive Behavioural Therapy are just that - using behavioural techniques to change how we think and therefor how we feel.   

However I've always been a great believer in sitting with your feelings and allowing yourself time to understand them and acknowledge them, rather than trying to chase them away and bury them.  Now I'm not saying to dwell on feelings or become immersed in them, but at the same time, not to block them out either.  I like to think of it as watching a lightening storm out of your bedroom window.  You are safe enough inside your house that you are not going to get hurt by the lightening, but at the same time, you are allowing yourself to see it and experience it (rather than shutting the curtains and hiding under your bed covers!)

The benefits of sitting with your feelings really hit home during a recent client session.  The client began by talking about their work, how they had lost their motivation and had become disillusioned with it.  They explained how they dreaded going to work and were desperately looking for some alternative.  A few days before the session, the client had spoken to their mother about their feelings.  The mother was very solution focussed, coming up with idea after idea after idea about the possible solutions, e.g. more training courses, ideas for new jobs, careers advisors, etc.  As my client sat and listened to her mother, she became more and more upset and more and more despondent.  She didn't want solutions, she just wanted to be heard and acknowledged.  She wanted her mother to be empathic and understand her feelings.  My client wanted to know that she was still acceptable and still lovable even if she was feeling this way, however her mothers problem solving response made her feel that she was unacceptable and wrong in some way, as if she was failing.  This made her feel much worse. 

Later in the same session with my client, I began to question whether she was using psychotherapy theories and cognitive reasoning as a way of avoiding or burying certain internal feelings.  She admitted that there were times when she was doing that, however believed that it was the right thing to do.  She believed that she could control her unwanted feelings through CBT techniques and other practical methods then it would make her feel better in herself.  I referred her back to earlier in the session when she had spoken about the discussion between herself and her mother and explained how I was hearing that exact same conversation going on within her.

One part of her, which we may call the Parent (in reference to Transactional Analyses terminology), was wanting to problem solve, using practical techniques to overcome her feelings.  However another part, which we may call the Child (also TA terminology), was yearning to be heard for what it was feeling, wanting those unpleasant feelings to be acknowledged, recognised and accepted. 

My client was quite taken aback by this realisation.  She had understood what it felt like to have her need to be heard and acknowledged ignored by the practical approach of her mother and here she was, doing exactly the same thing to herself. 

This understanding has since helped my client to sit with her unpleasant feelings for longer.  Most of the time, she finds they now disappear much sooner and stay away much longer.  I like to think of it as a small child trying to get it's mother's attention.  The more the child is ignored, the more it will interrupt and the louder and more demanding it will get.  However once that child has been heard and acknowledged, it is more likely to feel satisfied and not pester it's mother for attention for a while.

I am a firm believer in feeling your feelings, sitting with them and then choosing a course of action rather than just reacting which often reinforces negative beliefs and emotions.  I have found on countless occasions how accepting all feelings as being fundamentally "okay" and listening to them has provided great therapeutic insights and relief for clients.  So next time you experience fear, anger, sadness, despair, loneliness or any other negative feeling, why not give it a go yourself?  Rather than covering up and burying these emotions, try sitting with them for a while, tolerating the discomfort, learning from those feelings and really understanding that part of yourself. 

7 Reasons to stop proving yourself to everyone else

You are GOOD enough, SMART enough, FINE enough, and STRONG enough.  You don’t need other people to validate you; you are already VALUABLE.

Sometimes we try to show the world we are flawless in hopes that we will be liked and accepted by everyone, but we can’t please everyone and we shouldn’t try.  The beauty of us lies in our vulnerability, our complex emotions, and our authentic imperfections.  When we embrace who we are and decide to be authentic, instead of who we think others want us to be, we open ourselves up to real relationships, real happiness, and real success.

There is no need to put on a mask.  There is no need to pretend to be someone you’re not.  You have nothing to prove to anyone else, because…

1.  The people worth impressing just want you to be yourself.

In the long run, it’s better to be loathed for who you are than loved for who you are not.  In fact, the only relationships that work well in the long run are the ones that make you a better person without changing you into someone other than yourself, and without preventing you from outgrowing the person you used to be.

Ignore the comparisons and expectations knocking at your door.  The only person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday.  Prove yourself to yourself, not others.  The RIGHT people for you will love you for doing so, and they will appreciate all the things about you that the WRONG people are intimidated by.  Bottom line: Don’t change so people will like you; be patient, keep being your amazing self, and pretty soon the RIGHT people will love the REAL you.

2.  No one else really knows what’s best for YOU.

Don’t lose yourself in your search for acceptance by others.  Walk your path confidently and don’t expect anyone else to understand your journey, especially if they have not been exactly where you are going.  You have to take the steps that are right for you; no one else walks in your shoes.

Let others take you as you are, or not at all.  Speak your truth even if your voice shakes.  By being true to yourself, you put something breathtaking into the world that was not there before.  You are stunning when your passion and strength shines through as you follow your own path – when you aren’t distracted by the opinions of others.  You are powerful when you let your mistakes educate you, and your confidence builds from firsthand experiences – when you know you can fall down, pick yourself up, and move forward without asking for anyone else’s permission.

3.  YOU are the only person who can change YOUR life.

In every situation you have ever been in, positive or negative, the one common thread is you.  It is your responsibility, and yours alone, to recognize that regardless of what has happened up to this point in your life, you are capable of making choices to change your situation, or to change the way you think about it.  Don’t let the opinions of others interfere with this prevailing reality.

What you’re capable of achieving is not a function of what other people think is possible for you.  What you’re capable of achieving depends entirely on what you choose to do with your time and energy.  So stop worrying about what everyone else thinks.  Just keep living your truth.  The only people that will fault you for doing so are those who want you to live a lie.

4.  Society’s materialistic measurement of worth is worthless.

When you find yourself trapped between what moves you and what society tells you is right for you, always travel the route that makes you feel alive – unless you want everyone to be happy, except you.  No matter where life takes you, big cities or small towns, you will inevitably come across others who think they know what’s best for you – people who think they’re better than you – people who think happiness, success and beauty mean the same things to everyone.

They’ll try to measure your worth based on what you have, instead of who you are.  But you know better than that – material things don’t matter.  Don’t chase the money.  Catch up to the ideas and activities that make you come alive.  Go for the things of greater value – the things money can’t buy.  What matters is having strength of character, an honest heart, and a sense of self-worth.  If you’re lucky enough to have any of these things, never sell them.  Never sell yourself short.  (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Self-Love” and “Simplicity” chapters of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)

5.  Life isn’t a race; you have nothing to prove.

Everyone wants to get to the top of the mountain first and shout, “Look at me!  Look at me!”  But the truth is, all your happiness and growth occurs while you’re climbing, not while you’re sitting at the top.  Enjoy the journey by paying attention to each step.  Don’t rush through your life and miss it.  Forget where everyone else is in relation to you.  This isn’t a race.  You get there a little at a time, not all at once.

Let go of the foolish need to prove yourself to everyone else, and you’ll free yourself to accomplish what matters most to you.  Sometimes you have to remind yourself that you don’t have to always be and do what everyone else is being and doing.

6.  The path to all great things passes through failure.

You are an ever-changing work in progress.  You don’t have to always be right, you just have to not be too worried about being wrong.  Screwing up is part of the process.  Looking like a fool sometimes is the only way forward.  If you try too hard to impress everyone else with your “perfection,” you will stunt your growth.  You will spend all your time looking a certain way, instead of living a certain way.

It’s impossible to live without failing sometimes, unless you live so cautiously that you aren’t really living at all – you’re merely existing.  If you’re too afraid of failing in front of others, you can’t possibly do what needs to be done to be successful in your own eyes.  You have to remember that it doesn’t matter how many times you fail or how messy your journey is, so long as you do not stop taking small steps forward.  In the end, those who don’t care that failure is inevitable are the ones that reach their dreams.  YOU can be one of them.  

7.  It’s impossible to please everyone anyway.

Some people will always tell you what you did wrong, and then hesitate to compliment you for what you did right.  Don’t be one of them, and don’t put up with them.

When you run into someone who discredits you, disrespects you and treats you poorly for no apparent reason at all, don’t consume yourself with trying to change them or win their approval.  And be sure not to leave any space in your heart to hate them.  Simply walk away and let karma deal with the things they say and do, because any bit of time you spend on these people will be wasted, and any bit of hate and aggravation in your heart will only hurt you in the end.

Afterthoughts

You don’t need a standing ovation or a bestseller or a promotion or a million bucks.  You are enough right now.  You have nothing to prove.  Care less about who you are to others and more about who you are to yourself.  You will have less heartaches and disappointments the minute you stop seeking from others the validation only YOU can give yourself.

The floor is yours…

How has the desire to be accepted by others interfered with your life?  What has it stopped you from doing or being?  How have you coped?  Leave a comment below and share your insights with us.

 

This article was originally posted on Marc and Angel.

Issues with communication?

Communication is one of the key issues in many relationships.  It doesn’t matter if this is a romantic relationship, one with family, friends or work colleagues, communication problems can happen anywhere and at any time.  How often have you heard the phrase “We got our wires crossed” or “You got the wrong end of the stick”?  How often do you feel misunderstood or misheard or receive a reaction which you really were not expecting?

Often effective communication is seen as a bit of a mystery whose secrets are only revealed to those successful sales people or politicians or lawyers who always seem to know what to say to get their own way.  However, communication can be very easy to understand and like most things, it begins with you.

One of the key concepts in therapy is the idea that at any one moment in time, we are thinking, behaving and responding from one of three states.  The first state is Parent.  This is when we think, act and behave in a way we observed our parents behaving when we were younger.  This may be responding with the same emotion in a specific situation, maybe saying a certain phrase, holding certain prejudices, etc.  The Parent state is very powerful because, as a child, we look at our parents as being experts in the world who can never be wrong.  So to a child’s mind, imitating their parents means that they will also never be wrong.

The second state is called the Child.  This is when people think, act and behave in a way they did as a child.  For example, they may have learnt that sulking encourages another to feel guilty and so they end up apologising.  Maybe they learn to throw a tantrum when they didn’t get their own way.  Maybe feelings of terror or anxiety come up if they are unsure or challenged.  Any feeling, behaviour or a response learnt as a youngster falls under the Child state.

These are all examples of where the past influences our current behaviour.  However the third state is known as Adult, and this refers to when we are acting appropriately to the here and now situation.  Being in Adult doesn’t mean that you can’t experience emotion, however it does mean that the emotions are appropriate to the situation in hand rather than remnants from the old Parent or Child state.  For example, shouting out in pain if you have just injured yourself is appropriate, however shouting at your partner because they bought the wrong type of washing liquid isn’t.  The latter is much more likely to be a reaction from a Parent state. 

So the ultimate key to great communication is to try and be in Adult.  If you are suddenly aware of a communication issue, take a step back for a few moments and try to recognise which state you were in at the time of the difficulty.  Think if it is actually appropriate to the here and now or whether it is an old relic of the past coming into play, something from you Parent or Child state.  By continuing to communicate from your Adult, both in speaking and in listening, you will find that things improve dramatically.  If anyone communicates to you from their Parent or Child state, try to become more aware of that pull within you to respond in kind, however try to maintain that Adult state. 

Change always begins with you.  Don’t expect other people to change unless you are also prepared to do the same.  So next time you encounter a communication issue, try to take a step back, look at it with your Adult awareness and simply ask yourself, “What part of me was responding there, how would it sound differently if it came from my Adult and how would the other have responded to my Adult?”.  You will find that thinking and responding from that Adult part of you can have truly amazing results!

You can find more information on the Parent, Adult and Child by Googling “Ego States”.

Turning failure into success

In modern society, there is often huge pressure for people to get things right, to succeed and to be perfect.  When we do achieve and get things right, we feel fantastic, however sooner or later we will fail and this sends us plummeting into feelings of disappointment, sadness, anger, frustration, anxiety and even depression.  Feelings of failure can last for a few hours to many months after the event and these feelings are often compounded by further failures.  We can become very hard on ourselves, lowering our expectations of our abilities and making us reluctant to take chances in the future, in case we “get it wrong” again.  It can also lead to self-sabotaging and self-fulfilling prophecies were we unconsciously help ourselves to fail, just so we can reinforce that belief.  

Failure is often seen as wholly negative whilst success is deemed as completely positive and this is something we usually pick up from parents when we are young.  As children, most of us were praised and rewarded for getting things right and told off when we got it wrong or made a mistake.  This way of bringing up children evolved from a concept called “Operant conditioning” where rats learnt to behave a certain way by either receiving food or an electric shock dependent upon which leaver they activated in a maze.  The idea was that if rats could be trained to behave in a certain way, then so could children.  And so parents set out to condition their children to aim for perfection and to encourage them to get things right first time by rewarding the positives and punishing the perceived failures.    

Throughout life, this belief system is reinforced first at school, then at work and in relationships.  Eventually we pass this same message onto our own children; that it is wonderful to get things right and awful to make a mistake. 

But are mistakes these awful things we have been programmed to believe?  Should we be feeling so down and hard on ourselves when things don’t go according to plan?  In actual fact, failure is just as important as success, maybe even more so, as long as you have the right mind-set.

You either succeed or you fail

Just think about the above statement for a moment.  Say it out loud and say it as if it were someone saying those words to you.  What feelings does it evoke in you?  Focus on the meaning of those words and what they represent to you.  And when you have done that, repeat the same with the statement below.       

You either succeed or you learn something valuable

Do you notice the difference?  Both statements are talking about exactly the same thing, but the first encourages you to feel negative, inadequate and down on yourself.  However the second is a win-win scenario.  It allows you to realise that when you haven’t succeeded, it is an excellent opportunity to learn something valuable.  Learning how to improve, how to better yourself and how to become more than you were before. 

If you take any of the big, influential names in business, such as Richard Branson, Sir Alan Sugar, Henry Ford (the inventor of the Ford Motor Company), they all experienced an untold amount of setbacks when building their first business.  They could have easily seen themselves as failures and decided to give up, thinking themselves as not good enough, however they decided to learn from each set back.  They allowed themselves to learn a valuable lesson every time something didn’t go to plan, allowing them to improve on it for the future and to build something bigger and better.

And mistakes can often lead to great discoveries.  Some of the greatest culinary creations, like the brownies, resulted from a failure to use a leavening ingredient. Often, our mistakes are actually the gateway to our success. And it’s not just a small success. Many times, it is a life-changing success. Failure helps us become more creative, explore the world around us, consider other options, break the rules, innovate, and steer clear from the conventional, which all could lead to much greater things.

Now I’m not saying to you to deliberately go out of your way to make mistakes or not to try to make a success of your life because that would be counter-productive.  However, next time you do make a mistake, just tell yourself this:

It’s a wonderful opportunity to learn and better myself

Because the truth is, without failure, we can never learn to succeed.  So embrace your mistakes.  Be proud of your errors and above all, learn from them. 


Transactional Analysis - Life Positions

According to TA theory, every person falls into one of four life positions.  Although we are capable of moving between different life positions depending upon the situation we are in, generally, we will always favour one over the others and spend a majority of our time in that position. 

 

 

  • I am not OK, You are OK – This is the most common life position, where you see yourself as being less important, worthy, or holding less value than other people.  Usually people in this life position will suffer from confidence issues and will put other people’s needs and wants above their own.  Usually people in this position would have experienced a lack of recognition and encouragement in childhood.  They may have also felt unable or been restricted from socialising and making friends in those early years.  People in this position need assistance to “get away from helplessness” and are the most likely to seek help from therapy. 

     

  • I am not OK, Your are Not OK – This life position is quite rare, but feels completely hopeless to those inhabiting it.  As well as feeling that they have no value or worth, they also see the world around them as negative, bad and unworthy.  People in this life position often struggle to seek help as they don’t believe that anyone is capable of helping them (as everyone is equally helpless).  Usually people in this life position may have had abusive or severely neglectful parents.  They are likely to be projecting their negative thoughts about themselves onto others and are likely to have experienced poor relationships in adult life. 

     

  • I am OK, You are not OK – This life position is when you see yourself as being superior to others (essentially the opposite of “I am not ok, you are ok”).  People in this position will look down on others and will often make comments designed to put people down and make them feel inferior.  Anger will be quite a common feeling.   People in this position will often have been spoilt during childhood, or made to feel that they are “better” somehow than other children.  In adult life, parents, managers and others in a position of power can often fall into this category without realising it.

     

  • I am OK, Your are OK - This is the ideal life position to hold.  It means that you believe in your own sense of worth and you recognise your own value (I’m OK).  At the same time, it also means that you recognise that everyone else has value and is a worthwhile human being. Seeing others as worthwhile can be quite a difficult concept, especially when you think about criminals, etc.  However thinking about someone as worthwhile doesn’t mean you agree with their behaviour or views or that you like them, but just that you understand that they have a value as a human being.  And as a human, they have the potential to improve their life and join you in this life position. 

     

The first three life positions are all unconscious.  We find ourselves in those positions because of our previous life experiences and they carry on outside of our awareness.  The last position is in the conscious mind.  You need to gain conscious awareness and understanding of where you are from, where you have been and how life has affected you before you can move to this awareness that you are valuable and worthy, just as everyone else is.