Monthly Archives: April 2021

  • Present Perfect

     

    Do you frequently find yourself ruminating over mistakes? Do you give yourself or others a hard time when things don’t go according to plan? Do you find it painful to hand over tasks to others, for fear they’ll mess things up?

     

    If any of this sounds familiar, you may be a perfectionist: someone who spends a significant amount of time feeling anxious about doing things ‘correctly’ and prioritising what you feel you should do over what you’d like to do.

    Almost all of us experience these feelings from time to time, however when our striving for perfection becomes excessive, we can end up feeling exhausted and entirely lacking in self-worth.

    Far from improving our lives, perfectionism can destroy our peace of mind, leading to life feeling more like a chore than a joy.

     

    Obsessed with the Destination

     

    As perfectionists, our focus is primarily on future goals – finishing the project, getting the grades, succeeding, achieving, completing. We’re so busy working towards the “perfect outcome” that we completely miss the journey, along with any happiness which may lie in the process.

    We want to reach perfection, so that we can finally stop and rest. And yet, we never do seem to get there, do we?

    We think that this determination to succeed makes us better at what we do. Yet while it may sometimes make us more productive and hard-working than others, it kills spontaneity, flexibility and ultimately creativity. Creativity requires the space to make mistakes and adapt; perfectionism restricts and confines us to a narrow view of how things should be.

    With so many internal should’s and shouldn’t’s, we are dragged away from the present moment, locked into a rigid view of good and bad, right and wrong, success and failure. Failure in itself is not so bad, yet when we believe that our self-worth exists within success, failure then feels like the end of our world. It doesn’t matter that we did our best, learnt new things, or had good experiences along the way: if we didn’t ‘win’, it didn’t count.

    In his book ‘Present Perfect’, Pavel Somov describes perfectionism this way:

     

    “It is a mindless reaction driven by the past rather than a mindfully chosen action that reflects the present.”

     

    Stuck in our prison of rules from the past, we lose sight of the value of the present moment. Which is ironic, for if we could only slow down for a moment, we would see that perfection has been there all along, waiting for us to take notice.

     

    The Perfection of Flow

     

    “Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it.”

    -- SALVADOR DALI 

     

    Even if we were to create something which met our standards of perfection, it could never remain that way. Just as things grow and blossom, they also fade and decay. Seeking perfection in a world of constant change is like demanding that a beautiful sunset never end. We cannot stop the sun from dipping below the horizon.

    However, we can make efforts to become present with the sunset and savour it while it is there. We can use mindfulness to shift our focus from creating perfect outcomes to enjoying the perfection inherit in the moment to moment flow of life.

    This can be done by noticing when our minds are preoccupied with thoughts of ideal outcomes:

    Next time you are working on a task, such as a work project, creative pursuit, or even when you are sitting doing meditation, try to notice when you start thinking about achieving an end goal, rather than appreciating the moment to moment experience of what you are doing. End goals could be anything from wanting to impress your boss, make more money or become an “expert” meditator.

    Once you’ve noticed, gently bring your attention back to the present moment. Focusing on the breath or on physical sensations is a useful way of doing this. However, beware of turning this practice into yet another goal to be achieved perfectly. Gentleness is key here. Whenever you notice that your mind has wandered, bring it back to your current experience.

    Experiment with resting in the sense that whatever you do, whatever you feel, you are already perfectly human, perfectly changeable and ever-evolving just as all of nature is, and that you could never be any other way.

     

    Join internationally renowned clinical psychologist, speaker and author of ‘Present Perfect’, Dr. Pavel Somov, for a special workshop, 'Overcoming Perfectionism', on Thursday 19th August 2021.

     

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  • Communicating Mindfully When We Are Upset


    communication

     

    Communication is the bridge which links our innermost thoughts and feelings to the outside world. Yet, if our emotions get the better of us we can cause problems with unskilful communication.

     

    Sometimes we may be so caught up in our emotions that we’re not even sure of what it is we are trying to say. If we are mindless of our tone and the type of language we are using, we may appear hostile, angry or just confusing to the people we are trying to communicate with. This could leave us feeling misunderstood and isolated.

    But if we can communicate mindfully, we have a much better chance of being heard and understood, as well as understanding others.

     

    Understanding Ourselves First

     

    The first step to mindful communication is to become really clear on what we’re thinking and feeling. Unless we pay attention to our own experience, we don’t have much chance of successfully expressing that experience to others.

    Say, for example, that we are angry with our partner. We are upset because they have been neglectful in some way. We may spend days, or even weeks feeling angry at this person for what they’ve done, or haven’t done. Without us necessarily being aware of it, our emotions may affect how we communicate with them.

    We might become snappy or unkind, and although this might give us the impression that we are expressing our feelings, it isn’t a mindful, clear way of communicating. What’s likely to happen is that the other person picks up on our upset, feels upset or defensive in return, and we end up in a vicious cycle of bitterness and emotional outbursts.

    Through practicing mindfulness, however, we become more in tune with our inner experience, and recognise fluctuations in our mood. If our partner has upset us, instead of holding onto the resentment we feel, or wishing it had never happened, we can acknowledge our feelings and the situation with honesty.

    For example, “My boyfriend didn’t remember our anniversary, and that makes me feel sad/angry/unappreciated, etc.” By seeing and owning our feelings first, we can then approach communication with clarity.

     

    What Do I Want From This Communication?

     

    As well as being mindful of our true feelings, it’s also useful to become clear on what we want to get out of communicating with a particular person.

     

    Do we want them to feel bad about how they’ve made us feel?

    Do we want to punish them with our words?

    Or do we want to feel understood?

    Do we want to find a resolution to a problem?

     

    Maybe we want to understand the other person better, as well as helping them understand us.

    If we feel like we want to use our words to get revenge on someone because they have hurt us, this is a natural feeling and doesn’t mean that we’re a bad person. Yet do we really want to act on these feelings and say things which might cause someone pain?

    It may be a good idea to just sit with these feelings for a while, rather than verbally lashing out and saying something we may later regret.

    If we want to feel understood, or find a solution to a conflict or problem, it’s helpful to take a few moments to think about the kind of tone or language we want to use in order to help us meet our communication goals.

     

    Noticing Our Tone & Language

     

    How we choose to phrase our feelings is important. The types of words we use can make a big difference in how we are understood, as can our tone. Even if the words we are using seem diplomatic, if our tone is bitter, sarcastic or mean, those words will count for very little.

    Most of us get defensive when we feel attacked, and so it makes sense to try and limit this if we want open and meaningful dialogue with someone. After all, the person may not even be aware that they have caused us any bad feelings!

    Rather than listing all the things we feel that the person did wrong, it might be more helpful to speak openly about how we feel, and why. For example, instead of saying, “You ignored me! I’m really angry at you!” we can mindfully rephrase it and say something like, “I don’t know if you meant to, but I felt ignored by you earlier. It made me feel really hurt and angry. Can we talk about what happened?”

    We can notice our tone, and try to take as much blame out of it as is possible. This way, we are allowing space for a real, two-way conversation. We are staying open-minded about what really happened; although we feel upset, we recognise the fact that we may have misunderstood something, or that the other person is going through their own emotions.

    Mindful communication isn’t about getting it right all the time. We’re all dealing with our own internal worlds, and sometimes we just can’t avoid misunderstandings and heated conversations. But we can become more mindful communicators at any time, just as soon as we notice that we’re stuck in a blaming mindset.

    Even if we notice half-way through an argument, we can make efforts to re-evaluate our stance and approach the situation with more mindfulness and compassion.

     

    MEDITATION

    Mindfulness of Breath

     

    The Mindfulness Project hosts a calendar of workshops, courses and retreats to teach and support mindfulness practice.

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  • How Animals Help Us Live in the Moment

    The company of animals certainly seems to have a healing effect in many of our lives. This is probably partly due to the fact that they don’t judge us in the same way fellow humans do.

     

    They may get annoyed with us if we stroke them the wrong way, but they’ll never judge us for our flaws. A cat or a dog will never reject us because we eat too much, have credit card debts, or don’t call our mothers as often as we should. It’s not unusual to see dogs sitting beside homeless people on the street.

    Our animals love us, even if we don’t love ourselves. In many cases, they embody mindfulness; they are non-judgementally present in the moment. When an animal is sitting with us, they aren’t busy thinking about yesterday or tomorrow. They are simply there. This is probably why they have such a special place in many of our lives.

     

    Being Mindful with Our Pets

     

    In our busy lives it can be all too easy to take our pets for granted. However, if we can make the time, our pets can provide us with great ways to practice mindfulness.

    Next time you’re with your pet, why not take a few moments to really notice everything about them. When you stroke them, pay close attention to how their fur or feathers feel beneath your hand. Maybe even imagine that it’s the first time you’ve ever felt them, and see what difference it makes to your experience of them. Notice their appearance, taking in every whisker, every feather or patch of coloured fur, every paw and claw. Watch how they’re breathing. Listen to their heart beat if you’re snuggled up with them.

    Perhaps most importantly of all, cultivate a sense of gratitude for having them in your life. Remember all the difficult or painful times that you’ve been through, and how your pet has been there with you through it all. Let that gratitude fill you from top to toe.

     

    Animals & Meditation

     

    One of the great things about animals is that they don’t care about our plans. They have a habit of interrupting those streams of thought that we feel are very important. Although this may at first seem like a negative thing, it can actually help us become unstuck from living in our mental chatter by bringing us back to reality. For this reason, animals can help us in our formal meditation practice.

    Have you ever been meditating, and then heard a dog barking in the distance, or had your cat try climbing on you for a cuddle? Far from being distractions from our meditation, they can enhance it. Meditation is not about escaping from the present moment, but about embracing it. While we’re taking our meditation very seriously, animals are just living their lives. And so that dog barking in the street or that cat determined to have your attention act as anchors to the flow of the present. They are reminders that we are not in control, and that the best way to cope with life is to let go of our pre-conceived ideas of how things should be and join in with the dance of how things really are.

    We can do this by noticing our reactions to them. If we feel annoyed about our meditation being interrupted, we can look at why that is. Perhaps it’s because we have an inaccurate idea of what meditation is about. Or perhaps we’re attached to an idea of how we’d like to be. In this way, animals can have a very humbling effect. They can remind us that our meditation practice doesn’t place us in an elevated state above the rest of life, but that in fact our meditating is just like the barking in the street, just one small part of life as a whole.

    Animals are indeed great mindfulness teachers, if we take the time to notice them. What mindfulness lessons have you learnt from your pets? We’d love to hear them in the comments below!

    MEDITATION:

    Animal Affection Meditation

     

    Find out more about mindfulness with a course or workshop.

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  • Do You Need A Digital Detox?

     

    Unless you’re a teenager, you’ll remember a time before our lives revolved around mobiles and computers. However, the ability to be technologically connected at all times is now central to many of our lives, to the point that we might feel some sense of withdrawal if we went a few days without checking our social media accounts.

     

    For some, this need for constant connectivity has become an addiction, and it makes many of us feel unable to genuinely switch off from work or social duties. Ironically, this virtual connection to the world can make us feel lonely and disconnected – the very feelings we are trying to use technology to help us avoid.

    It would be safe to say that these modern problems are impossible to resolve without mindfulness. Daily activities and habits become so second-nature that we often find ourselves going through the motions with little memory of when or why we started. Yet by bringing our attention to the present moment, we can notice our behaviours and therefore start to make more conscious choices.

     

    Self-distraction is at epidemic proportions—and it’s not the iPhone, it’s the thought of, ‘I wonder if anybody texted me.”

    -- JON KABAT-ZINN

     

    We reach for our phones or tablets reflexively now, almost in the same way we move our hand towards an itch so that we can scratch it. So it’s important to slow down and really tap into our motivations.

    Next time your phone pings with a text, email or notification try noticing your immediate response. It might be, “That could be work, I better read it!” or “Maybe someone has replied to my Tweet / Instagram post.”

    If it’s the evening, why can’t the work-related email wait until the morning? If someone has responded to a social media post, what does it mean to you that someone has responded? Or if your phone hasn’t pinged for a while, and you’re feeling a bit down about it, why is that?

    There may be other things we use technology for that we don’t need to. Things that we've become accustomed to. For example, when was the last time you asked a person for directions, rather than reaching for your phone to look at Google Maps? When you’re doing a sum, do you ever try and do it in your head before finding the calculator function?

    Using calculators and digital maps isn’t wrong. In fact, they’re very useful. But the problem comes when we use these useful things mindlessly. When we’re mindless, we cut ourselves off from other possibilities, other ways of doing things which might also be fun or rewarding.

    Becoming more aware of our motivations and emotions around technology may not result in us not using it for certain things, but it enables us to make our actions less reflexive and more deliberate.

     

    Creating Time Away From Technology

     

    Anyone who has ever tried to overcome an addiction or habit using willpower alone will know how challenging it can be. Using hard effort to change a behaviour is a largely ineffective method, and is why so many people get stuck in yo-yo dieting, cycles of sobriety and alcoholism. It's why so many smokers have had a hundred “last” cigarettes.

    Technology is comparable with insomnia in some ways. For example, in order to improve our chances of falling asleep we must first accept and acknowledge why we’re not falling asleep. Detoxing digitally works along the same lines. To start off with, all that is required is more awareness.

    If we start noticing how much we rely on digital connection and communication, then using willpower starts to become unnecessary. This is because when we are present in what we are doing we notice its affect. We can start by simple recognising;

     

    • When we use it - late at night, when we’re with family or friends, etc.

     

    • How it makes us feel - frustrated, isolated, over-stimulated.

     

    • How it affects other aspects of our lives - sleep, exercise, our connection with family, friends and nature.

     

    Let's take reading work emails before going to bed as an example – it makes you feel agitated and unable to unwind. Once you’re conscious of that feeling, and you know it’s linked with your action of checking emails at night, you naturally won’t want to be present in that agitation.

    Feeling the agitation of it, mindfully, is a little like noticing you’ve got a splinter. Once you know where the irritation is coming from, you’re unlikely to leave it there. Without having to mentally motivate yourself to reach for the tweezers, you just pick them up and remove the splinter.

    In the same way, once we’re aware, we naturally stop doing things that don’t make us feel good. Living mindfully gives us more choice, and will help us use technology when it suits our real needs, rather than as a mindless reflex.

     

    Find out what happened when The Mindfulness Project co-founder, Alexa Frey, took a 12-hour Digital Detox.

     

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  • A Mindful Approach To Insomnia

     

    If you suffer from insomnia, you’re not alone. An estimated 50% of us in the UK struggle to get a good night’s sleep.

     

    Poor sleep doesn’t just make for an uncomfortable night; the effects of insomnia carry on into the day too. For example, we may find that our ability to focus is impaired or we may feel grouchy.

    Insomnia can increase depression, affect our physical health and has even been shown to lead us to make unhealthier food choices. It’s a problem we just can’t afford to ignore.

    The good news is that one of the many benefits of practicing mindfulness is improved length and quality of sleep. However, unlike most other methods, such as medication or counting sheep, mindfulness requires us to kindly acknowledge and accept our sleeping difficulties, rather than try to cover over them, fix them or avoid them.

     

    Changing the Goal

     

    When we can’t sleep, the thing we want more than anything is the very thing that eludes us. Our only goal is to ‘just get some sleep’, and so begins the struggle. As the night goes on, our desperation increases; the more sleeplessness we experience, the more we crave to meet our goal.

    This conflict between how our present moment really is and how we want it to be can bring up a range of unpleasant emotions. We may get angry and find ourselves remembering past events that have annoyed us, or we may become overwhelmed by depression and find that our predicament brings us to tears.

    Mindfulness offers an alternative ‘goal’. Rather than trying to get to where we want to be, we re-focus our attention on where we actually are. We stop trying to fight the situation, and instead surrender to it with awareness and self-kindness.

    The word ‘surrender’ might have negative connotations for some people. But think of it this way: You’ve just walked into a pit of quicksand. Your natural instinct is to try and get out as quickly as possible, so you start struggling against the pull. Then you notice that the more you struggle, the faster you sink.

    So what do you do? Fight more, or surrender?

    It may seem obvious in this scenario. And yet so many of us spend each night fighting to escape our sleeplessness, when in fact we need to breathe, relax and let go of the struggle to fight it.

     

    Observing with Self-Compassion

     

    Perhaps you can’t sleep because you’re feeling stressed or worried about something. Perhaps you’re in pain. Whatever the reason for your insomnia, paying attention to it in a kind, accepting way will help your body and mind relax.

    Sounds familiar? Once we’re aware of the thoughts spinning through our head such as “If I don’t get some sleep, I won’t meet my deadline tomorrow” or “This always happens! I can never sleep!”, we can take steps to create some distance from them.

    In fact, you can practice doing this right now.

     

    1. Take a moment to really feel into one of these difficult thoughts, one that you often have when you can't sleep.

    2. Notice the emotions and feelings it produces in your body.

    3. Notice any tension or anxiety.

    4. Now mentally take a step back, and think of it as simply, “I am currently having the thought of….”.

    5. If it helps, imagine that the words of the thought are written on a poster, or a t-shirt, or on the side of a moving bus.

     

    Do you notice any difference?

     

    Self-compassion during this process is key. What can often happen when we can’t get to sleep is we get frustrated or angry with ourselves. Yet imagine doing this with a baby who can’t get to sleep.

    If we take our frustrated thoughts, and imagine vocalising them to the baby (imagine the words, tone and volume), think of what the reaction would be: more crying and still no sleep.

    And so, showing kindness to ourselves is vital if we want to become calm and relaxed, and thus more open and receptive for when sleep finally arrives.

     

    Join one of The Mindfulness Project's sleep or self-compassion workshops to support a better quality of sleep. 

     

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