Habits

  • "Tell me, what is it you plan to do…"

    Mary Oliver - Summer's Day

    "Tell me, what is it you plan to do…"

     

    Mary Oliver in the poem ‘A Summer Day’ asks us the question, ‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’ The question challenges us to face the fact that life is precious and that it doesn’t last forever. This question feels particularly pertinent at the beginning of a new year, “Time is passing, opportunity is lost, am I living well?’ It prods complacency, creating a sense of helpful, motivating urgency around making choices that support health, happiness and well – being.

    Many people attend mindfulness courses because they understand that the capacity to be present is absolutely fundamental to a sense of being fully alive. After attending an MBSR course people often struggle with continuing to integrate practice into daily life. Graduate courses like Deepening Mindfulness and Interpersonal Mindfulness, ongoing practice groups such as the Weekly Drop-in Sessions and varies one-day retreats, are designed to support people in sustaining practice, and bringing mindfulness more fully into their lives. There is however much we can do ourselves to support our practice.

    Intentionality, grounded in a recognition of self- responsibility and accountability is essential.  Recognising that a life lived mindfully centres on actively locating and integrating ones practice within the context of daily life. If you are serious and passionate about living a healthier and more fulfilling life, it is necessary to take a regular, disciplined approach to what you do. Choosing a specific meditation practice that you do each day, and setting aside a specific time are fundamentally important in sustaining a practice. Success as in any other enterprise – business, arts, sports – depends on establishing a disciplined and committed lifestyle. If you live haphazardly, just doing what you feel like when you feel like it, you may not find the time or inclination for things that will benefit you.

     

     

    Making Choices in Every Domain and Every Day

    Applying mindful awareness to the entire domain of your life involves continuously reflecting on how you are living your life. It means being aware of the choices you have. Angeles Arrien  describes three ways that choices function. It is through choice that we can:

    1)Create new ways of being/realities

    2)Sustain and maintain current ways of being/realities.

    3)Release and let go of ways of being/realities that no longer serve us.

    Slowing down, pausing and recognizing the choices that we have enables us to know firstly, that we have a choice, and secondly, the consequences of the choices we make.  It means being aware of the choices you are making and the motivations and intentions behind these, and recognising what these choices are creating in your life; whether it is well -being or its opposite.

    For example having the intention to eat mindfully brings many benefits. We slow down while we are eating, notice more; taste, texture, sight and smell, and a deeper level of appreciation emerges in relationship to our food. The routine, everyday activity of eating becomes more enjoyable and vital! This greater sense of awareness extends to the ways in which we consume. We develop a greater awareness of impulses and cravings for foods that are not nourishing, that are unhealthy for our bodies. We perhaps recognise what lies behind these impulses, whether loneliness, fear or stress and make healthier choices about how to be with these. We read labels, paying a greater attention to what we will be ingesting, or consciously reduce our intake of fats, salt and sugar. In this simple act of paying greater attention to our eating we can cultivate a relationship of respect and care for ourselves, our bodies. We ingest foods that are nourishing and that contribute to our bodily health and vitality.

    Noticing our patterns of consumption in general can support us in understanding ourselves and taking greater care of our well-being. Noticing our relationship to shopping for example. Do we shop excessively, buying things that we don’t really need? And the media – Do we watch TV programmes and films or read magazines that fill our consciousness with damaging or unhelpful information? What we consume psychologically impacts our well-being. Try noticing how you feel physically when you veg out in front of the computer or TV.

    How do we spend our free time, nourish our minds and hearts? Spending time nurturing ourselves through inspiring reading, a hobby that we love, walks in nature, listening to music we enjoy, an audio talk, a deep bath, playing with our children, being in silence, or just being. Making the choice for well-being can be just what we need rather than deepening the groove of habitual unhealthy lifestyle habits.

    Mindful movement, whether it be Yoga, Tai-Chi, dance, Aikido, running, walking or gardening can cultivate a greater sense of awareness with regard to our bodies, as well as being fun and good for our health. Developing bodily awareness allows us to be more receptive to our bodies messages of fatigue, discomfort and stress, and to recognise that we need to take care of ourselves. Giving your body regular attention allows you to attend to the build up of tensions and strains that gather from everyday living. In this way we can develop a preventative approach to our health care rather than one of cure; where we give our bodies attention only when they are crying out for it. Mindful movement is as vital a maintenance skill as brushing your teeth and is deeply life enhancing too. It allows us to be more in touch with ourselves and our world and to live more vital, healthy lives.

    This mindful enquiry can also extend into the realm of our social relationships –What conversations do we have, are they helpful or unhelpful to others and to ourselves? What is our intention in speaking? How do we listen? Do we listen to speak or do we listen in order to really hear what the speaker is wanting to express? Mindful listening can deeply nourish our relationships creating understanding, empathy and compassion. Check out Nik Askews’ Ted talk for more on this here.

    Crafting Our Future with Present Choices

    Living mindfully, can offer us a deeper quality of happiness. A happiness that is derived from an overall vision of well-being and health, rather than a short term vision of immediate gratification. As we proceed in our practise we begin to realise the truth that what we will become, and how our lives unfold, depends to a great extent on how fully, how un-distractedly, we can live in this present moment.

    Jane Hirshfield on the threshold of a new year, reflects in her poem on how our choices have a significant impact on how our lives are shaped.

    I imagine myself in time looking back on myself- this self, this morning,
    drinking her coffee on the first day of a new year
    and once again almost unable to move her pen through the iron air.
    Perplexed by my life as Midas was in his world of sudden metal,
    surprised that it was not as he’d expected, what he had asked.
    And that other self, who watches me from the distance of decades,
    what will she say?  Will she look at me with hatred or with compassion,
    I whose choices made her what she will be?

    Our choices now, will make us what we will be. What are your priorities? What choices are you going to make? Who, or what will you want to look back on in a decade?

     

    We have a full programme of courses this January for beginners and more advanced meditators to help cultivate more intentional living.

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    Written by Rosalie Dores, Mindfulness Teacher at The Mindfulness Project

    Originally posted here

  • Why We Procrastinate & How Mindfulness Can Help

    Dog Leaning Head on Table

     

    You’re sitting at your desk, you have a task you should be getting on with, but you tell yourself you’ll start it right after you’ve checked social media. Or, maybe you’re deciding what to eat and consider eating something healthy, but you decide you’ll have pizza today and eat more healthily tomorrow.

     

    Part of you may know exactly what will happen: that you’ll get stuck on social media for the next hour, or that you’ll decide to 'eat healthily tomorrow' for two months.

    Yet, you can’t seem to stop putting things off, even when it’s something you’d quite like to get done. Why is that?

     

    What Makes Us Procrastinate?

    We may feel like we know why we’re procrastinating. If we’re in a job we hate, we’d naturally not want to complete our tasks each day. Or if the house needs cleaning but it’s sunny outside, it makes sense that we’d rather go to the beach.

    However, the fact that some of us procrastinate even when it comes to things we’d like to do, such as joining a dance class, learning a new language or decorating our home, suggests that it’s not so straight-forward.

    Even when we think we know why we’re avoiding tasks, the real reason may be a little more complex.

    Timothy A. Pychyl, author of 'Solving the Procrastination Puzzle' explains that procrastination is in fact a self-regulation failure. When we’re faced with tasks that prompt any kind of negative emotional response, even very subtle feelings of frustration or boredom, and we have low self-regulation, we go into task avoidance mode, i.e. “I’ll just do XXX first”.

    We feel unable to simply sit with our feelings of wanting to do something else, and instead feel that we must constantly act on them.

     

    To Do List - Mainly Procrastinate

     

    Poor self-regulation isn’t just a problem when it comes to getting things done. Procrastinators are also more likely to lie to themselves about how they really feel.

    For example, “I won’t do this until next week because I work better under pressure”. Procrastinators are also more likely to develop addictions or compulsive behaviours.

    Procrastination is a learned behaviour, not something we’re born with. This means that we can take steps to unlearn this way of coping with unpleasant emotions.

     

    “Effective self-regulation relies on emotion regulation, and this emotion regulation in turn relies on mindfulness.”

     

    -- TIMOTHY A. PYCHYL

     

    Mindfulness Helps Us Regulate Emotions

    Ruby Wax describes mindfulness as an 'internal weathervane'. This internal weathervane is crucial when it comes to regulating emotions. Without it, we have no hope of even knowing what we are feeling, let alone regulating it.

    Although becoming mindful of this moment right now will bring some instant benefits, it’s only with regular practice that we can fine tune that internal weathervane, helping it become more and more sensitive to the subtle emotions which come and go throughout our day.

    Michael Inzlicht from the University of Toronto sums this up:

     

    “Mindfulness as a practice cultivates the ability to Maintain focus on the present moment. This present-moment awareness provides sensitivity to sensory cues—like that negative emotional “pang” we might feel when facing an aversive task.”

     

    In other words, mindfulness gives us the ability to notice when we start feeling uncomfortable, bored, frustrated or even scared by a task. Rather than acting on unconscious drives to check emails, have a cigarette or distract ourselves, we can not only kindly acknowledge and accept the feeling, but make a conscious effort to stay in control.

    We may not always succeed - lifelong habits are hard to change overnight - but with awareness comes choice; without which we’d have no hope of doing things differently.

    Remember, mindfulness isn’t just about being aware. Compassion and acceptance are equally important. In fact, in a study by Inzlicht and Rimma Teper they concluded that people who were better at controlling their behaviour were probably able to do so because they were 'more accepting of their errors and associated conflict.'

    A habit of procrastination might make it difficult to get into a mindfulness meditation practice at first, but that’s OK. If you find youself putting it off, try to simply be aware of your resistance, accept it, and notice what feelings arise when you think of sitting down for a few minutes to meditate. It's all part of the practice.

     

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  • Finding Refuge in the Breath

    Gentle Breeze by the Ocean
    The mind is a constant whir of activity. Without any effort, our minds can jump from past regrets to concerns about the future to mentally noting that doctor’s appointment we have next week.

     

    If our minds are particularly busy, this stream of thinking can become too much for us to take. The non-stop nature of it can be overwhelming.

    Naturally, we want to retreat. And we might do so in a number of ways. We may have a glass of wine, eat cake, or switch on the TV. We might constantly check social media or the news for distractions, or even go on a shopping spree.

    At times, this might be just what we need, but often this only increases the busy-ness of our minds. Rarely do these things give us the sense of respite we so badly need.

    Thankfully there is a better refuge available to us, one which we can access at any time, no matter where we are or what we’re doing. It doesn’t exist outside of ourselves, so we’ll never be without it.

    When we find ourselves in the midst of stress, anxiety, depression, sadness, or even intense excitement (this can be overwhelming too), simply taking a deep breath can bring great relief.

     

    Gentle Waves on Shore

     

    When our minds have become tumultuous with thought – each passing thought like a wave that rocks our little boat in a stormy sea, and the rocking never seems to end – we can take a deep breath and…. ahhhh, the waves settle; sometimes just a little, but sometimes a lot!

    The more we practice, the easier it gets to remember to take those important moments of refuge.

    Perhaps try it now. Take a deep breath…. and let it out slowly. How has it changed the quality of this moment?

     

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  • The Only New Year’s Resolution You’ll Ever Need...

     

    Are you worried you might not have the willpower to keep your New Year resolutions this year?

     

    Sorry to be a downer, but you’re probably right! According to a study at the University of Hertfordshire, 78% of us fail to keep our New Year resolutions and are left feeling disappointed with ourselves.

    The problem is, we make these wild utopian promises to ourselves of making big changes in our lives with immediate effect.

    “From tomorrow, I’m not going to smoke another cigarette” or “From now on, I'm going to keep my house tidy”.

    When we slip up, we see it as confirmation that we just don’t have what it takes, that we’re not disciplined enough so we might as well give up.

    One cigarette becomes a relapse into chain smoking, and a little chocolate indulgence spurs a return to munching uncontrollably in front of the TV. “Oh well, there’s always next year…”, we say.

    Sound familiar?

    Unfortunately, it's not so easy to change old habits. Willpower isn't enough. We need mindfulness skillpower! But how do we develop that?

    One approach is called 'urge surfing’, and here’s how it works:

    1. Recognise

    Imagine you’re sitting in front of the TV and suddenly crave a bar of chocolate. The first step in mindfulness is to simply become aware of such an urge, i.e. recognise it.

    You can even name it in your head: “Urge to eat a bar of chocolate”.

    2. Acknowledge

    Most of us have been told that we ought to 'get rid' of such urges once they arise - control them, because they are bad. Or that we should distract ourselves by thinking of something else.

    Unfortunately our brains don't work that way.

    Research has shown that the more we resist something or try to make it go away, the more it will persist. Therefore, the second step is to simply acknowledge to urge to have a bar of chocolate. Allow to urge to be there.

    3. Investigate

    Once you have acknowledged the urge to have that chocolate bar, investigate how this urge feels in your body. Is it a tension in your chest, a watering mouth or a tickling sensation?

    Check in and find out for yourself. If you wish, you can even close your eyes during your investigation.

    4. Kind Surfing

    While you are investigating the urge, just try to be with it for a few seconds, maybe even a minute. Surf the urge and while doing so, be kind to yourself. It's not easy to surf an urge, so do not expect too much from yourself too soon.

    Even if you only stick with the urge for half a minute and then go ahead and have that bar of chocolate anyway, you’ve still exercised that part of your brain and could be better equipped the next time an urge comes along, so well done!

    The more you observe your urges, the more mindful skillpower you will develop. Research has even shown that this skillpower is like a muscle in your brain that you can grow – just as you can grow your biceps in the gym.

    But as with the weights, don't expect to lift the heaviest weight the first time you go to the gym.

    Unfortunately, there is no quick fix, especially when it comes to our brains – just as our biceps, they need time to grow and change. So be patient and kind to yourself. It's all about training.

    The Conclusion?

    Don't set yourself fixed goals as New Year resolutions that are doomed to failure. Instead, make the resolution a goal to develop mindful skill-power!

    One way to do this could be to join one of our courses in the New Year. The Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) will help you develop your mindful awareness and a sense of balance.

     

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  • 9 Common Misconceptions of Mindfulness

     

    Mindfulness is a simple yet powerful practice that can offer many benefits. It’s popularity has led to an explosion of information through apps, podcasts and blogs over the last 20-years.

     

    Some of this information has led to misconceptions of mindfulness and what it means to practice it. These misconceptions can often act as obstacles to the practice, resulting in feelings of failure and sometimes even causing people to stop practicing altogether.

    With this in mind, we’ve highlighted some of the most common misconceptions around. Are any of these holding back your mindfulness practice?

     

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    1: Mindfulness Is About Emptying the Mind

    The goal of mindfulness isn’t to get rid of thoughts and to get the benefits of mindfulness we don’t need this to happen. If you’ve ever actually tried to ‘clear your mind of all thoughts’, you’ll notice it’s virtually impossible!

    If we think of emptying the mind as the goal, we may quickly become frustrated in the practice and may want to quit.

    Rather, the intention is to focus our attention on something in the present (e.g. the breath), and when the thoughts arise see if we can keep bringing our attention back, with kindness. 

     

    2: Mindfulness is Only Cultivated Through Meditation

    A common misconception of mindfulness is that it’s about meditation and nothing else. 

    Whilst practicing mindfulness meditation in a formal way is important, we can also practice mindfulness informally, by bringing mindfulness into our daily activities.

     

    Can we be present with nature when we’re out on a walk?

    Can we mindfully listen to someone speak, rather than thinking about how we might respond?

     

    The essence of this informal practice is can we be fully present with whatever we’re doing.

     

    3: Mindfulness is The Same Thing as Relaxation

    There is often the perception that when we practice mindfulness we should feel relaxed.

    The reality is that during our meditation we sometimes feel relaxed, but often also experience frustration, boredom, restlessness and the whole range of human emotions! This doesn’t mean that the practice is going ‘wrong’. It’s part of the process.

    There are more longer-term benefits to be gained from mindfulness than feeling relaxed. By observing our experiences and allowing them to be as they are, we can cultivate a sense of contentment and gain freedom from habitual thought patterns. This can help to release us from loops of stress, depression and anxiety. 

     

    Sleeping Cat

     

    4:  Mindfulness Is a Quick Fix

    Mindfulness is a long-term approach to help us to cope with worry, stress, and anxiety. It’s not a quick fix. Stressors, unfortunately, are simply part of being human. They will always be there, one way or another, big or small. 

    Mindfulness can help us to respond to stress more effectively, to be less overwhelmed,  and to build resilience for when it’s needed. Over time, we may find it helps us to deal with whatever life throws at us, without pre-empting what that might be! 

     

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    5: You Have to Sit to Practice Mindfulness

    You do not have to sit on the floor to practice mindfulness. In fact, you don’t have to do anything. It’s your practice. 

    Meditation can be done in any posture. Seated, standing, lying down or walking are usually recommended, but we probably want to avoid lying on the bed, as this usually results in sleep!

    The most important thing is finding a balance between comfort and alertness, and what works for your body.

    If you’re not sure where to start, we’d recommend beginning with sitting on a chair with your feet on the floor and using a cushion or rolled up yoga mat to support your back.

     

    6: There Is a Goal in Mindfulness

    If there is a goal to mindfulness, perhaps it’s not to have goals; to just let things unfold. 

    That said, we all come to mindfulness practice hoping for some benefits. We can try to hold these lightly rather than making them the focus. We often find that the more we try to get somewhere, the further that place gets from us.

      Autumn Leaves

     

    7: We Can Have a ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’ Meditation 

    One day we might find mindfulness comes naturally, the next it might be more difficult. It might be exactly the same practice, with a different result each time. The effect of each practice can also vary immensely from person to person. 

    If you’ve had a difficult morning – your alarm didn’t go off, you spilled your coffee, etc. you might find it hard to settle. Another day, it might come more easily.

    Just as the season changes, so too does our meditation. If we find a practice simple or difficult, it doesn’t mean it’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it’s simply as it is.

    It’s reassuring to note that we can often learn more from our practice when we come up against challenges, approaching them with curiosity and self-compassion. 

     

    8: Mindfulness is a Religion

    Mindfulness is not a religion. It can be practised almost anywhere by almost anyone. 

    Meditation and mindfulness have been practised for thousands of years as part of some religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Stoicism and Taoism.

    Additionally, many religions include aspects of mindfulness, such as patience, non-judging, compassion, and generosity. These are human values, as opposed to being religious. 

    Secular mindfulness specifically – which is what we teach at The Mindfulness Project – is rooted in scientific evidence. This means that whether you have a religion or not, you are welcome to practice it.

     

    Pelican on Calm Sea

     

    9: Mindfulness is Easy 

    On the surface it might look easy, but mindfulness is a work in progress for even the most committed. 

    After decades of practice, there may still be challenging days. And these won’t always come when we’re expecting them. 

    In fact, in a world where our attention is turned from one thing to the next, simply being present can be tricky, but with time it does get easier on the whole. As with many things it takes practice, accepting that there’s no ‘makes perfect’ in mindfulness.  

    It’s not uncommon for people to expect to feel tranquil after a single meditation, dismissing it as ‘not for them’ if that’s not what happens. Whilst it’s true that it isn’t for everyone, we can be doing ourselves a disservice by not exploring it more fully. 

    To really feel the benefit of mindfulness, consistent practice over a sustained period of time is recommended. It doesn’t have to be an hour a day; five minutes of practice each day can be much more useful. It’s a bit like training for a marathon – we can build it up bit by bit.

    If you are finding the practice really difficult, then you can take action and reach out for support, you don’t have to go it alone. Our inbox is always open, or you can join a class, course or drop-in session for more guidance and support.

     

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  • Do You Need A Digital Detox?

     

    Many of us will 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.

    If this you think you need a digital detox, perhaps consider if it's time to take a mindfulness retreat and kickstart a more mindful routine.

     

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  • Mindful Attitudes to Bring About Positive Change

     

    As we step into a new year full of possibility and promise, eager to leave last’s year baggage behind, now is the time that many of us take inventory of our world and resolve to set new goals and intentions for change.

    So often, these best-laid plans are derailed due to impatience or expectations – ways of thinking that lead us away from the present moment. It’s no surprise then, that the most effective way to usher in change is to do so consciously – using mindfulness. By making the choice to shift to more mindful attitudes, we can begin to break old patterns and cultivate long-lasting change. So how do we begin?

    Choose to be proactive instead of reactive. How do you respond when you struggle to meet a goal? Some of us may run on a reactive mode of thinking that can lead to knee-jerk responses like ‘what’s the use’. Reactive patterns are often habitual and automatic, and to break them we must first identify them. Bringing mindful awareness to these patterns gives us the power to do so, and to shift to a more proactive way of thinking. This also extends to the way we practice mindfulness when problems arise - used reactively, mindfulness can only help in the heat of the moment, but when used proactively, it guides our thoughts and actions before a problem becomes a problem.

    Choose fluidity instead of rigidity. Be open to the reality of the present moment – it’s peaks and valleys, the possibility for failure and the potential for success in any given situation. In this way, we become more fluid, more resilient and far less likely to give up at the first hurdle. The practice of focusing and refocusing our attention is the first powerful tool that we learn in mindfulness, and can help us to carry our new goals and intentions forward.

    Choose self-compassion instead of self-criticism. A kind inner voice that supports us, rather than judges us, is far more likely to elicit our motivation to grow and change. In fact, study after study has shown that self-criticism is one of the biggest obstacles to forming new habits and meeting new goals. By responding to our frustrations and difficulties with kindness and compassion, we are better able to bolster ourselves for success.

    Choose acceptance instead of denial. Acceptance is a fertile ground for growth and change, and can dramatically transform how we relate to our experiences. When we come from this place, we are more likely to succeed in whatever we do. By accepting ourselves just as we are, and recognising that we may stray in the process of trying to meet new goals and intentions, we reduce our resistance to change.

    Choose value-oriented intentions instead of all-or-nothing goals. Avoid rigid resolutions and all-or-nothing goals to ‘quit’ or ‘stop’ a habit, and keep an open-minded attitude with more positively-framed goals. Mindfulness can help us both make and follow through on such resolutions, as well as provide strategies that help you more effectively handle the stresses and challenges that often derail resolutions.

     

    Find out more about our mindfulness courses and workshops. 

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  • Improving Our Health, Compassionately

     

    Close up of potted plant

     

    One of the exciting things about life is that we don’t have to stay the same as we are right now; we can re-invent ourselves at any time. 

     

    For most of us, there are accessible changes we can make to become healthier, whether that’s by eating our greens, getting fitter, breaking unhealthy habits or addictions, or by cultivating greater peace of mind and emotional resiliency. However, we all too often make these types of self-improvement plans when we’re in a low mood and from a place of self-criticism.

    Maybe we’re not been getting out of the house much recently, and so we think to ourselves ‘I’m lazy, I need to start running every day’, rather than having a kinder perspective such as ‘I might benefit from going for a short walk at lunchtime a few times a week’.

    When we make health plans from a place of self-loathing, we often set unrealistic and unkind goals for ourselves. This means we are unlikely to achieve them, and even less likely to have a nice time along the way!

     

    A Checklist for Mindful Goal-Setting

    Whatever our health goals may be, it’s important to ask ourselves these questions before we set out to achieve them.

     

    Is my goal realistic?

    Say we want to stop eating so much chocolate, because we recognise it's not making us feel so good. We might come up with the goal of giving up chocolate completely. It might work; we might indeed have the will power to never touch anything sweet again.

    Alternatively, it might be really difficult! So difficult in fact, that we fail terribly and then feel even worse about ourselves than before. We might make ourselves miserable in the process, defeating the object and feeling better in ourselves and well-balanced.

    Instead of banishing chocolate from our lives altogether, why not just get more mindful about eating it? There's nothing wrong with enjoying some chocolate, so instead of completely removing it from our lives, we can treat ourselves now and again and practice savouring each bite to make it a greater pleasure rather than a habit. We’re still moving towards our health goals, but in a more self-compassionate and realistic way, without sacrificing our mental health by being harsh on ourselves.

     

    Is my goal kind?

    We want to get fit, so we sign up for the toughest, most physically gruelling boot camp we can find. We want to drink less caffeine, so we banish every drink except water. We want to get more sleep, so we say we'll be in bed by 9pm every night without fail, no matter what we're missing out on. These kinds of goals seem more like punishments than ways to help us enjoy life, which is likely to be one of the reasons we want to be healthier in the first place.

    When we don’t like how we look or behave, it can feel impossible to treat ourselves kindly. We may feel that we don’t deserve kindness; that because we’re depressed, lacking motivation or addicted to something, that we’re bad. Instead, we can adjust our goals to make them both achievable and fun.

    Imagine that your friend wanted to get fitter, or that your child was suffering with depression, or that your beloved was struggling with an addiction. It’s unlikely that we would speak to them the way we speak to ourselves. Would we really say to a friend, ‘You're so lazy. You need to sign up to marathon and start training at 6am every morning immediately'?

    Instead of a boot camp we might try a new fitness class with a friend and -- if we like it -- making it a regular activity before introducing a new goal.

    Instead of banishing caffeine we might to reduce our caffeine intake to a coffee a day, replacing other drinks with an enjoyable alternative such as an intriguing herbal tea or fruit infusion, sparking our curiosity.

    Instead of being in bed by 9pm we might set a reminder to start winding down at 9pm, choosing to turn off the TV and put down our phone by 9pm to read a book or have a bath if we're not tired enough to sleep.

    In taking micro steps, we can gradually reach our goals one step at a time and enjoy the process. We can also listen to our bodies more easily, ensuring we're taking care of our needs and not pushing ourselves too hard to the detriment of our health.

     

    TOP TIP:

    When setting goals, it’s useful to imagine that we are helping a friend set their goals instead of our own. Imagine the kindness and gentle encouragement you would feel for your loved ones, and incorporate that level of care and compassion into your own goal-making.

    Make your goals self-nurturing. For example, instead of ‘I don't want greasy skin’ , try changing it to ‘I want my skin to glow by choosing healthy food, sleep and exercise.’

     

    How will I treat myself when I stumble?

    We might be doing really well with our plans, but then one major upset has us hiding under the duvet or reaching for the caffeine. In these moments, it feels like all of our hard work has been for nothing!

    This is where self-compassion can really shine and make all the difference, because it’s at these times of perceived failure that we’re most likely to give up on our goals completely.

    Mindfulness helps us see that life is a series of moments. Rather than mentally remaining stuck in a previous moment where we mindlessly watched TV instead of going to our fitness class, we can ‘refresh’ ourselves and become new again in the here and now.

    This can help us forgive ourselves for slipping up, because what’s done is done, and now this is a new moment. It helps us see that we can begin again, and again if needed, because each new moment is a fresh opportunity. If we we stumble and manage to get back on track, we should be giving ourselves a self-compassionate pat on the back!

     

    Do I really need to achieve this goal?

    Do we need to get stronger, fitter or look more radiant, or are our negative thoughts at this moment driving our desire to set goals? Are we comparing ourselves to others or a past version of ourselves? Is the true goal that we want to feel happier, for example?

    When our minds are clouded, it can be hard to judge what is true. Yet through practicing mindfulness, we are more able to take a step back from our thoughts and see them more clearly.

    If we’re already fairly healthy, perhaps it’s not our behaviour that we need to change, but the thoughts we have about ourselves?

    An effective way of exploring the truth behind our desired goals is to place your hand on your heart, to close your eyes, and really tap into how your goals make you feel.

     

    Are our goals coming from self-compassion? Are they moving you forward or creating a cycle of guilt and shame?

    By exploring our self-beliefs and inner dialogue, we can find out where our health goals are really coming from, and whether we should put them into practice; remembering that our health is not just physical, but mental too.

    When we learn to cultivate positive mind states and meet our imperfections with kindness, we can also find it easier to maintain our physical health, saving ourselves from unnecessary suffering.

     

    Find out more on an 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) Course.

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  • How to Recognise a Fight-or-Flight Response

    bird

    As we navigate through life, it’s important for our physical survival that we recognise and act appropriately to dangerous situations. In these situations, we often don’t have time to logically weigh up our options and figure out the best course of action, and so our brains have evolved in such a way as to save us time.

    When faced with a perceived threat to our safety, a part of the brain called the amygdala (which processes memory, decision-making and emotional reactions) is triggered and ‘hijacks’ the rational, thinking part of the brain. In other words, the amygdala decides for us whether we should stay and fight, run and hide, or freeze completely.

    This is what is commonly referred to as the fight-flight-or-freeze response: very handy if a car is hurtling towards you, or someone starts following you down a dark, secluded alleyway, but not so useful if we’re simply arguing with our partner or just said something embarrassing to our co-workers. The amygdala struggles to tell the difference between real, immediate danger and perceived danger, i.e. although it’s painful to feel humiliated in front of others, it’s not going to kill us like a rabid dog would.

    So how can we recognise when we are reacting disproportionality to a situation?

    How Does This Moment Feel?

    Learning to recognise our emotional reactions takes some time, and becomes better with practice. The more we tune in to what we’re experiencing in this moment, the more we remember to do it going forward, and perhaps most importantly the easier and more natural it becomes to do so. Therefore the best way to start noticing our amygdala reactions is to start developing a regular mindfulness practice in general, in the same way that exercising regularly now will ensure that your body is strong and healthy later on in life.

    An easy place to start is to begin regularly asking yourself, ‘How does this moment feel?’ Set an alarm on your phone, or place a few sticky notes around your home or work desk if it helps you remember. Just take a moment to check in with yourself.

    Try asking the question after something upsetting happens, like an argument, some bad news, or an unexpected bill, and get familiar with what happens in your body and mind when this stuff happens. Do you feel scared (like you want to run away), angry (like you want to fight) or numb (like you just want to curl up into a ball)? Is your heart rate elevating, your breath quickening or restricting, your body tensing and tightening, or feeling weak and fatigued? If so, you may be experiencing fight-flight-or-freeze. This is a universal experience: if you have a brain, you experience amygdala reactions, end of story! So don’t beat yourself up about it. Just try to observe it as best you can, so that you know how it manifests within you.

    Once you’ve started to notice these reactions, what can you actually do about it?

     

    Find out more about our mindfulness courses and workshops.

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    Mindfulness Techniques

    Research shows that mindfulness practice shrinks the amygdala and also weakens connections between the amygdala and pre-frontal cortex. This means that over time we become less reactive to perceived threats and more able to think about how we’d like to respond. For example, when our partner does something that usually triggers a fight-or-flight response (i.e. makes a comment that we perceive as critical or embarrassing, yet isn’t meant as such), we can react more calmly and not in a way that then descends into an unnecessary falling-out.

    Once we’ve recognised a change in our mood, like an onslaught of disproportionate rage or depression, we can then apply some helpful mindfulness techniques.

    This could be focussing on the breath while we observe our amygdala-triggered thoughts. Any time that we notice our minds getting stuck, we gently bring the attention back to the breath, and continue to breathe through the reaction until it passes. Remember that the emotional reaction isn’t wrong or bad, but at the same time, if the reaction isn’t appropriate or helpful to the situation then it’s better to let it pass.

    We might also try using mindfulness ‘anchors’ around us to help us come back to the moment. For example, try focussing on sounds, sights or other physical sensations that can help ground you in the present, again noticing where the mind goes, and each time gently and kindly bringing it back to your point of focus.

    It’s useful to view this practice as a form of self-care. By taking proactive steps to guide ourselves through amygdala reactions, we can not only save ourselves from the harmful effects of prolonged stress in the body, but we can also avoid further negative or destructive situations occurring because of our fight-or-flight responses.

     

    Find out more about our mindfulness courses and workshops.

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  • Making Self-Care a Daily Habit

    self-care

     

    A common side-effect of practicing mindfulness is that we start to notice the ways in which we neglect our well-being.

     

    Whether it’s unhealthy habits or addictions, stresses in our lives, or unkind judgemental thoughts about ourselves, in becoming more mindful we see these issues with greater clarity.

    With this new awareness can often come a desire to start treating ourselves with more care. For those of us who have been self-critical or neglectful of our well-being throughout our lives, self-care may at first feel a little awkward and unfamiliar.

     

    Recognising When We Need Self-Care

    We might also not be so good at recognising when we need it. Developing a new, caring attitude towards ourselves can take time as we undo a lot of old, ingrained uncaring patterns and habits.

    At first we might only notice that we need self-care when we feel really low, like when we have the flu or when our depression is really bad.

    This is a great first step! However, self-care doesn’t have to end there. We can turn acts of self-care into a daily habit. With practice it may even start to come as naturally to us as brushing our teeth!

     

    Making Self-Care a Habit

    Although small self-caring actions are better than none at all, to truly cement self-care into our natural way of being it may be useful to intentionally set aside at least 30 minutes a day to do something nice for yourself or to simply rest. That way you stop everything else that you’re doing and focus on you. You can gradually learn to make self-care a priority.

    It could be that you take some time after work to do a relaxing yoga routine so that you can enjoy the rest of your evening, or that you go to bed earlier than usual to read a book. Or you might make a healthy meal with all of your favourite ingredients.

    It could even be that you sign into Netflix and order a pizza, just as long as you’re doing it with that intention of treating yourself nicely, rather than as a distraction or zoning out.

    Far from being selfish or self-indulgent, developing a daily self-care habit can give us more energy and resilience to deal with all other aspects of our lives. Over time, we can find balance in an unpredictable world.

     

    The Mindfulness Project offers a range of courses and workshops focused on self-compassion, including the 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course. 

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