Habits

  • Finding Your Inner Balance in an Unpredictable World

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    In this uncertain world, we try our best to find routine and predictability, hoping that these things will make life easier. However, life isn’t so great at cooperating with our plans! Life is messy, so what can we do?

     

    Using mindfulness to find some inner balance can help us cope when life gets hectic with the ups and downs life throws at us. Finding our centre can help us navigate this ever-changing world with more ease.

    The first step is to recognise the beliefs and ideas we have about how our experience ought to be. For example, when something painful happens and we react with thoughts of ‘this isn’t fair’ or ‘this isn’t right’, we can use these as prompts to check in with our beliefs. What we may find is that our beliefs stem from simply wanting to avoid pain or discomfort.

    The next step is to understand that this is completely natural. No one wants to suffer. In this way, we are the same as every living being, and we can use this understanding to give ourselves, and others, some compassion.

    Seeing these reactions as universal, and not due to some personal failing, we can then loosen a little around these beliefs. We can’t shake them off entirely of course, but they may become a bit less heavy.

    Once we recognise and understand what’s going on in our minds, we can then take some practical steps to find our centre. By ‘centre’ we mean that deeper part of you; the part that is more spacious and therefore more accommodating to what is currently happening.

    You could try thinking of it as stepping out of the beliefs and ideas that make life painful (i.e. this is wrong, this is bad, this shouldn’t be), and into a wider space, the space that exists between those thoughts. Here in this space there is room for what actually ‘is’, and it is always there for us to take refuge in.

    How we connect with that centre may vary depending on what works best for us personally. We may find that simply focussing on the breath is enough to get us there. Or we may need to take some time away from everyone else to meditate for a while.

    Perhaps we might find our centre through mindful movement practices, or by going for a walk outside and getting some fresh air. Maybe it’s by placing our hand on our heart. Whatever it is, it will be something that reconnects you with this moment right here. This is where you’ll find your balance again.

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  • Eat, Drink and Be Merry (Mindfully)!

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    If you’re trying to stay healthy, the Christmas season can bring some stress. When we’re catching up with friends and family, and attending work parties, we’ll likely be offered countless mince pies, cakes and chocolates, plus plenty of glasses of alcohol.

     

    Usually we might eat and drink too much in December and then try to make up for it in January with a strict diet. Yet we could instead use a little mindfulness this season so that we can enjoy all the tasty things without feeling guilty, bloated and groggy afterwards. Christmas wouldn’t be the same without the food and drink after all.

    The smell of mulled wine, the taste of spiced fruit, and that sound of lifting the lid off of a box of chocolates are nostalgic elements of the season. We probably have many warm memories of these things, and so we should feel free to enjoy them!

    By mindfully savouring these treats we’ll not only enjoy them more fully, but we’ll also be less likely to overindulge and make ourselves sick.

     

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    The key to mindful eating (and drinking) is to slow down and fully engage all the senses, and what better time to do this than at Christmas! When we eat a slice of Christmas cake we can savour the smell of mixed spices, and take a moment to think of the time it took to soak the fruit in the alcohol, then to mix it with the cake batter, and then to decorate it, all so that we can enjoy eating it in this moment.

    Even if we’re out drinking, we can apply the same attention, savouring the warmth of our mulled wine or the bubbles in our champagne; we can mindfully enjoy getting a little light-headed and merry, and of course we can also savour the company of our friends and loved ones.

    It’s usually only when we do these things mindlessly that we end up regretting them; we knock back too much wine or overeat without noticing, and are then left with all the bad feelings that come after, like a hangover or a stomach ache. But by being present while we eat and drink, we can monitor our feelings as we go and will know when we’ve had enough.

    So this Christmas don’t be afraid of mince pies and bubbly; be present and make precious memories of sharing them with friends!

     

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  • We Don’t Have to Wait until January for a Fresh Start

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    Christmas is fast approaching, with the promise of New Year’s resolutions hot on its tail. We collectively buy into the idea that January 1st marks the time for fresh starts, however we don’t really have to wait until after Christmas to start anew. Each and every moment gives us that opportunity. Including this one right now!

    Change rarely happens in one fell swoop. Lasting changes are made up of lots of little choices; lots of little moments that when added up together become powerful. By postponing change, or imagining that somehow the start of a new year will mean the start of a new personality in which we’ll have more willpower and drive, we often set ourselves up for failure. It’s all too big; too much to tackle all at once.

    Instead, let’s remember that in each moment we have the chance to make a different choice. Becoming more present and grounded in our day-to-day lives makes us more able to choose not to have that cigarette right now, to have the healthy option for dinner, or to go out for a run – because we feel like it, not because we’ve trapped ourselves in a big commitment. And then we can just take each moment as it comes. Maybe the next time we want to binge on junk food, we might just eat a little less or more slowly. Maybe we won’t exercise every day, but if we’re present enough to enjoy the feeling it gives us afterwards we’ll want to do it more often. If we’re in our heads, dreaming of an ideal version of ourselves that we hope will miraculously occur come the new year, then we aren’t being present in all of those little moments that really matter. For it’s in those moments, these moments happening right now, that we make more conscious choices. This way, we can change in an organic way that suits our current abilities. And we’re far less likely to feel like ‘failures’ in February!

     

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  • Hygge: Cultivated Cosiness

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    There are many words from other languages that we don’t have an equivalent word for in English. Like the German word ‘schadenfreude’, which means to take pleasure from the misfortune of others, or the Spanish word ‘sombremésa’ which is used to describe the time spent after a meal, talking to the people you shared the meal with. Although we are familiar with these emotions or situations, somehow having a singular word for them can make them more tangible; naming such things can help us become more mindful of them.

    The Danish and Norwegians have a concept known as ‘hygge’ (heurgha). It’s used to describe things or situations which give us a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. ‘Hygge’ is an integral part of Danish life, and so it may come as no surprise that Denmark is considered to be one of the happiest countries in the world.

    My Danish friend, Daniel says: “You can make something hyggelig; you tidy your home, you bring cake for your class, you light candles, etc. And something can be hyggelig too; an old house, or a bench in a park, or a campfire... It's very ingrained in the language and social interaction/tradition but we're also very relaxed about it in the everyday. It can range from the very small to the big things.”

    So how can we use mindfulness to help us bring more hygge into our lives?

    One way is to bring awareness to what makes us feel nice and cosy, and then to consciously incorporate more of those things into our lives. For example, if fairy lights make us feel happy, we can hang some in our bedroom, or if we haven’t seen our friends for a while we could invite them to our home for a candlelit meal. Or we can just set aside some time to snuggle up under our duvet and read a good book.

    Another way is to be more mindful of the hyggelig things that are already around us! We can, for example, slow down and savour a lovely cup of tea, take time to enjoy a beautiful scene, or delight in the warmth of a knitted jumper or blanket.

    How do you cultivate cosiness in your life? Leave a comment sharing your best hygge moments!

     

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  • How Mindfulness Breaks Us Free From Thinking in Absolutes

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    Our brains are a bit like movie projectors; each thought is a film and in that moment that one particular film is all that we can see and hear. Some are brighter and louder than others, grabbing our attention so much that we forget reality for a while. We can’t really stop this from ever happening, it’s just what brains do. They project a series of opinions, judgements and memories throughout each day.

    However, constantly getting caught up in these thoughts can cause a lot of problems, especially if those thoughts are unpleasant or restricting. Say for example that the movie currently playing in our head is all about how bad things are always happening to us, or how we’ll never feel happy ever again. These thoughts of absolutes (‘always’ and ‘never’) can make us feel totally hopeless about our lives, tearing away any sense of personal power or contentment.

    And yet, as convincing as our thoughts may be, mindfulness training gives us the knowledge and skills to be able to take a step back and remember that each thought is like a projected image. That’s not to say that we don’t still feel all the emotions from watching the movie, but at least we remember that it’s just a movie, rather than real life.

    Confirmation Bias

    A cognitive bias is a tendency to think in a certain way; usually in a way that diverges from good judgement, logic or objectivity. Psychologists have studied and named over 75 different cognitive biases! A common bias that many of us share is known as confirmation bias, or selective perception bias. This is when we pay more attention to evidence that supports what we already think, and dismiss any information that contradicts it.

     

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    Here’s an example: We’re on our way to work when our car breaks down. Our brain searches for examples of other bad or inconvenient things that have happened to us, and suddenly we’re not just dealing with this one broken down car, we’re dealing with everything from our past that has ever gone wrong. We start having thoughts like, “Why do bad things always happen to me? Why do I never have any luck?” In our current state of mind, we’re overlooking all the good or even neutral things we’ve ever experienced – such as the countless number of days when our car didn’t break down on the way to work. Instead, we take our previous bad experiences as ‘evidence’ that we suffer from constant misfortune.

    Believing that we’re doomed to a fate of endless bad luck is distressing and painful. It can make the future look bleak and hopeless. So how can mindfulness help us avoid this trap of thinking in absolutes, without denying our understandable feelings and reactions when things do go wrong?

    3 Minute Breathing Space

    The 3 Minute Breathing Space is a very handy mindfulness practice that we can do pretty much anywhere, anytime. When we find ourselves in a stressful or upsetting situation, rather than letting our brains spiral into an even worse place, we can take a moment to acknowledge our present feelings. It’s a very useful tool to use to help us step out of our habit of catastrophizing situations.

    Begin by closing your eyes (if that feels okay) and start to become aware of how you’re feeling. What thoughts are going through your mind? And what emotions are present? This first step is about gently acknowledging what you’re experiencing without trying to change it or push it away.

    Next, once you have a sense of how you’re feeling, re-focus your attention onto the movements of the breath. Notice how your chest or belly rises and falls with each breath, how the air feels as it enters your nose or mouth as you inhale, and how it feels as you exhale.

    The third and final step is to then to extend your awareness to encompass the body as a whole, doing your best to bring a kind, spacious awareness to your present experience. Notice any tightness or tension that you’re holding in your body, whilst retaining some awareness of your breathing. Then when the time feels right, open your eyes again.

    Gratitude Journal

    If we have a tendency to catastrophize situations and often focus on what is going wrong, it may be helpful to start a gratitude journal. By noting down at least 3 things every day that we feel grateful for, we can train our mind to notice more of the good things that happen to us. Keep in mind though that noticing the good things doesn’t mean ignoring the bad. It’s simply about cultivating a more balanced perspective, noticing the full range of experiences in our lives.

    Regular Meditation

    Studies have shown that regular meditation can strengthen emotional resiliency by promoting changes in the brain. Richard Davidson, a neurobiologist at the University of Wisconsin, discovered that people who are able to regain their emotional balance after a setback have stronger connections between the left prefrontal cortex and the amygdalae than those who aren’t. Mindfulness meditation strengthens these connections! This means we can become more able to avoid getting emotionally knocked over by every inconvenience or misfortune that comes our way.

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  • Practical Tips for Practising Mindfulness

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    There are so many benefits to be gained from regular mindfulness practice. Research has shown that mindfulness meditation can improve learning processes, memory and emotional regulation (just to name a few things!) by prompting changes in different regions of the brain. However, in the same way that it can be difficult to get into new exercise or healthy eating habits, it can be hard to turn mindfulness into a daily practice, even if we know how much we will benefit from doing so. Once we’ve gotten into the swing of things, maintaining a regular mindfulness practice becomes much easier. But what steps can we take when we’re first starting out that will help us incorporate mindfulness into our daily routines?

    Using Your Phone as a Mindfulness Prompt

    The simplest and easiest way that we can become more regularly mindful is to set an alarm on our phone or watch. By setting alarms to go off at certain times of the day, our present mindful self can remind our future self (who might have become a bit mindless by that point) to take a pause and breathe.

    How long we choose to pause for is completely down to us, but even if we’re working at our desks when the alarm sounds, we can take a moment to adjust our posture and let go of any tension we’re holding in our bodies, so that we can continue with our work in a more present mindset.

    It’s best to choose a gentle alarm tone, rather than something that will jolt or aggravate you when it goes off. Experiment with setting alarms at different times of the day, maybe focusing on times that you know you could particularly use a mindfulness prompt, for example on your commute to work, at lunchtime, or as you’re winding down in the evening.

     

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    Making Time to Sit

    Even though we know that meditation is good for us, we can probably come up with lots of reasons not to do it. When faced with the choice between watching our favourite TV show and sitting for 20 minutes in silence, the TV show is probably going to seem more entertaining! Once we’ve gotten into a regular meditation practice, the benefits we feel from it will motivate us to make time for it. Yet until that happens, we might need to give ourselves a little push to make the effort. Setting a regular time for meditation can help us do this.

    Pick a time of the day that you’re most likely to be able to stick to. For example, if you’re always rushed in the mornings, it might be better to choose a time in the evening when things aren’t so hectic. It might be useful to start off with a short amount of time, like five or ten minutes. You can then increase your meditation time once you start to get comfortable with it. Try your best to sit down to meditate every day at your chosen time, even if you don’t feel like it sometimes. Just remember, it will get easier the more you do it.

    And if you do miss a day? Or two, or five? It’s okay! Go easy on yourself. Just try to keep that intention going, and start over again if you need to.

    Find a Meditation Buddy

    Sometimes sharing a routine with a friend can make it easier to stick to. It’s so tempting to make excuses and reasons not to do something when it’s just us, but we generally don’t like to let our friends down. We tend to make more of an effort to stay on track with our plans when we know that someone else is also benefiting from it. Plus the social side of it might make it more enjoyable if we don’t like sitting alone.

    Alternatively, if you want some guidance and a structured routine, it might be beneficial to join a regular meditation group. Here at The Mindfulness Project we host a weekly evening meditation for people who have completed an 8-week Mindfulness Course. Check out our calendar for more information on what’s coming up at our space!

     

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  • Mindfulness Tips For When We Feel Jealous

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    Sometimes it’s as harmless as envying a friends new pair of lovely shoes, but at other times jealousy can feel like a painful dagger in our hearts. It can make it difficult to enjoy any sense of happiness or gratefulness in our lives, because all that we can see is what we don’t have. It’s called the ‘green-eyed monster’ for good reason, for at its worst jealousy can make us bitter, resentful and lead us to behave in ways that aren’t aligned with how we really want to be.

    When we’re focusing on the good in others’ lives, and only on the bad in ours, our view of life becomes distorted and we get stuck in an envious trance. If we can learn to notice it when it arises, jealousy can serve as a reminder for us to take some mindful steps back into the present moment.

    Recognise and Accept

    Before we can make positive use of the arising of jealousy, we must first get to know it better. How does it make us feel? Although it may seem unappealing, it might be useful to bring to mind a situation that made you feel jealous, so that you can become familiar with the mental and physical changes it creates. For example, it might make you feel tense, or perhaps it gives you a heavy or restrictive feeling in your chest or throat. Maybe your pulse quickens, or perhaps you start to feel tearful. What kinds of thoughts are attached to the emotion? And what happens to your mental clarity? It’s likely that any sense of peace or spaciousness disappears, and instead we find that our whole attention is taken up by the subject of our jealousy.

    Once we become familiar with these signs, we will then be more able to recognise its presence next time it occurs. With this recognition, it’s also helpful to give ourselves some compassion and understanding, trying our best to just accept that we feel jealous in this moment, without piling on too much guilt or judgement about it.

    Breathe Through It

    Jealousy might sometimes highlight problems in our lives that we have the power to change. For example, if we’re envious of a friend’s career, we might find that we can take certain steps that will enable us to change careers and find our dream job.

    However, in other situations, we might experience jealousy over something that we just can’t do anything about. For instance, in unrequited love, if we see the person we love with their partner, and feel all the jealousy and pain that comes with that, there’s nothing we can do to change that situation. In these types of scenarios, the best that we can do is to breathe through the emotion until it passes (which it always will).

    A simple meditation that focuses on the breath is useful for when we’re experiencing emotional pain. Of course, it’s a given that our minds will wander onto painful thoughts, but by gently bringing our attention back to the breath each time we notice, we can become a little calmer. If we can include an attitude of compassion during this process – forgiving and understanding ourselves – then we will find that our racing minds will eventually settle down, and we can move on with our day, knowing that at any time we can return to this practice of coming back to the breath.

    Proactive Steps

    By focussing on what is missing from our lives, our minds create suffering. However, there are things that we can do that will help our minds focus more on the good, and less on what is lacking.

    To help train our brains to see the good things in life, we can practice writing down three things each day that have made us feel grateful, no matter how small or insignificant they might seem. Knowing that we need to remember things to write down will prompt us to start consciously looking out for the good stuff. As well as this, we can also start allowing ourselves to linger on pleasant experiences. If we’ve been feeling jealous, we’ve already been letting ourselves linger on unpleasant experiences, so we might as well do the same for the good stuff! Each time we let these positive experiences and feelings sink into our brains, we get a little better at noticing them and appreciating them.

    There will always be things in life that make us feel jealous from time to time, and gratitude won’t cure that completely. However, by taking proactive steps to notice things that make us feel grateful, we’ll be able to bring some balance and happiness back into our lives.

     

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  • Taking the Rush Out of Life with Mindfulness

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    Do you ever feel like the Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland? Always looking at the clock, feeling that there’s no time?

     

    That eternal sense of ‘I must rush on to the next thing’. Work and family commitments, household chores, even scheduled leisure time activities, can all give us the feeling that there’s a never-ending list of things to get done.

    Rather than living from a place of presence, we find ourselves caught up in our mental to-do list, always missing the present moment experience, always thinking ahead to what’s next in line. This way of being can cause a lot of stress and tension in our lives.

    It can also leave us feeling detached from what really matters to us; that we are not living fully, only existing to achieve this task, and then the next, and the next.

    But the practice of mindfulness can provide respite from this sense of needing to rush. By reconnecting with ourselves and the moment, we can give ourselves the gift of greater peace of mind.

     

    Resistance to Slowing Down

    When we’re feeling rushed, the thought of taking a moment to pause may at first seem impossible. It might even add extra tension: “Not only have I got this, this and this do to, but now I’ve also got to take a few moments to breathe? Yeah right!” It’s natural to feel some resistance to it, after all isn’t it just piling on another task for us to complete?

    If we see mindfulness as something to achieve then of course this will just add to our sense of not having enough time. However, those moments of feeling overwhelmed are the perfect moments to take a breather.

    Imagine a traffic jam; all the lanes are closed, and the cars are just piling up behind the blockade. The mounting fumes from running engines, the noise from car radios, the stress of being late, of being stuck, it all just keeps growing and growing.

    Then someone opens one of the lanes and the cars start passing through.

    Then another lane is opened, and before long the traffic is running smoothly again.

    This is what we do when we take a moment to slow down. Rather than making the problem worse, it helps everything run more efficiently. Our rushing thoughts are the cars in the traffic jam, clogging up our experience, and our mindful moments are the opening of the lanes to let them through.

     

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    Noticing the Signals

    When we’re caught in our to-do list, it’s like we’re living in a trance, missing everything around us and disconnected from our feelings and needs. But thoughts like “there’s not enough time” provide signals that tell us we’re not present.

    That’s not to say that such thoughts mean we’re doing anything wrong. In fact, they’re a totally natural response to the stressful lives we lead. Yet if we become attuned to noticing these types of thoughts, plus feelings of tension or tightness in the body, we can start to use these as cues to slow down, breathe, and reconnect with the moment.

    What’s Important Right Now?

    “The most important thing is remembering the most important thing.”

    -- SUZUKI ROSHI 

    If we’re feeling stressed and rushed, it’s likely that we’ve lost sight of what’s really important to us. It’s useful to take some time to reflect on what is truly important to our hearts.

     

    Is it really having a spotless home, working into the evening, or constantly pleasing others?

    Or is it things like spending quality time with our loved ones, cultivating compassion for ourselves and others, and building a life around our true values?

     

    We might tell ourselves that once we have done all the things we need to do, then we will become attentive to what really matters.

    Yet how likely is it that our to-do list will shrink without some intention on our part to make it so?

     

    If we knew that today was our last day, would we still feel we had time to rush?

    Or would we realise that our time is precious and that it matters to us to pay attention to the here and now?

     

    Not out of some sense of ‘should’ or ‘ought to’ – which is where our rushed feelings come from – but because it personally matters to us.

    We have responsibilities. Practicing mindfulness won’t magic them away. However, we can hold the intention to pause and appreciate the moment, even if our appreciation is only for little things like a smile from a stranger, or the sun shining.

    We tend to think of life as a long journey spreading out in front of us, but actually life is a succession of these small moments. If we notice them and feel grateful for them, we may still have our to-do list, but the ‘doing’ of life can become less an automatic chore and more an active, conscious, and hopefully enjoyable engagement with our own hearts and the world around us.

     

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  • Dealing with Obsessive Compulsive Thinking

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    Obsessive compulsive thoughts can range from a mildly irritating sense that you might have left the oven on, even though you know you haven’t, right up to the very distressing belief that simply having a negative thought might cause harm to others.

     

    Although scientists have not yet agreed on a definitive cause for OCD, there are a number of theories which offer explanations of why some of us develop these very strong, and uncomfortable, intrusive thought patterns.

    The biological theory suggests that in OCD sufferers, the brain struggles with turning off particular impulses. For example, before we leave the house we might check that all the electrical switches have been turned off. Even after we’ve checked, the impulse to do so still remains, and so we may experience discomfort and concern if we do not check once more.

    Another theory suggests that the cause may be psychological, and that people with OCD place too much importance – through no fault of their own – on the kinds of intrusive thoughts that everyone experiences from time to time. For example, “Did I leave the oven on?” or “Am I a bad person?”.

    Rather than letting these thoughts come and go naturally, OCD sufferers may believe that something bad will happen unless these thoughts are acted upon, or even that the very act of having certain thoughts is causing bad things to occur.

    Stress, depression and traumatic life events, while not considered to be causes, can act as triggers of obsessive compulsive thoughts, and often aggravate our pre-existing problems.

    At its worst OCD can be debilitating, and even if we can function normally with these thought patterns, they may still cause anxiety and depression. Yet mindfulness offers some hope.

     

    Using the Breath as an Anchor

     

    When we’re caught in repetitive or obsessive thought cycles, we’re not present. Instead, we’re trapped in painful what-if’s or ruminations about how things we’ve said or done may have affected others negatively.

    Mindfulness, on the other hand, is a gentle awareness of the present moment. Practicing mindfulness can really help us break free of this internal trap, by grounding us in the reality of the moment, while also helping us cultivate a greater sense of kindness and compassion towards ourselves.

    In mindfulness meditation, we train our minds to focus on the here and now. We give our brains something to focus its attention on (i.e. the breath or a piece of fruit), whilst at the same time, encouraging ourselves to notice when our minds are wandering away from that focal point, and gently bringing it back each time.

    This practice can help us develop a healthier relationship with our thoughts, by encouraging patience and kindness within ourselves when we get carried away by mental chatter. This can be immensely helpful when it comes to obsessive compulsive thoughts.

    When we find ourselves caught in obsessive thoughts, there is one focal point which is always available to us: our breath. For as long as we’re alive, we’ll always be breathing, and so directing our attention away from our thoughts and onto the breath is an option that will always be there.

    By paying attention to the physical sensations of breathing, like how the air feels as it fills our nostrils or how our chest expands and relaxes with each breath, we can take some of the emotional charge out of our obsessive compulsive thoughts and feel more grounded in reality again.

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    Mindfulness Improves Impulse Control

     

    Studies have shown that mindfulness can be effective for helping us control impulses. When we have a more observational relationship with our thoughts, we’re more able to sit with impulses and urges, patiently being with them and waiting for them to pass, rather than acting on each and every one.

    For example, if we’re giving up smoking, mindfulness can help us accept the feeling that we want a cigarette, without interpreting our experience to mean that we must have one. This process can also be applied to obsessive compulsive thoughts.

    Say, for example, that we are leaving the house and we’ve locked the door behind us. But then a thought pops up that says, “You better check again, just to make sure.” So we double check, and turn to leave, but the same thought arises yet again. If we get caught by this series of impulses, we could be stuck checking the door for the next ten minutes or more.

    However, studies suggest that regular mindfulness practice helps our brains become better at regulating impulses by promoting growth in the areas of the brain that are involved in impulse control.

    This means that mindfulness may be very beneficial for those of us who struggle with obsessive impulses, not just because it makes us more aware of them, but also because it enables our brains to deal with them better, in the same way that exercising makes our muscles stronger and more able to deal with stresses and strains.

    If we can be patient with our obsessive thoughts, and make efforts to deliberately and repetitively re-focus our attention on something like the breath or our surroundings, we may reach a place where obsessive thoughts can arise and fall away more freely.

     

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  • Holding Happiness Lightly

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    Savouring happy moments is important. In the same way repeated exercise makes our muscles stronger, paying attention to what makes us feel good helps our brains become better at noticing positive things. You can read more about this in our blog post Being Open To The Good Things In Life. However, that savouring of happiness can all too easily turn into clinging, and clinging to any exhttps://wp.londonmindful.com/being-open-to-the-good-things-in-lifeperience, even a lovely one, will inevitably cause suffering as all experiences are transitory.

    Wanting More

    Sometimes happiness can sneak up on us and take us completely by surprise: an unexpected present or compliment, the chance discovery of a great book or café, falling in love, being outside during a beautiful sunset, etc. In those moments, we feel a kind of deep and pure happiness; we weren’t necessarily looking for those things, and so our minds are free of expectations. We just enjoy the joy. But then, after the moment has passed, we may start to feel that our happiness is dependent on those things happening again, or in different, better ways. The compliment made us feel good, and so we want more of them. The sunset was awe-inspiring, but perhaps if we were to watch the sunset on a beautiful island rather than in the middle of the city it would be even better. Rather than simply savouring the pleasant feelings and then moving on, we start forming criteria for our future happiness based on what has made us happy in the past.

    Conditional Happiness

    From a young age, we start collecting these ideas and beliefs about what must happen in our lives in order for us to feel happy. For example, when we are small we feel happy and safe when our parents approve of us, and so we carry that idea with us, perhaps for our whole lives: “If I can just win my parents approval, then I’ll be happy.” Or maybe we picked up the belief somewhere along the way that we can’t be truly happy unless we’re in a relationship, but then when we’re in one it may seem that being in a relationship isn’t quite as joyful as being married, and then we think we’ll perhaps find an even greater sense of happiness if we have children, and so on.

    The problem with conditional happiness is twofold. We suffer in the lead up to achieving it, because we are filled with a desire for something we don’t yet have, and so therefore feel a terrible sense of lack. Then once we do have it, rather than finding that place of eternal happiness that we had been hoping for, the emotion naturally passes and we have to set our sights on the next goal that will make us happy. If we’re not mindful, we could get stuck on this treadmill for the rest of our lives.

    Cultivating a Sense of ‘Enough’

    Some of the happiest people are not those who have everything they ever wanted, but are those who find contentment in what they have. It’s an unconditional happiness; a steady peace of mind that doesn’t fluctuate so wildly depending on whether life goes our way or not. We can cultivate this sense of ‘enough’ by becoming more accepting of the way things presently are, and by becoming more appreciative of the little things in life.

    Mindfulness helps us see that reality is not our idea of how things ought to be, but that it is simply what is. When we believe that ‘what is’ is incorrect somehow, this can cause us tremendous amounts of suffering. For example, if we don’t get a job we really wanted, or if the person we are in love with doesn’t love us back, we can get totally lost, not just in sadness and despair (which are understandable reactions to painful events), but also a sense of things not being the way they should be. We are at odds with reality, and that really hurts. Yet by learning to accept that things don’t always go our own way, and by learning to compassionately accept painful feelings, we can become more steady and more in the driving seat of our own peace of mind.

    Appreciating the little things in life is also important, and nice to do! While we may believe that to be happy we must have wealth, our dream job, our dream partner, etc, we can actually find happiness in the very act of being appreciative. Try noticing something right now that you can appreciate, no matter how small. Maybe it’s your cup of coffee, the fact that you have the ability to hear traffic on the street, or simply that you are breathing. They may seem like mini-happy-moments compared to “important” ones like getting married or winning the lottery, but while we are in these little moments, while they fill us with contentment, don’t they seem almost as big?

    Learning to hold happiness lightly is a work in progress for us all. We’re bound to get stuck, to find ourselves projecting our happiness onto future events, or to think that we would be happy now if only it wasn’t for X, Y or Z. But by practicing, by noticing our expectations and conditions for happiness a little more each time they arise, we can eventually loosen our grip, and make way for a more unconditional kind of joy.

     

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