Self-Compassion

  • My Mindfulness Journey : Attending an 8-Week Course

     

    I’ve been a self-taught mindfulness enthusiast for some years now. I’ve read articles, listened to talks, and sporadically practiced meditation, and found all of this to be useful in dealing with the depression and anxiety I’ve experienced since my pre-teens.

     

    So, when I decided to do an 8-Week Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Course, I just thought it would be a good way to solidify my existing knowledge, and maybe help me start practicing mindfulness meditation more regularly.

    I didn’t realise then how much deeper the course would take me, or how much of an impact the following eight weeks would make.

     

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    My Shaky Start

    I had a lot of anxiety before and during the first session. As someone who feels anxious about talking to new people, I found it quite challenging. But I soon discovered that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, which was comforting.

    I also found the first body scan meditation emotionally difficult – I found unexpected physical and emotional pain arising. But again, after listening to other peoples experiences afterwards, I learnt that I was not alone in this.

    The gentle guidance and support from the teacher, helped me to see that my difficulties were not a sign of failure or of ‘not doing it right’, just that I was getting in touch with myself.

    The challenges of the first session made me realise that I was not being as present with myself as I had thought, and although it was difficult, I was excited about continuing the MBSR course.

     

    Mindfulness Has Become a Lifestyle

    Having always practised mindfulness alone in the past, it was really useful to have structured guidance from the teacher, and to be given homework assignments to do each week.

    Even though I may not have always stuck to the homework, having it to come back to as a reference point was invaluable and encouraged me to stick with it, whereas in the past when I’ve practised alone it was all too easy to let long periods of time go by in between meditating or practicing being aware.

    The MBSR course has helped me incorporate mindfulness into my daily life, to the point where I would now notice its absence; in the same way that you would notice a difference if you stopped exercising after exercising regularly for a couple of months.

    New habits take time to develop, and I found that the course gave me the perfect space to develop those new habits in a supportive environment. The process was gentle; there was no pressure to do any of the practices. You were encouraged to adapt the practices if you needed to in a way to suit you.

    This relaxed and down-to-earth approach therefore created very little mental resistance in me that sometimes happens when we’re told what to do or how to do it. The focus was on intention and that in each moment we have a fresh opportunity to try again.

    This really suited me, and made me feel safe and supported.

     

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    Surprising Benefits

    Before the mindfulness course started, I thought that the only benefit I would get would be a slightly calmer mind. However, the actual benefits are far greater than that, and have taken me by surprise.

    The main difference I have noticed is that I now have the mental strength to make healthier choices.

    As someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety since childhood, I’ve been told so many times that regular exercise and eating healthily will help, yet depression can make those things seem impossible.

    Some days it takes all my willpower just to get out of bed and face the day, so I haven’t felt able to develop a regular exercise routine or take the time to prepare healthy meals, even though I’ve tried many, many times throughout the years.

     

    Feeling Healthier

    Having completed the eight week mindfulness course, I find that my choices are changing in a natural way.

    I can’t say that it’s been effortless, yet feeling more present in my body and having greater mental clarity enables me to give myself that little push to make choices that nourish my body, rather than deplete it.

    For example, I’ve always been the kind of person who reaches for comfort food, cigarettes or alcohol to make me feel better in times of stress or upset.

    However, the mindfulness course has given me the skills to be able to soothe myself without always turning to those unhealthy things, which often didn’t really make me feel better anyway.

    That’s not to say that I don’t still smoke, drink or eat unhealthy food, but I feel more in control now. Those things have become something to indulge in from time to time, rather than an automatic, mindless coping mechanism.

    In fact, I’ve never felt so healthy in my life! I now feel like I can give my body the healthy things it needs, like giving a gift to myself.

     

    Learning to be Self-Compassionate 

    I’ve also noticed that I’ve become kinder to myself in other ways.

    For example, I don’t beat myself up so much for feeling depressed, anxious, angry or upset. I have a more compassionate space for those feelings within myself.

    Going within and getting to know ourselves better is never an easy journey; it can bring up challenging or uncomfortable feelings sometimes.

    But I’ve also discovered that it can be very freeing, and has made me feel hopeful about the future, something I’ve rarely ever felt. Being guided through this process sure beats trying to do it alone!

     

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  • How To Make Self-Care A Priority – This Week and Every Week!

     

    As this week is national self-care awareness week, now might be a good time to ask yourself the question... How do I care for myself?  

     

    Self-care in its simplest terms is our ability to care for our own well-being. In the media, the term is often presented with an emphasis on the outer self and the health of the body -- including exercise, diet and grooming.

    While this is true to a certain extent, a more holistic definition of self-care is one that encompasses both mind and body.

    Self-care is as much nourishing and nurturing the relationship we have with our mind as the one we have with our body.

     

    The Power of Practice

    The power of this practice is not to be underestimated – when we take actions to protect, maintain and improve our mental, emotional and physical well-being, we can expect to see a reduction in the negative effects of stress, a boost to our mood and improved resilience.

    Mindfulness is so crucial to the act of self-care. With the awareness that the practice gives us, we gain greater clarity of the relationship we have with ourselves. 

    When we weave mindfulness into our day, we are practising self-care.

     

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    We notice habits and addictions that don’t serve our well-being, or unkind judgemental thoughts about ourselves that have a negative impact on our actions and experiences.

    Often, this new awareness can precipitate a shift in mindset, and a desire to start treating ourselves with more care.

    It’s worth noting that mindfulness is especially important in the context of self-care because it allows us to ensure that we use it for the right reasons.

    Without a mindful attitude, we may use self-care as a form of distraction to avoid our feelings and edge around the reality of our experience.

     

     

    Developing Self-Compassion 

    At the heart of self-care is self-compassion -- an understanding, acceptance and kindness towards the self, and we can use this as a sign-post for developing a daily self-care habit.

    Building self-care into our lives needn’t be overwhelming -- it’s as simple as making time for a few small acts of care and kindness towards ourselves each day, whether that’s yoga, meditation, getting more sleep or cooking a tasty meal.

    Over time, this will build long-term feelings of well-being and resilience -- and self-care will no longer be something that we come to when we need it, but something that we have already embedded within our lives.

    Self-care goes a long way in helping us to better cope with everyday stresses, and far from being narcissistic or selfish, it is in fact the key to a fuller life -- because the more we look after ourselves, the more we have to give to our family and friends, helping us to mindfully connect with others. More time to the life that we lead. 

     

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  • How Mindfulness Can Help Prevent and Ease Burnout

    Pug Wrapped in Blanket

     

    Most kinds of work brings some level of stress, whether we’re in a position that entails a lot of responsibility or whether we have deadlines and standards to meet.

     

    We may find ourselves doing more than one person’s job without the extra pay. Or we may simply just not enjoy our work and find that we are feeling stressed and low because we feel unfulfilled.

    Work-related stress may leave us feeling exhausted, disillusioned and all out of compassion or care for our fellow colleagues or clients.

    Burnout doesn’t just affect us as individuals, but also the people we work with and provide services for. We may find we’re more impatient with customers, or may get overly defensive when a co-worker offers some constructive criticism.

    Fortunately, mindfulness helps us spot the signs of burnout before they become severe, and can also improve existing symptoms.

    For example, studies have shown that after participating in an eight-week mindfulness course healthcare professionals saw improved scores on the Maslach Burnout Inventory – a test which measures factors such as emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation.

     

    Recognising the Signs

    For some, burnout can creep up unnoticed. How many of us let our job take precedence over our individual well-being?

    Of course selflessness is admirable in certain circumstances however, when this attitude goes unchecked, we may start to see serious consequences in regards to our mental and physical health.

    Whilst we may think we’re doing a good job by dedicating ourselves so fully to the role, if our actions lead to burnout we’ll find ourselves no longer able to care about the role at all.

     

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    Although it may sound like a small thing, recognising and acknowledging how we are feeling is of vital importance.

    We can’t seek support without first noticing that we need to, and it can mean the difference between taking a few days off work to rest and being forced to take a long absence because of severe burnout.

    Through practicing mindfulness we become more aware of subtle changes in our mood and physical health, and can start to notice more quickly when we are struggling.

    Rather than waiting for a full meltdown before we take action, we can read the signals of our minds and bodies and start to take better care of ourselves.

     

    Using Creativity to Re-Focus

    It’s hard to pay attention when we’re exhausted or disillusioned. Whether it’s paperwork, or interacting with a client or colleague, tiredness and disinterest can lead to us making mistakes. When those mistakes are to do with someone’s health, finances or important services the consequences could be serious.

    However, staying focused becomes easier when we notice new and different things about a person or situation. Simply changing some of our fixed routines can help us see things in a new light, therefore keeping us engaged.

    For example, if you’re struggling to feel compassion towards a difficult client, practice mindfulness when you’re talking with them. Notice your beliefs about the person, and imagine that they may not be completely true. Try to see that person with fresh vision, as if you were meeting them for the first time.

    Or if the problem is repetitive paperwork, make small changes to help you focus. Try sitting in a different place. If you can’t do that, change the layout of your desk. Use a new pen and notice how it feels in your hand, notice how the ink looks on the paper.

    Although these may at first sound like pointless exercises, studies have shown that making simple changes to our environment or to our relationship with an object or action can greatly improve attention and focus.

    When we’re engaged with an activity, responding in a mindful way, we’re less likely to make mistakes or feel stressed.

     

    Self-Compassion & Self-Care

    How often do we show the same level of compassion to ourselves as we do for our loved ones and friends? Preventing or healing from burnout is impossible without taking care of ourselves and practicing some self-kindness.

    Far from being a fluffy or airy-fairy concept, self-compassion allows us to perform better in our jobs in a practical way, by preventing harmful burnout. Self-criticism and compassionately noticing where we can improve are not the same thing.

    Many of us confuse being hard on ourselves with being driven, yet without kindness we are likely to drive ourselves into a breakdown rather than towards long-term happiness and success.

    Using mindfulness to become aware of the ways in which we give ourselves a hard time, and to step out of habitual unhelpful ways of responding to our own emotional needs, helps us overcome or avoid symptoms of burnout and will also make us better at our jobs.

     

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  • The Importance of Rest

    Beach Path

     

    It’s easy to tell when a baby or small child is tired. They might cry, get super grouchy or throw an almighty tantrum. As we get older, we learn to regulate our behaviour more, and we become better at hiding our tiredness.

     

    We may still feel grouchy, but we can function. If we weren’t able to do this, commuting home at the end of the day would reach a whole new level of unpleasantness! However, just like when we’re small, our mood changes when we get tired. Whilst we’re able to hold back from crying and screaming, we might express our discomfort in other ways.

    For example, how many arguments with our partner/children/colleagues started because one of us was tired? Tiredness can result in poor judgement, mental fogginess, lowered capacity for compassion (for ourselves and others), and when it gets really bad we become more likely to have accidents.

    And yet, despite all of this, sometimes we are just as oblivious to our need to rest as a toddler having a tantrum. We have become so skilled at hiding our tiredness that even we can’t tell when we need to rest.

     

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    Running on Empty

     

    We can stumble through our daily duties without noticing much about what’s happening around us, or what’s going on within. Before we know it, we can end up totally exhausted, without having noticed how we got there. Our bodies might be tired enough for rest, but our minds are still racing away, thinking and worrying about all the things we need to do.

    When we aren’t mindful, we can easily strain ourselves. For example, we might drink caffeine to stay awake, until we crash. If we’re self-critical, we can put too much pressure on ourselves to work long hours and not give ourselves adequate time to relax. We might forfeit sleep in order to get more done, and then wonder why we can’t switch off when we do eventually go to bed.

    Over time, this way of being will deplete us. Despite everything we might achieve through pushing ourselves, we will inevitably lose our sense of joy and our peace of mind. When we’re tired, the world can seem so grey. But by slowing down and paying attention, we can start to notice the beauty of life again.

     

    Listening to the Body & Mind

     

    Being mindful helps us tune into ourselves so that we can hear those subtle signals from our bodies and minds that tell us it’s time to rest. Whether it’s through meditating daily, or setting reminders throughout the day to prompt us to take a moment to check in with ourselves, the important thing is to make the time to listen.

     

    Are our muscles tight? Do parts of our bodies ache or hurt?

    Do we feel lethargic?

    When did we last eat something or drink some water?

    And how do we feel emotionally?

    Are we feeling stressed, depressed, angry, overwhelmed?

     

    If we receive a ton of yes answers, it might be time to get some rest! By paying more attention to how our bodies feel, we become less likely to get snappy or irritable when we’re tired, and more able to take positive action.

     

    Give Yourself Permission to Do Nothing!

     

    Doing ‘nothing’ may seem in total opposition to society’s obsession with ‘achieving’, and so for some of us it can be really hard to do. But it’s important. Apart from food and water, rest is our next most basic and essential need. So why do we feel so bad about giving ourselves time for it?

    In the same way that we set aside time to exercise, we need to deliberately take time to rest, both physically and mentally. Developing a mindful bedtime routine is a good way to wind down at the end of each day.

    For example, switching off our phones at least an hour before we go to sleep can help us mentally switch off from work and life stresses. Setting aside a regular time to meditate is also useful, and gives us a chance to check in with how we’re feeling.

    Just remember that any thoughts about being lazy, not deserving the time out, needing to do other things first, whatever, are all just thoughts. We do deserve to enjoy life from a rested mind!

     

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  • 3 Mindfulness Tips for When Life Gets Hectic

    Busy Bee on Lavender

     

    Wouldn’t it be lovely if life was just a gentle unfolding of events? If work and family stuff and exams and big changes were all neatly spaced out and we never had to think of more than one thing at once?

     

    Although we may find ourselves regularly wishing for such a life, the truth is that life gets hectic! And sometimes there’s so much to get done or to think about that we might feel like our minds might overflow.

    Wishing for life to be different tends to make our to-do lists seem even heavier, so what’s the alternative? How can mindfulness help when we seemingly don’t have any spare time for it?

     

    Write It Down

    Trying to keep mental to-do lists can be highly stressful. We worry whether we’ve forgotten anything, or become anxious about potentially forgetting something unless we tell ourselves about it again and again.

    This constant stream of forward planning can make it hard to sleep at night, or makes us grouchy with our loved ones.

    Instead of storing everything in your mind, try writing it down. This can give the mind an opportunity to let go and relax for a while. As well as being practical, this is also a great way to take care of your well-being.

     

    Journal & Pencil

     

    Make Use of the Breath

    There are lots of great quotes out there about how we must ‘make time’ for the important stuff, and while the sentiment is true and sometimes useful, at other times it can just make us feel guilty or irritated.

    If we’re rushed off our feet it can be really hard to find time for things like a seated meditation, even though we know it will help. During busy periods it may be more beneficial to simply make better use of something we’re already doing, and that is breathing.

    When we’re busy trying to meet deadlines, moving home, revising for an exam, looking after the children, etc., we’re breathing throughout all of these activities. So whilst we’re breathing anyway, we might as well make the most of it!

     

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    Whenever you notice that you’re feeling tense, or that you’re not paying attention to what’s happening because you’re thinking ahead to everything else you need to get done, try just deepening the breath for a short while.

    It won’t slow you down or get in the way of what you’re doing; in fact by becoming a little more present and mindful you’ll probably make less mistakes, and feel less stressed out too.

     

    Heart-shaped Coffee

     

    Small Acts of Self-Compassion

    The stress of being busy can take its toll, and we may find that we’re feeling angry, irritable, tearful or depressed as a result.

    It’s during these moments of distress or discomfort that we could really do with a little self-compassion. And a little goes a long way! Regular, small acts of self-compassion can drastically transform your day, as can weaving mindfulness into our day.

    Research showhttps that treating ourselves compassionately triggers the production of oxytocin – a hormone which helps us feel loved and safe.

    In her book, ‘Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind’, Dr. Kristin Neff explains how when we give ourselves a comforting hug, oxytocin is released in the same way as when someone else hugs us.

    So we don’t have to wait until someone else reaches out a caring hand; giving ourselves the same kind treatment has the same effect.

    Next time you notice that you’re feeling distressed or uncomfortable, try wrapping your arms around yourself for a compassionate hug, or try gently stroking your own arm or face, whilst gently acknowledging how hard things are for you right now.

    Talk to yourself, either out loud or inwardly, in the same way you would to a friend who was feeling overwhelmed or pressured by having so much to do. See how it changes your experience.

     

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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.

     

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    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 approach communication with clarity and build stronger relationships.

     

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    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.

     

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    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.

     

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  • A Mindful Approach To Insomnia

    Grey Cat Yawning

    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.

     

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    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.

     

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  • Dealing with 'Impostor Syndrome'

     

     

    Do you often attribute your successes to luck rather than your abilities? Do you feel that you’re tricking people into thinking you’re more competent or intelligent than you actually are?

     

    If so, you may be experiencing ‘impostor syndrome’ – a term first used in the 1970’s by psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes to describe high-achievers unable to internalise their accomplishments.

    It is also coupled with an ongoing fear of being exposed as a fraud; that one day people will realise that you’re not as good at what you do as they first thought.

    Whilst ‘impostor syndrome’ is not defined as an official mental disorder, it is often a painful character trait to live with.

    Not only do we fear judgement or rejection from others, but we also miss out on experiencing satisfaction and pride in what we do.

    Even when we do receive praise, this may be followed with anxiety over whether we can perform to the same standard again in order to avoid disappointing those who have praised us.

    So what can we do about it?

     

    Breaking the Rumination Cycle

     

    Those of us who feel like a ‘fraud’, whether it’s in our career or creative pursuits, may find that we typically spend more time ruminating about our failings than we do on enjoying our successes.

    Even if we succeed nine times out of ten, we’ll probably dwell on that one mistake more than anything else. Here’s where mindfulness can come in handy!

    By building some awareness around our thought patterns (i.e. “I know they said they liked it, but it could have been so much better”) we can begin the process of detaching a little from those thoughts.

    It may even help to give them a label, to help with recognising them for what they are.

    So for example, next time you find yourself reflecting on how you duped your boss into thinking you were good at your job, you can think to yourself, ‘Impostor syndrome thought’.

    This can be done with all kinds of thoughts actually, but the point is to start identifying with the thoughts less, so that in time you may come to think of yourself as less of an actual impostor, and more as someone who just has impostor thoughts.

     

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    Lingering on Praise

     

    When someone praises us, our first thought might be something like, ‘Oh, it was nothing’, ‘I just got lucky’, or ‘Anyone could have done it’. If we’ve experienced impostor syndrome for a long time, we may brush off praise without even being aware that we’re doing it.

    Yet it may be helpful to start giving more attention to the positive feedback we receive. By spending a few moments to let the good feelings in, we can start to do a little rewiring of the brain to help it become more attuned to receiving praise. As Dr. Rick Hanson describes:

     

    “By taking just a few extra seconds to stay with a positive experience—even the comfort in a single breath—you’ll help turn a passing mental state into lasting neural structure.”

     

    So next time someone tells you that you did a good job, experiment with letting that positivity in, even if it feels a little uncomfortable at first.

     

    Self-Compassion

     

    This may seem like a difficult thing to give yourself if you’re feeling like you’re no good at anything, yet bear with us. When we’re feeling inadequate, what is it that we most crave?

    It’s probably a sense of self-confidence, or better yet, some self-esteem! We want to feel adequate, competent, enough.

    Yet, we tend to base our sense of self-esteem on our achievements, which puts impostor syndrome sufferers in a rather hopeless situation. As Dr. Kristin Neff says it in her book ‘Self Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind’:

     

    “It’s the old carrot-and-stick approach—self-judgment is the stick and self-esteem is the carrot.”

     

    Instead of constantly trying to succeed enough to earn ourselves some elusive self-esteem, we can instead give ourselves something that doesn’t rely on such conditions. After all, we don’t usually give compassion to others based on how much money they earn, how high-ranking their position is, or how popular they are. Rather, we give compassion to those who are suffering, and that can include ourselves too.

    Although mindfulness can’t completely remove our impostor thoughts, by using the above practices we can start to relate and react to them in a lighter, healthier way.

     

    Find out more about our mindfulness courses and workshops, including the 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course.

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  • Meeting Imperfection with Kindness

    imperfection

     

    This post was inspired by Tara Brach’s talk ‘Relating Wisely with Imperfection’. You can listen to the full talk here.

     

    When we bring to mind our imperfections, how do we feel? Perhaps we feel a sense of guilt, embarrassment, shame, regret, depression or anxiety. We may feel a tightness; an urge to keep our imperfections hidden from others. We probably wouldn’t want everyone to know of our addictions and failings, all the times we acted stupidly or selfishly, the times when we’ve lost control, lost our courage or lost our minds.

    And yet, in the act of me writing these words and of you reading them and relating to them, we’ve both tapped into an important point to consider: these imperfections are not unique to us alone; they are universally shared by all human beings. We all know the fear of being seen as ‘not good enough’.

    If we take just one of our imperfections and look at it for a moment, what happens when we ask ourselves the question...

     

    “Imperfect, compared to what?”

     

    What standard are we holding in our minds that we feel we are falling short of? Is it a person, or an imagined ideal? Whatever the answer may be, it’s useful to bring awareness to the standards we are expecting ourselves to meet, and to question their validity.

    We may feel concerned about normalising our imperfections, however, because if we don’t feel bad about them how will we ever change? Some of our imperfections may cause hurt to others, and so how can we be okay with that?

    Yet, we may also know deep down that reacting to imperfection with judgement never really works. We will never run out of imperfections to judge, and so where does that approach leave us? A life of self-loathing and anxiety simply because we are human?

    True healing and change arises from acceptance and compassion. These qualities can only flower from mindful awareness. In order to cultivate this new approach towards imperfection (in ourselves and others), we can use mindfulness to help us remember to pause before we judge.

    Kindness rarely makes a person lazy. In fact, kindness and acceptance often gives us the strength to be able to make better choices, and to forgive ourselves more easily when we make ‘bad’ choices so that we can move beyond them.

     

    The Mindfulnes Project runs regular courses, workshops and masterclasses, including 'Overcoming Perfectionism' with author of the book ‘Present Perfect’, Dr. Pavel Somov.

     

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  • Cultivating Positive Mind States

    Written by Alexa Frey

    In mindfulness, we train our attention to be in the present moment. How? By anchoring it on a sensory experience – for example, the breath, a bodily sensation, or a sound. In short, we learn to place our attention on a chosen anchor. That’s the first step. With practice, we then become better at directing our attention where we want it to be. Slowly but surely, we learn to focus and stay in the present moment.

    Now, once we are able to focus, and choose where we want our attention to be, we can start engaging in what in mindfulness is called ‘cultivation’. This means, that we place our attention on something that fills us with gratitude, acceptance or anticipatory joy, or compassion for ourselves or others.

    How does this work? Usually we start by settling our attention on the breath, which helps to calm down and focus the mind. After a while, we begin to engage in cultivation. If we wish to cultivate gratitude for example, we will bring up a person or a thing, or a situation, that fills us with gratitude. Maybe the lush tree that grows in front of your house evokes gratitude in you, or the fact that you can see, or maybe you feel grateful that you own the cutest dog in the world!

    So, bring to mind what you are grateful for and keep your attention on it. As you stay with it for a while, you will notice a sense of gratitude spreading through your body. A sense of expansion and joy.

    As you practice cultivating gratitude, your mind might drift off – just like in a normal meditation. It might run off to a completely different experience. If this happens, gently redirect your attention back to what you are grateful for. Return to gratitude. Again, and again, and again.

     

    Learn to cultivate positive mind states through mindfulness on an eight week course or mindfulness workshop. 

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