How many times have you found yourself reacting to a situation without thinking and then discovering that you over-reacted? I know I have! Do you remember that time you really embarrassed yourself, and then you play it over and over in your head? Or how about your inability to ask for a raise or promotion you deserve because you have told yourself so many times you are not worth it? These repetitive thought patterns are a strangely comfortable place we keep revisiting, even though they are negative experiences. Replaying a cringeworthy historical event repeatedly in your head is possibly harmful, as is telling yourself you are not worth a promotion or anything else.
The good news is it is possible to change those behaviours, the automatic responses that seem to be unbreakable. The same can be said of those moments where we relive embarrassing or stressful situations over and over again in our minds.
Brain training is real, not just an app on a game consol. Habits are formed over time and need time to be deconstructed. Nothing will change overnight; we have to develop patience and the techniques to support the change we desire.
The even better news is that the techniques needed to change our behaviours and habits are readily available, don’t need special equipment and are easily learnt.
“Mindfulness isn’t difficult, we just need to remember to do it” – Sharon Salzberg
How do we begin to re-tune our minds? The first step is be in tune with your mind.
Before you flinch away from the idea of being in tune with your mind, we are not about to disappear into a mystical approach involving mind expanding rituals and shaman. Being in tune with your mind is simply about awareness.
Here is a very simple exercise to show you how to take a step towards awareness. As this is an exercise, it is something you will need to spend a little time on and be prepared to possibly feel a little silly!
Get a raisin – yes, a single raisin. If you do not have or like raisins, get something else small and edible, that does not require peeling before you eat it. Hold it in the palm of your hand, look at it, really examine it and explore it turning all of your focus onto it. Take as long as you need to be able to recognise this as ‘your’ raisin. Be aware of the feelings you are experiencing as you study the raisin. That includes feeling silly!
Next concentrate on the texture and feel of your raisin. Roll it around in your hand, touch it gently. Pick it up, explore it with your senses of hearing and smell. Take as long as you need to be familiar with this raisin. Again, be aware of how you are feeling when you do this. As well as feeling silly, you may by now, be feeling hungry!
Finally, place it against your mouth, touch it to your lips and place it on your tongue. Before you take a bite, be aware of your feelings again, and any physical changes that may be taking place, perhaps you are salivating. Then take a bite, chew the raisin slowly and savour the flavour. Relish the taste of it and see if you have any thoughts or feelings coming to you as you eat it. Reflect on this experience and try to recall all your thoughts and feelings.
This exercise is all about awareness, of your senses, your thoughts, your feelings and the external stimulus of the exploration of the raisin. It’s a practice of mindful eating. Think for a moment how often you eat a meal or a snack without even noticing the taste of the food, let alone the textures and smells. How often do we spend our lives in automatic pilot? Have you ever driven to work, or taken some other very familiar journey, arriving at your destination with no memory of your travel?
Mindfulness is the conscious decision to be aware of the moment you are experiencing right now and to be in tune with yourself and your surroundings.
Taking small steps to do this every day, by practising mindfulness in simple tasks, such as eating, will re-tune your mind to be aware of yourself and your surroundings. The hope is to carry these practices into more everyday situations. Presence and awareness are the foundation to changing a thought pattern. Even though we may not be aware of how often we have a negative thought pattern, once we can recognise our thoughts and feelings, we know what to target.
“Lindsay and Cresswell argue that the attentional monitoring aspect of mindfulness can allow for people to be more readily aware of their thoughts and emotions, which can allow them greater flexibility in cognitive reappraisal,” Minda explained. “So mindfulness does not necessarily reduce negative thinking or negative emotions, but, rather, the attentional control that is developed through meditation practice helps people deal with the negative thoughts more quickly.”
So instead of reliving an embarrassing moment, repeating your lack of worth or responding automatically, you catch yourself. Research tells us that it is
“well-known in psychological and scientific circles that whenever one engages in a behaviour over and over, it can lead to changes in the brain-a phenomenon called neuroplasticity.”- Jessica Bane-Robert
The research and science continues to point toward mindfulness leading to physical, mental and emotional changes in the brain and behaviour. So allow yourself to take a moment to be mindful, meditate, re-tune your mind and maybe ask for that promotion today.