“Conscious thoughts, repeated often enough, become unconscious thinking.”
We’ve all been there before. Moments when we get caught up in troubling thoughts and/or emotions connected with a past experience that didn’t go well for us. Perhaps it was a colleague, family member, or friend who may have annoyed, frustrated, or angered us. Or it might have been something that happened in a meeting or a confrontation we might have had with someone close to us. Whatever the negative event or interaction was that we had experienced, it can be quite easy, as humans, to re-live these moments in our mind which can cause us to re-experience the same negative emotions connected to that particular event or interaction.
“If only I would’ve given them a piece of my mind and told them what I really thought.”
“I should’ve stood up for myself and reminded them that they’re the ones that keep screwing up not me.”
“If only I wouldn’t have been so nervous when speaking in front of the group, I would’ve been able to communicate my message so much more confidently.”
“The next time he/she says that to me again, I’m going let them have it straight back.”
“Why does that person always think that I’m incapable of doing things for myself”
Re-living the past can be commonplace for many people as they can be quite harsh on themselves and find themselves re-experiencing negative emotions and feelings with regularity.
Dr. Joe Dispenza, a neuroscientist and best-selling author, states in his book Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself that there is such a strong connection between our bodies and our brains and that the mere thought of negative events or experiences from the past can trigger neurotransmitters and neuropeptides in our brains to send messages to our bodies. This immediately causes specific hormones to be released that spark the negative emotions we find ourselves consumed by or even trapped by. These negative emotions can range from very mild to quite harsh and even damaging if repeated on a consistent basis in our lives.
Of course, it is human nature to experience negative emotions. However, through greater self-awareness, we can become more cognizant of habitual thinking and feeling loops in our lives that do not serve us well and hold us back from being a better version of ourselves.
The thinking and feeling loop is very real and presents itself to us multiple times a day. Below the surface, there are some very strong and intense chemical reactions taking place that are directly responsible for producing the thoughts and feelings that we experience on a daily basis. When these thinking and feeling loops are rooted in positive emotions, we can experience intense feelings or joy and contentment. However, when we continually allow ourselves to re-live negative moments from the past, it can cause a downward spiraling of emotions and feelings that push us into a very negative state of being.
Mindfulness is a great way to be present and to draw attention to the habitual thought patterns that we find ourselves potentially repeating with regularity in our lives. In an effort to better understand these repetitive thinking and feeling loops, we can put ourselves in a much better position to deal with negative emotions and feelings in more proactive ways by putting mindfulness into action.
A strategy that Andy Puddicome, the co-founder of the mindfulness app called Headspace, promotes through some of the meditations he teaches is a labelling strategy. This strategy is aimed at drawing awareness to the negative thinking and feeling loops that we experience that may be troubling to us.
The purpose of the labelling strategy is to disrupt this type of thinking by ensuring that we do not let these thoughts and feelings determine our identity and become who we are.
Puddicome asks his listeners, as they sit in a meditative state, to allow thoughts and feelings to come and go. Many people, as they meditate, try to cut off these feelings and work endlessly to ignore them or push them away. It can be a constant battle in our minds as we try to deflect or cut off these negative emotions and feelings.
Instead, we are meant to just sit with them and notice them, but rather than saying, “I’m angry” or “I’m frustrated” or “I’m worthless”, we simply flip these statement to being a label.
We can do so by saying things such as, “Oh, that’s anger” or “That’s frustration” or “That’s doubt”. In creating these labels, it depersonalizes these negative emotions and feelings. We notice these emotions and feelings, we label them, and let them pass. These thoughts and feelings do not define us or our identity.
Rather than cutting off these negative thinking and feeling loops, we can raise are own levels of self-awareness in order to disrupt them. When we do this over time, we can lessen the neurological impact that they have on us thus decreasing the intensity of these emotions.
Once we practice raising our levels of self-awareness through the labelling strategy described above, we put ourselves in a position to be immediately catch ourselves when we are re-creating or re-living negative thoughts and emotions that we have experienced in the past. We begin to understand that we do not want these past emotions dictating our future. We place little value on these emotions and develop the ability to reframe and restructure how we want to feel, think, and act in order to experience more fulfillment and joy in our lives.
As you reflect on your past week, what negative thinking and feeling loops might you be experiencing? What kinds of feelings and emotions are being generated as a result of these negative loops? How are these negative loops impacting your state of being or mood?
I encourage you to sit in total silence for 10 minutes and put on a timer.
As you sit in silence, notice and observe any negative thoughts or feelings.
Let these thoughts and feelings simply float around within your mental space without judgement.
Do not try to fight them off, cut them off, or deflect them.
Simply attach a label to them and what they represent instead of diving into the reasons for these thoughts and feelings. (Ahh, that’s anger or that’s frustration)
Breath and repeat as many times as needed in that ten minutes.
If you get distracted return to the breath and let your thoughts come and go.
It takes a lot of practice, but you can get better and better at it. Once you are done the ten minutes, if you want to take it to the next level, journal about the experience. It always helps to put it down on paper.
Hope you try this out. Thanks for reading.
"Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!...
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond."
I sought counsel in a good friend this week letting him know that I’ve had some difficulties over the past few months. Not feeling myself so much, struggling with my own personal and professional purpose, lacking motivation and inspiration, and generally feeling quite down, I knew the time had come for me to take action.
I’ve been working hard to reframe the story that I have created for myself the past few months because it hasn’t served me well.
My friend opened up about some of his experiences with feeling the same way at times and that a constant go to that he holds close to his heart is a story about Buddha. He learned the story from Tara Brach and her inspiring book called Radical Acceptance. In the story, Buddha is constantly trying to be attacked by the Demon God Mara. Mara always sets out to hurt Buddha and makes regular appearances in his life by trying to cast fear, doubt, insecurity, hurt, hopelessness, shame and guilt toward Buddha.
This story is really a metaphor for the troubling emotions and fear that lives in each human heart. Rather than ignoring these negative emotions, Buddha chose to deal with them by inviting the Demon God Mara to join him for a cup of tea whenever the Demon God decided to make an appearance in Buddha’s life.
Buddha would make Mara an honorary guest and offer a cushion so that the Demon God could sit comfortably as they had tea. Buddha would sit with the negative emotions that Mara was trying to project on to him, but do so in a non-judging and undisturbed way.
By accepting these experiences with a warmth of compassion, Buddha chose not to try to fearfully drive Mara away. This made it much easier for Buddha to deal with these troubling emotions and fear in positive ways and understand that it is deeply part of the human psyche to experience fear and other negative emotions.
In our own lives, what’s most important to think about is how we deal with these emotions. In accepting these emotions and fear, we can actually create a more empowering personal narrative for ourselves that helps to better serve us now and in the future.
While meditating, we can invite our own form of Mara to tea with us. We can sit with these troubling emotions and fear that we experience in a non-judging way rather than ignore these emotions or try to drive them away.
Speaking to my friend this week helped to remind myself that it’s OK to experience darker moments and that when I do, there is definitely something that I can be done about it.
I’ve chosen to invite Mara to tea with me this week through the meditations I am doing. In choosing to look at self-doubt, fear, uncertainty, and frustration differently, it has quickly helped me to get back on track with my work and to feel a greater sense of fulfillment and kindness toward myself. The act of self-compassion can be one of the greatest things that we can gift to ourselves.
What troubling emotions might you be experiencing this week? What fears might unknowingly be present in your life that may be impacting the personal narrative you have been creating for yourself? How might you better sit with these troubling emotions and fear in a way that empowers you to be a better version of yourself?
Hope this blog post helps to give you some ideas to mindfully put into practice in your own life. Thanks for reading.
What does it mean to truly flourish in our lives? What roles do resilience, optimism, and gratitude play in helping us to genuinely thrive both personally and professionally?
These are some of the life questions that Positive Psychology seeks to better understand through the scientific exploration of human potential.
Dr. Martin Seligman is credited as being the father of the Positive Psychology movement and has put decades of research into helping the world better understand the factors that lead to greater happiness and fulfillment in life.
His best-selling books Authentic Happiness, Flourish, Learned Optimism, Character Strengths and Virtues, as well as many other books he has written, share the research that he and his team have done related to the science of happiness and how people can produce more positive emotions in their lives through the use of specific techniques and strategies that have been proven to be effective.
One of the strategies that my wife, Neila Steele, and myself came across a couple of years ago caught our attention and it’s something that we’ve tried to put into practice In our own lives. As well, we’ve tried to practice it with our two boys and with the students that we have taught. Although the strategy seems quite simple, it can be difficult to apply in our own lives with consistency. However, it requires consistency, on a daily basis, over a succession of weeks to begin to take root and actually lead to changes in the neurochemistry of our brains. It has been proven to produce more positive emotions with regularity in the lives of the people who have practiced it.
Dr. Martin Seligman has conducted hundreds of experiments using this strategy with many different types of people, many of whom suffer from severe depression. As well, he has replicated the study with people that have not been impacted by depression who live ‘normal' lives.
In almost all cases, the strategy proved to be effective in alleviating the debilitating effects of depression. It also led to a more positive mindset with the others who had participated in the study that didn’t suffer from depression and led relatively normal lives. Amazing how the simple act of gratitude can change the brain and lead to more positivity in our lives!
Researchers of Good
The strategy is called ‘Researchers of Good’ or ‘Scanning for the Good’ and requires people, over a 7-day period, to genuinely reflect on their life at the end of each day identifying 3 good things that happened to them. A noun must also be used to describe what each good thing represents and is placed in parenthesis beside the written statement describing the good thing that happened.
Even on our bad days, Seligman says it is critical to still complete this activity. When we actually scan for the good in our lives, we can always find a minimum of three things that happened on that day. Recognizing these good things promotes a greater sense of gratitude and positive emotion. However, we need to practice this strategy with consistency, on a daily basis, for it to have an impact of our overall level of happiness.
For example, a person might come up with the following list of three good things and accompany each good thing with a label that describes what the good thing represents:
My friend shared their lunch with me today (Generosity)
A stranger took the time to hold the door open for me in the store today (Kindness)
I stuck to my fitness and nutrition plan today (Commitment)
The good things identified do not have to be breathtakingly awesome or out of this world to be recognized as something worthy of being labelled as ‘good’. It can be the ordinary, often overlooked good things that happen in our lives that often go unnoticed that can easily be added to our list of three good things that happened to us on any particular day.
The point is that we can reprogram our brains to actively search for the good in our lives when we practice doing so. Rather than identifying all the things that we believe are going wrong or not working well, we tap into a plethora of positive emotions that can actually change the neurochemistry of our brains. This can often result in a greater sense of well-being, happiness and fulfillment. But we must have a genuine appreciation and deep sense of gratitude for these good things, not just pay superficial attention to them.
The ‘Researchers of Good’ strategy is a very mindful act that requires us to be present with our thoughts and reflections. It requires some quiet time to genuinely reflect on our day and to invest the time necessary to identify and give gratitude for the good things that have happened to us. As humans we can automatically default to what’s not working in our lives or all the things going wrong, but this strategy gets us to flip the paradigm on its head and celebrate the good in our life with more consistency.
Try it out at home, at the office, with your colleagues and other family members for at least 7 straight days. The most important thing is taking the time to actually write it down in a journal or on sticky notes. It’s the act of writing it down that completes the strategy as we are investing time to reflect and to write down the good things we experience. If you do well at it for 7 days, try it out for 14 days or even a month. The more you do it, the better you will get at it.
We devoted a chalkboard wall to it on our own house and had students try it out by writing their lists of good each day on the windows of the classroom using non-permanent markers.
Hope you try out the ‘Researcher of Good’ strategy in your own life! Thanks for reading.
According to a study done by Asurion, a global tech company, the typical American checks their phone on average once every 12 minutes. The study revealed that of the 2,000 people surveyed, one in 10 actually check their phones on average once every four minutes which is quite an alarming statistic. The New York Times published an article in 2017 that summarized the results of this study to illustrate the point that we are an addicted society when it comes to dependency on our devices. Although this study was done in the United States, I am sure the statistics would be similar in other developed nations such as Canada, the United Kingdom or other European countries.
Setting an intention to put aside our devices or resist the urge to habitually pull them out of our pockets, handbags, or backpacks can be a challenging task for all of us, but an interesting one to try out, especially when trying to improve on our ability to be more ‘present’ in our every day life. Being more present and observant of our surroundings and being more present when engaged in discussions with others is a very mindful act that requires us to focus our energy and pay attention with a specific purpose. Again, not an easy thing to do for anyone!
When trying to genuinely practice being present, a very mindful act indeed, our devices can often times get in the way of being able to do this. Being aware of this can help us to make a conscious effort to set intentions to be more present in our every day life. You just never know what you will notice and observe around you when you strive to be more present.
A few weeks ago, my wife, Neila Steele, set an intention to practice mindfulness throughout the day. As part of this intention, she also chose to keep her device in her handbag during her morning and afternoon breaks, as well as during her hour off at lunch.
She was attending a 2-day workshop that we being held for teachers and administrators at the school that we work at. During her lunch break, she went to the very busy cafeteria at the university where the training was being held. As she waited in a long line up to order her sandwich, she found herself getting a wee bit impatient. However, in holding true to the intention that she set for herself at the start of the day, she was aware that she did not want to mindlessly pull out her phone to check it.
It was one of those moments when habit can kick in and it can be so easy to grab our device to help ease the boredom, frustration, or to help pass the time. As she waited in line she began to become more aware of her breath and reminded herself to be present, to observe her surroundings and take in all of the sounds and sights of the lunch time rush.
It was right at about this moment when she noticed that she was now second in line to be served. It was also about the same time when she tuned into the harsh words that the customer ahead of her was slinging at the sandwich maker behind the counter. Apparently, the man in front of her had ordered a sandwich that was supposed to have beef in it. As the man checked his sandwich, there was no beef in it and had clearly agitated him.
He aggressively asked the sandwich maker, ‘Where’s the beef in my sandwich?”. The sandwich maker obviously didn’t speak English very well and didn’t understand what the man was asking. This angered the man even more and he then barked out, “The beef! The Beef! Where’s the fucking beef?”.
It was at this point that Neila stepped in and calmly tried to diffuse the situation by saying, ‘Hey, hey, no need to speak to the man behind the counter this way. It’s clear that he doesn’t understand you. It’s OK to be angry, but not OK to take it out on the sandwich maker who clearly doesn’t speak English well.”
Neila then noticed how stressed the customer looked. She could instantly tell that this perhaps wasn’t about the sandwich at all and that something else was going on. She calmly asked him if everything was OK. He admitted to her that he was very stressed and had received news that his student visa might not be renewed which meant he would have to leave the country the next day.
Neila acknowledged how stressful this situation must be and again asked if he was OK. She also asked what he needed to resolve the sandwich issue. In that moment, he clearly calmed down, thanked her, and said that he didn’t need anything. He then grabbed his beef-less sandwich and quietly left. Neila did not see him again.
When she got home, she told me about what had happened at lunch and how setting the intention at the start of the day to not mindlessly grab her phone allowed her to be fully present with her surroundings in the lunch time line up and to ultimately be able to calmly diffuse the very stressful situation that took place between the customer and the sandwich maker.
Practicing mindfulness while in line helped her to be able to do this. Not mindlessly checking her device allowed her to be able to this. Setting the specific intention to not touch her phone allowed her to do this.
Who knows what we will notice or observe around us when we stay in the present moment. Who knows what sounds and sights we will take in? Who knows who we might be able to connect with or to help when we stay off our devices and strive to be more present in ordinary or mundane settings in our daily lives.
How many times a day might you mindlessly or unnecessarily grab your device? Do you do this more in social situations or when you are in line ups? The next time you are in a social situation or a long line up, try leaving your device in your pocket or handbag? Are you able to do this?
Want to hear the latest episode of our '4 X Mindfulness' podcast? In this episode Neila shares the lunch time line up story and what it taught her. You can access the link to the podcast below. Hope you check it out:
All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. - Ralph Waldo Emerson
I dropped my son, Eli, off at a weeklong, residential golf program yesterday afternoon in Musselburgh, Scotland. It is the first time for him to experience a summer camp and the first time for him to be away from the family during summer vacation. He was obviously very excited about the opportunity to meet other kids his age from around the world and to be able to play golf all week in such a beautiful country.
However, as we were getting ready to drop him off, he admitted to me that he was feeling nervous and afraid. I commended him for being so open with me about it and, in that moment, decided to try out a mindfulness technique that allows us to flip our anxiety or nervousness into wonderings.
So, I asked Eli to flip his anxiety into statements that begin with 'I wonder.........'.
Eli immediately came up with a number of 'I wonder' statements and this allowed him to reframe the anxiety and nervousness into a normal part of the process of moving into a new experience that is unknown to us. The 'I wonder' statements that Eli came up with were:
I wonder how many other kids there will be at camp.
I wonder if they are going to be nice.
I wonder what my golf coaches will be like.
I wonder who I will become friends with.
I wonder how much free time I will have.
I wonder what it will be like playing new golf courses.
Eli and I were able to have a genuine conversation about the fact that many people experience anxiety and nervousness heading into new situations and new environments and that it is very normal to experience these emotions. In reframing his anxiety and nervousness, I felt that it put him into a much more open and accepting state that ultimately allowed him to better embrace the unknown environment he was about to head into. It is a very mindful act of internal self-awareness to be able to flip our anxiety and nervousness into 'I wonder' statements and it requires curiosity and openness.
It allows us to have honest conversations with ourselves and to give ourselves a break when feelings of anxiety and nervousness pop up in our lives as we head into situations unknown. I'm glad Eli and I could experience this moment together yesterday before we dropped him off.
Think about an upcoming event or situation that you will face in your life that may be causing you anxiety or stress. How might you reframe this experience by creating your own 'I wonder' statements to better prepare you mentally for the experience itself? As Ralph Waldo Emerson states in the quote above, "All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better". Experimenting with different mindfulness techniques to help us better understand ourselves not only leads to deeper learning, but also allows us to find methods and strategies that help to provide us with a greater sense of well-being, so experiment away as much as possible as you continue on your own paths of self-learning.
Thanks for reading.
“Don’t choose anything that will jeopardize your soul.”
Finding a bit of inspiration each day can work magic by helping to stimulate and release neurochemicals in our brains responsible for helping us to feel good. We can literally change the states of our brain and there’s no better time to do this than first thing in the morning.
Whether it be listening to our favorite song or watching a quick video on YouTube, the act of inspiring ourselves can work wonders for us as we begin our day.
Even if we find ourselves listening to the same three favorite songs each morning or repeatedly watching an inspiring YouTube video over a succession of days, what is most important to remember is that we are making an active effort to gear ourselves up and feel inspired before stepping out of our house to face the day. It’s much better to proactively go out into the world each day ready to perform our best than to be miserable, complacent, bored or feeling a sense of dread.
The science is clear on this. When we can increase the level of our feel-good hormones and neurotransmitters in our brain, we are more confident, happier, and more willing to engage in the world proactively rather than reactively.
Here’s one of my favorite videos to listen to. Wise words from actor Matthew McConaughey that emphasize the need to take ownership and control of our lives and to choose goodness over anything else that may jeopardize our chances of being happy. This video is about living a purposeful and authentic life.
This is just one of thousands of videos that can be found on YouTube. It doesn’t matter what the video is, as long as it plants the seeds of inspiration within.
All it takes is just 5 minutes a day to kick start our brain into a different gear and in doing so tap into a greater sense of well-being.
Follow Andy Vasily on Twitter at @andyvasily
Wherever You Go, There You Are is the title of one of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s books. The book is about meditation and mindfulness. The title sounds quite apparent. Of course wherever you go, there you are, however the reality is that we are so often lost in the constant trance of thoughts in our heads that we can no longer enjoy what is right in front of us.
The other evening, I went for a lovely walk with my husband. Usually, walking for me is the act of moving with purpose rather quickly from point A to arrive at point B. However, this walk was more intended to help us connect after a long week.
The walk was pleasant for a while, but I found myself getting irritated. Now, whenever I am walking with my husband, he often tells me to slow down, only he doesn’t say slow down he says, “You’re speeding up again.” (which can be quite irritating to me).
I found myself annoyed at having to alter my speed. After a few minutes of dwelling in irritation, I started to simply take a few spacious breaths and drop into the body more.
I noticed my feet touching the ground, along with the sound of each step and feeling the temperature of the breeze on my exposed skin. I began to move with more natural awareness. I began to think about why was I rushing? I didn’t have to hurry anywhere in that moment. We weren't under any time constraints, so why was I pushing so hard and fast to get to my destination. After all, our evening walk together was genuinely about connecting and talking after a long week.
When I began to ease into the stroll at a more leisurely pace, I was also able to zoom in on, being more of an attentive listener to my husband. I suddenly stopped trying so hard to get somewhere and to recognize this mindful moment of being present with where I was. It made me think back to one of Jon Kabit Zinn's book titles Wherever You Go, There You Are. This book title is such a great phrase to repeat to yourself as a reminder to not only arrive in the current moment but to try to stay in it over and over again.
After few more blocks, the pace felt good, I allowed the tension in my shoulders to drop and I even noticed my mind relaxed into the ease of just walking and enjoying my partner's company.
My husband stretched out to hold my hand as we walked. I softened some more and noticed again what was most important at this moment. This moment was allowing me to connect with a loved one and be here in my body and mind in this ever-present moment.
In reflecting on this moment, I can look back and understand that I had underlying stress and anxiety lurking below the surface which was manifesting itself during our walk. It wasn’t the actual pace of the walk that was my actual cause of irritation. However, when the feeling of irritation arose, I was able to put specific mindfulness practice into place that allowed me to better understand myself in that moment and to fall into the state of being more present and connected during the walk. And with this came a sense of gratitude and appreciation for not letting this wonderful moment be lost.
Even on difficult days, mindfulness can help us to find that sense of peace and calm if we are willing to put it into practice.
Follow Neila on Twitter at: @neilasteele
"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."
~John F. Kennedy
The act of gratitude is an act of self-love. On the surface it may appear as an act of love towards something or someone else but in reality the benefit is ours. Being grateful is the quickest way to pull ourselves out of a negative mindset, a poor attitude, a feeling of hopelessness or a general outlook of despair. A changed outlook can happen instantaneously through the practice of gratitude. The light bulb of gratitude brings with it an instant awareness of what is good in our life. Hopelessness, negativity, and despair cannot exist in one's thoughts at the same moment of gratefulness.
In this regard, mindfulness and gratefulness are very similar. In most cases one cannot be mindful and stressed at the same time unless you perceive the moment you are being pulled into as stressful. Most stress happens because of our perception of an event that has already occurred or one that might occur. Being present in the moment eliminates both possibilities. A grateful mind cannot exist in peace with a desperate one and a negative outlook cannot share space with a grateful one.
But this takes practice and momentum. It takes practice to become grateful when your mind is telling you how many things are going wrong. It takes practice to be grateful when you find yourself in conditions which your mind would perceive as harsh, negative or stressful. That is why you might consider making gratefulness a habit. There are always things to be grateful for. Did you know that 3 in 10 people on this earth lack access to safe drinking water at home? Or that 6 in 10 lack safely managed sanitation (World Health Organization)? If you are reading this, my guess is that you have access to both. But when is the last time you thought about how clean water is available to us and who is responsible for it? That is something to be very thankful for every day. You only need to look at all that surrounds you to find things to be grateful for and being in a grateful state brings peace and a much less stressed existence.
Gratitude does take daily practice. It takes no time at all to be grateful for the shower, razor, shaving cream, soap, deodorant, clothing, car, roads, train, bus, plane and all the systems that go with it to make your daily routine possible to create your professional life.
"Reflect upon your present blessings of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes of which all men have some."
Making gratitude upon rising your priority can create a dynamic day and a different way of living. Choosing just 5 things to be grateful for everyday and listing the reasons why - this is where the emotion comes in - has the power to transform your life. Creating the habit of being grateful in the morning will lead you to be grateful for more and more throughout the day and you will notice a difference in how you feel. For now, the next time you feel out of sorts and stressed, find something of which you feel grateful for. You will be grateful you did.
Follow Mike on Twitter at: @kinestheticlass
Consider two people who may be be experiencing the same predicament. Let’s call them Person A and Person B. Both are at work needing to get stuff done. Both need to print off a bunch of copies of a document for an important meeting they need to be at. Both go into the copy room and even though there are multiple photocopiers in the room, all of them are not working properly, so no copying can be done.
Person A responds by letting out a noticeably loud sigh of frustration and anger making it obvious how incredibly inconvenient and untimely this situation is for them. They go on to mumble profanities under their breath and even try pounding down on the buttons of the photocopier thinking that this will magically solve this problem.
When this doesn’t work, Person A storms out of the room and angrily heads back to their office or wherever it was they came from. On the way, they can’t help but think about other injustices that they have experienced that week. Their mind floods with recent memories of people who have annoyed and irritated them or treated them disrespectfully. With every one of these negative thoughts, their level of frustration and anxiety deepens which unknowingly begins to increase their heart rate and spike levels of cortisol in their bodies, triggering a cascade of neurological responses that only complicate and cloud their ability to think rationally in that moment. For the rest of the day, no matter what happens to them, everything that Person A experiences will just confirm the negative emotions they are experiencing. As much as they want to stop feeling this way, no relief is in sight for them as they are hooked into a negative loop of emotional response.
Now, consider Person B. Upon finding out that the photocopier is broken, they immediately feel a surge in frustration levels and can’t help but think how bad this timing is. They recognize that it’s the last thing that they need in this moment. Their day has not gone particularly well, so this certainly doesn’t help.
Instead of beginning to rage and go into emotional overdrive, Person B understands that doing so will serve no purpose. Over the past year, they have made a strong commitment to themselves to live more mindfully and to learn and practice specific mindfulness techniques with more consistently in their day-to-day life. One of the things that they’ve really worked on is breath control, particularly in difficult and stressful moments. Recognizing that the broken photocopiers have caused them to feel quite stressed and anxious, there’s no better time than now to tap into the breath.
Person B makes a conscious decision to just stand there and be present in this moment. They choose a specific technique called the 7-11 breath. They commit themselves to practicing this breath, in silence, for the next 2 minutes accepting all of the sensations that they are experiencing.
They inhale for a slow count of 7 full seconds and exhale for an even slower count of 11 seconds. They repeat this cycle of breath for the entire two minutes without trying to solve their problem or think about what they need to do next. After a few inhalations and exhalations, they begin to feel a slightly calmer state starting to reveal itself. What’s actually happening below the surface is that their focused breath work is having a direct impact on reducing levels of cortisol in their body. Cortisol is a hormone in our body that is activated when we are stressed. It serves an important purpose to us, but when too much cortisol is released, it can impact our ability to think and respond rationally to stressful situations that arise.
After the 2 minutes of focused breath work, the reality is that the photocopier issue has not been resolved. Person B still needs to figure out what to do next, however, they are in a much calmer and more rationale state in order to problem solve and identify actionable next steps.
Mindfulness and breath work are not about solving difficult problems that we experience or making stress and anxiety suddenly go away. Mindfulness and breath work can be used as our anchor points to better deal with difficult emotions when confronted with challenging experiences in our lives. Mindfulness and breath work can be practiced and over time we can improve on our ability to apply these skills and techniques in our personal and professional lives.
Are you the first person described in this story or the second person? If you are the first person, rest assured in knowing that we’ve all been there, felt that way, and responded to difficult situations in the same way. However, practicing mindfulness with regularity is a great way to learn to respond differently. The 7-11 breath described in this blog post is just one of many breath techniques that can be applied in our life.
The point is that nobody consciously chooses to be the first person described in this story. Nobody consciously sets out to have a terrible day and to seek out stressful situations. However, every one of us does have the ability to prepare ourselves for days and situations such as this. We can choose to be more mindful and to practice specific techniques and skills that can be improved on in order to allow us to respond more rationally to these experiences.
Living more mindfully can change our for the better if we are willing to take the plunge and try it out.
You can follow Andy on Twitter @andyvasily
An anonymous source once said, “If you really do put a small value upon yourself, rest assured that the world will not raise your price.” I could not agree more, but continuously watch people put their own health near the bottom of their personal to-do list. This not only impacts the quality of their life but the quality of what they can provide others.
Satchel Paige said, “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you.” If you’ve not quite made it to the bottom of your to-do list, what is gaining is not pretty. With one simple decision, today, you can change all that.
"It’s an act of love to take care of your body."
Simply stated, the greatest gift is one of loving yourself. Whether you realize it or not, this gift impacts everything you do, every action you take, every conversation you have, and every person you meet. People often put everything else ahead of their health and well-being only to be not as effective at life. We take care of our children, spouses, employment, pets, finances, friendships, homes, cars, and lawns but often pay little mind to our bodies and health. If you want to be more effective, loving, productive and useful, you must begin today by putting yourself at the top of the list.
The case for wellness in a purposeful life cannot be overstated. Realizing that everything flows back to how we feel can change your life in an instant. There is no denying that maintaining health and wellness can seem overwhelming and that it is a daily practice, but once we raise our level of living, living raises us. Think of it as “getting on the front end of things” because usually we work from the back end, where everything is a bit more difficult; frankly, a lot more difficult.
Once you get on the front end of things, life flows. What once seemed like a chore is accomplished with vigor. The end of the day no longer brings exhaustion but a rested, peaceful feeling of accomplishment and balance. More gets done and less energy is expended. What used to be tiring is now energizing. What a relief. You can be on that track. It is a choice. Change your mind, change your life. The greatest gift is one of health, wellness, energy, and vitality that you give yourself. Move yourself to top of the list right now and everyone around you will say, “thank you.”
The greatest personal gift is also a consideration, examination and implementation of the benefits of a well lifestyle. In doing so you have the potential to:
At the end of your life, all you will have is the person you’ve become. That individual will not be realized to your fullest potential if the needs of your mind and body are ignored. You are inherently well-equipped for every wellness challenge that lies ahead. With a clear destination, a lighted path and the proper tools for the trip, you will match your journey with eagerness and a new outlook which will empower your way. Here's to changing your life forever.
Follow Mike on Twitter at: @kinestheticlass
Neila Steele & Andy Vasily