The Basics of Mindfulness – The Kiwi No. 8 Wire Approach

The Basics of Mindfulness - The Kiwi No. 8 wire philosophy

What has Wire got to do with Mindfulness, you may well be asking?

As I have mentioned in the ‘About’ section of this website I have an affinity with the ‘Kiwi Number 8 wire philosophy’.

Wikipedia describes the Number 8 Wire philosophy as “the ability to create or repair machinery using whatever scrap materials are available to hand”. As a ‘kiwi’ (New Zealander), brought up on a farm I was very familiar with Number 8 wire, which is the strong wire used to make farm fences.

And growing up in South Taranaki, I was also familiar with the ‘Taranaki Gate’ – a short separate section of wire fence, hinged to the main fence with – you guessed it – more No. 8 wire.   You could say that the Taranaki Gate was the epitome of the ‘Number 8 wire philosophy’ (http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/photograph/18612/taranaki-gate).

As an approach to personal development, my ‘number 8 wire’ philosophy is about being very pragmatic and one of the things I love about Mindfulness is that a key question, with regard to what we are doing with our minds is ‘is it helpful’. My ‘take’ on the ‘number 8 wire’ philosophy is that solutions need to be practical, workable, and economical and Mindfulness offers many ‘everyday tools’ that we can work in with our everyday lives to become happier, less stressed and more satisfied with the lives we are living.

So from that practical, workable and economical perspective, and as best as I can do, in ‘everyday language’ here is my attempt to give a brief introduction to Mindfulness. Of course a rich and many-faceted approach such as Mindfulness cannot truly be represented by a few bullet-points. But hopefully this will give you enough of a glimpse to interest you in looking into it further and learning more.

What is Mindfulness?

Being Aware and ‘Just Noticing’

Mindfulness is about being aware. Yep. That simple – but simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy. Being aware of the world around us, the small aspects of our everyday lives (our external world) and being aware of our thoughts, feelings, urges, mental images, sensations (our mental events or inner world). And when we learn to be aware in that way, it means we spend less time being ‘unaware’ i.e. away with the fairies or on auto-pilot.

Mindfulness is about ‘just noticing’. As above – this is simple, but often not easy. Often when we think we are ‘just noticing’ what is going on around us, we are actually interpreting, judging, having expectations, analyzing etc. ‘Just’ noticing is a lot harder than it sounds. But when we develop the ability to do less interpreting, judging and expecting our lives begin to flow more easily. Of course there are times when interpreting, analysing etc are quite appropriate and helpful, but we tend to have that switch turned on all the time, whether it is helpful or not. With Mindfulness we develop an awareness of when to turn that switch on, and we get better at not having this as our main operating system.

Training Your ‘Attention Muscle’

Mindfulness is about ‘training your attention muscle’. Just as you would go to the gym to develop your physical muscles you can do Mindfulness exercises to develop your attention muscle.

Our minds are not great at maintaining attention on what we want to be paying attention to – our minds are ‘scatterbrains’, easily distracted. A strong ‘attention muscle’ enables us to put our attention where we want it to be, and more effectively keep it therenotice more quickly when our attention has wandered (rather than that very common experience of having wandered off in your mind, and when you realise you have been ‘lost in thought’ for ages, suddenly reaslising that you have just wasted a lot of time).
to get better at redirecting our attention back to where we want it to be, once we realise our minds have drifted off.

There are two main aspects to ‘training our attention muscle’. We can put time aside to deliberately practice this skill through doing Mindfulness Meditation. Even as little as 10 minutes meditation practice a day can make a significant difference to how effectively people handle stress. The other way of ‘training our attention muscle’ is to apply some of the principles of mindfulness in everyday life. This is a very practical and effective way to improve your satisfaction with your life and improve your relationships.

Mindfulness helps us to improve our ability to ‘zoom in’ – focus and concentrate, and to ‘zoom out’ – to see the big picture and get perspective on situations. You could look at this as being similar to keeping your camera well maintained so it can zoom in or zoom out depending on the photograph you want to take at any given time. ‘Zooming in’ is important when we need to concentrate on a task and avoid distractions, and ‘zooming out’ helps us to have perspective. ‘Zooming out’ is particularly important in situations where we feel stressed or upset – often we have become caught in a narrow and limiting perspective – in which case it is useful to be able to step back to a ‘zoomed out’ perspective.

Being In The Present Moment

Mindfulness is about ‘being in the present moment’. By being able to direct our attention more effectively we can stay fully involved in the present moment, as opposed to drifting off into our heads and into the future or the past, making interpretations, judgments, predictions, thinking about what we want to say next, worrying about the future, worrying about what people think of us, or dwelling on past mistakes, grievances or losses. Instead, when we are Mindful we simply fully experience what is happening, in the moment, as it happens. Why would we want to do this? Because it is more enjoyable, because we build better relationships when we relate to people in this way, because it is more real (whatever we do in our heads is essentially just some form of fantasy). And most of all, because the only ‘place’ we can improve the quality of our present or future lives is through our actions in the present moment. What we do when we are ‘lost in space’ – inside our heads in the past or the future, does not add to the quality of our lives.

Being Non-judgmental

Mindfulness is about being non-judgmental.   Why would we want to be less judgmental?   Because judging causes unpleasant and unhelpful feelings I us, such as envy, jealousy, anger, frustration, irritation. Comparisons are also a form of judgment, and we frequently use comparisons in ways that are unhelpful to ourselves, for example ‘‘I am not as good at this as he/she is” or “My life is not going as well as it ‘should’”. Comparisons and judgment can lead to despair, misery and depression. That doesn’t mean that we aim to be so chilled and mellow that ‘anything goes’ –– like “Sure, it’s fine that my friend is cheating on her partner” or ‘‘Well I guess a bit of dishonesty is O.K.”. No, it is important to be clear about your values and what is important to you, and to live your life according to your values. And it is OK to have preferences, and it is normal to feel disappointed or unhappy or upset when some-one treats us in a way that we would prefer they didn’t. But judging ourselves, others or our situation as bad or wrong is not helpful. This can be a tricky idea to get your head around – I will blog more on this at some future time. But the take-home message here is that the more judgment we engage in, the less we are likely to be enjoying our lives.

In summary Scott Spradlin, in his book ‘Don’t Let Emotions Rule Your Life’ describes mindfulness in this way: – “Mindfulness is becoming more aware; becoming more intentional; becoming more articipatory in your own life and experiences; becoming more present and alive in each moment you live”. This description gives a good sense of why people are becoming so interested in mindfulness. It has a lot to offer.

As adopted by Western Psychology mindfulness is a series of mental strategies and practices. These ideas were drawn from Buddhist Psychology. Buddhist psychology sought to understand what causes suffering in order that people could be free from suffering. Western Psychology, particularly Positive Psychology also seeks to alleviate suffering.

Mindfulness is more interested in ‘what works’ or what is helpful, than ideas about good or bad, right or wrong – so it gives us some really practical strategies for managing life’s challenges – and hence it very much fits with my ‘No. 8 wire’’ philosophy.

 

A penny for your thoughts … (not literally, but you know what we mean – we’d love to hear from you)

I’d love to hear your opinion and learn about your experiences:  Please add your comment/s below.  

It is impossible to sum up what mindfulness is in one short article (or even one very long book).  So please forgive me for the many important omissions.  If you are already practise mindfulness, what aspects of it are most important to you?  What are some of the things that I have missed mentioning that you would have included?  Have you got a way of describing it that others might find helpful – if so, please share.  

Any and all comments welcome – whether or not you agree with what I’ve written.

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The Paradox of Personal Change

Paradox of Personal Change

Personal Change is paradoxical.

You might think that the more you hate the way you are, the quicker and easier it will be to change. Not so. The more we disapprove of ourselves and beat ourselves up, the less motivation and energy we have – for everything, including personal change. And without positive motivation our change efforts would have to depend on willpower alone, at the very time we feel depleted in energy and passion – and consequently, willpower.

 So, the Paradox of Change is that we tend to be more successful in making change when we can accept that we are perfectly O.K. just the way we are.

This might seem odd, but when you think about tackling change from the opposite perspective – how easy would it be to make desired changes, and how successful would we be if we start out with the belief and feeling that we are inadequate or not good enough. We would be embarking on our change project feeling depleted of worth and consequently depleted of energy, positivity and passion.

“But”, you may say, “I will be more motivated to change if I tell myself how bad things are, and how much worse they will get if I don’t change.” While it may intuitively feel helpful to use a stick for motivation instead of a carrot, it just doesn’t work that well for most people. Many people who use this method to motivate themselves do so because it’s the only method they know. If that is the case for you, learning new ways to approach change may be very liberating for you.

Being Real

I’m not talking about some ‘rosey-coloured glasses’ approach her. Clearly it is impossible to make a plan for change that has any chance of success without realistically assessing your starting point. The most obvious reason is that you need to know your starting point to know what route to take. This requires us to be objective and realistic in order that we can plan achievable steps towards our goal.

But we also need to achieve acceptance of where we are at in the sense of being compassionate and non-judgmental. If I feel bad or wrong about where I currently am in my life, this will affect my ability to maintain my motivation and my optimism. It may also affect my ability to believe that I deserve this change, and that positive life-enhancing changes are a natural part of my birthright.

Carrot Or Stick / Cheer-leader Or Bully

As I said, many people feel that they will be more motivated if they make themselves ‘face reality’ of just how bad or lazy or undisciplined or whatever that they are, then they will be motivated to quickly change. This doesn’t work. Just think about how you feel if some-one else tells you what an awful person you are. My guess is that this would make you feel smaller and less powerful to change things in your life. On the other hand, think about people who recognize your strengths and positive personal qualities, and are also really supportive when you are wanting to learn new skills or make changes either in your work-life or outside of work life. Most people find positive ‘cheer-leading’ style of support more helpful than ongoing criticism. And if you have ever trained a puppy, you will perhaps be aware that puppies respond better to kindness and rewards for good behavior than harshness and punishment for bad. Perhaps we are all puppies at heart.

What Do You Want, Really Really Want?

So being kind and compassionate towards ourselves about where we are now will help us to change. An important point is that we are talking about ‘where you are now’ not making an excuse and ‘accepting’ that it is OK to stay in this place. If I want to be slimmer or fitter, I need to accept, both in the sense of ‘getting real’ about my current weight and fitness level and also in the sense of accepting that I am a ‘perfectly OK’ person just the way I am – who is currently carrying more weight or is at a lower fitness level than I would like. From this starting point, I am in a good position to make a plan. And focusing on what we want e.g. “I want to be slimmer” or “I want to be fitter” is more helpful than focusing on what we don’t want e.g. “I don’t want to be as heavy and overweight as I am now” or “I don’t want to be as unfit as I am now” can be a lot more motivating. Having got clear about the direction we want to head in (as opposed to the direction we want to head away from) we can then start fleshing out the details of our goal, followed by developing a plan with clear and achievable steps.

Developing Self-compassion And Acceptance – And Making The Changes You Want To Make

For many people, being accepting of themselves, exactly as they are right now is easier said than done. If you are in the habit of constant self-criticism, developing the ability to see yourself ‘through a compassionate set of eyes’ is extremely important to improving personal wellbeing. A very useful tool as you take steps on this journey is Mindfulness. One of the main pillars of Mindfulness is compassion – for ourselves and for others. An attitude of compassion permeates Mindfulness meditation of all kinds, and is a particular focus of practices such as Loving Kindness Meditation. And as we become more aware, through practising mindfulness regularly, we more quickly notice self-critical thoughts and are able to interrupt them and move to a more compassionate focus.

The Change Academy approach is two-pronged – to encourage change, and help you to make the changes that will increase your sense of wellbeing and satisfaction with your life, and to encourage self-acceptance, helping you to develop your acceptance of yourself and your life, and to be able to notice and celebrate the many gifts, strengths, talents or qualities that you have.

Through fully embracing your strengths, you will have more to contribute to the world, and will experience a greater sense of satisfaction with your life.

 

A penny for your thoughts … (not literally, but you know what we mean – we’d love to hear from you)

I’d love to hear your opinion and learn about your experiences:  Please add your comment/s below.  

While we approach some changes with a positive motivation, often we are motivated to change by some ‘pain’ or dissatisfaction.  Something has happened that has forced us to face up to a situation which we have chosen to ignore – or ignore the implications of.  And in these circumstances it can be much more challenging to be accepting of our short-comings and limitations.  Can you think of situations in your life where focussing on self-acceptance has helped you to move forward in some area?  Of have you helped some-one else to reach a point of self-acceptance that has enabled them to move forward.  If so, please share your words of wisdom and tips.  (Please respect confidentiality and be careful not to share details of other people’s situations, just the tips, tools and resources that helped them to move forward).  

Any and all comments welcome – whether or not you agree with what I’ve written.

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