Select Page

Clear Your Mind – Free Up Some Mental Ram

Clear your Mind - Free up some Mental Ram

Time for a Defrag?

Perhaps you are familiar with that feeling of having too much on your mind, too many balls in the air, and feeling like you have no clarity, no perspective, and no time to think.

Perhaps it’s time for a ‘defrag’ – time to clear you mental ram, to gain some more ‘working memory’.

But I can’t afford the time to stop and clear my mind right now

When we most need to ‘defrag’ we feel least able to step back from our busy lives to regain some perspective.    This is perfectly understandable when we think about what happens to our thinking patterns when we are caught up in the stress response or ‘fight-flight’ physiology.  If your body is circulating adrenalin and other stress chemicals, your mind goes into the very ancient ‘danger mode’, in the same way it would if you were being pursued by a wild animal in ancient times. And part of that mode is an intense sense of urgency and pressure – which would be very useful to you if you were actually being pursued by a wild animal.  So while one part of you has an awareness that you need to step back or take a break, just about every cell in your body is feeling that sense of urgency, and tells you that you can’t afford to stop or slow down – that you have to soldier on.

In addition, many of us have been brought up with a strong work ethic, and when things get tough, we just work harder.  When our brain is clogged up, we’re not thinking clearly, we have no sense of perspective, and have difficulty in prioritizing.  In this state we are not able to work as efficiently as usual.  Working harder in that state is not helpful and is likely to just get us more stressed.  In a sense, working harder in this situation is like already being down in a big dark hole, and the only tool we have handy is a spade, so we pick it up and dig like crazy.  Not a very clever idea.

What is it that we fill our ram with, to the point that we reach that overload point?

I would suspect that maybe 80% of the space in many people’s minds is filled with mental movies – scenarios that we have created in our heads.  These ‘virtual reality movies’ are often of the worst case scenarios we imagine for the future, or movies re-running past disappointments, upsets or guilt.  And we tend to play them over and over in our heads.  I would suspect that only 20% would be real current problems that we are in the midst of solving.  As Mark Twain is quoted as saying “I’ve lived through many troubles in my life, and some of them have actually happened”.  There is nothing to be lost and much to be gained by clearing our ram of these unhelpful mental movies.

Mindfulness practices can be very helpful in clearing our mental ram.

1.     Regular daily mindfulness meditation allows us to take a break from our mental movies daily, and through doing this practice we get better at not accumulating as much dross during the day.  Through our daily meditation practice of ‘just noticing’ and ‘being in the present moment’ we build up our ability to move our attention away from unhelpful mental movies whenever we drift into them.

2.     We learn to notice more quickly when we begin to go into our heads and create unhelpful mental movies.  This saves us from getting lost in them for as long and reduces the amount of time we spend feeling worried, guilty etc in relation to them.

3.     Through our daily mindfulness practice and using everyday mindfulness tools we are strengthening our ‘attention muscle’ and the more helpful neural pathways.  And the less time we spend re-running old movies or playing unhelpful future movies, the weaker these unhelpful neural pathways will become.

4.     The increased calm or equanimity that we develop through regular mindfulness practice means that we tend to be pulled into less ‘drama’ during our day.

5.     As we develop increased compassion for ourselves and others we experience less anger, frustration, resentment etc. which means that we don’t fuel difficulties and challenges and turn them into dramas as much.

The result being that we create a lot more mental space, feel a lot less stressed and can think more clearly.

Resisting the ‘I haven’t got time’ dinosaur brain message

So when the wise part of you is aware that you need to step back, slow down or take a break to get some perspective and clear your mental ram, but the ‘crazy-brain’  is caught up in the fight-flight physiology and tells you that you can’t afford the time, it’s useful to remind yourself

●      That’s just ‘crazy-brain’ adrenaline-fuelled thinking – and you are not being pursued by a wild animal

●      With a clear mind you can think and work more strategically, make better decisions and less mistakes

●      You will be more efficient and enjoy your work more if you clear your ram, refresh yourself and return to your work with a sense of perspective

So although it may feel hard for you to do, stepping back and clearing your ram is definitely worth the effort.

 

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.  

Do you find that you get caught up in the ‘I can’t afford to take a break or slow down’ mode?  Are there particular ideas or thoughts that get you ‘hooked in’?  I know that one of mine is a desire to ‘clear my plate’ before I finish a task, but knowing that I have set myself a challenging (in fact often completely unrealistic) time limit to get things done in.

Or do you have a reluctance to accept anything less than the highest standard so you never have ‘enough time’ to achieve the standard you want?  

Or what other thoughts or beliefs trap you into a sense of rushing, urgency or ‘not enough time’?  

And if you’ve broken through these traps, what tips can you share with others as to what worked for you.  Or books you’ve found helpful that others might enjoy?  (I recommend Dr Libby Weaver’s ‘The Rushing Woman’s Syndrome’ – it contains great easy to understand explanations of the physiological (including hormonal), nutritional and lifestyle factors that contribute to women’s stress.

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

8 Reasons Why Mindfulness is a No-Brainer

Mindfulness has become a very popular practice for improving wellness, happiness, focus and productivity.

Many major companies including Google, Target, Mindfulness - a No BrainerAetna, Proctor Gamble, Reebok, Starbucks, Unilever, to name a few, provide mindfulness programmes for their employees. And business schools such as Harvard University teach Mindfulness to their students. It is now well-established as an integral part of many therapies for stress, depression, anxiety, addictions, eating disorders and other mental health disorders, and there is a great deal of research showing the effectiveness of such therapies. So maybe it’s worth considering.

If you haven’t already adopted Mindfulness as a practice, why should you consider it?

1. Mindfulness provides us with a tool for calming our minds and remaining focused in the midst of stressful circumstances. Being able to get ‘out of our heads’ when we have begun to get stuck in a groove of worries about the future or regrets or guilt about the past is helpful. It means we spend less time churning ourselves up. Many people find they spend a lot of time doing things like worrying about what other people think about them thinking about what they could have done or ‘should’ have done dwelling on ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’ worrying that others are doing better than they are

Mindfulness gives us the ability to do interrupt such thoughts, and therefore enables us to spend happier times in the present moment instead.

2. Mindfulness helps us to ‘train our attention muscle’ – to improve our ability to keep our attention where we want it to be, and to notice more quickly when our attention has drifted. And it helps us to improve our ability to return our attention to where we want it to be. If you are like most people, you may spend more time mind-wandering than you realize. If you are aware that you can easily drift off into the inner recesses of your mind, getting lost in day dreams or worst-case scenarios then training your ‘attention muscle’ could be useful. The only place we can make a difference to the quality of our life either now and in the future, is in the present moment. Being in our heads doesn’t change a thing!

3. Mindfulness helps us to regulate our emotions – to be less tossed and turned in the ocean of emotional ups and downs. Mindfulness helps us to be aware of our thoughts including our beliefs and interpretations, and our feelings, without getting completely caught up in them. It helps us to avoid becoming overwhelmed by them and means that our emotions are less often going to jump into the driver’s seat of our lives. Mindfulness offers us some really helpful ways of looking at our thoughts and feelings that help us to get caught up in them less often.

4. Mindfulness helps us to be more aware of our bodies, and therefore more able to respond wisely to signs that we are becoming stressed, frustrated, angry, tired etc. Many people talk about not realizing how frustrated or tired or angry or stressed they are feeling until they snap at some-one or say something they regret. Or they work themselves to a point where they reach burnout, without seeing the early warning signs. Being able to be aware of our emotional state, assisted by awareness of our bodily feelings is important to our wellbeing.

5. Mindfulness helps us to reduce the degree to which we judge ourselves, others and life in general. Often people are not aware of just how often they are making judgments, whether about minor things, or about things that are having a major impact on their lives. The more we judge, the more annoyed, irritated, angry, resentful etc. that we feel. On one level, judging others can feel gratifying – we can feel quite self-righteous and that can make us feel quite self-satisfied and powerful . But self-righteousness has a real killer effect on our relationships and tends to create a drama-filled life. Indulge in it at your peril! Cultivating a non-judgmental attitude saves a lot of emotional energy.

6. Mindfulness helps us to be more fully present with others. You may know what it feels like to be with some-one but feel that they aren’t really fully there with you – that they aren’t really listening or paying attention. We tend to feel uncomfortable, not valued and some-what alienated when this happens. Being fully present with the people we care about is relationship-enhancing.

7. Mindfulness helps us to more fully enjoy the moment, and to savour the good things in life. The more we practise mindfulness, the more we enjoy our good moments, and the more good moments we notice. A positive cycle of appreciation develops, which adds greatly to our enjoyment of life. Many people only notice ‘exceptional’ moments as good. How crazy is that – we have a life filled with so many small blessings and everyday wonderfulness, but somehow decide it ‘doesn’t count’ enough to really notice and enjoy. That strategy is fine if you only want occasional moments of happiness! Mindfulness can help us to experience many moments of happiness, wonder, appreciation, gratitude, awe etc. every day.

8. Mindfulness helps us to be more intentional – about how we want to be as a person, the state of mind we want to adopt in any given situation, and how we want to use our time. Intentionality isn’t exclusive to Mindfulness, but as we develop the ability to be more aware of our thoughts, feelings, urges, bodily sensations etc. we are in a position where we have more choices. In an unmindful state we more easily get caught up in thoughts and feelings to a point where we no longer have perspective and are too lost in our own minds to be able to exercise choice – our feelings end up in the driver’s seat of our lives. Reclaiming our driver’s seat through developing mindfulness and intentionality if a very rewarding journey.

A huge pay-off for a small investment

Pilot research on the ‘Mindfulness for Academic Success’ programme developed by Monash University, and which I have been teaching at Massey University indicates that even as little as 10 minutes of Mindfulness meditation a day significantly improved how students handled stress, and 15 minutes a day significantly improved mood.

Isn’t this a small price to pay for a better quality of life?

But even if this investment of time seems too much or too hard to achieve at this stage of your life, many attendees at my workshops report that just applying some of the principles of Mindfulness in their everyday lives, ‘on the go’ also significantly improves their quality of life. They frequently report feeling less stressed and happier through adopting these practices.

And in my experience, doing both regular Mindfulness meditation practice and using these ‘Everyday Mindfulness’ strategies offers much greater benefit than doing only one or the other – a ‘double-whammy’ in a good way.

 

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.  

Do you already either practice mindfulness meditation or use everyday mindfulness tools on a regular basis?  Is so, any words of encouragement for those who haven’t?  

Or have you been introduced to mindfulness in the past but not been able to engage with it?  If so, what put you off, or made it difficult for you to integrate mindfulness into your daily life?  It would be great if you could share some of your difficulties and then we (myself and other readers) can offer tips and words of encouragement related to these challenges.  Of course, often other people’s advice doesn’t fit for us, but equally, often one comment or tip in the midst of many may just be the ‘key’ that helps us to find a way through.

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

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.

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.