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Simplifying Your Life – Letting Go Our Need For Stuff

Simplifying Your Life – Letting Go Our Need For Stuff

Simplifying your life and focussing on what's important is necessary for good productivity

Simplifying your life – does it feel like an impossible dream? Have you sometimes found yourself surrounded by chaos and clutter – on your office desk, in your home, in your email in-box, and perhaps, worst of all in your head?  Perhaps even to the extent that you feel the desperate need to sort yourself out, ‘de-clutter’ or tidy up, or in the case of those racing thoughts, to organise and simplify your thinking before you can move on to the things you need to do?

Since I first learnt about Mindfulness I have accepted the idea that thoughts, feelings, urges, sensations and other ‘mental events’ just turn up in our heads – it’s not like we invite them in.  But when it comes to the world of physical ‘stuff’ sometimes it feels like mischievous forces are at work resulting in ‘stuff’ turning up uninvited or parking itself in strange places.

The ‘Stuff’ Elves

I guess, when I think about it ‘stuff’ happens like unconscious thoughts – all those many moments in the day when we are not being intentional, and are in a state of ‘auto-pilot’, we collect stuff, store stuff, use stuff , move stuff, and put ‘stuff’ on the ‘backburner’ – somewhere where we’ll deal with it later, as we do with thoughts. It can almost seem as if we didn’t invite that ‘stuff’ into our lives when we accumulate physical belongings without conscious and wise awareness.  And just like what happens with ‘stuff’ inside our heads, if we do that for too long with physical stuff, at a certain point we realise it’s driving us crazy and we need to take some time out to sort ourselves out and to simplify our lives.

“For the longest time I thought I needed to be more organised.  Now I know I just needed less stuff.”  Inspiredrd.com

Simplifying and de-cluttering our Physical Stuff

When practicing Mindfulness the goal is to neither pursue thoughts, feelings and other mental events nor push them away.  We aim to just ‘let them be’.  Now, that is challenging enough to do in a 20 minute meditation, let alone in every moment of our everyday lives.

And if we want to ‘simplify’ and de-clutter our physical ‘stuff’ then we need to have this same attitude of non-attachment.

Think about the benefits if we were able to do this in every moment.  If we were able to just notice, when we see some ‘new shiny thing’ without craving or attachment.  And if we were able to just register whether we need it or whether it is just our ‘greed’ speaking.  I don’t mean greed with a capital G.  I mean that normal everyday human urge to ‘have’ something for our very own, just because we want it.  That ‘child-like urge’ to have it as ‘mine’.  I’m not talking about greed as bad or immoral here, just as a natural human desire that I am sure everyone has to some degree.  Perhaps it harks back to ancient times when for survival we feasted when food was available because we didn’t know when we’d next suffer a famine.  Wherever  it originated from, this kind of ‘grasping’ seems pretty universal to me.

With conscious awareness we can ‘just notice’ this desire to have stuff.  We can use our Mindfulness toolkit and ‘Notice and Name’ – ‘there’s desire’ or ‘there’s wanting’ and just ‘let it be’.  That is, let the thought ‘be’, so we don’t act on it, and thus letting the shiny new thing ‘just be’ so we don’t find ourselves taking it home!

Simplifying, Letting Be and Letting Go

“In the end, just three things matter:
How well we have lived
How well we have loved
How well we have learned to let go”

― Jack Kornfield

I am not deeply schooled in the wise and ancient Buddhist teachings about Mindfulness, having learnt about Mindfulness through my study of psychology and counselling – I have taken the main principles and general philosophy, as I understand it, and made these ideas my own.  So please be aware that what you read from me is my ‘take’ on Mindfulness.  So, I have to say that I find the idea of ‘Letting Go’ hardest of all.  But I can more easily go with the idea of ‘Letting it be’.  Perhaps this is my ‘Clayton’s’ ‘letting go’ – that is ‘letting go’ without ‘letting go’.  (See my last blog for the origin of the ‘Clayton’s’ analogy).   Working on our ability to ‘let be’ or ‘let go’ is critical to simplifying our lives.

For me, I can see something beautiful, useful (handy), time-saving, funny, or quirky in a shop (these are some of my biggest ‘hooks’, and you will have your own), or on-line, and in my more Mindful moments, I can notice that urge, I can name the desire to ‘have’ it, and can then ‘let it (the urge) be’, without acting on it.  I often am not quite able to ‘let it go’ – instead I’ve just ‘bought time’.  Created a pause.  And told myself that if it really is a good idea, when I’ve stepped back and thought about it wisely, as opposed to being caught in the excitement, enthusiasm and desire of the moment, then I can always come back another time to buy it.  So I can ‘let it be’ – stand back from the urge and let it pass.  And very rarely do I decide something is worth going back for.

But that’s in my more Mindful moments.  Then there are the other times …

When I can hold onto this way of being, I can still enjoy the shopping experience, but in the same way I enjoy going to an art gallery.  Somehow, the need to ‘own’ stuff doesn’t turn up when I go to an art gallery.  I can admire the beauty, the creativity, the inventiveness, quirkiness, power etc. of different works of art, without feeling I have to ‘have’ them.  And I can do that in shops too, when I’m being Mindful.  But I guess I’m lucky that way, in that the only kind of retail therapy I’ve ever found to be really therapeutic, bringing me a sense of joy and aliveness, is playing ‘Little Shop’ with my grand-children!  So I acknowledge  it will be a lot harder to kick the habit if you are a bit of a shopaholic.  But if you seriously want to simplify your life, it will be well worth working on.  And I have to say, I’m not sure it’s really possible to beat the shopping habit without digging deeply into the Mindfulness toolkit, with tools like ‘Noticing and naming’, self-compassion and urge surfing, to name a few.

If you’re up for the challenge of simplifying related to ‘having’ stuff or ‘things’, you may find Courtney Carver’s writing (Be More With Less) – and the challenges or missions she posts to be both inspiring and helpful.  I particularly enjoyed this post ‘My Favorite Things Aren’t Things Anymore’.

Simplifying your lifes with less 'doing' stuff

Image Credits – Dollar Photo Club

Simplifying Our Life-styles – by reducing the ‘doing’ stuff

Are you a person who finds yourself over-committed?  Or tries to squeeze so much into your life that you don’t have any ‘time for you’.  Do you also need to let go of some of this ‘doing’ stuff as well as letting go of some of the ‘having’ stuff?  In this way you can really simplify your life.

And that is the far bigger challenge for me, personally.  I often joke with my colleagues that when I don’t watch myself carefully I am very easily ‘seduced by opportunity’.  I’m not so much a person who gets pulled into saying ‘yes’ through guilt, expectation or obligation (although that definitely does happen at times).  But I am a sucker for an interesting project.  I see so many possibilities for making a difference in the world, so many interesting, rewarding and exciting possibilities, and I am a glutton for them.  I want to do them all.  I fear that if I don’t say ‘yes’ now, the opportunity may pass.  I am seriously greedy.  And possibly, it’s Greedy with a capital G.  Greedy for excitement and sense of satisfaction and probably also for acknowledgement and recognition if I’m totally honest.  And so I end up saying ‘yes’ to more things than will comfortably fit in my life.  And my biggest hook – Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) – what if this opportunity never comes around again.  And chances are, the Fear of Missing Out probably makes it harder for you to resist your particular brand of ‘bright and shiny new thing’ too.  But more about FOMO another time.

For others of you this ‘greed’ may be for other types of goals – desire for adventure, for artistic or creative activities, for fun, for travel, for more destinations or adventures on your bucket list, for meeting more people, for more achievements, for more successes.  We all have our different ‘hooks’.  And as I said, the desire for these things isn’t bad or wrong.  Lots of the activities we desire are very worthwhile.  But it can be detrimental when it gets out of balance.

 

The downward spiral – towards complexity and away from simplicity

Then, of course, if we get into ‘busy mode’ and become stressed or overwhelmed with all these exciting, satisfying, noble, enjoyable or worthwhile activities, our minds are less and less in that ‘place of perspective’ where wisdom and wise choices and simplifying are possible, and more and more in tunnel-vision and urgency.  Less and less in the moment, open, gracious, compassionate and kind.  More and more driven, goal-oriented and narrowly focussed – and I’m not saying goal-oriented and narrowly focussed is a ‘bad’ thing, but if this is our only mode of operating, we can lose perspective.  We can find ourselves driven and goal-focussed on things that don’t serve our overall wellbeing and purpose well.  We need to be able to step into both perspective and focus, choosing whichever is most appropriate to our intentions at any given time.  When we are overly goal-focussed we can end up being less able to enjoy the many rich moments of beauty in our everyday lives, less able to really ‘be’ with our partners, children or friends.  Less able to see the wood for the trees, and less in touch with the things that are important to us and less able to prioritise the important things… and onwards down the spiral.  Simplifying can help us to clarify what are the things that are most important to us.  And simplifying can ensure we are less often distracted by the things that are less important to us.

The Mindfulness Toolkit for Simplifying

Simplifying and letting go the desire for more of the physical ‘stuff’:

  1. Pause
  2. ‘Notice and name’ – step back into the observer stance (a place of perspective) and recognise “there is desire” or “I notice I’m feeling the need to have that thing” (or whatever is applicable).
  3. Surf the urge.  No feeling or urge will persist for ever.  Learn the skill of surfing the urge until it subsides.
  4. Remind yourself of your most important values.  If Simplifying is one of them, that will help you to stay on track.  But be clear in your mind – what is simplifying in the service of, your you?  Focussing on these reasons will empower your effort to make this change.

Simplifying and letting go of the ‘desire’ for experiences / ‘doing’ stuff

  1. Pause
  2. Breathe and slow down.  Remind yourself that there will be many more opportunities which will be at least as rich as this one.  It won’t be the exact same package – and that’s O.K.  Who knows, it may even be more satisfying.  And if you slow down enough to take one thing at a time, you’ll be able to enjoy it, and the rest of your life, a whole lot more.
  3. ‘Notice and name’ – step back into the observer stance (a place of perspective) and recognise “there is desire” or “I notice I’m feeling the need to say ‘yes’ to that thing” (or whatever is applicable)
  4. Surf the urge.  No feeling or urge will persist for ever.  Learn the skill of surfing the urge until it subsides.
  5. And keep coming back to your values.  If you know this is a pattern you really want to get on top of, choose a word or short phrase that really captures it for you.  And regularly, during your day, any time you start to notice ‘rushing-ness’ and ‘busy-ness’ creeping into your day, repeat your phrase to yourself and bring to mind either a memory or an image of what this state is like, to ground you back into this state that you value.  Examples might be ‘Peaceful’ or ‘Calm and Grounded’ or ‘Gracious and Wise’ or ‘Calm and Organised’ – give this some thought until your goal becomes clearer and you have found the state that you want to hold.

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Mindfulness Attitudes and Simplifying

I consider the Mindfulness Attitudes that Jon Kabat-Zinn identified in his book ‘Full Catastrophe Living’ as also being Mindfulness Tools.  When we consciously focus on these attitudes – that is, Non judging, Patience, Beginner’s Mind, Trust, Non-striving, Acceptance ( getting real about ‘what is’) and Letting Go, this can help us to stay on track with any challenge we take on – whether it be a relatively focussed habit change such as consuming less sugar, or a more pervasive habit change such as simplifying our lives.  I find all of these are useful attitudes to touch base with when a battle is playing out in my mind over the desire to ‘have more’ or ‘do more’.  I love the idea that the more we cultivate these attitudes, the more we cultivate Mindfulness.  And the more we practice Mindfulness, the more we are cultivating these values.

” You don’t have to have it figured out to move forward” – The Art of Simple

Mindfulness Attitudes and Skills? Or Simplifying and De-cluttering Techniques? – Or both?

There is a lot of useful information, tips and advice available on how to go about the simplifying or de-cluttering process.  And  it is my belief that without bringing Mindfulness to the process as well, we will inevitably ‘re-complexify’ and ‘re-clutter’ after our initial burst of simplifying or de-cluttering enthusiasm.  If you haven’t already learnt about Mindfulness and begun to implement Mindfulness meditation and Everyday Mindfulness techniques in your life, I encourage you to do so.  Check out some of my previous blogs – and you might also like to consider registering for The Change Academy’s Everyday Mindfulness on-line course.

Please comment:

A penny for your thoughts … (not literally, but you know what we mean – we’d love to hear your opinion and learn about your experiences).     Any and all comments welcome – whether or not you agree with what I’ve written.

Do you get ‘hooked’ by a desire to ‘have’ stuff or ‘do’ stuff?  Share your experiences here.  Or do you have useful tips or advice on using Mindfulness for simplifying and de-cluttering?  We’d love to hear any thoughts you may have on simplifying your life.

 

 

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The Fear Of Missing Out – Taming Your Email

 

Fear of Missing Out stopping you deleting emails you don't want?

 

Are you a ‘download’ junkie?  Have you subscribed to every ‘useful’ e-newsletter in the known world?  And are you drowning in information overload?  Does FOMO (the ‘Fear of Missing Out’) stop you from deleting emails and throwing out articles? Me too!

But I’m getting better and better at managing this ‘ongoing battle’ with overload.  And yesterday I came across the most ‘sane’ blog I’ve ever seen on the subject (ironically, of course, I found it in one of those zillions of e-newsletters I subscribe to.  I’ll include the link below.  But first …

“That’s a handy thing” / “You never know when it will come in handy”.

I come from a family of collectors, and some of the collecting borders on hoarding (O.K. to be honest, completely crosses the border …).  And to make matters worse, my family are very much into local and family history.  Now there’s a recipe for disaster when it comes to rescuing / saving and hoarding everything.  And a family saying that we all laugh at, but use frequently is “You never know when it will come in handy”.  To be fair, I don’t think this is just something our family suffers from.  I am sure it is very common – whether applied widely, or to a particular area of interest.

I don’t know if there’s been any psychological research done on ‘the fear of missing out’ but I wouldn’t be surprised if there has (if you know of any, please tell us about anything you’ve found in the Comments box below).  Somehow it seems to me to be quite a primal urge.  In the same way that that everything seems urgent and important when we are caught in fight-flight physiology or a ‘rushing’ or urgency mode, making it hard to let go the somewhat less urgent tasks and focus on the most urgent, it seems harder to let ‘things’ go the more stressed and busy we are.  It reminds me of the hawks on the road, eating road-kill.  Apparently they instinctively grip onto their ‘find’ when faced with an approaching car, which limits their ability to fly and increases their chances of being skittled.  The busier or more stressed I am, the more ‘important’ / “might  be really useful information later” certain emails or e-newsletters seem.  And of course the writers often exploit this sense of stress and urgency by having a limited-time offer in the subject line or first paragraph.

My ‘Claytons’ solution

Firstly, to explain the term – in the 70’s or 80’s in Australia and New Zealand there was a marketing campaign for a non-alcoholic drink, called Claytons – ‘the drink you’re having when you’re not having a drink’. (If you’re interested, this youtube clip of one of their adverts gives you an idea why it was so frequently parodied. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ylH43Tcaj60)  So my “Claytons” solution to email was to set up a folder for all the things that I wished I had time to read, called ‘Labour Weekend Reading’.  I did this about five years ago, a couple of weeks before our 3 day Labour Weekend holiday, thinking that I would have heaps of time to catch up on all this reading.  And I’m still happily ‘filing’ emails that I haven’t got time to read into my ‘Labour Weekend Reading’ file.  As yet, I have not opened that file to actually read anything, so it has a humongous number of emails in it.  But it has helped me to use the Mindfulness strategy of ‘noticing and naming’ the Fear of Missing Out, and to recognise my unwillingness to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’!  This strategy has saved me from experiencing the discomfort of hitting the delete button and fearing I would miss out on some ‘good stuff’.  This is a classic case of avoidance of emotional discomfort!  And avoidance is not a Mindful response.  But in this case, I’m not sure if there are any harmful consequences to it (I’d be interested on your opinion on this).  And one day, with increasing Mindfulness and intentionality, I may reach peace with this, rather than just calling a truce, and I may just hit the delete button and get rid of the whole lot in one fell swoop.  But not just yet, because you never know, maybe I might still find time to read some of the emails in that file…  I love Christine Carter’s suggestion of setting up a separate email account for all these kind of emails, but in a lot of ways, I think that may also be another ‘Clayton’s’ solution.

 

Fear of Missing Out stopping you throwing stuff out?

 

And what about paper files?

In discussing this with some Counsellor and Supervisor colleagues recently, it turns out I’m not the only one with this hoarding instinct!  We all have boxes or filing cabinet drawers of handouts, training materials and articles which we believe that one day we will sort through and save the ‘good stuff’.  I know that I hate re-creating resources on something I have already written about (for example when a file becomes corrupted).  So the idea of throwing out a resource and then later discovering I ‘need’ it for a workshop or a client has me holding on to drawer-loads of ‘stuff’.  And in reality, if I wanted to look for an old resource for a client, it could take hours to sort through and find.  In reality it would be quicker to just re-write it – and I may well create something better and more up-to-date than my original.  But the idea of re-writing stuff is, for me, kind of like the idea of scraping my finger nails down a chalkboard (remember them?)  But I’m getting pretty close now to just biting the bullet and doing a big toss out.

One idea my colleagues and I talked about was ‘helping’ each other with this task – that with a supportive observer present we might decide “to heck with it, it can all go”.  And then we could use the time we saved by not painstakingly sorting through every sheet of paper to have a coffee or a wine and enjoy each other’s company – and celebrate a mini-victory over being captive to ‘stuff’.

Simplifying

Living a simpler life is something that really appeals – being freer from ‘stuff’.  Christine Carter’s article on the ‘Greater Good – The Science of Meaningful Life’ website is a great step in that direction with regard to emails.  As I mentioned, this is one of the most ‘sane’ articles I’ve read on the topic.  http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/howand_whyto_take_your_life_back_from_email?utm_source=GG+Newsletter+April+6%2C+2016&utm_campaign=GG+Newsletter+April+6+2016&utm_medium=email

And you might also enjoy Courtney Carver’s website www.bemorewithless.com if you aspire to a simpler life in a broader sense.

Simplifying, whether it be our inboxes or our lives, helps us to lead a more Mindful life.  And Mindfulness helps us to value and achieve simplicity.  Both seem challenges worth tackling.

Image Credits: Pixaby and Adobe Stock Photos

Please comment:

A penny for your thoughts … (not literally, but you know what we mean – we’d love to hear your opinion and learn about your experiences).

How are you at deleting emails?  Or better still, unsubscribing?   And how about throwing out old paper records, articles, resources?  And other ‘stuff’ (belongings) – do you aspire to de-clutter and simplify with regard to belongings?  What have you found helpful in your attempts to de-clutter.  Please share your tips.  We’d love to hear from you on the Comments Board below.

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

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The Annual Tease of New Year’s Resolutions

The Annual Tease of New Year’s Resolutions

New Years Resolutions written on a note pad.

Do you, like myself and many others do a bit of a mental review of your year (or your life)at New Year and come up with some ‘resolutions’ for the coming year? Some big goals for personal change?  If so, to what extent do you achieve those goals?  I read yesterday that 25% of people abandon their New Year’s Resolutions after one week, and 60% do so within six months.  I didn’t check if there is any research backing up these statements, but they were food for thought, all the same.

I think there are many reasons that their New Year’s Resolutions don’t work for many people, but I will list just three that I think are particularly important.  Hopefully this list might help you to identify some of the thing/s that trip you up if you are unable to persevere with your resolutions.  Or they may even allow you to give yourself permission not to engage in this annual tease, if the time is not right for you.

Your challenging goals – problems or dilemmas?

1.       If it is a challenging enough goal that we need to set a New Year’s Resolution to achieve it, it is most likely not a simple or easy goal to achieve.  Dike Drummond, M.D. in his book ‘Stop Physician Burnout’ writes about the distinction between a problem and a dilemma.  Understandably, we generally  approach challenges with a ‘problem-solving’ mind-set – analyse the problem, identify possible solutions, choose the best solution, implement it and voila!  Problem solved.  This approach works well for straight-forward problems – e.g. there are two people in your house-hold and only one car, but today, you both need the car.  Apply this process and voila!  Problem solved.

But many of our challenges are more of a dilemma than a problem.  A dilemma is a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two alternatives – especially when both alternatives are either undesirable or mutually incompatible.  Or perhaps both alternatives are very desirable – for example “I want to lose weight and I want to keep on enjoying yummy sweet and fatty foods”.  And in the case of the changes we tackle in New Year’s Resolutions, it’s not just one difficult choice, but a choice we need to make over and over and over again, day after day, after day – on days when we’re feeling highly motivated and on days when we are exhausted and don’t have any delicious and easy-to-prepare healthy food in the refrigerator.

A dilemma requires managing, not solving.  And managing requires an ongoing strategy with regular reviews to ‘tweak’ the strategy to find what will work best.  It’s not a quick fix process.  Many people approach their New Year’s Resolutions as if they are problems, when they may in fact be dilemmas.

Maintaining mindfulness, awareness and perspective regarding our goal over the long-haul

2.   When we are working on an issue that requires us to make ‘the good decision’ over and over and over again, we need to be able to maintain a relatively high level of awareness or mindfulness.  Using the weight loss example again – we need to be able to notice the urge to grab a bag of chippies or chocolate bar from the ‘snack box’ at work, before we’ve gone ahead and done it.  We need to be able to resist urges, see the bigger picture – remember our overall goal for better health or losing weight, be aware of the consequences of our actions, be aware of alternatives for healthier choices – to generally maintain a state of awareness, choice and perspective.  These are all mental functions that we can only achieve when we are in a ‘relaxed and focussed’ frame of mind.  When we are stressed out, in the ‘fight-flight’ physiology, we are more likely to be caught in tunnel vision, impatience, impulsiveness, and black-and-white thinking – not a place where we can make wise decisions.

In fact, to have a ‘fighting chance’ of sticking to our New Year’s Resolutions, we need to spend as little time as possible in the ‘fight-flight’ physiology, and know how to change state to the ‘relaxed and focussed’ physiology each time we notice that we are stressed.  In addition to Mindfulness and Diaphragmatic Breathing, Neurolinguistic Programming has some great strategies for accessing and anchoring resourceful states such as being relaxed and focussed.  But first we need to have a good level of awareness of our current state so that we know when we need to change it!  Again, Mindfulness is vital here.

Ironically, at the time when we make our New Year’s Resolutions, we are usually in quite a ‘relaxed and focussed’ place.  We may be on leave from our jobs or on holiday, and are giving ourselves some ‘me-time’ / thinking time where we intentionally choose to enter a place of perspective.  Which is a great place to formulate goals, so long as we stay there long enough to formulate a fairly detailed and grounded strategy that will ensure we are able to achieve those goals.  But many people don’t take the time and effort to formulate a detailed strategy at that time, and then return to a busy life and get caught back into the rut (and ‘tunnel vision’) of being busy, ‘fire-fighting’, and coping or surviving.  It is likely to be almost impossible to stick to resolutions that involve managing dilemmas under these circumstances.

‘New Year’s Resolution’ or ‘New Year’s Wishful Thought’?

3.       Maybe it would help to ‘call a spade a spade’.  We think of these things we set in the new year as ‘resolutions’.  Definitions of ‘resolution’ include: the quality of being resolute, great determination; a mental pledge.  But for many, New Year’s Resolutions could more accurately be thought of as ‘New Year’s Wishful Thoughts’ or perhaps ‘New Year’s Vague Goals’ – if we haven’t developed a long term strategy for implementation which includes supporting our ongoing determination in keeping this ‘mental pledge’ or ‘promise’ that we have made to ourselves.  So my suggestion would be that if we haven’t got the time, or level of commitment to create a good strategy, why not spare ourselves the guilt and disappointment and slight erosion of self-esteem that occurs when we break our promises to ourselves, let ourselves down – again, and just acknowledge the reality of the matter, without judgment – that the time is not right for this particular goal at this time.

So bearing this in mind – choose your ‘thing’.  If not a ‘resolution’, then what?  I do think that setting general intentions without a clear goal can be helpful.  Last year, a friend set her friends the challenge of selecting a quality to focus on for the year.  I chose the quality of ‘spaciousness’ – which I pondered upon many times during the year.  It served as a general sense of direction for the year, and although I didn’t have a specific detailed strategy I frequently revisited this somewhat vague intention, with positive results I wouldn’t have predicted.

Compass

Be kind to yourself, and get real

My words of advice on New Year’s Resolutions

–          Be real with yourself – accept what is, because it is – yourself and your circumstances.  Following the advice of the Serenity Prayer – accept the things you can’t change, have the courage (and determination) to choose to change the things you can when the time is right, and use your wisdom to know when and how to effectively tackle those changes you want to make.

–          Be kind to yourself – don’t set yourself up for guilt and disappointment with unrealistic and ungrounded ‘resolutions’.

–          Consider using this year to put some more foundations in place to help you tackle those important goals that the time is not yet right for.  Look out for ways to develop more mindfulness and mental spaciousness this year – and maybe next year you will be in a better place to tackle those goals successfully.

 

Please comment:

A penny for your thoughts … (not literally, but you know what we mean – we’d love to hear your opinion and learn about your experiences).  Please add your comment/s below.

Do New Year’s Resolutions work for you?  What words of advice would you offer regarding setting New Year’s Resolutions?

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

 

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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.

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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.

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