The mind. Friend or foe?
Many of us have challenges at different times with our mind getting too busy or too negative, or simply taking up too much space in our consciousness. Honestly, I used to think my mind was more troublesome than helpful and I just wanted it to shut up, behave and let me be happy.
It can distract us or make us doubt. It can also feel like a pesky, annoying fiend that messes with our optimism or even our sanity sometimes! However, harnessed wisely and with a firm hand, the mind can serve us beautifully and be a powerful ally.
The mind, or mental self, is one of four core aspects of the Self –
Mental Emotional Physical Spiritual
Each of these parts of the Self play a vital role in who we are and how we experience our life. We ignore or over-use any of these four aspects at our peril. Having them healthy and in balance is essential to our wellbeing.
Even though much of my work involves clearing emotional patterns, healing trauma and clearing stress patterns (basically, anything getting in the way of a client being their full brilliant self), the role of the mind is always in the mix. For instance, how we think about the ‘problem’, about the outcome we want or even about what’s possible is always going to have an impact.
How you think about yourself and the world pretty much determines what you experience – and therefore the quality of your life.
Helping the mind to be your ally is a powerful move.
Here are a few simple tips for getting your mind working for you.
May it operate kindly and in service to your happiness.
Have the mind turn criticism into acceptance
While you may not rush to put your hand up and admit you tend to criticise yourself or others, you certainly wouldn’t be alone! It’s a very common habit, and one that many of us had modelled to us as we were growing up – especially if your family was one of the ‘need to keep up with Jones’s kind of family’.
Maybe you learnt to be hyper vigilant (aka critical) about what you look like or how ‘successful’ you are. Perhaps you have a nagging voice that crops up when you’re in pressure situations at work. Perhaps you give yourself a hard time when you run late, forget something or don’t get all of your to-do list done.
One simple and beautiful antidote to this is to bring in the quality of acceptance. When we wrap acceptance around something we give it space to be there, we make it okay, and this creates a kind of alchemy that allows the pattern or behaviour or emotion we’re observing to shift and change.
Take a simple example of something you criticise yourself for – let’s say it’s the way you’re impatient with the kids sometimes.
Sit quietly with a few minutes to yourself and recall one of these moments of impatience. Take a moment to tune into the feeling of impatience and all that goes with it; how it feels in your body, what it’s like. Give it space to totally be there, with no critiquing or assessment of any kind, simply observing it and giving it space. Be sure to feel the feeling but not get immersed in it entirely. Stay conscious that you’re observing the emotion or state.
Then bring the quality of acceptance to this moment; accepting how you are being, feeling, responding. Simply allow yourself to be just as you are.
Notice what happens next.
The light of your consciousness can dissolve the state or emotion and create something new.
Acceptance has a way of easing our emotional response because we are allowing it to simply be there. It often then gives us more perspective and space to make new choices.
We can also use acceptance as a route to self-love which can be hugely strengthening. Self-love is no namby-pamby concept! It’s fundamental to a happy and healthy life.
Interrupt the mind when it’s caught in negative thinking – especially self criticism
The next time you find you’re giving yourself a hard time, try simply lifting your eyes straight up to the ceiling or the sky.
Sound too simple? Let me give you the neuroscience behind this tiny tip.
You may already be familiar with the fact that as we access different kinds of information in our brain, our eyes move with our thinking. For instance, when we’re accessing visual information our eyes move up to the top right or left hand corner to ‘see’ what we’re thinking about.
For example, what if I asked you what colour your first car was? And what make and model?
It’s likely your eyes went up top-left while you found that image. Mine was a chunky sky-blue 2-litre Ford Telstar. It was a beast, but it felt safe and I could fit all my camping gear in it. I called her Harriet. She was cool.
Anyway, where I’m going with this, is that our eyes are a key to what our mind is doing in that moment – and a doorway into using your mind more usefully!
Then, when we get a feeling of some kind we are accessing our kinaesthetic cortex and that sends our eyes bottom-right.
Now, here’s what happens when there is a ‘negative’ internal conversation going on such as when we’re giving ourselves a hard time – we’ll tend to say the negative thing and then get a bad feeling (we go from auditory digital to kinaesthetic). Then we perhaps even give ourselves a hard time about criticising ourselves, and then feel even worse.
I think of this like a negative loop that you can get caught in and then feel like you’re spiralling into more and more of it.
It goes: negative thought > negative feeling > negative thought > negative feeling > negative thought > negative feeling…
You get the idea.
But wait, here is the simplest antidote in the world. Stop the loop by simply looking up. Cut the circuit. Interrupt the flow. Simply look straight up.
Keep your chin down, move your eyes up. Pause. Take a few nice slow belly breaths in and out through the nose. Relax. Let the body settle. Then decide what you’d like to focus on next with your mind or what you’d like to do, and go from there.
This negative self-talk loop is a typical pattern for those experiencing depression and/or anxiety, so it’s great to know you can change your mind in an instant and start changing the patterns overall.
Once you’ve done this interrupt, you can then turn to the acceptance strategy above. They make a nice ‘two-step’.
And in case you’re thinking about some patterns you’d really like to change once and for all, feel free to reach out and let’s chat about how coaching or one of my courses might help you get there.
Decide to not let fear stop you
Since Susan Jeffers’ book hit the shelves in the 80’s, we’ve been saying ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’! This is not a new idea, but I think as we step into new challenges like a new role, beginning a relationship or taking up scuba diving, we can still get caught up in our fears.
They can still stop us.
We’re human, we have a nervous system, some stuff is just scary. Or daunting. At least on the face of it.
When I recently listened to author Cheryl Strayed talking about her mindset when she walked the 1100 mile Pacific Crest Trail, something jumped out at me that is really a very simple insight but also a profound one.
She said that she wasn’t not scared of doing the hike on her own. She was. But she said “I decided that I won’t let fear ruin this …”
She consciously decided that even when she felt fear – and she knew she would – she wouldn’t let it stop her. She was like – Okay, so I’m a bit afraid but I’m also brave. I can do hard things.
There’s the fear, there’s the determination to go on (I’m not afraid!) and in the middle is the brave – all this adds up to knowing that we can do hard things. Catch the podcast here, beautifully interviewed by the inimitable Glennon Doyle.
And remember: I’ve decided that I won’t let fear ruin this.