Tag Archives | thinking

DON’T RELY ON YOUR MIND TO MAKE DECISIONS

Early this morning, my mind was telling me to cancel my Pilates lesson, because I have a cold and I was feeling a bit groggy. Then I remembered a message I had received which said, ‘Don’t rely on your mind to make decisions. It’s not that reliable!’

What this means to me is that our minds are well-trained in logical argument, but most good decisions are not based purely on logic. To make a good decision we also need to take account of emotions and our intuition.

When I considered my emotions, I remembered that I always feel more energised and positive after a Pilates lesson, and that during the lesson, I don’t think about anything else. I then considered the alternative: I would sit here feeling a bit sorry for myself, and eventually push myself into doing something. At this point it was a ‘no-brainer’ – isn’t that an accurate description for what I am talking about!!

How is this different from thinking through the pro’s and con’s in your head? It is the move from thinking to feeling which will work best for you. By imagining myself in the two alternative scenarios, I had a better sense of the experience of each. My imagination gave me the physical, mental and emotional effects of the alternatives, so that I could choose the one which felt most useful in its effect.

My mind could only work from how I was feeling at that moment, and we all know that our minds will reflect a negative mood in the way they think about things. They can give us reasons to believe that everything’s awful if we’re feeling a bit shitty in the first place. So our mind colours our thoughts according to our mood at that moment. (By the way, that is also why we are often more creative and constructive in our thinking when we’re in a good buoyant mood).

By shifting to imagining the outcome of the alternatives, I gave a chance for my body, heart and guts to play their part, so the mind was no longer prevalent.

So next time you’re trying to decide something that isn’t obvious, imagine your alternative outcomes and ask yourself:

  • How do I feel if I get this outcome?
  • What effect does it have on me physically?
  • What effect does it have on me mentally?
  • What effect does it have on me emotionally?
  • Now, which one feels most useful/right?

By the way, I feel so much better now, post-pilates, than I did first thing this morning!

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ACCEPTING WHO YOU ARE

It is very easy for us to identify what’s wrong with us, what we don’t do well, what we fail at – we’re well trained in that! And we can try to counteract that by things like affirmations: I am beautiful; I am a good person, etc.

I don’t know about you, but I’m never quite convinced by that. So I tend to give up on affirmations quite quickly, and I needed an alternative approach.

I think there are three things that need adjusting for this to work.

  1. Don’t counteract, have both sides

By this I mean that we can have a list of our ‘failings’ and a list of things we do well. The first stage of acceptance is admitting to all of our strengths and weaknesses.

  1. Add in some qualifiers to make it easier.

The statements we make about ourselves tend to be all or nothing statements: I’m moody; I’m useless at being consistent etc. And we have the same problem with affirmations: I’m a good person will almost always bring to mind the examples when we’re not being a good person!

The qualifiers are words like: usually; sometimes; at the moment; often; mostly; occasionally; just for today. They allow us to acknowledge what we’re like without over-exaggerating it.

Examples would be: I’m usually kind; I sometimes have a bad mood; I mostly eat healthily; I occasionally have a bad day; at the moment I’m feeling miserable.

The qualifiers require us to look beyond the immediate feeling and assess ourselves on a longer-term basis, which gives us more perspective.

  1. Allow for progress

If we want to get better at being a certain way, we need to give ourselves a chance to develop it.

‘I’m beginning to..’ ‘I’m learning to…’ or ‘I’m starting to..’ will allow us to count those first steps towards improvement.

‘I’m getting better at..’ ‘ I now more often…’ allow us to recognise that we’re moving beyond first steps and towards habit.

These then become more realistic statements as well as being kinder to ourselves.

With these adjustments, we have a much better chance of accepting how we are, whilst helping ourselves to be more how we want to be.

I want to be more of who I can be, and this helps me to not get stuck on my failings, but instead build on what I have already. It also helps me to remember that it’s OK to not get it ‘right’ all the time – being human is different from being perfect!

So next time you decide to beat yourself up for being crap at something, have a go at this approach instead and see what happens.

 

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TAKING TIME TO REFLECT

It is easy in our busy world to just keep going, with that feeling that we never quite catch up. Yet taking time to reflect can help to make that constant activity more purposeful and productive.

The first thing that some time for reflection can give us is a reminder that we are doing some things well/right. We often don’t notice when we’ve set a ‘new normal’ for ourselves, because we haven’t perfected it.

I may be better at giving myself a break, even though I don’t always do it. I may be good at noticing the little everyday pleasures, and forget that I didn’t used to do that very much. I may occasionally go for a walk in the fresh air, and just criticise myself for not doing it more often.

Noticing our own progress in improving our lives matters. We are always developing and growing, even if sometimes the pace of it seems slow. By acknowledging our progress to ourselves, we encourage ourselves to do more of it.

The second part of reflecting is to set some intentions for the next period of time. Rather than beating ourselves up for not getting to where we wanted to in some areas of our lives, we can choose what we want to pay attention to, to take it to the next stage.

For example, I may want to pay more attention to eating good food, or I may want to focus on doing more things that make me feel good, or I may want to get better at stopping when I’ve run out of energy. By setting ourselves four or five intentions, we give ourselves a good chance of applying them, and thereby enhancing our own development. It also reminds us of what’s really important to us, so that we adjust our busyness to include things that really matter, and feel OK about not doing some of the stuff we just do habitually.

Most of us have a bit of time over the Christmas period, where we could allow ourselves to reflect. Why not have a go at it, and see what comes up for you?

(I’ve put some beginnings of sentences below that you may find helpful in this.)

my progress                                    My intentions

I’m better at…                                           I want to pay attention to…

I’m good at…                                              I want to focus on…

I’ve started…                                             I want to get better at…

I now sometimes…                                       I’ll have a go at…

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THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY

So much in our world at the moment seems to be doom and gloom: our politics, our ‘news’, the lack of compassion for others. It is hard to break out of the predominant zeitgeist sometimes, and remember that this isn’t the only human condition.

Yet in amongst this, there are always reminders that there is so much more to being human. I was reminded this week in a way I wasn’t really expecting. I went to see “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again”. I don’t really like musicals or Abba’s music, but I sat and soaked up the atmosphere it created: warm, funny and joyful. It made me laugh and cry, engaged me totally, and left me with a feeling of hope and optimism. Why? It told the other side of the story of being human.

Most of the people I know and meet are kind and friendly. They are not selfish or greedy. They may worry about things, but they find their way through it. It’s time we boosted these aspects of being human and began to offset that unpleasant version that seems to infect everything.

If we’re going to change the zeitgeist, we have to start with ourselves. We can be the role modes and demonstrate the best of the human condition.

So let’s start by refusing to take on the story:

  • Let’s find the reasons to be optimistic rather than despairing
  • Let’s notice the good in people rather than what’s wrong
  • Let’s be kind and compassionate rather than critical
  • Let’s find reasons to laugh rather than be miserable
  • Lets appreciate what we have rather than wish we had more
  • And let’s enjoy all the good moments in our lives

It’s time we all told the other side of the story by how we live our lives, and that way we can remind even more people that life can be good.

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ASKING FOR HELP

Why do we find it so hard to ask for help? I’ve pondered this question many a time, and not really come up with anything useful. Over the last few months, I’ve come up with a theory that might help, so here goes!

Once upon a time, (not that long ago in our history) we lived in communities where we all helped each other – that’s how we survived. We bartered our skills or strengths for those of other people, and between us we could do more, have a better chance of thriving. Although a generalisation, there is no doubt that cooperation, sharing of abilities, helping each other out, were vital to the development of human culture.

This allowed us to go beyond survival mode, to begin to differentiate between skills, and give some more value than others. This weakened the bargaining power of some and strengthened the bargaining power of others. For example, once everyone knew how to preserve and cook their food, it was no longer a valuable skill. On the other hand, someone who was great at developing useful tools would have a special talent to barter.

So those who had the valued skills didn’t have to ask for help – it was given to them in return for their skills. Only those who were seen as weaker would have to ask for help, and risk being refused or taken advantage of. And although we no longer live in those communities, we have absorbed into our culture the idea that asking for help is a sign of weakness, and leaves us vulnerable. If only we’d absorbed more thoroughly the other part of community living – that cooperation and helping each other out enables us all to thrive!!

So how do we counteract this underlying sense that asking for help shows weakness and makes us vulnerable? The most important thing is to collect evidence that the effect of asking for help is different from that.

If you think of when others have asked you for help, you will notice that, in most instances, it is a pleasure to do so. It feels good to be able to give someone a hand, whether that be just because it’s easier if two of you do it – carrying something heavy – or because it’s something you are good at, and they’re using your skill – checking spelling and grammar in an important document.

And if you think of times when you have asked for help, haven’t people responded positively most of the time?

When we do have negative reactions, either in ourselves or from others, it tends to be for one of two reasons: it feels like a power play, or it feels like someone is taking advantage.

The power play is someone refusing to help or putting major conditions on their help. This does make you feel weak and put down. Taking advantage is when someone is always asking for your help, without ever offering something in return – we feel used.

Now those of us who find it hard to ask for help are never going to come in the latter category! The last thing we’re going to do is to expect constant help in an unbalanced way. We may occasionally come across someone who tries the power play game, in which case we need to ask someone else!

Most of us will be good at offering help, being generous with our time and talents. Let’s not be superman or superwoman though. Then we’re the ones making others feel weak! Asking others for help shows that we also sometimes can’t do it all on our own, it makes us human. And it makes those around us feel valued for what they have to offer. It is that essential trait of human beings, their ability to cooperate and help each other out.

So start collecting your evidence that asking for help generally has a good effect on all concerned. And don’t struggle on, being independent – we all do so much better when we ‘re being interdependent, when we work together.

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USEFUL DISTRACTIONS

I used to think that distractions were a bad thing. If you were distracted, you weren’t paying attention to what was immediately in front of you. And that is true – that’s exactly what a distraction is: something that pulls you away from whatever you were attending to.

And sometimes that can be really useful:

  • If we’re caught up in feeling a bit under the weather in some way
  • If we’re feeling fed up
  • If we’re feeling agitated
  • If we’re feeling irritated
  • If we’ve got stuck with something and can’t see how to sort it out
  • If we’re feeling overwhelmed by what we have to do
  • If we’re berating ourselves for something we’ve done or not done

In all these situations, it’s easy to get caught up into a negative spiral. We all know that an insect bite can become all-consuming, that someone’s irritating behaviour can remind us of everything they’ve ever done to annoy us, and we can convince ourselves that we’re really stupid because of one wrong move.

When we pay attention to something, it takes centre stage and starts collecting more evidence that it should be there. It’s like a magnet for more of the same sort of thought or reaction. Now that’s great if it’s something positive, but when it is something that is not useful to us, we need to be able to distract ourselves – pull ourselves away from its magnetic charm.

Being distracted allows us to regain some perspective, sort ourselves out a bit, and then approach whatever it is differently.

If we’ve already thought of some useful distractions, we are more likely to use them before we get too caught up in the negative spiral.

They need to have a strong ‘pull’ to break us out of the trap, so just switching on the TV or radio probably won’t work. We want things that take over our attention and occupy our minds.

Some examples might be: listening to some music we love, linked to happy memories; or watching an enthralling movie; or going in the garden for an hour; or going on a bike ride. If you have a particular hobby or interest, a bit of time spent on that helps, and so will a short walk, where you literally move away, and consciously pay attention to your external surroundings.

You will have your own set of useful distractions, so make a note of them, and next time you realise you are getting caught into one of those negative spirals, distract yourself!!

 

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‘IF I DIE TONIGHT, WAS IT A GOOD FINAL DAY?’

I know it sounds dramatic! My friend Lynn gave me this question a while ago, when I was describing a list of to do’s that was pretty tedious, and I loved it – it changed my view of the day.

It reminds us that we none of us know when our final day in this life may be, and that every day counts. It makes you stop and think about what a good day in that context is.

For me, there are several elements to that good day.

  1. I did something I love doing
  2. I appreciated and enjoyed the taken-for granted’s around me
  3. I connected with people I love

What? Every day? It can seem hard to apply it to some days, I know. Yet in fact, those three elements need not be time-consuming.

It only takes a few moments to notice the spring flowers, the taste of your food, the feel of fresh air on your skin. We don’t have to spend a lot of time with someone to connect – just a quick phone call or conversation where we really pay attention to them and show our love. And something I love doing can be half and hour in the garden, watching a good film, or juts making and enjoying a decent dinner.

We so often fill our days with stuff we feel needs to be done, and put off what really matters to us, because we’re too busy. How about making every day count, every day a good final day?

I certainly have taken it on as my ambition, and it feels like it makes life even more worth living – thank you Lynn!!

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AM I IN THE RIGHT MOOD?

I get conflicted sometimes between just getting something done, and waiting until I’m in the right mood to do it effectively. I’ve been ‘trained’ – haven’t we all? – to push myself to do things I think I ought to, even though I don’t feel like it, and then to feel bad if I don’t actually do it, because then I’m being lazy or procrastinating. Yet I know that pushing myself doesn’t work well for several reasons.

When I push myself to do something, there’s always a part of me that’s resisting it. So I use more energy than necessary, because I’m overcoming my own resistance as well as doing whatever it is. Even easy tasks seem to leave me worn out.

And somehow those tasks take longer, or get more complicated, or involve problems I wasn’t expecting: the computer starts going slow; the phone call doesn’t go as I had hoped; I can’t find a vital element I need; the bus is late; the person I need to talk to isn’t available.

When I look at it objectively, it’s obvious that pushing myself isn’t the most effective way to use my time and energy, so I’m experimenting with a different approach, and slowly retraining myself!

It all hinges on the mood we’re in. and the grand realisation is that our ‘bad’ moods are not static. They can change in a heartbeat. The only thing that keeps us in a bad mood is if we resist it being like it is. If we accept how it is and go along with it, it runs out of steam, because we naturally incline towards something more useful.

What’s more, we can help ourselves to change our mood. Firstly, we can just take a break. Often, sitting down for ten minutes with a cup of coffee is enough to get me going again. It allows the mood to shift itself.

Secondly, we can prompt ourselves. If I’m feeling fed up, what would cheer me up a bit? If I’m feeling irritable, what would soothe me? If I’m feeling low on energy, what would give me a little burst to get me going?

It’s not hard to change our mood – we do it all the time without thinking about it. So let’s get in the right mood, and then tackle that task with a bit of gusto – it works so much better in every way!

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IS THIS USEFUL TO ME?

Sometimes we all make our own life harder for ourselves. One of the more subtle ways we do so is by the way we think about our experience of life. Most of us have a constant inner commentator who pronounces judgements on us as if there is a scorecard with our name on it, with a ridiculously high pass mark against every activity, behaviour and thought.

For example, we may decide to try cooking something different for a change. Our inner commentator points out that we probably haven’t allowed enough time for the new recipe, and that it hasn’t turned out like the picture in the recipe book. What’s more, those we cooked it for don’t really appreciate it anyway. And then that same commentator will criticise us for being a perfectionist and needing validation from others!

It is rare that our inner commentator says: ‘Well done for having a go’ or ‘That was a really good first attempt.

We need to learn to interrupt the commentator with its judgement and high pass marks. It puts us in a position of failure and disappointment over and over again.

Firstly, we need to change the pass mark into something more helpful. This means noticing whether it is a step in the right direction for us: ‘Am I doing a bit better than I did before?’ ‘ Have I made a slight improvement?’ This sort of measurement is not done moment by moment: it measures our general pattern. For example: ‘ I’m getting better at experimenting with something new’ or ‘I’m more willing to take a risk.’

Secondly, we need to remind our commentators that were human, not perfect beings. We won’t always get it ‘right’, we do slip sometimes, and our progress is not generally linear – it is more like an upward spiral, which sometimes goes downwards, but gradually reaches new heights.

Lastly, and most fundamentally, we need to interrupt the negative and critical thoughts and behaviours by asking a simple question: ‘ Is this useful to me?’ if our intention is to grow our lives into something more joyous and constructive for us, we need to question whether that thought or behaviour is helping us to do that, rather than judging it right or wrong, good or bad.

If our immediate response to the question, ‘Is this useful to me?’ is yes, then we are fine. If it is no, then there is a second question that naturally follows on: ‘So what would be more useful?’

For example, if my conclusion in the cooking experiment is that I won’t bother to do it again, as a result of the commentators’ views, I may decide that it’s useful because cooking is not really my thing, and I could use my energy on something that I do like doing. Or I may decide that it’s not a useful conclusion, and it would be more useful to cook something a bit simpler next time I experiment.

When we ask ourselves if our thought or behaviour is useful, we remind ourselves of the likely impact of it on us and others, and have a choice for how we move next. We help ourselves to grow the life we want.

So just start adding in that question, when you get caught up in the negative cycle. Is this useful to me? And if not, what would be more useful?

 

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IT’S NOT THE END OF THE WORLD!

I have needed my own reminders over the last couple of weeks! The double whammy of snow in March and a stinking cold took me to that place we all experience sometimes: it’s not fair, everything is awful, I’m always coming up against obstacles etc.…

I do know, however, that when I start using words like always, never, everything, nothing, I have lost perspective. My focus on feeling rough and hating cold weather had coloured my view of the world and of my experience in it. It’s as if we put on a lens that only highlights those particular colours and ignores everything else.

So I have had to apply my own teachings to myself. This means consciously adjusting that lens. Firstly, we need to widen the perspective beyond the immediate. In this instance, I am reminding myself that most of the time, I am healthy, and most of the time, it is not that cold.

Secondly, we need to consciously pay attention to those elements of the immediate that have been ignored by that restrictive lens. After all, I have a lovely warm home, and my milk and groceries are delivered, so I don’t have to go out in the cold very often. And although I’ve felt a bit ‘under the weather’, I’m not bed-ridden, and I’ve caught up on some good movies. And friends and family have shown concern and distracted me from my miserable state.

Finally, I came back to the realisation that it’s not the end of he world!

The snow has gone now, and spring is showing itself in crocuses and daffodils, just a few days later. The cough and cold are on their way out, and I’m feeling much better. It was only a temporary blip, and life is back on track.

We all lose perspective sometimes, but we don’t have to stay in that place – we can adjust the lens to something more useful. Most of the time, life is pretty good, isn’t it!

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