12. Delving into Gratitude

In my December blog I explained how gratitude can bring a new attitude to your interactions with yourself and those around you. We all have the ability to shape our thoughts and these can be pleasurable or painful. The way we handle our interactions with others will also have an effect on us and affect the receiver of the interaction.

‘To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.’ – Oscar Wilde.

How do we cultivate a simple and achievable way to bring Gratitude into our daily lives?

As with all aspects of our lives we need to practice our gratitude muscles (yep, the brain and those wonderful neurons) to rewire the way we see, feel, interact and touch those around us, including ourselves. The more we practice gratitude the easier it becomes. This can lead us to an unlocking of ourselves, moving from a mode of just ‘doing’ to a mode of ‘being’.

The following ten tips are an outline of living with more gratitude, also incorporating some great  mindful techniques.

  1. Begin and end each day with gratitude. Use a journal or, if you have a family, consider using a gratitude jar. Each morning and evening, put in a note of the people, events or things for which you are grateful.
  2. Choose happiness. Check your thinking process. For example, what thoughts are going through your mind right now? Are they joyful? Are they happy? Or have you slipped into a repetitive practice of negativity?
  3. Take time to SLOW down. Rest, reflect and soak up and appreciate what is around you. By slowing down racing thoughts and getting rid of distractions (including your tablet/smart phone, TV) you are giving yourself time to stop and just be. We all function better when we appreciate what we have and where we are. SMELL those roses. Allow yourself to daydream.
  4. Say thank you to yourself (and others). Take the time to say thank you to yourself for your achievements, an experience, a learning, overcoming a challenge (or life lesson). By thanking ourselves and others we are giving and receiving a gift to ourselves and sending on a blessing to another person or group. It’s also a strong acknowledgement of gratitude.
  5. Reinforce your life vision and purpose each day. This creates depth to experiences through doing things you love and being surrounded by like-minded people who create a positive, supportive bond. You might consider writing out favourite quotes, creating an inspirational vision board and placing it where you see it daily.
  6. Daily affirmations. Affirmations are powerful statements of your truth. Take time to write down a positive statement or to speak it aloud, perhaps in front of a mirror. Repeat it as many times as necessary till you feel yourself letting go of any resistance to the statement. Letting the resistance go is the key and this helps the subconscious rewire for the positive statement.
  7. Live more mindfully. Work with the present moment and feel it encompass you. Allow yourself to be led by your senses and not the brain. For example, when walking to work take time to enjoy the colours of neighbours’ doors, or their gardens. Notice the smells in the air. What catches your eye? How does the fabric feel on your skin as you walk? What sounds have you noticed? Take time to focus on what’s around you instead of on your phone!
  8. Connect with nature. Each day try to connect to nature by having a walk in a park or going into your back yard. Feel the sun, wind, rain, grass and earth under your feet. Take time to notice something in nature. Maybe it’s a tree – take time to notice the trunk, its branches, how small or large it is, the texture of the bark, the colour of the leaves, whether the leaves are glossy or matt, rounded or sharp. You could do this with a flower, herb or anything that you choose. Consciously use all of your senses. By taking time to notice nature you are connecting to your surrounds and becoming aware that seasons change, light moves and so do you. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Your beauty might be bright colourful flowers, heavenly scented roses, a brilliant sunset, the twinkling stars, the gentle drone of the bees buzzing as they collect pollen or just gazing into your pet’s eyes. Jot down your observations in your journal, including how you felt while doing this.
  9. Create your own beautiful world.  Our own environment reflects our inner nature and allows for dreams and ideals. Take time to look at what you have around you both at home and work. Does it inspire or is it dire? Love and respect your spaces (both home and work) through building a space that inspires you! This may be through uplifting colour choices, furniture that enlivens your spirit, pottery or photographs, indoor plants and maybe even just clearing your desk at the end of the day.
  10. Love yourself. Take time to be truly grateful for who you are and all that you can be. There is no vanity in this one. Acknowledge yourself and choose to praise yourself for all your achievements, large and small. This is actively choosing praise over criticism, seeing yourself as a good person and trying to do your best in a given moment. If you catch negative self-talk creeping in, greet it, say thank you for coming (as a reminder of what was) and choose a positive reply to those unwanted words. By choosing positivity, confidence and self-support you are creating a form of self-love that will help to heal and transform your life.

Remember each day is a new opportunity to explore your creativity and celebrate life. Learning to love your own uniqueness makes you lovable and unforgettable. Being grateful for and living with this uniqueness allows each of us to learn to love ourselves more deeply.

Finding gratitude in our current world can be difficult. Many of us overanalyse emotions or are too distracted to notice what is being done for us or what we do to others. Some may feel that gratitude is like the green kale smoothie of emotions: you know it’s good for you but it’s not particularly appetising. Indeed, gratitude can sometimes feel banal, forced or even like a chore. If this happens, then we can lose its benefits.

For me, gratitude is about perspective on given situations. If I take time to stand back, look and then journal about a situation or event then I can see more clearly my reactions and emotions. I can more easily accept my part in the larger picture. I might get into gritty details but reflecting on what has occurred allows me processing time and gratitude to let go, move forward and learn from each difficult situation. Sometimes gratitude is very easy. When I dog sit I just enjoy the fun of walking, playing, giving treats for good behaviour, having cuddles on the sofa and stroking the dogs fur. She has beautiful big, brown eyes that give out unconditional love and she loves giving plenty of kisses (which is not so great after she has been rolling in muck or eating something unsavoury!).

Author Megan C Hayes, Write Yourself Happy – The Art of Positive Journalling, says this about gratitude:

“You might like to think of practising gratitude as lifting the tablecloth of any given moment and inspecting the table legs underneath, noting the pillars that support everything you take for granted. What do you see when you lift the tablecloth?” – Megan C Hayes

Time to Have a Go!

This month have a go with the attached Gratitude with Attitude.  Each day, take time to journal all the reasons why you are grateful for the activity, person, event, walk, etc.

9. Our Emotional Content – Part 2

In my previous blog post on our Emotional Content I explained a journaling exercise. The journaling exercise was asking us to write about an event, each day, writing in detail using all our senses to describe the moment. The week’s prompt included an important reminder that, as triggers to emotional memory, smell and taste are as important as sight and hearing. The writing exercise was “express your feelings about this event and how your sensory inputs and interactions with others made you feel”.  This mindful journaling exercise occurred whilst I was preparing for a College inspection, working through some exams and completing external studies. Needless to say, I didn’t do each day but completed them on days where things felt they’d gone awry.

One day I realised I had written four pages and was even more unsettled by the experience. I still wasn’t able to identify the true emotions I was experiencing. I went on a hunt to try to find something to help.

Many theorists have suggested journaling to express views and sort out emotional baggage, including Carl Jung, James W Pennebaker and Julia Cameron. But I wanted more information on the emotions themselves and how to deal with them. Again, there are so many theorists, from Darwin and James-Lange to Cannon-Bard, Schachter-Singer and Fredickson.

So much out there; but I just wanted a simple list of emotions to at least identify what I was experiencing. One book that helped was The Sedona Method by Hale Dwoskin which has pages of positive and negative emotions to choose from. Then I found the following lovely table from Positive Psychology (https://positivepsychology.com/emotion-wheel/)  that explains the joining of the emotions and how they work:

Love Joy + Trust Remorse Sadness + Disgust
Guilt Joy + Fear Envy Sadness + Anger
Delight Joy + Surprise Pessimism Sadness+Anticipation
Submission Trust + Fear Contempt Disgust + Anger
Curiosity Trust + Surprise Cynicism Disgust +Anticipation
Sentimentality Trust + Sadness Morbidness Disgust + Joy
Awe Fear + Surprise Aggression Anger + Anticipation
Despair Fear + Sadness Pride Anger + Joy
Shame Fear + Disgust Dominance Anger + Trust
Disappointment Surprise+Sadness Optimism Anticipation + Joy
Unbelief Surprise+Disgust Hope Anticipation +Trust
Outrage Surprise + Anger Anxiety Anticipation + Fear

This chart helped me understand the joining of primary emotions and helped me identify what I was feeling in certain situations. It allowed me to consider how I was expressing emotion and my actions based on different stimuli. It explained some of my reactions and helped me reflect on my behaviours (positive and negative). This is an ongoing process and I am still learning which are my triggers and what can be left behind. I’m still learning how to create good boundaries and how to move forward with acceptance.

By continuing with journaling I have been able to share my experiences in a stable and more balanced way with my husband. I have allowed myself to create the changes I need to self-improve and I feel I am empowered to share my emotions in a much more constructive way. It is a wonderful way to reflect and analyse my own emotional patterns to help meet any changes or challenges that are occurring.

Maintaining a mindfulness practice allows me to attend to my emotions, be curious and patient with them, learn to accept we have different emotions and change my emotions to other emotions.

Time to Have a Go!

Using your Journal (using pen and paper) take as much time as needed to look at a relationship issue. This could be related to work, a personal relationship, family, children, or anything else.  

Remember your journal entries are private and the journal is a way to express your own feelings and problems without hurting anyone involved. As you write, you may be able to see the situation more objectively (after letting off steam), thus allowing you to pinpoint more accurately the reasons behind your anger, sadness, frustration, etc. When you are ready to have a conversation with the people involved you may be able to resolve them more easily.

Really take time to notice words you are using. Sometimes they are markers to deeper feelings within your subconscious. Highlight or underline words and feelings that seem to recur. Try to understand why these things are important to you.

7. Reflection on Emotional Issues

‘The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist.’ Will Smith

We can approach our emotions or emotional states from a position of power or a position of powerlessness.

Emotional issues are among the most painful of all for us to deal with as they can create feelings of anger, sadness, loneliness, anxiety, fear, guilt and self-loathing. By learning ways to deal with our fearful emotions we are freed from a cycle. As the saying goes: we fear what we don’t know or understand.

By taking a proactive approach to reflection we grow our awareness of our selves. This helps us to integrate new learning when situations recur and develops our emotional intelligence. As a person, if we can accept all our aspects of self (the good, the bad and everything in between) we are able to move forward with respect for our self.

We all have many parts that need to be integrated, accepted and loved for what they teach us. If we can move to a state of observation without judgment on ourselves, we can pass these observations and non-judgment to those around us. As we grow and change, we develop more flexible responses to triggers and negative patterns. To be whole we must work on our strengths but never ignore our weaknesses. It’s our weaknesses that teach us the most as they highlight what we need to work on in order to move forward.

Time to Have a go!

Emotions will always crop up so allow the emotion to be present without judgment. Practice a steady and relaxed naming of emotions throughout your day and say to yourself: ‘joy’, ‘anger’, ‘frustration’, ‘happy’. Acceptance of the presence of your emotions allows you to re-wire your brain and develop your response to a situation.

Once you have practiced naming emotions throughout your day, for a week, try and extend the exercise.

You may wish to look at an area of weakness or fragility to work on for building understanding and acceptance of the emotions involved.

You may wish to look at an area of strength to work on for building understanding and acceptance of the emotions involved.

6. Control (well, the illusion of control!)

In one of my mindfulness group lessons, our instructor very gently but firmly introduced the topic for the week: ‘How much control do you have?’ Most of us laughed at the absurdity of the topic. WE ALL HAVE CONTROL…

Maybe. But perhaps most of us have much less control than we think.

As you continue reading, consider that your mind enables you to shape the world around you and to make it conform to your wishes by providing shelter, warmth, food, water and protection. The controls you have are normally over external, environmental factors but what about your internal world? What about the world of thoughts, emotions, memories, urges and sensations?

Our instructor got us ready for our first meditation and gave us our normal instructions but with a couple of ‘extras’. Our first meditation was along the following lines:

I would like you to stop yourself from thinking for two minutes. For the next two minutes prevent any thoughts whatsoever from coming into your mind – especially any thoughts about a flower or a shooting star!

Well needless to say, we all laughed as we inevitably thought about flowers and shooting stars.

As you continue reading, I want you to avoid thinking about your favourite chocolate or ice cream. Don’t think about the texture, the colour or how it tastes as you take a bite. Whatever you do don’t think about how good it feels as it melts in your mouth…

How are you doing? Have you gone to get a snack? Perhaps like me you just got lost in a memory of a summer day enjoying an ice cream or being snuggled on the sofa with a chocolate dessert.

Last one. Take a moment to think about a lemon.

How did you go? What did you experience? Did you sense any physical reactions such as your mouth watering, your heartbeat changing, screwing up your face, experiencing a sense of bitterness, sweating, repulsion…?

Are you really able to control what you think and feel? The truth is we all have much less control over our thoughts, feelings and sometimes physical reactions than we’d like. What we can control is our actions and it’s through taking action that we can create a rich, full and meaningful life.

As I continue on my journey, I know I have had times when I just wanted to run and hide. I just didn’t want to be in any social environment with any form of interaction. When I started my first steps into mindfulness, in a class with other people, I was struggling with myself to control emotional turmoil caused by family illness, excessive workloads and work restructuring. I was experiencing panic, anxiety, self-judgment, failure and low self-esteem.

I just could not cope with the sensory overload with competing deadlines and long-distance calls at odd hours. One day I returned from the course and couldn’t even remember driving home except for the extreme fog on the motorway, long tendrils winding across the road, then no fog, then moving back into deep patches that obscured other cars completely. I realised that was exactly like my mind and my emotions rolling in and out, swirling around, receding and then completing blanketing any thoughts or emotions I was having. I was confused and very numb. Depression was rolling back in and I really didn’t want that again. All I could think was, ‘oh, the vicious circle is back’.

A few days after that drive home I realised I had forgotten the homework and reading we had to complete. I worked myself up so much that I went into a BLUE FUNK. I was ranting and raving at myself: how can I do this? “I can’t even concentrate! I can’t even remember what I had to drink ten minutes ago so how am I supposed to do reading, take notes, comprehend what is being said? I need to lie down, I haven’t ironed my clothes, I haven’t cleaned the house, I’m not even dressed…” the list continued on and on.

As I calmed down, I started judging myself and all I could think was that I had failed. Mindfulness is about non-judgment, compassion, acceptance and kindness to oneself, none of which I was managing to achieve. So, what was that homework I had to do? It was asking me what I do to try to avoid emotions and feelings! Urghhhh! Well, everything! I put on a brave face; I smiled and said everything was fine; I indulged in comfort eating; I drank alcohol; I hid and avoided seeing anyone, including really compassionate, loving friends; sleeping didn’t sleep; I wouldn’t get dressed in the morning; I wouldn’t talk about my problems but contemplated that life would be better without me in it. I did so many things to avoid feeling the emotions and the dark negative thoughts I was having. I was avoiding at all costs acknowledging my fear, guilt at not being home in Australia to help with my ill family, hurt, exhaustion, and stress and bullying at work. All of this accumulated into an intense unhappiness.

Did I do the reading for homework? Yes, eventually, and it took time. I was really struggling with the concepts as I really still couldn’t hold in the information which was so foreign to me. 

I discovered I was employing some of the most common control strategies to avoid, get rid of, or escape from my very unpleasant emotions and feelings.

Russ Harris, in the Happiness Trap (2008), divided a number of control measures into our Flight or Fight responses. From the following, what control measures have you used or do you put in place?

Flight Strategies Fight Strategies
Hiding/Escaping: You hide away or escape from people, places, situations, or activities that tend to give rise to uncomfortable thoughts or
feelings. For example, you dropout of a course or cancel a social event in order to avoid feelings of anxiety.
Suppression: You try to directly suppress
unwanted thoughts and feelings. You forcefully push unwanted thoughts from your mind, or
you push your feelings ‘deep down inside’.
Distraction: You distract yourself from
unwanted thoughts and feelings by focussing
on something else. For example, you’re bored or anxious, so you smoke a cigarette or eat some ice -cream or go shopping. Or you’re worried about some important issue at work, so you spend all night watching TV to try to keep your mind
off it.
Arguing: You argue with your own
thoughts. For example, if your mind says, ‘you’re a failure,’ you may argue back, ‘oh, no I’m not – just look at everything I’ve achieved in my work.’ Alternatively, you may argue against reality, protesting ‘it shouldn’t be like this!’
Zoning Out/Numbing: You try to cut off from
your thoughts and feelings by ‘zoning out’ or making yourself numb, most commonly through
the use of medication, drugs, or alcohol. Some
people do their zoning out by sleeping
excessively or simply by ‘staring at walls.’
Taking Charge: You try to take charge of your
thoughts and feelings. For example, you may
tell yourself things like, ‘snap out of it!’ ‘stay
calm!’ or ‘Cheer up!’ Or you try to force yourself to be happy when you’re not.
Self Bullying: You try to bully yourself into
feeling differently. You call yourself names like
‘loser’ or ‘idiot’. Or you criticize and blame
yourself: ‘Don’t be so pathetic! You can handle
this. Why are you being such a coward?!’

How many did you use? All, some or just a few? I used a number of them depending on what was occurring and how robust I felt at the time. These control strategies are normal responses and healthy if you:

  • Use in moderation
  • Use them in situations where they work
  • Using them doesn’t stop you from doing the things you love. 

They become an issue when: used excessively, in situations where they can’t work, using them stops you from doing the things you truly value.

The reading and homework prompted me to realised that I was ‘zoning out’ using alcohol more and more excessively. I was using alcohol to escape from marking drudgery (I‘m a Lecturer), my intake increased the larger the class and thus the workload. It was my crutch to gain a little laughter and to switch off from unrealistic marking targets, constant preparation, losing a work/life balance. I realised I was no longer enjoying the ‘hit’ or getting the ‘hit’ from a glass but needed more and more to get the same buzz. The alcohol also become a great depressor for me, the day after crash was more pronounced and I was even more down, frustrated and felt more guilty than before. I was losing my sparkle and joy fast. I was also gaining weight exponentially – not walking or moving as fast as before, struggling with stairs etc. All signs that I was overusing my ‘zone out’.

Time to have a go!

We all have urges and most urges don’t last for very long. However, if the urge to keep snacking, eating or having more to drink continues we normally give in to it and this can have long term effects on our health. The following mindful exercise is asking you to experience change and impermanence of urges. By using mindfulness, we stay exposed to the thought, feeling and urges for their natural duration without feeding or repressing them.  In fact, if we just let an urge be, non-judgmentally, without feeding or fighting it then it will crest, subside and pass.

Experiencing the Changing Nature and Impermanence of Urges

Get yourself into a comfortable meditation position (sitting or lying) and you can close your eyes or leave them open.

Start with concentrating on your breath.

As you continue your breathing start to notice or sense any discomfort e.g. restlessness, an itch, pressure point

Note the desire to relieve the (your) discomfort by moving and resist it!

Notice the thoughts that arise e.g. ‘I wish this itch would go’; ‘it is driving me crazy’; ‘this pressure point is so uncomfortable!’

Now say calmly to yourself: ‘this too will pass’

Now say irritably to yourself: ‘this too will pass’

Notice the thought that arise e.g. ‘this is not bloody well passing!’ ‘I really would love to have a scratch right now!’ ‘I want to adjust the way I am sitting to relieve the pressure on….’

These are just thoughts passing through. So gently bring your attention back to your breath and bodily sensations. Notice the changing position, shape and quality of the discomfort over time. Being interested in the feeling as precisely as you can. Just notice how the shape and intensity changes with the cycle of your breath. Is it more intense on the in breath or the out breath?

Have your thoughts spontaneously gone to other matters e.g. planning a holiday, shopping lists, to-do lists, school runs, football game, a fight with your partner? Again these are just thoughts and if you have strayed gently bring your attention back to your breath and body sensations. Have these changed? Probably. They will be different again.

5. How Mindfulness techniques and practice helped me

As for many of us, I had become attuned to my ‘auto pilot’ also referred to as set pattern response based on my personal past experiences with my family, friends, peers, work colleagues and my students. Learning about mindfulness helped me to enhance (well in some instances relearn completely) how to be flexible and adaptable to situations. This relearning allowed my brain to be re-trained with better or new responses to situations and thus come off my ‘auto pilot’.

Through acknowledging that I had fallen into a repetitive pattern and that I needed help I was able to take my first steps in exploring and cultivating a new working base for myself.

Mindfulness has allowed me to change the way I react and interact with external influences and more importantly in my relationship with myself. I learnt to identify my common self-critical or self-blaming thoughts thus creating greater patience, kindness, acceptance, and compassion towards myself and others (even my students!).

I have found that completing my daily mindfulness routine (sometimes this is only 10 minutes) I am enjoying greater fulfilment in my daily life as I am more present in the activities I am doing, such as my gardening. The biggest change is I am not ruminating or having as many negative thoughts and my anxiety levels have dropped substantially as well. Just over a year ago my blood tests showed I had high levels of cortisol and high cholesterol levels. These two indicators are associated with being in a prolonged state of flight, fright and freeze – or anxiety and stress – over a prolonged period of time. This year I have shown a marked drop in these.

Time to have a GO!

Here is one of the key Mindfulness exercises that you can have a GO with.

The Basic Mindfulness Meditation (FOCUS)

To commence get yourself in a comfy position (e.g. sitting on a straight-backed chair, lying on the floor, sitting cross legged) that will keep you awake or alert. You can do this with eyes open or closed.

Focus on your breathing. Don’t change the rate of breath or depth but do notice sensations of air flowing into your nostrils and out. Notice if your belly is rising and falling with each intake of breath and each exhale.

Once you have narrowed your concentration to focus just on your breath, begin to widen your focus and become aware of: sounds, sensations and your thoughts.

Embrace and consider each sound, thought or sensation without judging it. If you notice your mind wandering (you know making to do lists, ticking off shopping or chores still to do etc) draw your focus back to your breathing. Re-try expanding your awareness again to incorporate sounds, sensations and thoughts.

Complete the meditation by refocusing on your breathing. By creating a daily practice, even at 10 minutes a day, is more impactful than once a week. Why? This allows you to re-train your brain to store new memories of responses to situations we have practised thus creating a new response system. We become less reactive/reactionary.

4. Our Stories, Myths and Fairy Tales

Our perceptions of what happiness and success look like are often shaped by myths, white lies and fairy tales. For many of us this begins within our families, directly from parents and guardians, grandparents, or aunts and uncles. They may also come from wonderful stories we were read or other interactions we had as children.

Many of the stories we were told as children were forms of fairy tale. Often, these stories ended with our heroes living, ‘happily ever after. Tales such as those of Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White or Peter Pan allowed us to escape into different worlds but also set an illusion of expected roles for males and females. All of them created a type of happiness and expectation without us really noticing. For boys this often meant fighting pirates, flying, being in control and exploring. Meanwhile, the girls would often clean things and pine away in a locked tower, awaiting rescue from a knight in shining armour.

Our interactions with family members are also a huge influence on expectations and roles that stay with us for the rest of our lives.

Almost all of us have a favourite story or fairy tale. I do and I bet you do too. I remember numerous fairy tales being read to me and my sister, when we were small, with princes and princesses going through trials and tribulations before ultimately living in the happily-ever-after universe. I’d bought into the world of princesses: I was a beautiful damsel and I would be riding off into the future on the white stallion of my rescuing prince who would look after me, keeping me safe, sound and happy.

Funny how life somehow doesn’t turn out this way. My late teens and early adult life was more along the lines of Princess Leia or Ripley from Alien, having to fight really hard to get what I wanted both professionally and personally, kissing lots of frogs and toads along the way, slaying evil monsters in my mind and not a white stallion or prince to be found. I was experiencing the trials and tribulations of young adult life by myself. I was unlearning everything I thought I knew about what constituted happiness. I was reshaping my expectations of myself along with my expectations of relationships and roles.

We all have been fed myths about happiness, contentment and success. Russ Harris explains that we have four Myths about Happiness which he explains beautifully in his book, The Happiness Trap (2008). Russ Harris explains how we are set up for our happiness traps both within community, family, cultural and societal expectations. These expectations are all based on our emotional needs and desires. I have paraphrased some of this below.

Myth 1: Happiness is the natural state for all humans.

No, it’s really not. Statistics show 1 in 10 adults will attempt suicide while 1 in 3 of us will suffer from a psychiatric disorder at some stage in our life. Non-psychiatric disorders such as loneliness, divorce, work stress, midlife crises, and relationship issues will affect us all at some point. Therefore, we are more likely than not to be experiencing some form of negative emotion at any given time. ‘True happiness’ is rare.

Myth 2: If You’re not Happy you’re Defective

Not true; but we have been trained by assumptions. Western culture in particular pushes this idea and it is reinforced by marketing and the Hollywood movie juggernaut.  We have been conditioned that mental suffering is abnormal and that this is a weakness or illness. REMEMBER: we all suffer painful thoughts and feelings.

Myth 3: To create a better life, we must get rid of negative feelings

Our western society tells us to eliminate negative feelings and accumulate positive ones. But there’s a catch. The things we value most in life will bring us a whole range of feelings both pleasant and unpleasant!

The Hollywood film Inside Out illustrates this conflict beautifully.

Myth 4: You should be able to control what you think and feel

We have a lot less control over our own thoughts and feelings than many us would like to admit or even believe. Our best CONTROL is over our ACTIONS. It is through us taking action that we create a rich, full and meaningful life.

So which myths apply to you?

Be honest: at least one applies if not more, and this is where I had to start to unravel my ideas of what is meant by happiness, success and contentment.

On my ongoing mindfulness and life journey I have had to learn to unlearn a host of emotional controls and myths. I had witnessed these, experienced them or had them demonstrated to me by very well-meaning adults or friends. I had to accept that those I blamed or held accountable for the way I was feeling were just repeating what they’d learnt or experienced as children, through school and family dynamics. The only way to change was to accept my limitations, work out the origins of some of my core beliefs and work through how they affected me.

The answer for me was journaling. If you can identify with the following sayings then it is time to review your perception of these common phrases:

‘Don’t cry’          ‘There’s nothing to be afraid of’      ‘Oh Dear…’         ‘Get over it’

‘Stop being a cry baby,’                ‘Do you think that’s good enough?’     ‘Dust yourself off’

’Is that really the best you can do?’     ‘Toughen up’      ‘You’re just being overly sensitive!’

‘Just get over it’               ‘Stop being such a  wimp!’            ‘You’re so naïve’

All these phrases teach us we should be able to switch our emotions on and off with ease. We are taught early to cover up our true emotional state and this is reflected in these common phrases and so many more, such as ‘have a stiff upper lip’ or ‘put on a brave face’.

Time to Have a Go!

Using a journal, consider the following questions:

1: Can you describe happiness for yourself? What does this happiness encompass? How do you pursue happiness in your life or lifestyle?

2. Are you aware of any factors or expectations that affect your happiness? How do they affect your happiness?

3. Can you identify any core emotional learning that you need to let go of? How does this core learning affect you? You might wish to consider your interactions with others, defence modes, falling back into repetitive patterns with key adults such as parents (parent/child roles)/partners/siblings etc. How could you let this learning go?

4: We all have favourite quotes and song lyrics. The following are a few of mine that have led to inspiration or ‘aha’ moments. I would like you to write about the following quotes and song lyrics. Consider how you feel after reading each one. Do you have other thoughts? Do you have other quotes that ‘sing’ to you? If so, write about these and why they chime for you.

“And I wanna see you
As you walk through the door
And time will make us
Some ways less and some ways more
And I wanna talk of nothing
As the world passes by
And I wanna think
But not to say

Let me face
The sound and fury
Let me face

Hurricanes by Dido

“I don’t think any of my family or friends would have predicted that I’d run my own business or be considered a successful entrepreneur. With my upbringing, there just wasn’t that kind of expectation of me growing up. But look a little deeper and I think that you can see all the ingredients and inspirations for what was to come.” – Cath Kidston from Coming up Roses: The Story of Growing a Business

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela

“I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose.” – Arthur Conan Doyle

3. How did I start my Mindful Journey?

In my teenage years I was lucky enough to be in a school that believed in meditation as an option for school sport. Curiosity won and I signed up for the few classes that were brought in from an external organisation. During these sessions I learnt how to relax and refocus. I learned that somehow the floor can disappear when one is relaxed and calm.

A few years ago I was struggling with a huge workload in a work environment ravaged by restructure and major building works. I started to show classic signs of stress (including an inability to sit still, a racing heart, an inability to finish sentences or thoughts). I was anxious and depressed and had found it hard to sleep due to a racing mind., I had extreme exhaustion, frequently burst into tears, chewed my nails, experienced fogginess and constantly worried about the future.

My Mum bought me Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Professor Mark Williams. This started my inquiry into what Mindfulness was, how it could be applied and what the science had to say. On several occasions I started the meditations but never got through them or I would just forget or find an excuse not to practice the meditation protocols. The exercises were supposed to help re-wire my brain – but FORGET IT. I had to admit to being a great procrastinator and non-completer. I had become the worst student EVER. I had to admit I had little motivation to do things on my own.

When going on this journey I had to be honest with myself about my limitations and I realised I needed human interaction to get the best out of myself. I wasn’t working well on my own, finding a million reasons not to do things.

I finally found an instructor who ran small course groups. I turned up nervously but completed the course. I had found a group of equally confused, loving, compassionate and funny people all trying to cope with life’s challenges being thrown at us (you know: work, family, partners, studying, etc). BEST THING EVER. For me, having the support of a trainer, enjoying the discussions, practicing exercises and completing a meditation helped me to develop and cultivate my mindfulness practices.

Time To Have A Go!

There are many TECHNIQUES to practice mindfulness. Here is a sensory sensations exercise.

The sensory sensations exercise asks you to take the time to notice sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches. As you complete sensory sensations take time to name each one – ‘sight’, ‘sound’, ‘smell’, ‘taste’, or ‘touch’. Do this without judgment and let them go.

Choose a location that will allow you a minimum of 15 minutes to just be within its space (e.g. such as in your garden or in the bath). Now take a few breaths to bring awareness to your breathing and to help calm yourself. As you sit, stand or lie within this space take the time to notice all the sights around you (e.g. the colour of the garden walls, the trees, paving, decking, grass). Then move to all the sounds you can hear (closing your eyes may help) and just listen. You may hear birds singing or calling, cars driving past or wind rustling the leaves. With each sound you hear, deepen your breathing and relax. Using your sense of smell take time to identify the scents around you (e.g. your perfume or deodorant, freshly cut grass, the perfumes of flowers, etc). Continue this identification for your sense of touch (e.g. the weight of your clothing on your skin, the flow of a breeze across your face, the feel of grass or paving on your feet, how your shoes or chair move with you, any pressure points, etc).