6 steps to use guilt positively

I’ve always found guilt quite a difficult emotion to be present with. It’s a really visceral feeling that plants itself in the forefront of my thinking and gnaws away, urging me to solve the problem. Finding ways to make good on the wrong doing or re-contextualising the situation to make it less problematic. It’s not surprising that guilt is such a ‘persistant’ emotion, because it’s there to act as our conscience. To help us remain part of a positively functioning social group. We feel guilt when we believe we have acted in ways that may impact on our position with that social group or within a specific relationship. Strong, uncomfortable feelings are nature’s way of telling us to change course or make amends.

 

When I forgot to buy my husband rugby tickets the other week, I had that sudden, cold realisation about an hour after they went on sale. Obviously, they had all gone within minutes, so by the time I looked, they were on the re-sale sites for massively inflated prices and I couldn’t make good on my mistake. There was nothing I could do to re-frame what had happened as I simply forgot. I had no choice but to admit my mistake and feel the guilt.

 

As I spent some time just sitting with my emotions I could feel how physically it affected me. The tightening across my shoulders and neck, the feeling of wanting to squirm, the unsettled feeling in my stomach. I did my best to just extend some curious attention to these feelings and I realised that I felt some discomfort with the balance of ‘give and take’ in my relationship with my husband. I spend so much of my time ‘giving’ to my children that I often don’t have much left to give my husband. He’s a good egg and doesn’t ask for much, so to have let him down on one of my opportunities to actually do something for him was really disappointing.

 

It was important for me to feel that so I could think about our relationship in a broader sense and decide to make some changes. To think about how I could give a little more to him and create a better sense of balance. Rather than sitting ruminating and feeling uncomfortable for days, I had the opportunity to make positive changes for both of us.

 

Guilt quote Brene Brown

 

Luckily, mindfulness offers us tools for using guilt in a positive way to make improvements in our lives and strengthen our bonds with others. If you notice that you’re experiencing guilt and you’d like to try relating to it in a different way, here are my 6 steps to use guilt positively. I’d recommend doing this when you have 5-10  minutes to just sit and be. It doesn’t have to be silent, but you do need to be able to turn your attention inwards. Closing your eyes while travelling on a train for instance would be fine.

 

6 steps to use guilt positively P

 

Step one: welcome the emotion of guilt

Once you’ve noticed that you’re experiencing guilt, let go of any attempt to resist the emotion or blame others. Just allow it to be there for now. If verbal mantras work for you, you may want to try repeating something like “Thank you for being here guilt. I am open to learning.” You can do this silently if people are around you.

 

Step two: explore the physical experience of guilt in the body

As you welcome the feeling of guilt, pay curious attention to how it feels within the body. Are there areas of your body that feel tense or uncomfortable? How does your breathing feel? There’s no need to change or resist any of this, just allow it to be there for now.

 

Step three: observe your thoughts

Allow yourself to observe your thoughts without getting caught up in them. You may experience some critical thoughts like “I’m a terrible wife” or some questioning thoughts like “how did I forget?”. None of these thoughts are ‘true’ per se, they’re just thoughts. It may help to imagine each thought as a different person offering their perspective on a particular situation. You have a choice about who you listen to.

 

Step four: extend yourself some self-compassion

Imagine that you are talking to a friend or loved one. What would you say to them in the same situation? How would you help them be kind to themselves? Self-compassion allows us to let go of any over catastrophising (such as “I’m a terrible wife”) and make peace with our actions as normal, human imperfections or mistakes.

 

Step five: set intentions for future behaviour

By this point, you should have a more compassionate and clearer view on your situation and can start to set some positive intentions for what to do next. Going back to my example above, my intention was to write down one kind thing I wanted to do for my husband every day. These weren’t massive things. Perhaps preparing some lunch for him, tucking a note into his work bag or simply giving him a big hug. Small daily acts of kindness reminded me to prioritise him more and create more balance in our relationship.

 

Step six: give a heartfelt apology if it’s appropriate

Guilt can actually cause us to avoid the people we’ve wronged or even become angry with them (as we try to deflect the feeling). Giving a heartfelt apology in which we acknowledge our wrongs helps us to let go of the guilty feelings and repair our relationships. Apologies can feel really awkward (and we often put them off), so a good way to get over this initially is to set ourselves a reward for when we’ve done it. This could be a solo trip to the coffee shop, reading a book or perhaps visiting a friend. Whatever works for you. Having something to look forward to afterwards makes us much more likely to do it.

 

So there are my 6 steps to using guilt positively. I hope you found them useful. If you’d like to keep up to date with all my news and articles then please do follow me on Facebook.

 

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My top 10 mindfulness quotes

It seems that quotes are everywhere these days from coffee cups to T-shirts to Instagram. They are omnipresent in everyday life and maybe a little over ‘done’. YOLO tattoo anyone? I must profess though, that I still love to read a good quote and treasure the feeling it gives me. In an age where religion is not necessarily the default choice, many of us still wrestle with the time old struggles that our consciousness brings us. Who are we really? What is our purpose? How do we make sense of the challenges and difficulties that we face in life? Quotes offer meaning in a relatable soundbite. You don’t need a philosophy degree to understand them and spirituality is optional. Instead, you can find solace in the sense that you are not alone in your struggles. That others have trodden a similar path and won. Quotes offer direction and meaning when we’re feeling undecided, providing confidence in our convictions and even sometimes giving us the strength to face our own critical inner voice and march forth anyway. I wrote about a particular quote by Anais Nin (in ‘You have a right to experiment with your life’) that had inspired me to change my career.

 

I therefore wanted to share with you my top 10 mindfulness quotes that have inspired my mindfulness practice. I’ve found them particularly useful when I’ve veered off track to some extent or needed help to focus my intentions and behaviour. Often, I’ll write them down in my journal. Taking my time to write and draw around them meditatively so my gaze will be drawn to them for the next week or so. Other times I’ll write them on cards and put them on the mirror or kitchen surfaces so I see them as I go about my day. Hopefully this list can inspire you too.

 

Top 10 mindfulness quotes

 

1.

1. Maya Angelou quote

 

This is such a beautiful reminder to keep a beginner’s mind. When I start to get that Groundhog Day feeling, I think of this quote and it reminds me to look for the fresh beauty and joy in every day. That there’s always something new to discover, even if it’s just a lopsided grin from a loved one, a new podcast or a plant in your garden. Being grateful for the small discoveries can make every day special.

 

2.

2. S.C. Laurie quote

 

I remember writing this in my journal (in fact I have it open right now to copy) during the middle of the night. I was in a particularly dark phase of post-natal depression and unsure what I was doing or where I was going. I’ve never been a particularly depressive person, so the feeling of my irrational thoughts and emotions taking over was especially scary. I just wanted to be my normal self, in control and level headed as normal. But I couldn’t; so I read this quote and I surrendered to the fear and the sadness. I hit the bottom and realised I was still here. Still breathing. Still loving. Still coping. And there was hope. New ideas and possibilities started to emerge. The good moments and the good days started to increase in number until the fear and the sadness were diminished. Fleeting, transient and less forceful.

 

This quote will now forever remind me to accept and welcome in all of my emotions. That mindfulness is not an endless state of positivity, but by welcoming the more difficult emotions, you can journey through them more peacefully.

 

3.

3. Thich Nhat Hanh quote

 

I can be distracted at times. My to-do list is long and sometimes I just want to zone out watching something on television or scrolling through social media. This quote creates a beautiful, visual reminder that when we are generously attentive towards our loved ones, it helps them blossom. It motivates me to focus my attention on them because I want them to know that they matter. That they are seen and heard and beautiful in their own unique way.  Deborah MacNamara has written a great piece about this and how it develops children’s self-worth. I think the same could be true of all people, young and old however.

 

4.

4. Thich Nhat Hanh quote 2

 

I’ve talked previously (in ‘Taming my doing brain’) about the fact that I’m a ‘doer’ by nature, constantly striving to achieve and get things done. This quote reminds me of one of the central pillars of mindfulness, which is ‘non-striving’. It gives me the confidence to embrace where I am now and stop chasing the end goal. When your sights are constantly set on the final prize, you never really end up happy, because how many of us actually reach that perfect place? Often, even if we do reach that end goal, we just set another and so we’re in perpetual state of dissatisfaction and yearning. As the Dalai Lama said “There are only two days in the year when nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe, do and mostly live.”

 

5.

5. William Shakespeare quote

 

This quote reminds me of the grounding power of nature. That listening to the rain, watching the stars and feeling the grass all have the power to connect me with the present moment and the wider Universe. Making me feel part of a larger, organic whole, rather than a disconnected pin ball bouncing around an overly stimulated machine. It reminds me warmly of being in the garden with my youngest the other day. I’d carefully prepared her feet with wellies and we came out into the garden. As we got out there, she simply kicked off the wellies and stood there smiling, feeling the grass between her toes. So I followed suit. We gardened bare foot, feeling the grass, the soil, the rocks and the pavement beneath our feet. Beautiful.

 

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6.

6. Osho quote

 

Realising that my thoughts aren’t facts was such a lightbulb moment. I hadn’t really considered until that point that what I was thinking was the combined total of all my experiences and early conditioning to date. That the critical voice inside of me didn’t always have it right. Understanding that I could observe my thoughts without buying into them allowed me to respond to my emotions and triggers in a much more considered way. I didn’t have to tread the same path I always had. This quote is a good reminder that thoughts aren’t facts and they aren’t permanent. You have the ability to change your thoughts if you want to.

 

7.

7. Rachel Macy Stafford quote

 

Rachel’s writing is full of self-compassion so there are a number of quotes I could have chosen to remind me of the importance of giving ourselves grace and forgiveness. Allowing us to reflect and learn from our less than perfect moments in a positive way. I like this particular quote however for its focus on today. Today is the only day in which we can make a difference. Who we are becoming and what we do right now is what matters.

 

8.

8. Jackson Kiddard quote

 

I don’t think I realised how much control I liked to have until I was faced with two tiny humans with minds of their own. Learning to let go of my attachment to a specific outcome has been a blessing though and has opened my eyes to a much more relaxed way of life. Maintaining limits on the important stuff and letting the rest go has brought much more happiness than insisting on my way of doing things for the most part. I still need a reminder once in a while though.

 

9.

9. Mandy Hale quote

 

Letting go of perfectionism has taken some time for me, but I’m starting to get there. I was always driven by the desire to show a ‘perfect’ front, assuming that is what other people expected from me. That I wouldn’t be valued without being perfect. I’ve since realised that letting down my guard and not always being perfect allows people to get closer. What they really want is my time, generosity and kindness, not a spotless house, perfect clothes or amazing lifestyle. Ultimately, kindness is what matters most.

 

10.

10. Rumi quote

 

I guess there are many interpretations of this quote, but for me, it’s a reminder to place my attention mindfully. We are the sum of the people we spend time with, of the messages we listen to and the culture we embrace. Being mindful of how we place our attention means that we can be intentional about how we develop as a person.

 

So there are my top 10 mindfulness quotes. I hope you enjoyed them. If you have any other favourite mindfulness quotes, please do comment with them below. I’d love to hear them and I’m sure others would too.

 

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How I find space in the most stressful of days

There are always those days where it feels like we don’t stop. Like the demands are continuous and we don’t have time to catch our breath. It might be a pressurised day at work, or a day at home with children on your own. The nature of the stressor doesn’t matter. It’s the relentless nature of it that affects our wellbeing. Shamash Alidina uses a good analogy of the water cup. If you had to hold it for one minute that would be no problem. Hold it for an hour and your arm would ache. Hold it for 24 hours and your arm would be in significant pain. It’s the duration of the pressure that causes the problem.

 

“If the pressure is too high for you and lasts for long periods of time, it can cause chronic stress, and that’s where the danger lies.” Shamash Alidina in ‘The mindful way through stress’

 

It’s not always possible to change our lifestyle, at least in the short term, but we can draw upon some small changes to alter our perception of the demands placed upon us. To create more space for us to breathe, to think and to rest. What I’m going to describe now is how you can feel the pauses in your day to break-up what seems like a continuous barrage of stimulus and demands.

 

Let’s explore this together with a short exercise using our breath as an example. We often think of our breath as being continuous. It’s the one activity that links our lifetime from birth to death. We are wholly dependent on our breath continuing in order to survive, and yet the breath is also punctuated with short pauses all the time.

 

Feel the pause exercise

 

  1. Close your eyes
  2. Draw your attention down into the body and become aware of your breath
  3. Allow yourself to observe the natural rhythm of the breath
  4. When you’re ready, see if you can observe the subtle pause between the out breath and the in breath of the next breath
  5. Keep this going for a few breaths until you can consistently feel the pause
  6. See if you can notice the stillness and lack of tension in the body in this pause
  7. Now see if you can observe the even more subtle pause between the in breath and the out breath
  8. Again, see if you can notice the stillness present in this pause
  9. When you’re ready, bring this meditation to a close and allow yourself to notice how you feel as a result

 

In the same way as the breath, there are often small pauses within the day that we don’t notice. Bringing mindful attention to these pauses can help us to metaphorically put down the water cup for a while so we can rest, before starting again. Drawing attention to these pauses can be difficult at first until we get the hang of it so it can help to start with a specific intention. Perhaps if you have a lot of driving to do you can use every red light to take a deep breath in and out. Imagine coming away from every red light feeling more positive and rested, rather than more stressed and aggravated! If you’re spending the day at home with children, perhaps use a task like boiling the kettle to remind you to take a deep breath in and out. Just feeling a moment of stillness. Anticipating the positive experience of a warming cup of tea. Or if you’re in the office, you could decide to breathe deeply and mindfully while drying your hands at the hand drier. Think you don’t have time to dry your hands at the hand drier? Try counting. It’s normally less than 20 seconds. Imagine using those 20 seconds to rest, clear your mind and appreciate the warm air on your hands rather than rushing out of the toilet with half dried, damp hands.

 

Once you start to notice the pauses you’ll find yourself noticing more and more pauses and embracing the chance to rest, albeit briefly, before continuing with your day. Take the opportunity to nourish and shine affectionate attention on your body and mind, and everyday demands will start to feel less overwhelming.

 

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PIN how I find space in the most stressful days

How to stay calm when you’re angry with your child

This week saw the mama bear in me roar when my daughter was hurt. The inability to soothe her pain in that moment and her sibling’s part in the matter made me feel extremely angry. I wanted to shout and reprimand and unleash my anger but I managed to catch myself just in time. Whilst my girls are small, their mindfulness practice is my mindfulness practice. What I model, they learn. So once I noticed the anger rising, I managed to pause. Just long enough to stop my instinctive response and think about what to do next.

 

There are many models of mindful tactics to use when working through difficult emotions and what they all aim to do is insert a pause between you feeling an emotion and then reacting. Often, this reaction happens so quickly that it feels like it becomes one with the emotion. We’ve acted on autopilot. And often what we autopilot is our learned behaviour from when we were children. This may be fine, or it may not be in line with how you intend to parent. Inserting a pause gives us just enough time to feel our emotion, appraise the situation and decide how to act next in a constructive way.

 

I use the CALM model because I find it easy to remember and just repeating the word sets a good intention for me in terms of how I want to respond to my anger. So here is how you can stay CALM when your angry buttons are pressed.

 

how-to-stay-calm-when-youre-angry

 

You can download a printable here how-to-stay-calm-when-youre-angry-printable

 

C – Catch your breath

 

Once you’ve recognised anger, the first thing to do is just focus on the breath momentarily. Give yourself some space to step away from any immediate reactions. If you can make the out breath longer than the in breath, this will also calm the nervous system and reduce the ‘flight or fight’ response you may be having.

It can be really helpful to explain what you’re doing as well if you’re with a small child. It can be something simple like “I’m feeling angry right now so I’m going to pause while I think about what to do next.”

 

A – Allow

 

Allow yourself to feel the emotion you’re having. We’re not trying to hide from the emotion or make it go away. Instead we’re trying to relate to it in a different way. For the moment, all you need to do is feel the emotion in your body. Where do you feel it? A tightness in your chest perhaps? Clenched hands? No need to try to change any of this, just allow it to be as it is. If it does change though, that’s ok too.

 

L – Listen

 

Listen to your thoughts with a sense of curiosity. Thoughts are not always accurate or true and you don’t have to act on them. Allow yourself to consider other options as well. In my case, I had thoughts such as ‘why is she always being mean to her sister? What is wrong with her?’ When I think about it a calmer state of mind I know that a lot of the time she’s actually really lovely to her sister. It’s also age appropriate to not know how to deal with big emotions in a reasonable way so there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with her. Reviewing our thoughts in this way gives us a better preparation for how we act next.

 

M – Move into action

 

We’ve spent the last 30-60 seconds inserting a pause so we don’t act automatically (this will get quicker with practice) and the next step is to proceed with intention. Only you will know how you hope to parent in this situation, but allow yourself to be guided by your greater intention (I hope to write a blog post about setting a parenting intention so I’ll come back and insert a link when I do). If you have familiar situations arising though, it may be worth preparing some phrases in advance so you can draw on them quickly when you are angry. For instance “I won’t let you hit your sister. I’m going to hold you while the angry feelings pass.”

 

It’s important to recognise that this new approach won’t work immediately. It will take some time to undo your unconscious habits and create new neural pathways through repeated practice. There are 4 stages of re-learning that you will likely go through.

 

  1. You’re caught in the auto-pilot response without even realising it. It’s only afterwards that you consider how you would have liked to respond differently.
  2. You feel angry and are aware of your automatic reaction happening but feel unable to stop it. This is really tough and you may feel like giving up at this stage. Keep going though because being able to observe your reaction is evidence that you’re already being more mindful. It will get better.
  3. You feel angry but you’re able to pause, avert the automatic reaction and take a different course. It may still feel difficult but you should feel good about responding with intention.
  4. You’re unlikely to feel angry about the behaviour and move easily into a calm, intentional response.

 

There will still likely be lots of times when you yell or shout or say things you wish you didn’t. Especially in the beginning. We’re only human after all. In these instances, we can still model a mindful and compassionate way to deal with mistakes that our children can learn from.

 

  1. Firstly, extend yourself some compassion and kindness. Your children love you. You are a good parent (otherwise you wouldn’t be reading about how to stay calm when you’re angry). We all make mistakes and that doesn’t make us bad people. If you’re feeling really low, like “I’m a terrible mother/father” then you may want to try a loving-kindness meditation.
  2. Explain the emotions you were feeling in language they can understand. This helps build emotional literacy so they can recognise their own emotions and have empathy for these emotions in others. For example “I felt really angry when you hit your sister. My heart was thumping and my body felt stiff. I felt like I wanted to shout.” Try to keep the language focused on you so they understand that your reaction was based on your emotions, not their actions. This teaches children that we have the resources to respond to our emotions in the manner we choose.
  3. Apologize in a positive way for your reaction. Humbleness is not a weakness and teaching children how to repair a mistake is a positive life skill. It might go something like “I’m sorry I shouted at you. I know that might have been scary. I’m learning how to respond more calmly when I’m angry but it may take a little time.” I know that when I’ve offered an apology to my daughter, she’s always accepted it with great grace and kindness. In fact, in the way I wish I responded to apologies as I’ve often been a bit begrudging in the past. Especially when I’ve been holding on to some hurt.

 

“Children make a lot of mistakes so these types of demonstrations are invaluable. Having an inner template of how to make amends can help children to avoid internalising a sense of failure, which can stop them from moving forward. If you are ultra-judgemental about your own mistakes and apologize profusely, or instead feel angrier and resentful, then this sends the message that mistakes are intolerable.” – Amber Hatch in Mindfulness for Parents

 

I hope this gives you some thoughts on how you can deal with anger calmly. I’m still re-learning my automatic reactions too but it gets better and better with time. If you have any comments or suggestions then I’d love to hear them.

 

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Book Review: Mindfulness For Parents by Amber Hatch

In ‘Mindfulness For Parents‘, Amber Hatch has created an ideal guide for those coming to mindfulness for the first time as parents. Her accessible style and gift for explaining mindfulness concepts simply and effectively make this a very compelling book. There are information and advice from the early weeks of having a baby to raising older children in a gentle and compassionate style as well as more practical advice on introducing mindfulness to children and maintaining your own practice.

 

mindfulness-for-parents-by-amber-hatch

 
This book does an excellant job of demonstrating through examples and suggested exercises how to establish a mindfulness practice in the midst of raising a family. I would have loved to read this book when I was first learning to practice mindfulness as it was sometimes a struggle applying the theory I was learning to our busy family life.

 

  • How do you meditate when you don’t have time to yourself?
  • How do you stay calm and patient when you’re so tired you could fall asleep walking?
  • How do you step outside of the guilt and critical thoughts and create compassion and forgiveness for yourself?
  • How can you simply enjoy your children when they know exactly how to push your buttons?

This book answers all of these questions and more so you can find peace and joy in every day. I’d thoroughly recommend it to anyone who has not yet established their own mindfulness practice or is struggling to do so as a parent.

 
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Book Review: Only Love Today by Rachel Macy Stafford

I’ve been following Rachel’s blog The Hands Free Mama for a few years now and I’ve always adored her writing. It’s like the written equivalent of a hug from a friend. Her work is full of hope and inspiration for turning a bad day around without feeling sanctimonious or judgemental. I haven’t read any of her previous books so I was delighted to be given the chance to get a sneak preview of this one.

 

book-review-only-love-today-rachel-macy-stafford-jpg-2

 
I was somewhat surprised (and happy) to find that this isn’t a cover to cover read or a manual for mindful living. In the words of Rachel this is a “flip open, read-in-any-order book of daily encouragement designed to shift perspective and anchor us in love”. Each short passage of c. 2-3 pages tackles a specific theme and includes a short quote (great to write in a journal as a reminder), an encouraging passage based in experience and a suggested exercise for the day to help reinforce this shift in perspective. You could simply work your way through the book taking a passage each day, or you could just use the index to refer to relevant passages as and when needed.

 
On opening the book initially, the first passage I came to was exactly what I needed that day. After a 5am start with two small, tired people, I was feeling pretty grumpy and snappy. I hadn’t exactly been the model Mum thus far and I was feeling bad about it. The “Only Love Today Affirmation” really helped me let go of the regret and resentment and open up to all the possibilities yet to come that day.

 

 

 

only-love-today-rachel-macy-stafford

 
“Today I will choose love. If I mistakenly choose distraction, perfection or negativity over love, I will not wallow in regret. I will choose love next. I will choose love until it becomes my first response… my gut instinct… my natural reaction. I will choose love until it becomes who I am.
Let love start this day.
Let love end this day.
Let love transform the minutes in between.”

 
This book allows us to accept our human, imperfect selves, whilst still allowing us to grow and nurture those around us with increasing love and softness. I’d thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who loves someone. Loving ourselves and those we cherish with gentleness, empathy and compassion is probably something we all hope to do and yet still manage to stray away from some days. This is the perfect companion to help you get back on track.

 

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#mymindfulbujo February challenge

Welcome to the first #mymindfulbujo challenge! This is just a little bit of fun for those who love to use their planners or journals but if you want to join in all you need is a notebook and 5 minutes a day to notice things.

 

mymindfulbujo-february-bullet-journal-challenge

 
One of the first benefits I felt when I started to practice mindfulness was that I noticed so much more. Good things and bad things and all the things in between. There was joy in living a richer, more detailed life. Value in paying attention to the bad. Could I help someone who needed it? Should I ask someone for help myself? All of this contributed to a more balanced and happy state of mind.

 
So the challenge this month is simply to record what you notice during a mindful 5 minutes each day. Here is my suggested daily practice.

 

  1. Use a mindful check-in to help you enter a more mindful state of being.
    • Take a few deep breaths, noticing the feeling of the breath moving into and out of your body
    • Notice what is happening in your body. What sensations can you feel? Are you holding any tensions anywhere? There’s no need to label any of this as good or bad. Just notice it.
  2. Open your awareness out again from your body to the world around you. Use all of your senses to notice what is happening – sight, smell, taste, touch and sound.
  3. Consider what you have noticed that you may not ordinarily have done so. Maybe the distant sound of traffic, the feel of your socks against your feet or the sound of your children playing as you wash up. There’s no need to label what you notice as interesting or not, just allow yourself to absorb what is there.
    • You don’t have to be sat still to do this. Obviously, it’s best not to do this when your full attention is required elsewhere (e.g. when driving or in a meeting) but if you’re walking to work, doing housework or enjoying a cup of tea for instance then those are also good times.
    • The key is to pay mindful attention to what is happening around you.
    • It may be interesting to change the time of day and location throughout the month to really get a sense of the scale of what you can notice.
  4. Record what you’ve noticed in your journal. Be as creative as you like with this. Drawing, writing, photography etc. Whatever brings you joy. I’ve shared my set-up below to give you an idea of what I’ll be doing. I’ve allowed a box for a small drawing and also space to write down what I noticed as well as how it made me feel.

 

mymindfulbujo-february-bullet-journal-set-up

 

I’d love to see what you noticed and how you recorded it so please do share your work using the #mymindfulbujo handle on Instagram. If you have any questions, then feel free to get in touch through the contact page.

Taming my doing brain

If my brain were a garden it would be wild and overgrown. It’s constantly growing ideas and grasping for things to do. I’ve always felt a real sense of satisfaction in doing things well and doing them efficiently. I didn’t identify this as a problem before I started a family and was regularly rattling through a to-do list. Giving myself little dopamine hits as I hacked down shoots as quickly as they grew. As a mother my time is no longer my own however, so whilst my brain is still racking up the tasks, I can’t simply rattle through them as easily.

 
And often when my brain identifies something that I ‘can’ do, it quickly turns it into something I ‘should’ do.

 

  • I should clean the floor rather than hold my sleeping baby.
  • I should write that post rather than sit and enjoy a programme with my husband.
  • I should make dinner rather than play teachers with my little girl.

 

Before long, my brain is carried off into the future task list (which is never empty) and I’m not enjoying those precious baby snuggles, or husband cuddles or connecting with my little girl after school. I’ve stopped being in the present moment and I’m not available to those around me.

 
The word ‘should’ is also loaded with judgement. So when I either can’t or don’t achieve the things I ‘should’ be doing, negative mood sets in as I feel like I’m failing. I’m not doing the things I ‘should’ be doing and I’m not enjoying the things that I am doing either because I’m not actually present to experience them. It feels like my garden has become jungle full of thorns and I’m trapped without a way out.

 
As my mindful practice deepens and I put more space between me and my thoughts, I start to become aware more and more quickly of this tendency. I observe the thoughts saying ‘should’ and I explore the other possibilities.

 

  • ‘I should clean the floor’ becomes ‘the floor can wait. I’m enjoying these baby snuggles.’
  • ‘I should write that post’ becomes ‘I’ll jot down my ideas in a journal and return to them another day.’
  • ‘I should make dinner’ becomes ‘dinner can wait 5 minutes while I play with my little girl.’

 

Everytime I choose to question a thought and look for alternatives, my jungle becomes a little more tame. The shoots a little less wild, a little less grasping, a little more yielding. I notice the small details I missed whilst I was trying to restrain all that was there. The love, the beauty, the nourishment of my family and friends. Not perfect, not tidy, but amazing all the same.

 
I think I will always have that inclination to plan and do and I have noticed more of these thoughts creeping in since starting this blog.  My intention for this week is therefore to continue to observe my thoughts and allow myself to explore other possibilities when I come up against the lengthening to-do list and the ‘shoulds’. Practicing this mindset of equanimity and acceptance of what I experience, without expecting to feel good through achieving or doing. Being in the moment. Accepting what comes. Being grateful for what is here. Putting love first.

 
Sitting in my wild, beautiful garden and staring at the sky.

 

 

Q&A: How can mindfulness help when I’m feeling down?

This week I was sent a question and I think it’s really relevant to all of us at one point or another so I thought it was worth turning into a blog post. It also made me think that I could have a regular question and answer on the blog so if you have any questions, then have a look at the contact page and send them in.

 
Q. Some days I struggle with just having a bad day. It’s hard not to see it as a set back, or all my ideas and positivity not working anymore and instead just accept it’s a little blip and not the end of the world. But still it shocks me that I have these odd days where my energy is off as I know I’ve come so far. I think ‘I shouldn’t feel like this! I know I should be turning it around and flipping this on it’s head’ but some days I can’t! What do you do?

 
A. I think in your question you are already halfway to the answer. Often we think of mindfulness as being a progressive state towards enlightenment at which point we will have ‘reached our goal.’ The more I learn about mindfulness though, the more I see our lives as being in constant state of dynamic movement. We’re like a cruise ship passing through a different port everyday. Some ports we like and some we don’t like. Sometimes the weather is calm and blissful, other times the ship is buffeted by storms and big waves. Mindfulness is a tool we can use to help us navigate all of these places and weathers but it can’t ensure we stay in one place forever.

 
Emotional states ebb and flow and this is perfectly normal and natural. Our intention with mindfulness is to accept each emotion in the moment and allow it to be as it is without becoming too attached to it. My first mindfulness teacher told me ‘what we resist, persists’ (a Carl Jung quote) and this is often true of negative emotions. If we become too attached to making them go away, our brain starts to ruminate on ways to solve the problem and we’re taken out of the present moment and into the past or future. All this thinking and ruminating can actually make the bad mood hang around longer or even spiral downwards into a darker mood.

 
A practical exercise you could do in this situation is as follows.

 

 

  1. Take yourself back into the body with a simple meditation. This could be a 10 minute meditation or simply 3 mindful breaths. Whatever time allows.
  2. Use your mindful attention to identify what emotion you are feeling. Anger? Sadness? Boredom? Frustration?
  3. Use a mantra to acknowledge the impermanence of emotions. Something simple like ” I am angry, this will pass.’ You can repeat this as many times as you need.
  4. Be kind to yourself. Take a moment to acknowledge what you need. Would it be helpful to eat if you’re hungry or reduce your ‘to-do’ list for that day?

 
Rumi wrote a beautiful poem about how we can welcome and make peace with all of our emotions and I’m going to share it here.

 

rumi-the-guest-house

 

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

~Rumi

6 mindful tips to reduce mental fatigue

Most of us can identify with that feeling of mental fatigue in some way or another. We get to the end of the day and can’t decide what to have for dinner, or making conversation feels like a very deliberate effort. Maybe we forget to do something or start to make mistakes that we normally wouldn’t. At this point it’s easy to criticise ourselves (and others) but perhaps we need to extend ourselves more compassion. When the brain is constantly ‘doing’ (making decisions, thinking, planning and ruminating), it doesn’t have chance to rest and your cognitive performance declines.

 
The concept of ‘decision fatigue’ has been around for a few years now and is based on the work of Roy F. Baumeister. Essentially, the more decisions we make, the more mental energy we burn and the less capable of making decisions we become. It’s particularly the case with regards to willpower and is the reason why at the end of the day we’re more likely to give in to requests for television or find ourselves eating junk food.

 
I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to feel more mentally alert, calm and enthusiastic about taking on what the day has to offer so I’ve been playing around with our weekly routine to try to do just this. Here are my 6 mindful tips to reduce mental fatigue.

 
1. Meditation
Naturally, this is on the list, but with good reason. Meditation gives the brain chance to rest and step away from ‘doing mode’ for a period of time so we can start to rebuild mental energy. It also calms the automatic nervous system and improves our resilience for forthcoming decision-making. We don’t always have time to fit in a full meditation but even a short breathing space meditation of 1-3 minutes can be extremely beneficial in setting us up for the rest of the day. You can download an audio file of my breathing space meditation here.

 
2. Reduce the number of decisions
The classic example here is the likes of Barack Obama or Mark Zuckerberg who wear the same clothing everyday. By reducing the number of decisions we make, we reduce the cognitive load and free-up space to make more important decisions. In my case, I’ve created a 4 week meal plan in my bullet journal that we rotate around. This means we get enough variety in terms of the food we eat, but I don’t need to spend time each day or week scratching my head or thinking about what we’ll have for dinner.

 
3. Reduce the number of options to choose from
Have you ever spent ages standing in front of the wardrobe wondering what to put on, all the while thinking that you ‘have nothing to wear’? I did a huge clear out of my wardrobe following the ‘Kon-Marie’ method outlined by Marie Kondo in her book ‘The life changing magic of tidying’. I loved her suggestion of only keeping what sparks joy and find getting ready a much more pleasurable and easy process as a result. You can apply the principle of reduced options to anything though. For instance choosing between the first 3 things you like the look of on a menu or asking a store assistant to give you two options to choose from that meet your criteria.

 
4. Be aware of your thoughts during the decision-making process
Often we can get caught up in over thinking our decisions. We navigate between obligations, what we think others want to hear, our intuitive sense of what we want to do and advice given by others. When I’m finding it hard to decide, I try to do a mindful check in.

 

 

  1. Take a few deep breaths, noticing the feeling of the breath moving into and out of your body.
  2. Notice what is happening in your body. What sensations can you feel? Are you holding any tensions anywhere? There’s no need to label any of this as good or bad. Just notice it.
  3. Notice any thoughts that you’re having surrounding this decision. Allow yourself to consider that these thoughts are not facts. Can you let go of any rigidity of thinking that may be complicating your decision?
  4. Notice any emotions that you’re feeling. Where in your body are you feeling these emotions? Are they tied to any particular thoughts?

 
As well as a brief cognitive respite, the mindful check in allows us to be the observer of our thoughts rather than being caught within them. Often this yields a different perspective that allows us to consider our options more dispassionately and thus come to a decision more quickly.

 
5. Simplify your life
The fewer things we have to do, the fewer decisions we have to make. When assessing self-care in mindfulness classes we often look at the balance of nourishing vs. depleting activities that we engage in, in everyday life and whether we can better re-distribute this balance. Naturally we think about whether we can reduce the  number of depleting activities but sometimes we can be caught out by trying to do too many nourishing activities. Running here and there between activities can be stressful in itself. Often our well-being can be improved by doing fewer nourishing activities but more mindfully, with more space in between to rest and just be.

 
6. Getting out of the mind and into the body
Taking time out to have a bath, practice yoga or play football is also a good way to get out of your mind and into your body so the mind can rest. Any activity that allows you to focus your attention on physical activity or sensations rather than thinking will work.

 
So in a nutshell be kind, rest and simplify.