When life is busy and it feels as though we have a million things to do, it can genuinely feel as though the world is racing and that we have our work cut out just to keep up with it.
The truth is that the world is going at exactly the same speed it has always been travelling at. The only variable that changes from moment to moment is the quality and speed at which we rattle through our thoughts, giving us the perception that we are living in either fast time or slower time.
The busier and more chaotic our lives get, the more likely we are to let our unconscious mind do all our thinking for us. This, in turn, increases the likelihood that we will experience an ‘outside-in’ version of the world, i.e. we mistakenly believe that what is happening to us on the outside is responsible for how we feel on the inside.
Have you ever been on a train that is stationary at the platform and felt as though you were already moving because the train next to you started to pull away? That is how we often experience our thinking.
The reality is that we are just human beings having thoughts in a relatively still world, but those thoughts can create the illusion that we are being swept away in the fast moving current of our busy lives.
One of the things I will often recommend to clients is that they build moments of peacefulness and calm into their daily routine. There are two primary reasons for this:
- Firstly, there are undeniable benefits to health and wellbeing that accompany the act of deliberate relaxation, particularly if their busy lives feel stressful to them; and
- Secondly, by taking time to enjoy a moment of peace and calm, it becomes a lot easier to see the link between thought and feeling, which inevitably creates a doorway to a deeper and wiser level of understanding and awareness.
What is Mindfulness?
The best way I can describe mindfulness is that it is what happens when all of your senses get really curious about what you are doing…when you can focus on the present and notice something new.
For many years I have wanted to show how the use of mindful awareness could be applied easily to day to day living to improve quality of life, experience deeper fulfillment and achieve greater success.
It seemed clear to me from my experiences of unnecessary stress and overcoming cancer twice that breaking bad thinking habits can be effectively and relatively easily done. So too was it clear for my friend and renowned neuroscientist Dr Jeffrey M Schwartz in his work with OCD sufferers, that breaking bad habits which is the core problem in the brain circuitry of people with OCD, was a great target application for applied mindfulness.
Dr Schwartz developed a 4 Step solution specifically to make the use of mindful awareness user friendly for any person to enable both increased function through creating new habits to replace old maladaptive ones, and to rewire the powerful habit centre in the brain. You can read more about this in his latest book You Are Not Your Brain, which I highly recommend to you, or better yet – join Dr Jeffrey Schwartz and I for our upcoming masterclass.
Essentially the 4 Steps are:
- RELABEL: Identify the intrusive thoughts and urges as uncomfortable sensations. Call them what they really are.
- REFRAME: Say why those thoughts and urges keep bothering you. They are false brain messages (it’s NOT ME, it’s just my BRAIN).
- REFOCUS: Direct your attention by focusing on something else that is productive and wholesome; DO ANOTHER BEHAVIOUR!
- REVALUE: Do not take the thoughts and urges at face value. They are simply sensations caused by deceptive brain messages.
The key point that describes why the 4 Steps are successful is that they combine the use of proven cognitive methodologies with mindful awareness, directly applied to inform empowered choices about how to focus one’s attention in ways that lead to new adaptive habit patterns and a rewired brain. This results in having a brain that now works with you instead of against you in achieving your true goals and life purpose.
Habits are hard to break because they get wired in to the very powerful habit centre in the brain which we share with all lower animals. The key point about the function of this brain area is that it controls behaviour beneath the level of conscious awareness.
Therefore, habits are hard to break because to a significant degree, we are unaware of when they are operating i.e. by the time we realize the behavior is a problem, the behaviour has often already been initiated or even completed.
With mindfulness we can much more readily become aware of this process and be significantly empowered to change the focus of attention in ways that literally rewire the brain’s habit centre to work for us instead of against us.
The key underlying neuroscience principle at play here is called Hebb’s Law: neurons that fire together, wire together. The entire program is based on the quantum principle that focused attention makes the adaptive cells and their associated brain circuits fire together, leading to new adaptive circuits wiring together to form a more adaptive brain.
This process is called self-directed neuroplasticity. You don’t have to be a product of your habits! With practice of the 4 Steps, you will realize that You Are Not Your Brain.
Practicing mindfulness everyday
If you can take between 4-16 minutes* each day to sit and meditate or be guided through a relaxing visualisation then I would absolutely recommend that you do that, but if you can’t, or simply don’t want to, then you can still experience the benefits of mindfulness while you go about your daily activities.
All you need to do is draw your awareness to your senses and to become mindful of whatever it is you happen to be doing at the time; to just get really present.
So let’s say that you are typing at your computer. The first step would be to pause and take some slow deep breaths…in…..and….out…. clear your head and let your body release any tension it may have been feeling.
Then, you would start to become aware of what you are aware of with each of your senses, such as the weight of your body pressing down into the chair, the feel of your clothes on your skin, the temperature of the air, the gentle breeze on your face, your fingertips on the keyboard, everything you can see in your primary and peripheral vision, all of the sounds you can hear, both obvious and subtle…
The more you simply notice and experience whatever happens to be in your sensory reality, in that moment, the more grounded in the present you will become.
It is fascinating that any feelings of stress or anxiety are likely to naturally dissipate as the frame of mind that was keeping them alive gives way to the peace of the NOW. It is also amazing how much more ‘task focus’ you are able to bring as you resume your work with a clear head and comfortable body.
The only thing in the world right now…
Once you are more centred and grounded in the present moment, the next simple strategy is one that I call ‘The only thing in the world right now’.
The premise of this is that you set yourself the intention that whatever it is you are about to do, you are going to do it like it really, REALLY matters and that it is the only thing in the world right now that needs your attention.
So for example, if you are typing, you would continue to be quietly mindful of your sensory experience whilst allowing your creative mind to effortlessly focus on the best, most appropriate words to type in order to convey your message perfectly. In that moment nobody wants anything, nobody expects anything from you and there is nothing whatsoever for you to do except to type like it really matters.
If the thought of focusing on just one task to the exclusion of every other task that has also made it to number one on your priority list freaks you out, then it is good to remind yourself that no matter what happens you can only physically do one thing at a time anyway.
As soon as you’re done with whatever is front of you, the next thing you turn to will become the only thing in the world that needs your attention. The key is to just continue being mindful and fully focussed on the present moment. (You can’t physically be in two places at once anyway!).
If you think you will need a bit more practice trying out these strategies, a fun time to do it is when you are washing up or cleaning your car. The next time you are about to do the dishes or wash your car, take a deep breath, relax your body and get present with all of your senses.
Then meticulously clean each piece like it is the most important thing in the world right now. I also suspect that your unconscious will accept this as a beautiful metaphor for cleansing the mind.
Get clean. Get clear. Enjoy the peace and calm, and most of all, have fun!
* My highly popular ‘Simple Meditation for Busy People’ is available to download for free
It will help you achieve a deep meditative state in just 4 minutes. The download also includes an audiobook and some instrumental-only tracks for extended meditation.
If you’re interested in learning more about the 4-steps, Dr Jeffrey M Schwartz and I will be running special 6-week masterclass series, based on the content in his best-selling book, ‘You Are Not Your Brain’ in April 2014.
The SUPER Earlybird offer which will save you $300 on the course cost ends at COB on January 28 (US time). Head across to the course page to register: http://youarenotyourbrain.eventbrite.com/