Are you one of them? According to Everest College’s 2014 Work Stress Survey, 80 percent of Americans are frazzled by something at work. Think about it: That means only two out of 10 people in the workplace aren’t stressed, and my guess is this applies not just to work but to our everyday way of living. In addition self-distraction with thoughts like, ‘I wonder if anybody texted me’, or ‘I still need to answer that e-mail from last week…’ is at absolutely epidemic proportions.
With the increasing countless day to day elements continuously competing for our attention, becoming aware of our mind being at the root of all things, and paying attention on purpose to the present moment is the remedy how to cope with stress and the multitude of distractors present in our lives. Awareness, or mindfulness, allows for making better choices which lead to a mindful and healthier way of living.
Mindfulness is the simple process of noticing new things. When we are being mindless, we are letting the past, or future, or references to these, over determine the present. Most of us are mindless most of the time, mindlessness is pervasive. Most of us are “not there” and the problem is that when we are not there, we are not noticing that we are not there.
Considering that on average about 65% of what we think on a daily basis is either redundant or negative, the need to talk differently to ourselves becomes obvious. In order to achieve that and reach a dominant mindful state of existence, the brain needs to be re-trained and the dialogue between our ears requires to be changed. The committee in our heads requires to be put in its proper place.
This begins with awareness, being conscious. For thousands of years sound has been a proven method for increasing one’s awareness. The humming of your own voice, the sound of water, the sound of a gong or a singing bowl, wind or song of a bird can serve as a powerful bridge to the present, the place where awareness lies, the moment at hand. Awareness then allows you to notice downbeat thinking, to stop yourself and challenge it and replace it with a positive outlook.
So then, with or without the supportive tool of sound, give yourself a cognitive intervention and counter your negative, defeatist, fearful and limiting thinking with an optimistic attitude. Think on the opposite of your negative thoughts. When you are distressed and plagued by negative or fearful thoughts, register anything happening in the present moment with full focus — but without immediately reacting – pause, take a deep breath and ask yourself something like: “Do I have a vague sense of restlessness, unease, or the feeling that life is not great?” Right there a bit of mindfulness might put your mind at ease and the opening for a shift, a change, is given.
The first step begins by noticing the negative thinking symptoms. Sometimes they’re subtle: a racing heart, hot ears, tensing muscles, talking fast or a clenched jaw. Sometimes they’re more obvious, such as the urge to yell or kick something. Self-awareness begins with emotional awareness. And recognizing these symptoms, before reacting, is where it all starts. Let the feeling subside. Let whatever triggered it wait for a few seconds, or even a minute, before responding. It’s like mentally stepping away from a strobe-lit, throbbing dance floor in a club and into a quiet library for a tiny moment.
In that moment, because of that pause, we can re-gather and then examine the cause of our distress and how to best deal with the situation. While there are many different techniques available, some people find the guidelines of the 4 A’s of Stress Management helpful:
- Accept: If you can’t change the cause of your distress, begin to accept it. Be aware of not falling into the “victim” mode though. Oftentimes forgiveness can be a useful tool here.
- Adapt: View the problem as an opportunity and imagine new ways to act or cope.
- Alter: Explore whether there’s a way to communicate with the person who triggers your feelings of distress or if there’s a way to address and change a certain problem that happens frequently.
- Avoid: Some things can’t be changed. If, for example, traffic during your commute is stressful, explore other routes or transportation options. Or, if you’re simply overwhelmed by your workload, can you say no to some of the responsibilities? Or if some people in your life are “toxic”…do you need or want to be around them? You get the idea…
- find a quiet, private place where you can be undistracted for a few minutes
- sit comfortably, with your back straight but relaxed. If you work with a gong, a bowl, or your voice, gently apply it
- focus your awareness on the most essential aspect of your life, your breath, staying attentive to the sensations of the inhalation and exhalation, and start again on the next breath. And do not judge your breathing (or your voice) or try to change it in any way. Listen to the sounds and allow for a natural rhythm and flow
- view anything else that comes to mind as a potential distraction — foremost your negative, non-present, or judgmental thoughts – gently push them out and let them go, return your attention to your breath and the sound of your bowl, gong, or your own voice etc.
Mindfulness is awareness and heightened degrees of consciousness, both of which can be a result of mindful meditation. There seems to be a misconception about meditation. Many people believe that meditation is to stop your thoughts, to not think. I believe that to be humanly impossible (except when we are 6’ under) as the brain is designed to think, to constantly fire. They key is to be able to guide your thoughts, to choose your thoughts, consciously.
Considering that up to about 90% of our everyday perceptions and activities are regulated by our subconscious mind, another way to increase your states of mindfulness is the way you look at things. So each day notice 3 – 5 new things when you look in the mirror, 3 – 5 new things about what is happening at work, with your partner, your children, around your house, your neighborhood etc. Find new things to look at and see them as new. Or when something goes wrong, turn things around and look at it from the opposite end, not as a problem but a solution, and ask yourself: “How can it be of benefit to me…of advantage?”
I am firm believer that the dominant majority of what happens to us or is done by us, is the product of our consciousness. We do create our own reality by the way we choose to think. The choice of thoughts is ours, at all times. Dreams become realities because of the thought energy we feed them with – as well as our actions.
Countless research papers suggest that the power of positive psychology lies in the predictability of long-term happiness and success. So with that in mind it goes that approximately:
- 10% is due to circumstances of the external world
- 90% due to the internal psychological reality we create in our heads
- 25% of job success is predicted by I.Q.
- 75% predicted by social support, optimism, and the ability to see challenge as opportunity rather than threat
When we examine it from a brain physiology standpoint, then we need to understand that the brain is 31% more powerful when it is in a positive framework than when it is in a negative or neutral realm. In addition it:
- works harder
- is more successful
- is more focused and capable
- produces more dopamine which elevates mood, energy intelligence and productivity
Ok, so that is all nice and dandy, but how do we create positivity in the brain? Research shows we can literally rewire our brains (neuroplasticity) for positivity in just 21 days by doing the following steps, as little as 2 minutes every day:
- Gratitude – write down at least 3 things you are grateful for every day. This trains your brain to strengthen areas wired for positivity.
- Identify one positive experience – journal about one positive experience during the day. This simple act causes your brain to re-live the event and deepen its wires, or grooves, for positivity.
- Exercise, and do know that even a little goes a long way. You may begin with a walk in nature.
- Meditate – apply some of the above guidelines.
- Practice random acts of kindness – each day engage in at least one act of kindness and record it. Re-living the act of kindness deepens neural connection to the story and strengthens the positive part of your brain.
The message here, once again, is simple. Our brains and our affective states are ours to control. It is all a choice. The focus of our attention alters reality, our reality. We live our lives based on what we believe about ourselves, our capabilities, limitations and our world. Accept and apply the power of belief in your life and tap it for its potential. One of my favorite dictums is: “If nothing changes, nothing changes.” And so it goes that the prime rule of reality is that we must become in our lives what we choose to experience in the world. This unquestionably most oftentimes requires change.
In closing I would like to leave you with this. One of my dear clients recently shared with me that after continuously raising her awareness by attending gong sessions of mine on a regular basis, she lost 50 lbs. and continues to drop excessive weight. In addition she has obtained a singing bowl and every time she and her family gather for a meal or time together, they strike the bowl to introduce a mindful state of being to their space. What a wonderful and exemplary way that beautifully demonstrates the concept of change.