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Posts from the ‘Mindful Living’ Category

Kindness Challenge: Cutting Out Criticism

I’ll admit it, a part of me does like to have a good moan. About the food that isn’t quite right in a restaurant, or the film that doesn’t live up to my expectations, or how someone else has done something that’s had an unfortunate impact on me.

And I know I’m not alone. Social interactions (whether online or in conversation) are littered with comments and opinions that are critical, judgemental or of a complaining nature. Our internal dialogue might have this flavour too, if we’ve learned to turn judgement against ourselves as self-criticism. We’re most likely conditioned into this habit, especially if we grew up with it. And I really think that’s what it is – a habit, and therefore something we can condition ourselves out of too.

I know that in my own experience, this tendency is a reactive, aversive energy. It arises when my needs aren’t met, or I don’t like something, or even just to fill an awkward silence. Sometimes it’s a defence mechanism, when I feel hurt or vulnerable. It can also get triggered when I’m seeking validation.

I can’t help wondering, if we all reduced this aversive energy, what would fill those spaces in conversation (or in our life) that the judging and complaining used to occupy? Maybe that’s why we find this habit so seductive, because it covers over a fear of just being with our naked experience, without having to paper it over with our preferences and reactions.

So I’ve set myself a challenge to notice when I’m moaning, criticising or complaining about someone or something. It’s probably more often than I think. Especially when I look at things from someone else’s point of view rather than my own.

I say noticing because I have no intention of transferring the judgement onto myself if (when) I fall into the same old trap. Awareness is the starting point for change, so I trust that it’s enough for now.

Maybe that noticing might plant the seeds of something else that could fill those spaces if I cut out criticism. Because alongside the part of me that likes to find what’s wrong, another part of me can see the world through kind eyes, and find what’s good to appreciate. I just need to get out of the way more often to let that part of me fill those spaces.

And if this post itself comes across in any way judgemental, please know that isn’t my intention. Life isn’t easy, and we all make judgements (it’s an important part of our survival equipment). We can grow our awareness without attacking ourselves for being human.

On that note, when I do find myself acting out an old habit and need to see that through kind eyes, I always find Portia Nelson’s poem reassuring.

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What Is Mindfulness?

I’m often asked the question ‘what is mindfulness?’.  I don’t believe there is one definitive answer to this question.  What you’ll find here is just one possible answer, based on the way I have received and share the practices of mindfulness and self-kindness…

Mindfulness means being with our experience in a gentle, accepting way.  When stressed, we have a tendency to be stuck in our heads, thinking and problem-solving.  With mindful awareness, we learn to inhabit our direct, sensory experience in the body, and this gives us more choice in how we respond to difficulty.  Through learning to be with all of our experience – even the difficult parts – we build emotional confidence.  I share mindfulness with a strong emphasis on kindness and compassion (including self-kindness, which is extremely powerful in helping us cope with difficulty).

What are the benefits?

Research shows that mindfulness reduces stress and improves wellbeing.  I can personally say that it has helped me feel much more calm and positive in the face of many life challenges. Mindfulness isn’t a quick fix, but it does have profound & lasting benefits when you make it a habit.  

So how does it work?

Mindfulness is practised by engaging in regular meditation.  But it may not be what you associate with the word ‘meditation’.  There are sitting practices that can be done while being guided.  These include focusing on the body, the breath or feelings of kindness.  There are also ways to bring mindful awareness to whatever we’re doing, and this all counts as meditation.  Over time, meditating regularly starts to have a positive impact on how we are generally.  It’s a bit like training to get fit: when practised regularly, it has a cumulative effect, re-wiring the brain to create new neural pathways.  Although practising meditation will greatly enhance the benefits, it is possible to start becoming more mindful of your habitual responses by using mindful awareness tools in daily life.

What’s the best way to learn?

Most people find that some guidance is helpful initially via a class or course of some kind.  This can be especially helpful if you think you’re ‘no good at meditating’.   Being able to access regular sessions helps with motivation to keep your own practice going (read more about that here).  It can also be useful to connect with other people who are learning. You can get CD’s or downloads with guided meditations to listen to at home.  My recordings can be found on the Meditations and Mini-Meditations pages of this blog. 

If you’re not quite ready for regular meditation, but you want to develop a more mindful response to worry, stress and overwhelm – you can still learn to live more mindfully in everyday life.  I share tips on how to do this in my classes, in my book and via my monthly mailing list which is available via my Lollipop Wellbeing site.   Although it’s true that sitting meditation enhances the benefits of mindfulness, you can also develop your own set of tools that can be used whether you meditate or not.

Are all classes the same?

There are different types of courses and classes.  My approach is helpful for stress, but is not intended to provide support for debilitating mental health issues.  If you have been diagnosed with (or suspect you may have) a mental health condition such as depression or an anxiety disorder, you can ask your GP about a referral to a Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy course (MBCT) – this is different from the classes I offer. 

Making The Most Of Messing Up

Today didn’t go quite how I had planned.

I had planned a day trip with our son to a geology shop and museum in a nearby town. It would be – I thought – a nice easy short train trip and a chance to explore somewhere new.

What actually happened was that I didn’t check the trains beforehand and there was a rail strike, which meant far less trains were running. Then I miscalculated the walking distance between stations and we just missed our train. After waiting an hour for the next one, it got cancelled. By this time I’d also realised that the packed lunch I’d been organised enough to prepare was not in my bag, but left behind at home. Oh, and the kid-friendly restaurant I thought would be a good plan B had closed down…

My initial response was anger – at myself for messing up, at the rail company, at whoever I could blame. I managed not to say the f word out loud (though I may have said it silently to myself), and I may have actually stamped my foot in frustration. But it took less than a minute for a more mindful response to kick in. I could make a choice. I could either let the day be ‘ruined’, or I could open myself up to something unplanned.

As we wandered out of the station, my son practically squealed with delight to find that we’d emerged by his favourite city water feature – some streams with mini-waterfalls. Who says leaf racing is only for summer days? Following his lead, I quickly let go of any lingering disappointment, and found the joy in cheering on my leafy competitor. After that we headed into the nearby football museum for some air hockey, followed by lunch at the science museum, and what the boy described as some ‘quality time’ building with construction toys together.

Today didn’t go quite how I planned. It was much more fun that I could ever have planned.

 

How I Eliminated My To-Do List

I’ve been fantasising about life without a To Do list for a really long time.

It’s not so much the actual things on the list that I find tricky. It’s the drive to try to get to the end of the list. When I’m in that list-conquering mode of powering through, ticking things off, I’m feeling physically clenched & tight, as I grasp for that elusive end point. The one that never comes.

For years I’ve used that well-known system of having 2 lists – one for Later, which is pretty massive, all the things I want to get to at some point. I don’t look at that one very often. And a much shorter one for Priority tasks – this is pulled from the big list, and only has about 7-9 things on it at once. And yet, something about this small list was still bothering me.

Then I had a bit of a lightbulb moment. I also have another To Do list that doesn’t weigh so heavy. One that works with me, not against me. That list is a small whiteboard where I keep track of things I want to do with (or for) our son – buy a particular resource, research a potential day out, find an activity idea related to an interest of his. It’s a grid of 9 boxes, and in each one I write one thing I want to do.  Whatever I’ve put in each box gets rubbed out and refilled as one thing is done and the next idea comes along to fill its space. And here’s the thing. I don’t resent filling up those spaces again, and it doesn’t make me feel defeated. Why? Because for one thing, it’s not organised as a list, with a top and a bottom.

That struck me as pretty radical. And it also made total sense. In a hugely outcome-driven culture, a list is yet one more way that I was staying hooked on getting somewhere.

I began to wonder, what if my Priority list was arranged more like my family activities board, so that it didn’t have a top and a bottom?

Sure enough, there’s an app for that – and now I have a ‘list’ that looks more like a wheel, or a flower, (or a wonky kind of grid): it says Next in the middle, and has tasks written around that in a kind of circle. Maybe it’s a To Do sheet instead of a list.

And it feels different. It doesn’t matter so much if I don’t clear anything off it. I can do one thing, and not feel quite so driven to get to the next thing down on the list – which makes it easier to let go and take a break. I also put less time & energy into deciding what should be at the top.

It’s been very freeing. I haven’t got rid of things that I need or want to do – it’s the list format that I eliminated. And without that, I just don’t have to get to the end of anything before I can relax. It’s helped me to shift my mindset from the product of a crossed-off list, to the process of a fully-lived life.  When I do complete something, I’m not crossing it off, so much as opening up a spot for something else. I’m not trying to make it shorter, I’m keeping it full with things that matter.

I once read a great quote about how the only time we will have no To Do list is when we are dead. It really made me appreciate not only the futility in trying to get to the end of the list, but also the vitality inherent in that collection of intentions, tasks and ideas – the evidence of a life being lived, day by day. And not rushing to get to ‘the end’ of that life.

For more writings, guided meditations and more, visit my resources site Lollipop Wellbeing