No matter how much we want to be happy and productive, we can behave in ways we don’t like.
We get into moods that hold us hostage for days, weeks or months.
We get dragged around by fear.
Anger pops in unexpectedly and messes stuff up.
Misery turfs up, acting like it owns the joint.
We find ourselves replaying old stories and depressing ourselves. Then we think about the future and worry becomes our bestie.
It’s only when pure overwhelm hits that we seem to stop and ask the all-important question, ‘why?’.
Why do we seem to have so little control over our emotions and behaviour? And more importantly, is there anything we can do to snap out of the trance and start directing our lives?
Well…there is a practice that’s increasingly being held up, as a 21st-century cure for our blind spots.
It seems that our answer lies in staying in the present moment, so we can catch our thoughts and behaviours as they happen. That way, we become more aware and can start to transform them.
That practice is…mindfulness.
We’re told that…
‘You cannot change the past because it’s gone, the future has not arrived…we should live in the present, as that’s where we exist.’
Perfect. Sounds like fantastic advice.
Unfortunately, we seem to be wired to live anywhere EXCEPT for the present moment.
Because, our more unconscious survival brain, that also runs a lot of the self-defeating programs…likes to operate on auto-pilot.
It doesn’t want us getting all fancy and conscious.
It likes things to stay the same. It loves the past and future because it uses them to make all its decisions, which are based on keeping us safe.
Now…this auto-brain does serve an important function. It lets us multi-task, perform daily habits like washing, dressing and driving, without too much conscious effort. It helps us jump out the way of traffic.
In doing this, auto-brain has our back.
So, What’s The Problem Here?
The problem is…this survival brain is also a trouble-seeking little time traveller.
When we try to take risks, or get happy, or find love, or change habits…auto-brain says, ‘Woah…you can’t do that, because got hurt before doing that’. Or… ‘Woah, you can’t risk that, because what if the sky falls down?’.
Even if we try to over-ride it, it can’t be reasoned with. It’s stronger than our conscious intentions. 5 times stronger, according to Steve Peters, author of The Chimp Paradox.
That means, it consistently wins the fight when it comes to our choices about behaviours, habits and moods.
It runs to the past to look for ‘historical’ data to inform our present choices. It likes consistency, patterns, predictions, even if they make us miserable… (Hello hurt, anger and depression). Then it likes to fast forward into the future to look for danger…which it always seems to find. (Hello anxiety).
And because it’s out of our awareness, it keeps us locked into auto-mode and we forget to come out. We bumble along making routine choices and don’t have a clue we’re doing it.
We become hypnotised in all the wrong directions; bad habits, emotions rooted in the past and self-defeating thought patterns.
That part of the brain that protects us from danger also keeps us shackled.
Its only task is to ride this past/future shuttle looking for the best behaviours to stop pain and seek pleasure. And by pain, that includes an effort to change habits and patterns, even if the same old feelings and behaviours will make our lives suck.
So, if we’re going to stop all this time travelling and make different choices as evolved humans, then…
What are we going to do with auto-brain?
Well for a start we have the ability to wake up...because…
As much as we have this auto-brain, as humans, we also have the capacity for exquisite self-awareness.
And this is where mindfulness becomes useful.
Mindfulness allows us to momentarily, snap out of our trance and zoom our attention down on our inner world and also to zoom out to details in the environment. This is how we can become more grounded in the ever-elusive ‘present moment’.
Just so we’re clear on what mindfulness is…here’s a definition….
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”
Kabat-Zinn, known for his work as a writer, scientist and meditation teacher, is credited with popularising Mindfulness in the western world. He states that paying attention, on purpose, in a particular way, means watching our thoughts, feelings and sensations intently and allowing them to happen without judging them OR trying to change them in the first instance.
Research by Jon Kabat-Zinn shows that mindfulness has a profound effect on decreasing stress and other physical and psychological problems. And that sounds like something worth exploring.
So, where do we start?
To become a creator of our own reality, our future, our happiness, we need to figure out how to PAY ATTENTION.
We need to realise where we’re trapped and get more curious about our internal world. When we do this, we shine a light on what’s really going on. Because the programs we’re running today, whether we’re aware of them or not…. are creating our future. The future we don’t want if it includes fear, shame, guilt, depression and destructive behaviours.
But being mindful is a skill that tends to be underdeveloped because auto-pilot makes us forget to use it. (hypnotised…remember?).
And this is tricky. Because as the writer George Orwell points out…
“To see what is in front of one’s nose needs constant struggle.”
Becoming mindful is not a linear path of progression. It’s not even a spiral upwards. If anything, it’s a big scribble, going in all directions, with a line that rises over time.
What it takes is practice. Which we don’t like.
We don’t want practice when we’re stuck in a funk. We want magic. We want easy. We want FAST!
But the question we need to ask ourselves is, ‘Am I willing to do what it takes to get out this hole and into a life I want to live?’.
And if the answer is yes, then it means finding strategies and processes that will help us ‘rewire’ our brain to respond differently. That means changing some of our beliefs about ourselves and the world. It means becoming more aware of our current conditioning.
And that’s where mindfulness comes in…
Because when we’re in a bit of emotional trouble, then knowledge is power.
If we can begin having moments in our day where we snap out of auto-pilot and become the observer of our mental functioning, then we are no longer blindly following the old, embedded stories.
Now we have some distance and some clarity that can start the untangling process.
Mindfulness of our thoughts, feelings and reactions can free us from patterns that are keeping us stuck and miserable.
The psychologist, Carl Jung, wrote of his revelatory dream about the importance of conscious awareness…
“It was night in some unknown place, and I was making slow and painful headway against a mighty wind. Dense fog was flying along everywhere
I had my hands cupped around a tiny light which threatened to go out at any moment. Everything depended on my keeping this little light alive. Suddenly I had the feeling that something was coming up behind. I looked back and saw a gigantic black figure following me. But at the same moment, I was conscious, in spite of my terror, that I must keep my little light going through night and wind, regardless of all dangers… I knew, too, that this little light was my consciousness, the only light I have.”.
(Memories, Dreams, Reflections).
We all have our own ‘tiny light’ to guide us through struggles we face, when trying to leave the past, stay present and design a future worth living.
That light is mindful awareness.
It takes a certain amount of repetition and focus to ‘reprogram’ your auto-responses. But it’s very possible.
If you want 5 powerful and quick processes to start managing your mind and emotions, then grab my free guide ‘Heal Your Anxious Mind: 5 mindful processes that help you release your past, recover your present and re-invent your future’.
You can download it below….
What to do next...
Use the processes in the free guide above. Start tuning into your thoughts. Start watching your responses and reactions. If you have a strong emotional response to a situation, look for the beliefs behind the feelings. Refuse to get caught in your own mental stories. Become the observer instead. Make a note of what you observe and over time, you’ll raise awareness of where you’re getting caught up.
Once you’re clearly aware of the current programs, you can start transforming them. Even a ‘tiny light’ can work wonders, to release you from the loop.
I’m not saying it’s the only thing to do. You may need help processing whatever arises. But at least it’s out in the open, where you can deal with it.
What’s more, you’ll increase your ability to choose your thoughts, feelings and behaviours more often…because you ‘catch’ them before they drag you into a drama story.
Then you’ll be increasingly free to change tracks and make new, life-enhancing choices.
Embracing mindfulness will allow you to develop self-knowledge and begin the process of building yourself a more consciously crafted (better) future…right here…in the present moment. The only place you ever are.
To Your Success.
Linda B x
Linda Bebbington is a psychotherapist & life coach, specialising in wellness and anxiety issues. She’s the creator of ‘ ‘The Confidence Code’ and ‘Dear Therapist’…which help you take charge of your own life and happiness.
If you need help to heal or to build a bright & healthy future you can book a free 30-minute consultation HERE
Linda Bebbington is a psychotherapist & life coach, specialising in wellness and anxiety issues. She’s the creator of ‘Hypno-Fit’, ‘The Confidence Code’ and ‘Dear Therapist’…which help you take charge of your own life and happiness.
If you need help to heal or to build a bright & healthy future you can book a free 30 minute consultation HERE