Mindfulness: Developing a healthy mind in an emotionally turbulent world Top Tips
- The inner critic can be brutal
One of the common reactions to mistakes and failure is criticism.
We can be strongly conditioned to reject failure and to blame ourselves or others for things not working out as we want (or need) them to.
We may have a sense that this criticism, whether directed towards ourselves or others, is a useful strategy to redress mistakes and enable improved performance.
Self-critics tend to approach goals based on motivation to avoid failure and disapproval rather than a sense of interest and meaning in the goal itself.
- Self-compassion is so much more effective than punishing yourself
Self-compassion involves treating yourself with care and concern when being confronted with personal inadequacies, mistakes, failures, and painful life situations.
Self-compassion consists of 3 interacting components, each of which has a positive and negative pole:
Self-kindness vs self-judgement
A sense of common humanity vs isolation
Mindfulness vs over identification
It quite natural to have misgivings about kindness and compassion. Let’s look at some common misgivings that often arise.
The first of these is that abandoning self-criticism for self-compassion will undermine motivation. Research indicates the opposite. Self-compassionate people have less fear of failure and when they do fail they are more likely to try again. Engendering a sense of self-compassion for personal weaknesses, failures, and past transgressions results in more motivation to change, to try harder to learn and to avoid repeating past mistakes.
The second misconception is that self-compassion is weak. Research suggest self-compassion is a powerful way to cope with life’s challenges, fostering resilience.
And finally we might have the idea that self-compassion leads to self-indulgence. There is evidence that self-compassion promotes health related behaviours such as exercise, reduced alcohol intake, healthy eating and stopping smoking.
- Self-compassion is closely associated with emotional resilience
Whilst self-criticism is associated with rumination and procrastination, self-compassion is associated with successfully pursuing goals and resilience when goals are not met.
Greater self-compassion is associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety with a large effect size.
- Mindfulness is the awareness that develops when we pay attention on purpose
Mindfulness has been described as the awareness that emerges when we pay attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. So this involves being aware of what’s happening, which requires our attention. Much of the time we can find our attention hijacked by thoughts and feelings so that we are somewhat lost. An example of this could be being lost in thought, so that we are not present with what’s right in front of us. Hence the need to do this “on purpose”, this is actually a skill we can train and develop. In combination with the attentional part of mindfulness there is what we might call the attitude, the way we pay attention. And in this description the attitude that is emphasised in non-judgmentally, which can mean not being so caught up in our negative judgements and the risk of dying from it
- The power of purpose– The Motivational Power of Self-Compassion
The number-one reason people give for why they aren’t more self-compassionate is the fear that they will be too easy on themselves. Without constant self-criticism to spur myself on, people worry. Compassion is concerned with the alleviation of suffering. When we feel compassion for our own pain — especially when the pain comes from our maladaptive habits and behaviors — we want to heal our pain. We want to make changes and improvements that will help us suffer less. While the motivational power of self-criticism comes from fear of self-punishment, the motivational power of self-compassion comes from the desire to be healthy. Self-compassion recognizes that failure is not only inevitable, but it’s also our best teacher, something to be explored rather than avoided at all costs. Self-compassion also allows us to acknowledge areas of personal weakness by recognizing that imperfection is part of the shared human experience. We can then work on improving ourselves, not because we’re unacceptable as we are, but because we want to thrive and be happy.
- Self-Compassion Break.
Think of a situation in your life that is difficult, that is causing you stress. Call the situation to mind, and see if you can actually feel the stress and emotional discomfort in your body.
Now, say to yourself:
- This is a moment of suffering
That’s mindfulness. Other options include:
This is stress.
- Suffering is a part of life
That’s common humanity. Other options include:
Other people feel this way.
I’m not alone.
We all struggle in our lives.
- May I be kind to myself
You can also ask yourself, “What do I need to hear right now to express kindness to myself?” Is there a phrase that speaks to you in your particular situation, such as:
May I give myself the compassion that I need
May I learn to accept myself as I am
May I forgive myself
May I be strong.
May I be patient
This practice can be used any time of day or night, and will help you remember to evoke the three aspects of self-compassion when you need it most.
- Mindfulness of body practice.
This practice offers space to experience sensations fully, openly and with awareness.
- Find a place where you can sit comfortably, settling into an upright posture—perhaps on a chair with a firm seat, with the spine self-supporting, hands on thighs. Let the body be upright, but without straining or stiffening. You can close the eyes, or have them open, perhaps letting the gaze fall downwards. Notice how this posture feels right now.
- Open up awareness and notice sensations in the whole body. Be aware of contact, texture and temperature in parts of you touching the floor, chair, clothes, other body regions, the air around—as well as internal sensations, such as tightening, relaxing, pressure, fatigue, heat, cold, aching, and so on.
- As best you can bring interest to pleasant and unpleasant sensations, allowing them to be felt fully. Be aware of preferences—liking some sensations and not liking others—and notice when and how you’re getting caught up in or resisting them. Be curious about any changes in location, intensity or quality of sensation.
- When you see the mind wander into thinking, gently let go of thoughts and come back to feeling. When you notice the mind wandering elsewhere (e.g. to sounds), acknowledge this also, bringing it back, as best you can, with kindness.
- If the mind feels very scattered, or sensations are particularly intense, you could come back to mindfulness of breathing for a time, using the breath as an anchor for attention once more. Open up to the whole body again as you feel ready. Perhaps imagine that you’re breathing into and out from the entire body.
- After you’ve practiced, experiment with staying present to body sensations as you move into whatever comes next in your day.
- Commit to one mindful breath each day.
Breath in and out and preserve the momentum of your practice
Like any new skill, it takes practice.
Be compassionate with yourself and remember you don’t have to do it all at once—don’t feel like you’ve failed if you have a fearful or anxious thought.
This is not a linear process and frankly, a certain amount of fear and anxiety is normal.