Being Mindful is very powerful and can improve our life in so many aspects. In this post I will introduce you to some of the skills and exercises that you can implement into your life.
If you suffer from Anxiety, or have anger management concerns, you may find this article very helpful.
Mindfulness skills are the vehicles for balancing emotion and reasonable minds. There are three “What” Skills (Observing, describing and participation) and three “how” skills (taking a non-judgmental stance, focusing on one things in the moment and being effective)
“What” Skill 1 – Observing
1 – Observing
Attending to events, emotions and other behavior responses without necessarily trying to end them because they’re painful or prolong them when they are pleasant.
What we learn is to allow ourselves to experience with awareness, in the moment, whatever is happening rather than leaving a situation or trying to end an emotion. Generally, the ability to attend to events requires the ability to step back from the event itself.
Example: I hate hanging up the washing. But rather than pay attention to the “I hate” I carefully attend to the clothes and intensely observe. I observe the feeling of the textures of the clothing. Perhaps I notice the slight breeze and how that feels on my face. Or I notice the smell of the freshly washed clothes, the different colours of the pegs, the creases in the clothes, and how one type of clothing seems to be dryer than the other style even though they were washed at the same time.
I observe all these features rather than letting my emotional mind let me curse and hate every piece of clothing, or count how many more to go. I live in the moment and observe (without judgement – we will come to that later)
On the flip side, I love listening to music. I try to listen to the music without letting my emotional mind control the situation. This is hard as I want to sing along and smile and while this is pleasurable, I try to observe the music instead. Then I listen to a piece of music that I do not like, but rather than let my emotion mind take control, I try to observe the music itself. Or maybe an element of the music such as the singer or a certain instrument. I never used to like to listen to Jimmy Hendrix, but by observing, I picked up a very interesting guitar break in the song and observed this piece of the music as opposed to turning the music off because my emotional mind tells me I don’t like it.
When we talk about Anger Management, learning the skill of Observing can have significant changes to how we react to Anger. Picture a moment when Anger started to build for you. Can you recollect if you observed what was going on around you? The passing car and its passengers? The sounds of the street, the tones of the voices, what people were wearing etc?
Most often we are caught in the situation and react to our emotion mind, as opposed to our wise mind. Observing is the first skillset of the “what” skills in mindfulness.
Can you think of a situation in your life in which using this skill might have been helpful? How do you think the outcome would have been different? Can you make a plan to use it in a situation that is upcoming and might be difficult?
“Being in the moment and observing without judging or putting a value on something”
“What” Skill 2 – Describing
2 – Describing
This follows in par with Observing. One would describe by saying to themselves statements about what one observes. Let’s look at hanging the cloths up.
I could say things to myself (one is not required to shout these out, more like just a quiet voice in the mind is all that is needed)
“The breeze feels pleasant on my face and cools me down a tad”
“The feeling of this shirt is silky”
The describing skill helps us remain in the present. During distressful moments when there is no one to talk to, this skill can be used to ground us and by describing aloud the things one can feel and see will help you stay in the present.
The use of “I’ language can be brought in to describe and apply verbal labels to feelings;
“I feel disappointed about missing the party”
“I sense my feelings of being happy to be meeting up with my mate tomorrow”
“Today I have to go and do the shopping and I feel frustrated by that”
“I Acknowledge that I feel tired after such a long day at work”
Being able to verbally describe events is necessary to both communicate our thoughts and feelings to others and also to help us manage our feelings.
Remember, we need to learn not to take our thoughts and emotions literally, as gospel.
As an example, feeling afraid does not necessarily mean that something is threatening or dangerous to us. Our fear may come from some past experience, or from something that has some connection to the current situation, or from confusion about the event that triggers our fears.
Also it is important to note that having a feeling or thought about something does not mean that that thought or feeling is fact.
Example could be “no one likes me” or “I am un-lovable” does not validate these statements as true. They are just thoughts or feelings (see the exercise “Taking the thought or feeling to court” further down in this blog)
By practicing to describe the events around us and putting our feelings into words, helps us to figure out whether such thoughts and feelings actually fit the situation.
Example – you may have an exam coming up. You may feel anxious and nervous. You may think “I am going to fail this exam”
Describe those feelings
A – Do you have any physical symptoms (sweaty hands, butterflies in your stomach etc?)
B – Describe your thoughts. What are you thinking about this exam?
C – Are these thoughts connected with the exam?
D – Are your feelings actually connected with the outcome of the exam? (Remember that you don’t actually know the outcome yet)
By following this strategy, it helps us see how the thoughts and feelings are actually separate from the event. These thoughts are feelings are just what they are, thoughts and feelings. This doesn’t mean that the thoughts and feelings are not real. Of course they are real, but they are not the event or the situation itself. They do not necessarily explain or predict events in our lives.
I invite you to pick one experience that you have. Cooking a meal, going for a walk, watching TV etc. Observe this experience, without judging or evaluating it.
Describe what you are doing or seeing. What do you see, hear, and touch?
Give words to your feelings. Keep them free from judgements or evaluations.
Can you see that your thoughts and feelings about the situation are separate from the experience itself?
Keep a journal, for a day or more. Recording your experiences, what you observe. Observe your feelings and describe them on paper. See how this works.
“What” Skill 3 – Participating
Participation is about awareness. It’s about being totally present when engaging in an activity.
Example – Think of how a child learns something new. How they focus on the activity with their child like curiosity and how they listen or learn the instructions. The concentration involved to allow an understanding of what they are learning. If you have the chance, watch a child discovering something new. Everything is new to them at first. See how they are curious, how they use their senses to explore.
We can practice this in our adult life.
We have the ability to learn to know what we are doing, when we are doing it.
It is possible to be present in everything that we do.
The beauty of being present is that we allow ourselves to leave our problems and sorrows or attitudes behind so that we can concentrate on what we are doing right here and now.
We can be in the “moment” and this allows us to step back from our lives and thoughts and can be aware that we are alive in this moment and we are okay right now. This can be especially helpful when you are in distress.
Exercise 1 – Mindful Driving
As an exercise, try, the next time you are driving, to fully engage in the experience. As opposed to thinking about if you are going to get to the destination on time, or what the meeting holds, try to instead, pay total attention exclusively to the driving. Notice things that you may not normally notice (maybe a building or an amazing tree), notice the sounds around you. Notice the different smells as you drive through different areas. All while of course, paying attention to the safety aspects of the drive.
See how you feel when you arrive at your destination as opposed to how you might have arrived should you have been spending the whole time thinking about possible future situations or lost in memories or concerns. It talks practice and if thoughts enter your mind, try to simply accept they are there and return your focus to the driving experience.
The end goal here is that with practice, we are able to participate fully and engage in the moment without self-consciousness.
By the way, it’s Okay to have fun doing this!
Exercise 2 – Taking the thought or feeling to court
Taking the thought or feeling to court
When we have thoughts such as “No one likes me” or “I am unlovable” we can take a moment to put that thought to court
Perhaps you might like to give the thought a name as it goes into court to stand trial.
Mr. or Mrs. “I am unlovable” is now in the dock (you can badge the thought with any name that you see fit)
You are now the defense attorney and your roles are to both defend the truthfulness of the thought, and also the role of the prosecuting attorney attempting to undermine the truthfulness of the thought (known in CBT as the Negative Automatic Thought or NAT)
What we generally see here is that the thought (NAT) cannot be determined as 100% true or in many occasions, there lies no truth at all in the validity of the thought.
Remember, automatic thoughts are not facts, but they are so immediate and familiar that we often assume them to be true.
“How Skills” 1 – Nonjudgmental Stance
This stance really puts the jigsaw pieces together. We are conditioned as a human being to place judgement on our observations.
As an example;
You may be reading this blog and thinking, “I won’t remember this”, or “I won’t be able to do this” or” what is this guy talking about?” maybe something else, but these thoughts are what is known as a judgement of the observation and is not helpful.
Another example could be
You receive information about a job that has become available and you instantly find yourself thinking about if you are good enough for the job, or you start thinking about the fears of the first day at the new job. Perhaps you automatically think that other people will have a better chance of getting the job than you.
This is again judgement of the observation and is not helpful
The point of taking a nonjudgmental stance is to give ourselves an opportunity to observe the same old things that we always observe in our minds or in the environment or about other people, but we open ourselves to thinking about it in a different way. So if we can remain without judgement and simply observe it instead and note it, we can then let it go. This allows us put aside all the negative thoughts and focus our attention to the actual situation. We can think and problem solve much better when we focus in the moment, rather than be led by negative / emotional thought.
Let’s take another scenario
You and your partner are at home having a discussion. You notice that your heart is starting to beat faster when the discussion starts to heat up. It is common for this to be a trigger (or any other symptom that you individually feel when a discussion heats up) and for you to think along the lines of;
“It’s your partner’s fault that your pulse is starting to race”
“They don’t listen to you and now they are shouting…..”
The situation intensifies and you begin to shout back at your partner. Before you know it, it’s a full blown argument.
How about this instead? Say to yourself;
“I notice that my heart rate is faster during these discussions with my partner”
Resist making a judgment about why your heart rate is beating fast or what you partner is doing. Instead, notice that change in pitch of your partner’s voice.
Resist the judgement as to why their pitch is higher, or what it means to you (If you cannot resist the judgement, just observe the judgement and withhold any further judgement).
Next you may still notice other areas of your body rising to the heat (perhaps you feel a flush coming on, or something else in your body). Again force yourself to simply observe the feeling without any judgement. Finally you will notice that you will start to regain composure, freeing yourself from the prison of emotional pain.
As your felling of anger diminish you may well start to hear the pain in your partner’s voice. You don’t judge that pain. Instead you let them have their pain and just listen.
This is known as “Healing rather than seeing”
In time and with practice, you will be able to perfect this skill and be able to use it for so many situations in life.
When someone avoids you when you are walking down the road. No longer will you be tempted to think that they were avoiding you because you think you are unlikable. Instead if such a thought comes in, you will have made a decision not to judge your observations and those false thoughts do not concern you.
Exercise 3 – Mundane tasks
The next time you do a mundane task, try to observing and describing as you complete the task. Notice when your mind begins to make a judgement. Do not get caught up in this judgement (or the fact that you made one). Just notice that your mind is judging and let the judgement go. See if you can continue to pay attention in more circumstances, like when you judge an observation, or when you see someone at the office or across the street. Basically it can be anything, the main thing is that you begin to notice when you start to judge what you observe so that you can begin to see what it feels like and gain skill in catching yourself in judging observations.
Exercise 4 – Observing and describing emotionally charged situations
See if you can observe and describe in more emotionally charged situations. Remember to notice your judgements, but not get caught up n them. Notice the judgement in the same way that you notice the tone of voice as an example.
See if it is easier to let go of emotionally charged reactions when you withhold judgements. Parts of observing is also withholding assumptions. Describe your observations to the other person.
“I am noticing that you are raising your voice”
“Why are you doing this?”
“I am curious, tell me what makes you want to say that to me?”
Does the situation seem different to you? Are you seeing it in another way? Is the other way more healing?
Exercise 5 – Mindful eating
Eating a raisin
Place a few raisins in your hand. If you don’t have raisins, any food will do. Imagine that you have just come to Earth from a distant planet without such food.
Now, with this food in hand, you can begin to explore it with all of your senses.
Focus on one of the objects as if you’ve never seen anything like it before. Focus on seeing this object. Scan it, exploring every part of it, as if you’ve never seen such a thing before. Turn it around with your fingers and notice what color it is. Notice the folds and where the surface reflects light or becomes darker.
Next, explore the texture, feeling any softness, hardness, coarseness, or smoothness.
While you’re doing this, if thoughts arise such as “Why am I doing this weird exercise?” “How will this ever help me?” or “I hate these objects,” then just see if you can acknowledge these thoughts, let them be, and then bring your awareness back to the object.
Take the object beneath your nose and carefully notice the smell of it.
Bring the object to one ear, squeeze it, roll it around, and hear if there is any sound coming from it.
Begin to slowly take the object to your mouth, noticing how the arm knows exactly where to go and perhaps becoming aware of your mouth watering.
Gently place the object in your mouth, on your tongue, without biting it. Simply explore the sensations of this object in your mouth.
Ready to Eat
When you’re ready, intentionally bite down on the object, maybe noticing how it automatically goes to one side of the mouth versus the other. Also notice the tastes it releases.
Slowly chew this object. Be aware of the saliva in your mouth and how the object changes in consistency as you chew.
When you feel ready to swallow, consciously notice the intention to swallow, then see if you can notice the sensations of swallowing the raisin, sensing it moving down to your throat and into your esophagus on its way to your stomach.
Take a moment to congratulate yourself for taking this time to experience mindful eating.
Ask yourself truly – Was it more enjoyable than gulping down the raisins while you scan the latest news on your phone?
Mindfulness has to do with the quality of awareness that we bring to what we are doing and experiencing, to bring in the here and now. It has to do with learning to focus on being in the present, to focusing our attention on what we are doing and what is happening in the present.
We have to learn to control our attention. Many of us are distracted by images, thoughts and feelings of the past, perhaps dissociating, worrying about the future, negative moods and anxieties about the present. It is sometimes hard to put these things away and concentrate on the task at hand.
While you read this blog you may find yourself judging the words you read, or thinking about your anxieties. Please do not judge yourself about this. Mindfulness can be difficult to learn as a new skill. It requires lots of practice and willingness, but it is very rewarding.
Be patient with yourself.
The idea of one-mindfully is to do one thing at a time.
Attempt to change your daily routines
If you are eating – eat. We all know the temptation to pick up our phone and rad the latest Facebook updates, or check in on events around the world. Perhaps you find that you must watch TV when you eat. But resist the temptation. Eat and enjoy all the pleasures of eating rather than shoving food down your throat as quickly as you can while you give your attention towards your phone or the screen.
When you are working – work. Don’t try to work and worry about something else going on in your life. Leave that to another time. Concentrate on your work, explore your work. Give your time to being present while you work.
When you are talking with a friend – talk to your friend. Don’t try to be texting someone else or thinking about what you are doing tomorrow while you talk to your friend. Be curious about what they are saying. Withhold judgement and be present.
The reason for this is so that you can give your full attention to what you are doing and do your best job. But it is also so that you will feel completely present and not fragmented when you are doing these important things.
There are many techniques for introducing mindfulness into your life and enjoying the numerous benefits that it has;
Mindfulness can help in so many areas of your life. It is a great tool for dealing with Anger Management and Addictions alongside a whole host of other concerns.
In my next post, I will dive deeper into the beauty of becoming mindful in your life.
If you would like to learn more about these skills, techniques and how they can help you, please reach out to me here at Colwill Counselling.
During my research I was enlightened by the wise minds of dbtselfhelp and therefore express my thanks to https://www.dbtselfhelp.com/