Brain Hacks, Mindfulness, Minimalism

Slice of Life

Destination Simple: Everyday rituals for a slower life” by Brooke Mcalary is a slight and rather inconspicuous book, brimming with masterful mindfulness exercises. Its key premise is that by intentionally manipulating your daily habits, you can wield these into viable rituals and what is referred to in the book as rhythms. Thus slowing down and simplifying your life.

She prescribes seven solutions or exercises to undertake each day to attain this lofty goal:

  1. Single-tasking: Complete focus on one task.
  2. Unplugging: Basically no electronics for 15 minutes.
  3. Emptying your mind: A mindfulness technique to relive your brain of nagging thoughts.
  4. Three point to do list: Making to do lists containing only the three most important tasks to complete.
  5. Gratitude: Listing 5 things you are grateful for.
  6. Morning routine: Developing a morning ritual of various tasks (both necessary and voluntary).
  7. Evening routine: The same as the morning routine but after dinner.

By incorporating one or all of these exercises, a simplified rhythm can be achieved. Many of these concepts and exercises seemed quite familiar, as they are essentially mindfulness devices. However their benefit lies in their practical application to a rather turbulent and typical home life. Each exercise is brief (except perhaps for numbers 6 and 7), and serves as both an organisational and reflective tool. They provide you with a method to organise yourself, that is simple and effective. All in all, a very helpful little guide.

“Learn to enjoy the slice of life you experience, and life turns out to be wonderful.” – Leo Babauta

Brain Hacks, Mindfulness

Re-programming my central operating system: the brain

Mindfulness is all about focusing on your current experience. It’s training your brain to be in the moment, to observe the moment and detach yourself from negative responses and ways of thinking. It’s basically pulling the brakes on your automatic pilot and letting you assess the situation from a calmer place. At least that’s my round about way of describing it.

The 5 Keys to mindfulness:

  1. Observation
  2. Description
  3. Immersion
  4. Non judgement
  5. Focus

Observation requires you to shift from thinking mode into sensing mode. A good way to do this is to close your eyes and focus on your breathing, your body, any physical sensations you feel (like the feel of your clothes on your skin) and so on, going through all your senses so that you are fully experiencing the moment. It’s as simple as just allowing yourself to actually notice the stimuli around you.

Description is then putting adjectives to those observations. To do so you have to really try to notice their nuances. For example, right now when I close my eyes I can hear the rain outside my window and the hum of the laptop. Some adjectives I can apply to these observations are gentle, quiet, light, soothing and soft. Ultimately you will want to start using this technique on your feelings. Observing the emotions you’re experiencing and then putting adjectives to them can help clarify your feelings.

Immersion is participating fully and experiencing the whole situation without excluding things. It’s allowing yourself to feel your emotions, all of them. Anger, frustration, boredom, listlessness, hunger, or whatever the case may be. It’s about noticing every component of whatever you are doing. It’s not easy because when you try to do it, you end up realizing just how much stimuli and information your brain automatically tunes out.

Non judgment is the hardest and easiest thing to do. But it’s amazing. Mostly because it allows you to identify your sensitivities. Basically you are trying to maintain an accepting attitude towards your experience. Accepting observations and descriptions without evaluating them. That is an extremely easy task when it comes to things you don’t care about. Being non judgmental about the sound of rain is simple, but when it comes to a more sensitive issue simple it is not. Someone once said “we are our own worst critics” and when it comes to observing and describing your feelings without judgment, that inner critic is in bedlam. Mindfulness asks you to silence that inner critic. Give him a nice cup of tea and a book to read, leaving you to experience the moment without judging it as wrong or right, without controlling or avoiding it.

Focus is the fifth and final key. Come to think of it, there may be more than five. Oh well. Focusing on one thing at a time is another important aspect to this process. Unfortunately random thoughts will distract you from your observations, and that’s completely normal. Especially when you’re just starting and even if you’ve been practicing mindfulness for years. It’s your thinking mode trying to switch back on by overriding the current system. So focus, be aware when this happens and switch it back to sensing mode. It’s no big deal.

So this is what I’m doing. Or at least what I’m trying to do. I figure re-programming my brain is my best option for future bliss. It will be interesting to see how self help books touch upon mindfulness concepts and tools, and whether they identify their doctrines as a form of mindfulness at all. I suppose I have some reading to do.

Brain Hacks

Culture or Cult

With so many self help books available nowadays, the concept of better living through books has become its own industry. Culture or cult? It all depends on how you look at it… or maybe just how large the twitter following is.

There are countless titles available, leaving it up to the layman (although let’s face it, laywoman would be more accurate) to sensibly select a doctrine by which they may attain their most elusive desires. Provided they actually know what they are.

As I am attempting to improve myself this year, I’ve decided to give the literature an opportunity to enlighten me.

The book I’ve chosen to kick off this exploration in lifestyle development is Dr Sarah Edelmans “Change your thinking”. It’s central thesis involves utilising CBT (cognitive behavior therapy) and mindfulness techniques to analyse and control negative thinking. It is quite interesting in that it discusses how to edit your thoughts in a very detached way. Filled with both textbook definitions and shockingly astute examples, the book truly shines through its execution of guided exercises. Providing the reader with practical techniques and tools they can immediately incorporate into their lives, as opposed to vague references on how the theories should work.

Personally I found the chapter discussing faulty thinking to be extremely beneficial in its provision of techniques, but more specifically of vocabulary.

For example, let’s say this rather upsetting thought runs through your head: “Nobody cares. I’m a burden to everyone.” The book would suggest that you identify and label that particular thought, before allowing it to escalate from thought to emotion. To actually stop and analyse whether this is a case of faulty thinking or truth.

Possible labels you may attach to this thought are:

  • That it’s an assumption, because it’s jumping to negative conclusions without adequate information.
  • It’s filtering, in that it only focuses on the negative elements and ignores the rest.
  • It’s over generalizing, is it even accurate? Are you really a burden to everyone? What about the people you’ve never even met? What about your pets?

By placing labels to such thoughts, you’re able to take a step back from them. Give yourself some distance and turn them into the intangible and often abstract nonsense that they actually are.

“Change your thinking” is perhaps one of the better options from the self help arena of your local bookstore. It’s foundations rest in CBT (an approach commonly practiced by clinical psychologists, which includes the author herself), bestowing upon it a certain credibility and heft. Although this denseness may result in a need for pause and reflection or multiple readings, it nevertheless maintains clear and concise methods for the reader to employ.