Books, Brain Hacks, Mindfulness

Happy Memories = Smiling Mind

While reading the “Smiling Mind: Mindfulness Made Easy” by Jane Martino and James Tutton, I came across many, and I do mean many, really useful mindfulness exercises. I find it extremely helpful when self help books become instructional, it makes it so much easier to put the theory into practice. It’s also makes it less stressful to glean results. Exercise 9 was one of my favourites, so I thought I’d share it with you. However I would definitely suggest picking up this book for more options. Alternatively there is also an app you can download and a website to visit.

So here we go:

Step 1: Sit or lie down, but try to maintain an aligned posture as you do so. You can use pillows or folded blankets to help ensure support, but be sure you feel comfortable in that position.

Step 2. Take some deep breaths, and observe how it goes in and out of your body. You can even place your hands on your belly and feel it expand and contract.

Step 3. Recall an experience or situation which made you extremely happy. Try to remember it in great detail, consider the sounds, smells and sights. See if you can relive it using all of your senses.

Step 4. Notice the physical sensations this memory elicits. Where and how do you feel happiness? Is it a warmth in your stomach? Do you feel butterflies? Take some deep breaths and explore these sensations, but be sure not to identify with the emotions. The goal is to observe rather than to experience.

Step 5. Take a few deep breaths and this time try to recall an unpleasant experience or situation. Something that made you feel angry or sad, and once more see if you can relive it in great detail.

Step 6. Once again explore the physical sensations this memory creates. Where does it manifest physically, and how is this different from the sensation of happiness? Let yourself observe the differences between them, while taking a step back from actually feeling these emotions.

Congratulations! You are all done. How do you feel?
Personally I really enjoy this exercise, it makes me feel in control of my emotions and more aware of how I am physically processing them. The breathing also allows me to stay calm, and see those situations in different ways.

Please let me know if you tried and enjoyed this exercise, or if you have any mindfulness exercises or books to recommend. I’d very much appreciate it.
Until next time 🙂

Books, Mindfulness, Minimalism

Tidying Up

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” by Marie KondĹŤ has an enormous title. However as it’s really interesting and also has a Manga version, I will forgive the grievance. As far as I’m concerned Marie Kondō  can do no wrong!

Once you put your home in order, your life will change drastically. It’s the MAGIC that this book talks about. Success is 90% your mindset, but If you don’t acquire the correct technique you will undoubtedly rebound in your progress.

In terms of technique:

You just need to look at each object, one at a time, and then decide two things:
1. Whether you want to keep it?
2. Where you want to put it?
That’s it.

Undertake this process by category rather than by location. I.e. Clothes, books, eating utensils as opposed to lounge room, bedroom, bath etc. And start with the least sentimental categories, the practical stuff before you work your way through to the physical and emotional baggage.

Most importantly though, you need to tidy up all in one session. Get it done and dusted and you will find that it’s easier to maintain.

There are obviously many other components of this process, this is just an overview so read the book! You won’t regret it.

Books, Brain Hacks, Mindfulness, Minimalism, Motivation

One Thing

Change One Thing” another relatively small self help book by Sue Hadfield, is in some ways pretty straight forward and predictable, and yet it remains entirely helpful for the self help novice. It’s premise is simple: making just one change (however small) can impact the rest of your life. Although throughout its pages it suggests many small changes to assist in projecting this impact.

The past is over and only exists when you choose to recall it. Therefore you cannot let it get you down, instead see your mistakes or regrets as examples of how change will come to you whether you invite it or not. Start being pro-active about this unstoppable foe: Change!

• Motivation
It all begins with motivation. You want to be aware that you are living a life worth living while living it.
• Identification
Know who you are and what it is that you want. Know your values and embrace them.
• Recognition
Having purpose in life is in many ways more powerful than having your perceived “needs” met. Don’t delay following your purpose because you have yet to meet those needs. It’s like saying “I can’t do something until I get a better job” when by following your purpose or passion your inner life would be happier and that in turn would colour your outer life. A great life can be as easy as fulfilling your own potential.
• Procrastination
Procrastination is basically resistance to change. It stems from the belief that you either aren’t capable of change or you have to wait until change comes for you and you have no other choice. You may seek instant gratification and therefore become impatient with those small steps that eventually become a big change, or are a perfectionist afraid of making a mistake and therefore put things off. Instead of focusing on the negative outcomes try focusing on the positives.
• Inspiration
Clarify your goals, success comes from preparation, planning, research and staying power. So prepare! Research the changes you wish to make and ask questions about the process from people who have already been there, done that. Look at how these changes align with your values.
• Preparation
Keep on learning, keep on gathering information and prepare yourself for the inevitable setbacks. Success isn’t about luck it’s about persistence.
• Implementation
It’s all about finding time and working towards your purpose. There’s a danger in being busy doing things that don’t bring value or joy to your life. Don’t let life become a treadmill where you loose track of your values or purpose.
• Determination
Start now and keep going. Resilience is key, and a part of that is understanding and welcoming obstacles as a chance to see how far you come and re-evaluate your plans.

It’s all relatively obvious, but empowering regardless. A great book and one that actually takes the time to identify and describe the entire process from start to finish. Which is actually quite a unique feat for a self help book.

Brain Hacks, Mindfulness

Anchor

Another rather wonderful mindfulness exercise: dropping anchor.
Basically this is a technique to assist you in releasing yourself from your everyday automatic pilot. It’s about focusing on your physical self in that particular moment, so you are able to fully implement mindfulness breathing and observation strategies.
It is very simple. You begin by planting both feet on the floor. Once you attain stability, begin tuning into the sensations in your body. Notice your legs and the feel of the floor, what they are touching, what are they connected to, everything including the heat within your own body. Slowly work your way up noticing your breath, your chest rising and falling. Feel the air come in and then out.
Take the time to really be in your body and to enjoy the sensation of being alive. Observe your body. Anchor yourself in the present moment and just breathe. Then start observing the things around you. The way your body interacts with these things.
I’m finding it to be a very useful tool in calming myself down. Distracting myself from any momentary stress.
Brain Hacks, Mindfulness, Minimalism

Evening Rhythms

Attempting to orchestrate an evening rhythm is no easy task.

If you happened upon my previous blog post about Brooke Mcalarys mindfulness book “Destination Simple” you will understand the exercise I am referring to. But perhaps not the frustration I felt in being unable to undertake it successfully.
The problem is that I get it into my head that everything needs to be worked out immediately, with immediately conveniently being right before bedtime. But the urgency I feel in needing to deal with these “issues” does not represent or correspond with the actual necessities of the moment. It’s not a part of the flow I so dutifully constructed in accordance to the book.

In my search for a solution I came across a really useful trick called allocating worry time. It does take a bit of practice (a lot of practice), but it’s completely worth it because it does work.
So basically you want to begin by taking some deep breaths. Focusing on your inhale and exhale, on the rise and fall of your chest as you breath in and out. Basically trying to relax your body and to let go of your physical tension.
When your mind starts to think about this or that, when you start planning or obsessing, you need to imagine a red light. And you want to tell yourself to stop. You might want to say this out loud or just in your head. But you need to tell yourself to stop.
Say to yourself, “Now is the time to sleep. You will worry about this for an hour tomorrow, at 2 pm.”
The exact time you choose to schedule in your worry is up to you, but it is very important to be specific. Be sure to specify not only the exact time, but also how long you plan to worry about it. Then go back to your relaxation exercises. The moment any of those thoughts come back, just run through the exercise again. See the red light, tell yourself to stop. Now is not the time, tomorrow at 2 pm is the time and you will have a whole hour to figure it out.
The most important thing though, is to follow through with the scheduling. The next day at 2 pm, or whenever you have designated to do it, sit down and think about whatever it was that you were so focused on the night before. Spend that time planning, organizing and worrying about it.
That is it. That’s the trick. It just takes practice and consistency (my two least favourite words) and you can incorporate it into both your evening and morning routines for ease of use.

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.