Does your brain produce a lot of negative internal chatter? If so, it may be because the part of our brain that is the center for emotions, the amygdala, uses about two-thirds of its neurons to detect negative experiences or threats. This can result in our focusing more on the negative, even if we are experiencing as many – or more – positive things. This tendency is part of the human condition. While it still has usefulness in modern life, for many of us this system is over-active.
Our inner critic is looking for problems. However, we don’t need to listen to it. Being nicer to ourselves is a good strategy to improve our well-being and reduce stress. We can learn how to do this even if it is not our natural tendency.
Dr. Kristin Neff, a researcher who specializes in self-compassion, says it has three parts:
- Self-kindness: “Self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals.”
- Recognizing our experiences are part of the shared human experience
- Being mindful or non-judgemental
Learn more tips, watch videos and find additional resources at Dr. Neff’s Self Compassion website.
Negativity also has an impact on the people around us. For tips on how to counter this in the workplace, see this blog post from Psychology Today: Are We Hardwired to be Positive or Negative?
Wanting to achieve a goal can be useful to get us motivated. However, “keeping your eye on the prize” does not give any clues about how to get to that goal. Whether it’s completing all 10 sessions of structural integration, walking 10,000 steps per day, or accomplishing results on a project, the path to success is often a more gradual process rather than one eureka moment.
Making a plan is an effective way to get to the eventual goal. Identifying steps needed to get to the goal and some milestones along the way is a good start. Thinking ahead about how to get around roadblocks that might come up and establishing routines for your project can be really helpful.
Obviously, things will occasionally come up that put us off track. No need to give up, just return to the process. Some advice I received is to follow the plan 80% of the time and ask for support or assistance when needed. I try to keep that in mind, be patient, and enjoy the moments on my way to the eventual goal.
Saucha (or sometimes, sauca) is one of the Niyamas in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. It is often translated as purification or cleanliness. In the sutras, we learn that both the body and mind need to be made clean and ready for the practice of yoga.
Off the mat, there are also a number of benefits to cultivating saucha, in the sense of self care. People often put themselves last when they are busy when the opposite approach would likely serve them better. If you take good care of yourself, that’s when you will have enough physical, mental and emotional reserves to also be able to manage your responsibilities. Receiving bodywork, either on an as-needed basis or on a regular schedule, is an important way to take care of your body.
Here are some thoughts by Rolf Gates about sauca, from his wonderful book Meditations from the Mat.
The people I admired seemed to be treating their bodies well … I had a sense that these habits were an extension of the love these individuals felt toward themselves and others … Our body is the home of our spirit. It is the means by which we enact our beliefs. Therefore, the maintenance of the body is a spiritual duty, an act of love not only toward ourselves but toward all humanity.
I was sifting through a stack of articles when I rediscovered one from Yoga Journal, called Begin Again by Mirka Scalco Kraftsow. It covers several strategies to help guide one to new beginnings.
One section of the article brings a yoga perspective to cognitive reframing. This is a tool that can help us change unhealthy behaviors or thoughts to a different, more positive path. The exercise is based on a practice mentioned in the Yoga Sutras called Pratipaksha Bhavana.
Sutra 2.33 is a translated here by Nischala Joy Devi:”When presented with disquieting thoughts or feelings, cultivate an opposite, elevated attitude. This is Pratipaksha Bhavana.”
Here is a summary of the four steps from the article:
“1. Take a deep breath. Name the problem … Only when you are aware of your unconscious patterns can you choose a different thought or course of action.
2. Remind yourself that it’s OK to make mistakes. … [Adopt] an attitude of loving-kindness toward yourself.
3. Express gratitude toward yourself for noticing the behavior and for being aware of its unpleasant effect … Be grateful that you want to make a positive change and that you are choosing to be more caring toward yourself and others.
4. Finally, let your desire to create better habits direct your vital force toward thoughts and actions that truly serve you—and choose your next steps consciously.”
I had lunch with friends today, some whom have plans this year for major life overhauls related to their diet and health. January 1st is a popular time to start new, healthy habits. I’ve done it, myself.
At home afterwards, I was browsing the archives of Zen Habits. As you may know, Leo Babauta has made many significant changes in his life over the course of time. However, he wrote a post last February called “You’re Not Doing Life Wrong.” I thought it was a nice reminder to be gentle with ourselves. Maybe all those resolutions are not strictly necessary. He says:
There’s an everpresent underlying feeling that most of us have that we could be doing things better. That we’re not sure how to live life. That we’re doing things wrong. … Now see how you are enough. Just as you are. Without any need for improvement. You are also a wonder, exactly enough.
I hope 2016 will be a year in which you will see the wonder in yourself and truly flourish!
I recently read a book called Your Are Not Your Pain by Vidyamala Burch and Danny Penman. This book is about mindfulness-based pain management. Their organization in England is called Breathworks. They offer online courses and downloads, and sometimes have classes in the US.
One of the concepts I especially liked in the book is using a body scan to help integrate your body and mind. Wellness and healing includes the body, mind and spirit. If your mind and body are not connected and communicating well, you are at a disadvantage in improving your wellbeing.
- photo by Barbara Conti
The meditation focuses on the breath as you take your awareness through the body. Whether you have a concern with chronic pain or not, I think this is a useful practice. You can listen to this guided meditation, along with other sample exercises from the US publisher’s web site. It is Meditation 1.
Here are two quotations from a book I’ve mentioned previously. It’s by Mayo Clinic doctor Amit Sood and is called Train Your Brain, Engage Your Heart, Transform Your Life. He calls it a course in Attention and Interpretation Therapy or cultivating heartfulness. More commonly, it’s mindfulness.
Most people who are happy do not look at happiness as a primary goal. They are happy because they enjoy what they do (pre- or post-retirement), are closely bonded with their loved ones, and have a general sense of who they are and what is the purpose of their lives. Happiness is a byproduct of the choices you make.
Do not postpone joy waiting for a day when life will be perfect and all your stressors will be gone. Your opportunity to live the best life you can is in this very moment.
This book seems to have now been republished in two parts, The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living and The Mayo Clinic Handbook for Happiness.
Resilient Living website – Dr Sood’s online program and blog