Mindfulness is a technique and when practiced can become a discipline of being in the moment. It is easy for us to get caught up in our thoughts, and plans for the future and anxieties of the past that we forget to be present. Our thoughts have a significant impact on how we feel and behave, which is why it is important to bring out minds back into our current physical state. When we are overwhelmed with worry about a potential future event, bringing ourselves back to this current minute and reminding ourselves that we are safe, and alive and that future we have imagined is not real and may never happen can help calm us down.
Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre states "An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. That might be something as simple as the feel of a banister as we walk upstairs.” You can practice mindfulness anywhere and in total stealth mode. As Dr. Williams suggests focus on your senses, touch, taste, smell, hearing, and sight. When you find yourself caught up in your thoughts and they aren't helping your mood, take some time to come back to the present and focus on how your clothes feel on your body (touch), the taste and texture of your food (taste), the smells of your home (smell), the noise of the tube on the tracks on your commute home (hearing), and really notice the people around you in the restaurant you are sitting in (sight).
Have you found yourself going to a person you love feeling lonely or frustrated seeking comfort or a place to vent and then coming away feeling entirely unsatisfied with the response? The boyfriend you called to vent to was preoccupied, the parent did not hear your feelings and yet again gave you terrible advice. I call this ‘Going to the hardware store for milk.’ You go to the hardware store and say “do you sell milk here” and the store keeper says “No, we have nails and hammers and drills, but no milk” and you leave feeling disappointed and not getting any milk. A few days later you return to the store “Sir, do you sell milk?”, “No I’m sorry, we still don’t sell any milk. I can offer you building materials” and again you leave with no milk. This time you may even leave angry at the store for not having the milk, despite the fact that have now told you twice that they don’t have milk. Maybe it is you that needs to find a grocery store.
The problem we face in relationships is knowing who can give us what. Some people are supportive and kind, but they aren’t that useful when it comes to career advice. Others are great for a night out to have fun with, but they would not know how to help you cry after a break-up. For some reason we are better at knowing that our friend Will is good for cheering us up, and Sarah the best listener and choosing the right friend to go to. We, however, aren’t so good at seeing that mum for some reason really can’t take our career seriously and then are left wondering why she gives terrible career advice or offers us some money despite that fact that we make a very decent living. There seems to be a part of us that longs for the time when our parents were like superheroes, and they could do everything.
Real maturity is reached when we have successfully individuated from our parents. Individuated, a term first coined by the psychologist Carl Jung, it means to become a whole, unique and separate being. When this individuation hasn’t been reached we often return to our parents believing they are omnipotent beings that have everything we want and need, and then leave disappointed that they are only human beings. An example would be going to a father for acknowledgement of achievements and being completely overlooked and dismissed, or going to a mother for positive reinforcement and encouragement and leave being told that you won’t succeed anyway so why try. It would be easy but also very painful to stay stuck in pointing a finger at the parents for not being better parents, but at what age do you need to take ownership and therefore responsibility of your needs and look for someone that can meet them?
Now this is where some make a mistake of looking for a romantic partner to meet ALL of their needs. They don’t just want a grocery store for their milk, they want the hardware store as well, and the department store filled with clothes, and the toy store, and on and on, they want a store that has everything in Cash n’ Carry amounts! Can you imagine how overwhelming it would be to be that for someone? I am sure some of you have tried. The flip side of that coin is the disappointment and frustration of being in a relationship where all those needs aren’t met, and blaming the other person for not providing you those things?
So what is the solution? Do we just not try for each other in relationships? Do we just say, “Hey, I don’t have that milk for you, go elsewhere!” No, all relationships should encourage us to grow as people, to extend ourselves further for those we love. However, we all have limits. If we could meet ALL each others’ needs all the time there would be no need for friends. However, when your boyfriend is busy on a Friday night and you want to vent about your incredibly frustrating day or week then call your friend! That way you will get your need met, you will not end up having an argument with your boyfriend that leaves you not only angry with your week but furious with your boyfriend. And when your girlfriend is busy at work and unable to talk to you about your frustrations with the job hunt, call a friend. Just because the person you are with doesn’t necessarily have any ‘milk’ right now, doesn’t mean they are not wonderful and great, it just means that you need to go elsewhere for that item. Relationships would feel so much better if we didn’t expect quite so much from them.
Feeling like you are in a rut? Stuck in a comfortable but stale relationship? Is your career going nowhere? Have you stopped working out? Feeling stuck and like everything in your life is predictable and less than exciting? You are stuck in a rut, my friend.
There are a few unhelpful thought patterns that can get in the way of doing anything about it. Here are a few:
+ The “Sunk-Cost’ Fallacy- Focusing on the time/money/effort you have already invested and ‘sunk’ into the venture/relationship/project already. This is called the “sunk-cost’ fallacy. Instead of sinking more of your precious resources into it, choose to leave but make sure you take all the valuable lessons and gifts with you. Even in failed attempts there are lessons, gifts and truths that you can take with you. If you leave with only anger and regret, you will miss all of those.
+ Stop Day Dreaming! - Getting stuck in day dreams may help you feel better for a few minutes but is unlikely to create real change. If you aren’t getting regular exercise it is unlikely you will wake up in the morning feeling fit and healthy. Day dreaming about yourself being that person who takes care of themselves is unlikely to change anything!
+ Intermittent reinforcement - The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour; just because there is an occasional and sporadic positive change by an employer or partner does not meant that the negative situation you are in will become better permanently. You have to objectively determine if things are getting better overall.
Here are some strategies of getting out of that rut permanently:
+ No Such Thing as Perfection - Forget about trying to be perfect. Perfect really is the enemy of good enough. I am a real believer that not everything has to be done perfectly. If I felt that I had to be perfect at Pilates without ever having tried it, I would never have started (I’m never going to be perfect at it). There are times when I need to accept that what I can contribute is good enough for me today, and see my goal as progression and not perfection.
+ Make a Decision. When faced with multiple choices, the fear of making the ‘wrong’ decision can be paralyzing. The mountaineer Joe Simpson ( from the book and movie - Touching the Void) talks about being stuck in crevasse with a broken leg, almost dying because he was crippled by the decision to head left or right, one being the way out and the other was a dead end. He realized that not making any decision was worse than making a wrong decision because it meant he was giving up and not living. The ability to make decisions, even if they were wrong decisions made him feel like he was taking ownership and responsibility for his life, and if he made a wrong decision he could then decide to correct it, and make a different decision
+Focus on the End Goal - Remember why you are doing this. The monotony and at times tedium of striving for a goal can lead you to forget why you even started in the first place. Having physical reminders in places that you see often can be helpful. Creating a vision board, posting inspirational images and quotes to places you look at often can help to focus on the greater goal.
+Know what your comfort zone is - Moving out of your comfort zone is scary, so making small steps out of it can make the transition easier. To get a better visual, get a pen and piece of paper and draw 3 or 4 concentric circles, with you in the middle. In the circle right outside your own, list the activities you are very comfortable doing such as spending time with friends, going to see a movie, doing your day to day routine. In the next circle the activities that are a bit more scary but you would still do; go for a job interview, a first date, speak to someone new at a dinner party. In the next circle write things that really scare you, but if pushed you would maybe consider, and then in the last circle are your ‘hell no, not ever’ things. Working on expanding your comfort zone, and realising that fear is just a feeling and not what should stop you from growth and achievement.
+Take a Good Break - There are times when you need perspective and refreshment. If you are making healthier food choices to get healthier, allow yourself the occasional ‘cheat’ meal, and really savour the experience. If you have been grinding away at a degree or work then give yourself a few days off, and have a change of scenery. You don’t need to go far to see something new and inspiring.
+ Talk to someone. If you find that you are still stuck, talk to a friend or your boss or your partner. Let other know how you are feeling. Often getting others involved can help you feel more understood and gain a greater feeling of accountability. If you find that you have tried this and still nothing has shifted and you have run out of ideas talking to a professional is a good option. Make an appointment with a psychologist/therapist, they can help you identify why you are getting stuck in the first place and how to work through it.
Whenever a client comes to me for therapy, I will ask them what their goals are for therapy. This can be a nebulous question and one that some clients find difficult to answer, but it is vital that they do, because if you don’t know where you want to be, it can be hard to recognize when you actually get there. Goals can be anything from as simple as ‘I want to feel happier’ to ‘I want to know why I can’t leave a relationship that I am miserable in’ or ‘I want to understand why at the age of 37 my parents still push ALL my buttons.”
To help my clients come up with goals or an idea of what is bringing them into therapy in the first place, I ask them the following question: Imagine that you leave this office and you go about the rest of your day as normal, and you go home tonight, and while you are asleep in your bed, I wave my magic wand. The magic wand I wave makes everything in your life the way you want it to be. When you wake up in the morning, how would you know that I had waved my magic wand?
What would be different in your life? Would you feel happy about waking up? Would your kids smile at you more brightly? What career would you be pursuing? Who would you be dating, or be married to? Would you find yourself happy to be working out? How about you? How would you know I had waved my magic wand?