07 Dec Get your brain in better shape
Following last months blog post, I’d like to share some simple, practical tips on incorporating mindfulness into your everyday life (very useful as we approach silly season and the world starts to spin that bit faster!). It’s considered pretty normal to do physical exercise for our bodies – the gym, a run, yoga, weight training. Yet the mind is a muscle that needs training too.
2016 has been a big year for my family – we moved interstate and then internationally, I started a new business, my husband started a new job, my children started at a new school. This year I have found myself really leaning on my mindfulness practise to navigate all of us through the changes. Having a mindfulness practise hasn’t turned me into superwoman (although at times I wish it could!), but being mindful does help me realise when I’m slipping and reminds me to take a breath and keep it real. I’ve learnt to lighten up on myself and laugh at things that used to drive me potty or that I used to judge myself about, which is better for me, better for my kids, for my husband.. So here are some ways you can help keep your brain in better shape;
1.Start your day as you mean to go on… Create a good mental state first thing. Dr Dan Siegal refers to this as ‘brushing your brain’. Do something as soon as you wake up that grounds you in the day. It could be a yoga routine, stretches, a meditation practise, a walk, a run, writing in your journal, enjoying that first cup of coffee/ tea in peace, your morning shower. If I’m up early enough I roll out my mat and do some yoga. Most days though it’s a 5 minute meditation before my kids are awake and the day is officially on me. I also bike ride the kids to school each morning, some mornings are more serene than others! but it’s a time with them I absolutely cherish. It gets us all off on the right track. Find your own ritual, be present for the experience and make it part of your daily routine – as usual as brushing your teeth.. Over time your brain will reap the benefits of this repeated positive experience.
2. Tackle those bad habits. We all have them! Mindfulness helps to drive a wedge of awareness in between the craving and the negative behaviour, and in that space is your power – are you judging yourself? craving approval from others? checking your phone again..?
When we first moved overseas I was repeatedly checking my phone – especially when I was at home alone with the kids. I’d be scrolling my facebook homepage again without even realising I was doing it – I’m not sure what amazing message or posts I was hoping to find there!
Wanting to switch off is a natural part of the human condition, and technology is a great enabler of this, but I resented just how much power that little electronic device had over me, and how much I was missing of the world right in front of me. Mindfulness helped me to become more aware of how often I was using my phone to zone out, rather than for a useful purpose and I decided to take charge and make some changes. ..Firstly I went back to pre paid so wifi and the lure of social media wasn’t so accessible, I also removed lot of the apps from my phone so the next time I felt the urge to check whatsapp, facebook, emails etc it was more of a lengthy process to get to them…gradually I felt less ‘addicted’ to my phone and over time I’ve relaxed a bit more and reinstalled a few apps. If I notice I’m starting to over use the little device again though, I don’t think twice about putting some healthier boundaries in place.
With any bad habits, try and hit the pause button. Bring awareness there, explore the habit with curiosity and non judgement and make some positive changes that feel better for you.
3. Find something that you love to do, that’s good for you, and do it regularly. It could be fishing, rock climbing, trampolining, reading, yoga, walking the dog, learning a new skill, painting, baking, writing in your journal, a meal with friends. Whatever fills your heart – do that. Amongst my favourites are a n ocean swim, a hot cup of tea and a good book… and this year I’ve taken up ashtanga yoga, a practise that both challenges and supports me. It’s not just children who need to play and let go!
4. Grow the positive. I love the image of the mind as a garden (thanks Rick Hanson PhD for this!). Like a garden, it’s important to pull the weeds from our mind (examine that negative material and let it go) but equally, if not more importantly, we also need to plant flowers! All brains – your brain, my brain, his brain, her brain – have a natural negativity bias – velcro for the bad, teflon for the good – and it can build and build until our garden has become some kind of weedy swamp. But with awareness and knowledge of how to work with our minds we can train ourselves to construct a beautiful, landscaped garden, where we want to be and spend time – we do this by focusing on what’s good and beneficial around us and absorbing it, really marinading in it, so it sinks in and becomes who we are.
I remember my mum saying to my scowling teenage face “Claire the attitude is gratitude”, an old adage but so true. If I find my brain ruminating, I mentally shake myself and make a shift back to the present and all that’s positive around me. If I’m genuinely going through a bit of a tough patch, I mentally note all the awesome things about my life, a kind of gratitude practise, to help stay more centred. There are always reasons to feel good – try it for yourself. It’s not about being a pollyanna and denying what’s hard or a hassle, but just looking for the ordinary gifts of everyday life and settling into those truths with reassurance. These enjoyable moments and experiences help us to grow our inner strengths.
5. Practise heartfulness for yourself and others
Any of these ring a bell?
“Life’s too short” “We’re here for a good time not a long time” “Don’t take it personally”.
Practice wishing yourself and others well. It feels good, because it is good.
The end of a year and the beginning of a new year is a great time to make healthy changes and establish new habits for yourself. So I hope you can find some useful tips here to add to your goals for 2017. Good luck! and remember – mindfulness isn’t a perfect, it’s a practise.
“Worry looks around. Fear looks back. Faith looks up. Guilt looks down. I look forward.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
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