I love writing my Weekly Tips and my blogs for you and I hope that they are useful. Sometimes I write about a subject that I personally struggle with. This week is one such case in point. It’s a topic that I have struggled with for many years and still do to some extent. It may be that you recognise yourself in the article, so I hope you find value in reading it. Let me explain…
“Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”
You might remember that a couple of weeks ago my Weekly Tip was about putting down the glass. I suggested that a glass of water might only weigh a few ounces when you pick it up. But, the longer you hold it, the heavier it gets. Hold it for an hour and it will seem really heavy! And so it is with the negative thoughts and memories that you have about the events in your life.
I suspect that we’ve all been faced with situations where people have said things to us, wronged us in some way or if things haven’t gone the way we would like. Moving past such situations can sometimes be very difficult, yet holding onto them can be incredibly damaging to us and those around us. Believe me, I know this to be true. I have held on to some negative thoughts for many years and doing so has caused me and people I hold dear great pain.
For example, if you’ve ever ended a relationship, lost someone important to you or lost a job, you might know that it’s tough to let go and move on from such events. It’s like your subconscious mind, sometimes referred to as your chimp or monkey mind, for some reason wants to hold onto it like a dog that won’t let go of a bone. It wants to chew on it, gnaw on it and dig into the painful centre of it. Your logical mind gets sucked into the drama of the monkey. You start to think of “what if’s” and “if only’s” that your monkey mind creates to add even more drama and negative feelings.
You know at the conscious level that it would be so much easier to just let go of negative thoughts and move on with your life, but that pesky monkey mind won’t let you and boy it hurts. You try to let go. You move onto the next relationship or job. Then, just when things seem to be going well again, the old thoughts start to arise again, sabotaging things for you all over again.
Why is it so hard to let go? Why is it so difficult to forgive and, maybe, forget? Laying my cards on the table I have struggled with this about a lot of things in my life. I have held onto a lot of glasses; in some cases for a very long time!
How does one break these patterns? Mindfulness continues to be a source of research and how it affects our behaviour. Some recent research about mindfulness looked at the effect of mindfulness on negative thought patterns. Mindfulness is a useful tool for noticing and extracting yourself from the cycle of unhelpful thoughts. This presence and awareness is the foundation of changing a thought pattern. We may not even be aware of how often we have a negative thought pattern or comprehend its impact on our daily lives. Once we identify the patterns, we know what to target. Mindfulness thus serves as the fulcrum for action to deal with negative thoughts and emotions.
As Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh once said:
“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”
Transforming Negative Thoughts
Pay attention now, because I’m about to share some words of wisdom with you. No, of course, they are not mine!! A man much wiser than me once said that the only meaning that anything has is the meaning that you give to it. William Shakespeare once said, “Nothing is good or bad, only our thinking makes it so”. The more I think about it, would you have wanted to be his English teacher????
So, if you were wronged, it’s because you told yourself that you were, and then you make up a story about that. You see, it was the story that you told yourself, and some of these stories can be incredibly damaging.
Maybe it’s time for you to re-write your story? For example, could you look at the negative situation differently or more objectively? Could you create a different story about it?
But, before you do this it might be worth remembering that there is a positive intention behind all your thoughts. Therefore all the frames of reference you use in your thinking are there to help you in some way, or at least in some specific context. This, of course, doesn’t mean that these thoughts are right or that they are acceptable. However, it does mean that they could well have some value, and therefore can be used in a positive way. What lessons could you then learn from the situation that could actually help you?
OK, you have now taken the learning from the negative thought. How can you now reframe or rewrite it to make it more positive for you? Well, first of all, let’s understand what the NLP technique of reframing is. Put simply, NLP Reframing is changing the meaning of an experience or event by putting another frame around it.
One of my NLP corporate trainers, Ian McDermott, tells of a young man who felt inferior for many years because his school friends and his work colleagues all went to university and he had not. He was, however, happily married. When asked how he met his wife he said that it was while he was doing a menial job just after he left school. Ian says that the young man paused in their conversation and said, “Thank God I didn’t go to university or I wouldn’t have met my lovely wife”.
Get the idea? Reframing allows you to think about a negative situation or event differently; it’s a new interpretation that might allow you to come to a different conclusion or feeling about the event. Remember my earlier assertion that the only meaning that anything has is the meaning that you give to it, so changing your thinking or focus could give the negative event a new meaning. Neither interpretation is the ‘right’ one but the consequences of changing your thinking might be huge. It’s maybe not too much to suggest that changing your mindset can change your life.
So, might there be a different way of thinking about that event that has caused you so much hurt in the past, a way of thinking that has more positive consequences or learning for you?
Here’s an example. Is having a cold or flu a pain in you know where because it keeps you from your busy work schedule? Or could it be that it provides you with an opportunity for a much-needed rest? Or something else entirely? The answer will be up to you and your thinking.
There you go. The key message today is for you to train yourself to explore different ways of thinking about the events in your life because if you develop the ability to monitor and control your thoughts about unpleasant situations in this way, you give yourself great power in your life. Ask yourself if there are other ways that you could think about them than the ways that you have been up to now and that have been causing you so much pain? It’s something I know that I have to do more often!