- Change your mindset. Your thinking can make a difference. If you perceive an activity as a chore or a drudgery, it will be unpleasant and seem to last forever. Perceiving the same activity as a blessing or an opportunity, can make it feel much more pleasurable. For example, you can resent having to buy groceries, or feel blessed that you have money to buy groceries and the convenience of a grocery store.
- Focus on some positive part of the task. Try to find some pleasant, interesting or beautiful aspect of the activity. For example, you might enjoy the view from your kitchen window, while washing dishes. Or you could focus on the scenery you pass as you drive to work.
- Add something positive to the task. Try to think of something nice you could do as you complete the task. Doing housework might be more pleasant if you did it while listening to music. Working on paperwork could be more pleasant while sipping a cup of coffee or a drink. I always listen to audiobooks while commuting to work.
- Plan to give yourself a little reward when you finish the task. Of course, these are everyday tasks to the reward can’t be too big, but a little break sitting on the porch can go a long way.
If we could just be, for a few moments each day, fully where we are,
we would indeed discover that we are not alone.”
We’ve all heard the phrase, “Don’t just stand there, do something.” We tend to put such importance on what we do. We judge others by what they do. We judge ourselves by the same standard. We feel we must always be doing something to have value; to have worth.
How often to you hear someone talk about how busy they have been. How often do you respond to the question, “How are you?” with statements of how busy you have been. It’s like a badge of honor. The busier we are, the more important we are.
But is this “doing” standard true? Is our worth based only on what we do? What about simply who we are? Remember when your children were infants. Remember when you gazed at them while they slept. Were they doing great things? Were they accomplishing something of importance? Of course they weren’t. All they could do at the time was sleep, eat, pee and poop. Yet, they were precious. Your baby’s worth was not based on doing, but on being.
And what about when we grow up? Think about someone you love. If they were in an accident or developed an illness, where they could no longer do the things they do now, would they be less valuable in your eyes? Would you love them less? Probably not.
Of course, our actions or behaviors are important. Our choices do matter. Our goals and accomplishments shape our lives. But, must we always be doing something?
Sometimes, we need to just be. Be in the moment. Be aware of our surroundings. Be still. When we are still and present in the moment, we are reminded of who we truly are, and perhaps, that we are not alone.
I first learned about the technique of “mindfulness” on a PBS television program, called “Healing and the Mind.” The host was the excellent reporter, Bill Moyers, and each episode featured a clinic somewhere in the world, that specialized in mind/body medicine.
On this particular episode, he featured a clinic at Massachusetts Medical Center, a major teaching hospital where many Harvard medical students do their rotations and internships. People come there from all over the world for assessment and treatment of serious medical disorders.
In that hospital, is a clinic that was originally called “The Center for Catastrophic Illness,” and was founded by a psychologist, named Jon Kabit-Zinn, Ph.D.. Patients are referred to this clinic who have any illness that has proven to be a catastrophe in their lives. The clinic has been enormously effective in helping these patients deal with their various illnesses.
The clinic teaches the technique of mindfulness. The technique has been practiced in Asia for about four thousand years, but has only been applied to healthcare in the US for about twenty years. While mindfulness practice cannot directly cure many physical illnesses, it can help patients deal with their difficulties with much less distress and discomfort. It has even been shown to cure some stress-related illnesses.
The technique involves three components, (a) noticing, (b) without judging, (c) in the present moment. To notice means to truly experience, to really be in the moment. Focus your attention on that event. Experience it with your five senses. If you are somewhere, really be there. Focus your mind on what you are doing, rather than something in the past or the future.
For example, if you are driving, notice the experience of driving. What do you see? What do you feel? Notice the unconscious movement of your hand on the steering wheel. Notice the subtle rumble of the road noise. Do the same with any experience. If you are interacting with a loved one, really focus your attention on that person and the interaction. If you are washing dishes, notice the various aspects of the experience, the feel of the water, the feel of the soap or the movements of your hands.
Now, try to recall some of the favorite moments of your life. Your memories of these moments may be like a series of snapshots. I bet that you experienced each of these favorite moments mindfully. You were focused on what you were doing at the time. If you had experienced the moment mindlessly, you wouldn’t have recalled it as a favorite moment. I wonder how many other moments could have been favorites, if you had experienced them mindfully rather than mindlessly.
The second part of mindfulness is to notice “without judging.” This means to not analyze our experience in our minds, but to just experience it. We don’t focus on whether the experience is good or bad. It just is. You try to experience the moment without the chatter in your head, no internal comments, no judgments, just the experience.
For example, in clinical settings patients are actually taught to be mindful of their pain. This may seem strange, but we find that, when patients notice pain, without thinking of it as good or bad, the pain lessons, or at least becomes less distressful. We usually try to escape from our pain, and in doing so make ourselves more tense. This tension actually worsens the discomfort.
The last part of mindfulness is “in the present moment.” This means to focus your attention on the present moment, rather than experiencing the present moment with your mind thinking about something in the past or something in the future.
Let’s think about time for a moment. All time can be divided into three parts; the past, the future, and the present. Everything prior to this moment in time is the past. Nothing in the past actually exists, except in our memories. Everything after this moment is the future, and nothing in the future actually exists except in our imaginations. The only thing that actually exists at any moment is that thin slice of time we call the present.
Yet, we live most of our present moments thinking about something in the past or something in the future. We don’t really experience the present moment, because we are analyzing, reminiscing or regretting past events or anticipating, dreading or worrying about future events. We thus miss the experience of the present moment.
Take the time now to be mindful of the present moment. Notice what your five senses are experiencing. Notice what you see, the colors, the shapes, the quality of the light. Notice what you hear, both the louder sounds and the subtle sounds. Notice what your skin feels, the temperature of the air, the clothes you are wearing. Notice how your body feels.
In particular, notice your breathing. The act of noticing the breath can always bring you back to the present moment. Your breath is always with you. Let yourself simply be in the present moment now and experiencing this moment fully. If your mind wanders to the past or the future, it’s okay. Just gently bring your attention back to your breath and the present moment.
Practice this for a few moments at a time. If you can stay in the present moment for a few seconds, that’s good enough at first. After being mindful of your present moment experience for a little while, notice what you feel. Most people report that they feel a sense of calm or peace.
Practice mindfulness several times per day. You don’t have to take time out of your day at first. Just be mindful of whatever you’re doing. Then, if you like, take a few moments out of your day to get in a more extended time of present moment awareness. Give it a try!
Question: If you have tried present-moment mindfulness, what did you experience? Also, report any difficulties you experienced in trying the technique.
Once more, scientific research has confirmed something that our parents and grandparents already knew; that counting our blessings will make us happier. In fact, practicing this one habit seems to improve our sense of emotional wellbeing more than any other behavior.
In the mid-1990’s, a branch of psychology began to emerge, called “Positive Psychology”. Rather than focusing on emotional illness or difficulties, this group turned their research toward increasing understanding of the factors that made some people exceptionally positive or mentally healthy.
We’ve all known some individuals who seem to handle life’s difficulties with exceptional grace, and just appear more happy, joyful or satisfied. They clearly experience their share of life’s up’s and down’s, but do with more peace and hope than most. The researchers in Positive Psychology studied such individuals to identify those traits, attitudes or habits they shared that allowed them to do this.
First, let’s look at the factors that did not predict happiness. The researchers found that material wealth or standard of living had very little to do with happiness. While the United States has the highest financial standard of living, we are clearly not the happiest people. Many people who have much less than us report that they are much happier.
The research also found that negative life events did not necessarily lower a person’s level of happiness on a long-term basis. Of course, one’s happiness does go down immediately after experiencing a negative life event, but the research found that the person’s level of happiness usually returns to their pre-event level within two years. This was even true when the negative event was extreme, such as spinal cord injury resulting in permanent paralysis. Interestingly, the same was true for positive life events. Immediately after the event, the person’s level of happiness did go up, but usually returned to their pre-event level within about two years.
The studies did find, however, that exceptionally positive people all share an attitude of gratitude. They report that they pay attention to the blessings in their lives. Most of them consciously and deliberately cultivate this feeling of thanksgiving in each day. Most report that, with practice, the attitude becomes more natural and automatic.
We can all learn to be more grateful. Make the decision to cultivate an attitude of gratitude starting today. Count your blessings. Write them down. Before your feet hit the floor each morning, make yourself think of five things you have to be thankful for. Thank those you love. Thank them for the things they do for you, but more, thank them for loving you and sharing your life. Look for opportunities to be thankful today. You just might find yourself feeling happier!
In the last post, we looked at depression as being similar to a mean, ugly, parasitic troll, which had gotten your body and mind. This destructive troll wants to grow stronger, so it makes you do the very things that feed it. Unfortunately, as it grows stronger, you grow weaker. Such is the course with all parasites.
This troll makes you feel fatigued, weak, heavy, and drained so you decrease your physical activity. When you’re depressed, you just want to sit, or worse, stay in bed. You almost yearn to be still and move as little as possible.
The depression troll makes you decrease your physical activity because this worsens the depression. To fight the depression you must make yourself do as much physical activity as possible. While this can be difficult, and seem impossible, you can do little bits of activity at a time. Then you can gradually increase the amount of activity.
Today, will cover the second do-it-yourself tool to fight depression. While the depression troll works to make you decrease your physical activity, he also works to make you decrease your social activity. He makes you want to withdraw from others. He makes you isolate yourself.
The depression makes you uncomfortable being around other people. You feel that you don’t fit in. You imagine that they are thinking negative things about you. You perceive that they are judging you. You feel more comfortable when you are alone.
Even when you are around others, you don’t talk as much or share as much. You feel a distance, even when others are in the same room as you. You feel disconnected. You may perceive that others are backing away from you, but it’s more likely that they are simply responding to your distance.
Your do-it-yourself tool is to make yourself do the opposite of what the depression troll makes you want to do. You approach others. You identify those in your life that have been the most supportive and positive toward you, and you approach them. You call them on the phone. You write an email. You invite them to lunch or a Saturday shopping trip. You make yourself spend time with others.
Then you try to make yourself connect. You make yourself talk, even when you don’t feel like it. You make yourself talk, even when you don’t think you have anything to say. You force yourself to make and maintain eye contact. You connect.
This will be uncomfortable at first. Every fiber of your being will want to run away, find an excuse to withdraw and go back to bed. That’s normal. Connect anyway.
Even if you don’t enjoy this increase in social contact, it helps significantly in fighting the depression. It starves that parasitic depression troll, until he just decides to leave you. I don’t know why it works, despite the fact that you don’t enjoy it, but it does work.
Do it now. Call that old friend or family member. Send a re-connection email. Just come out of your room and spend time with your family. Look them in the eye. Smile. You’re not alone.
Question: What do you feel contributes most to the depressed person’s tendency to withdraw, even from those who love them?
Are you suffering from depression? Is someone you love suffering with depression? Suffering is the operable term here, because depression is truly painful. People with both chronic physical pain and clinical depression have told me that they would rather have the physical pain than the depression. The pain of clinical depression is hard to describe, but you’ll know it if you get it.
The most effective treatment for depression is a combination of medication and cognitive psychotherapy, but sometimes those treatments are unavailable or may not be working well enough for you. Whether or not you are getting professional treatment, there are several do-it-yourself actions you can take to fight your depression.
Sometimes it helps to have a different way of perceiving depression. Think of your depression as a parasitic, mean, ugly troll that has gotten into your body and mind. This troll wants to grow, and it doesn’t care what it does to you. It is truly a parasite. The depression troll grows by making you do the very things that will feed it. It makes you yearn to do the things that make it grow and become stronger. By resisting these tendencies, you can weaken your depression and starve that mean, ugly, parasitic troll and make him go away.
There are four areas where the depression troll influences your behavior. To fight the depression and starve the troll, you have to do the opposite of what he makes you want to do. In order to give each area proper attention, we’re going to consider the four depression fighters in four consecutive blog posts. This is the depression fighter for today:
DEPRESSION FIGHTER NUMBER ONE:
INCREASE PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
Your depression troll makes you decrease your physical activity. You feel tired all the time. You don’t feel like doing anything. You don’t want to move. You feel heavy and drained of energy. The troll makes you feel this way because it feeds the depression, making it grow. The less you move, the more depressed you become. In contrast, the more you move, the less depressed you become.
Any activity or movement helps. Even getting up from the couch and walking around the house helps some. Any activity that makes your muscles move and speeds up your heart and breathing fights depression. Walking is a very effective depression fighter. A 20-30 minute walk every day would be great, but any amount helps. It seems to help the nervous system’s balance the neurotransmitters (the chemical foundation of depression).
I do realize that getting up off the couch or out of bed can feel like a monumental endeavor. It can feel totally impossible if your depression is severe. You may have to begin with very small increases in physical activity. Take a shower and get dressed. Walk from one room to the next. Step outside for a little while. Try to push yourself, but don’t chastise yourself if you can’t. Just try again later. Keep trying. Persistence is often the key to defeating depression.
You might also recruit a family member or friend to help you increase your physical activity. Tell them to push you, without fussing at you. This can be a fine line, so they will have to be careful, but the benefits of a supportive friend can be enormous.
Next week, we’ll look at the second step in your do-it-yourself guide to fighting depression, but for now try to increase your physical activity as much as you can each day.
Question: Share some actions that have helped you or a loved one fight depression.
You may be surrounded by wonderful, well-meaning people, but only you can know your needs, feelings and purpose. You can listen and learn from others, but you can’t allow them to direct your life. Live your life deliberately!
When someone compliments you, how do you respond? Do you respond with some depreciating remark about yourself? “I tried, but I didn’t do a very good job. Someone else could have done better.” Do you quickly return a compliment, as a way of getting attention off yourself? “Well, I was just thinking about how pretty that dress looks on you.” Does your response reveal your distrust of the compliment? “Right, now you’re just trying to make an old woman feel good.” Or do you just say “Thank you?”
We often have trouble accepting a compliment because we mistakenly believe that to do so would suggest that we are proud or arrogant. We fear that a simple “Thank you” would indicate that we agree with the compliment and feel we are superior in some way. Think about it. If you genuinely compliment someone and they just say “Thank you,” do you think they are being arrogant, or do you feel good that the compliment was accepted?
We sometimes have trouble accepting a compliment because we are self-critical and can’t imagine that the statement was genuine. The words are so opposed to our self-beliefs, and we assume that our “truth” is evident to everyone.
Regardless of the reason, responding to a compliment with any response other than “Thank you” is unnecessary and sometimes even impolite. Pay attention to your responses to compliments. Force yourself to respond with a simple “Thank you.” It’s enough.
The most important things ever said to us are said by our inner selves. Adelaide Bry Words are important. They reflect our thinking, but more importantly, they define our thinking. Our choice of words can improve or destroy a relationship; build up or tear down a self-esteem and contribute to our success or failure. Some words, such as “safe” “hope” and “bigot” automatically convey a feeling or an emotion, good or bad. The most important words you choose are the ones you say to yourself in your thoughts. The self-talk of a person with a negative self-esteem is usually filled with harsh, emotion-laden words. Such words deepen the self-esteem wound. They often carry forth an abuse that began in childhood. There is a vast difference between the thought, “I want to lose weight.” and “I’m a fat pig.” The difference is equally vast between the thought, “I failed the test.” and “I’m stupid.” Finally, consider the difference between the thoughts, “I made a mistake.” and “I can’t do anything right.” In each case, the later phrase is harsh, all-encompassing, and self-destructive. Watch the words you think to yourself. Ask yourself if you would say the same words or phrases to another person. Never say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to a friend or loved one. Consider the words you say in your thoughts. The things said by your inner self are truly the most important things you will say. Choose them wisely.
Have you taken the time to gaze today? Merriam-Webster defines gaze as: “to fix the eyes in a steady intent look often with eagerness or studious attention.” There is a difference between gazing at something and looking at something. To gaze one must pause and be still. In gazing, we take a momentary break from the rush or frenetic activity of common life. There is a particular feeling when we “fix the eyes” that is difficult to describe.
There are many possible objects of our gaze; a sunset or sunrise, a cloud, a range of mountains or an ocean. The object may be closer; an insect working, a flower or falling snow. Most of the time, we find ourselves gazing at nature, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Taking the time to gaze at a loved one, who is engaged in some activity, can be quite satisfying as it reminds us of our appreciation for that person.
You see, I’ve been enjoying a bit of gazing this morning. As I write this, I’m alternating my focus between the laptop and the beach, but most of the morning I have been gazing exclusively. One can’t truly gaze, while trying to multitask. True gazing demands exclusive attention.
While most gazing occurs spontaneously, it can be deliberately cultivated. Try to find opportunities to pause, disengage from your busy day and gaze. It’s good for the soul.