Tis the season to feel a bit down, overwhelmed and stressed. When the mind is focusing on the negative details of life, it’s practicing seeing things through this lens and what we practice and repeat creates a habit of thoughts, feelings, emotions and sensations. I call this getting caught in a “depressive loop.”
Mindfulness is about being aware of what lens we’re wearing when looking at life, so we can be more intentional. The unintentional act of looking toward the future with a negative lens can really sap our motivation to make any progress toward a more fruitful and positive future. After all, if we’re anticipating doomsday, what’s the point in even trying? This is major fruit for procrastination too.
Feeling depressed lights up the avoidance circuits in the brain. It’s experienced as a disengagement from life. In Uncovering Happiness I go through the science and practice of a handful of natural anti-depressants that live within every one of us.
But when we’re feeling overwhelmed with life, our negative thinking arises again, “What’s the point” or “Who cares.” But these thoughts are not facts, even the ones that say they are.
Martin Luther King, Jr. had some wise words for us about this.
You may or may not have heard by now that our brain is wired to pay attention more frequently, and with great veracity, to what’s negative. This doesn’t mean that the good moments in life aren’t happening, we’re just not wired to pay attention to them.
Because as a human race, we’re wired to survive, not be happy.
I have a theory that in this moment in time we’re going through an evolution as a species where because of the overabundance of things pulling our attention, we’re being thrusted into growing our awareness – the kind of awareness that breeds balance, well-being and a greater sense of what matters.
So people are being turned onto mindfulness more. More spaces are offering it, more institutions are studying it and there’s greater media to
Mindfulness just continues to grow and not only positively influence people’s lives, but is now influencing so many sectors of our society. I can’t help but imagine how it’s going to impact the years that follow (Maybe I’m a bit on an idealist, but I’ll hold that label lightly).
The following is my futurist’s take on The Mindfulness Revolution.
Wikipedia Entry 2050:
“The Insight Age is a period in human history characterized by the shift from a “continuous fractured attention” brought on by The Information Age through technology, to an age based on an expanded awareness, an increasingly ability to harness control of our attention to what matters. The onset of the Insight Age is associated with The Mindfulness Revolution, just as The Digital Revolution marked the onset of The Information Age.
During The Insight Age, the phenomenon is that that the mindful industry creates a present-focused society surrounded by leaders in various sectors spanning their influence on how education, business, politics, healthcare, and other service sectors operate.
In our current culture, the mindful industry fosters insight for individuals to be more aware of their personal needs, increasing
Whether we like it or not, this time of year cues our minds to reflect and think about habits we want to change. If you’re reading this blog, odds are one of those habits are bringing mindfulness into your life more and allowing this to be the year where it sticks. Or maybe you’re also looking to change other habits that run alongside your values like being more self-compassion, living alongside your values, playing more or creating more mastery in life. All of these are basic elements that help uncover happiness.
Whatever the habit is that you want to make, here are a few practical tips to help make your changes stick.
When it comes to our self-critical thinking, Byron Katie has created a brilliant set of four questions to free us from our negative depressive minds. For example, if you say, “I’m such an idiot,” we ask 1) Is it true? 2) Is it absolutely true? 3) What happens when you believe that thought? and 4) Who would you be without that thought? The effect of this is that it objectifies the self-judgment, gives us freedom from it and opens us up to a sense of freedom that’s there. They can be really effective.
When it comes to overcoming longstanding emotional struggles we have to not only get space from the self-critical mind, but also encourage the positive beliefs about ourselves that the critical mind has buried. In one part of Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion I share the following four questions to work with in order to open us up to possibility, install these positive beliefs a bit more and even encourage positive neuroplasticity. In doing this we can become more confident in ourselves and ultimately more resilient (and a bit happier).
For years now I’ve been studying about what helps create more resilience and happiness within us. I’ve looked to my own life, the life of my clients and students and toward the psychological and neuroscience research. What I’ve found is that within each and every one of us are a core set of natural anti-depressants that when we intentionally tap into shifts our brain activity in ways that can lend itself to an anti-depressant brain. One of the natural anti-depressants that I’ve come to find that helps break a bad mood and create positive neural activity is Play!
In Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion I describe play as “a flexible state of mind in which you are presently engaged in some freely chosen and potentially purposeless activity that you find interesting, enjoyable, and satisfying.”
Here’s a great video that shows adults playing and the results. Take a look and see what you notice.
Note: There are plenty more, but I thought these top the charts.
Myth #1: Mindfulness if for taking a time-out from life, quieting the mind and reducing stress.
Truth: I think this is the #1 myth out there because it’s my experience that this is how people initially experience the practice. One of the greatest entry points to mindfulness in the West is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). This is a fantastic program with wonderful science behind it, but the name is just for marketing. The ultimate goal isn’t meant to be stress reduction. The goal of mindfulness and MBSR is to wake up to the inner workings of our mental, emotional and physical processes, recognize the connectedness between people and operate in the world with greater self-compassion and compassion.
However, the initial practices can often give people sense of relief from a busy mind and can then be equated with a mental break. While there’s nothing wrong with using it this way, it also minimizes the power of mindfulness.
The paradox here is when we’re able to do just be present to our minds, emotions and bodies, the stressful relationship tends to quiet down, but when we try and quiet the mind down, we often add fuel to the fire.
Myth #2: You need to carve out plenty of time in a serene “mindful” space.
For a number of months now hundreds of people have been taking the Basics in Mindfulness Meditation: 28 day program challenge to bring more mindfulness, self-compassion, compassion and balance into their lives. Throughout the course questions are asked that I field and one came in recently that I thought important to bring to all people as it is a seminar question of our time.
Hi Elisha, Thank you for this very helpful course. I notice that my thoughts start whirring around in my head when I have had an emotional encounter. I try to accept the thoughts, acknowledge it being there, then focus on breathing or the body scan but my mind races back to that emotion I experience of sadness. How can I pull myself into the moment when this happens? Will appreciate your advice.
We all experience resistance everyday when we’re trying to do something that matters. Whether you want to sit and meditate, work on a new project, get out and exercise, whatever it is that is in the direction of growth, resistance comes
alive. In my next book Uncovering Happiness (can’t wait to share it with you – January, 2015), I explore some of the neuroscience behind what keeps us stuck in a depressive loop and how to get unstuck and even find our natural anti-depressants and thrive. While resistance lies within a depressive spiral, you don’t have to have had experienced depression in the past to know resistance, it’s a universal daily experience for all of us.
But the deeper question is, where does it reside in the brain and how do we overcome it?
I don’t believe anyone has conducted and brain scan specifically on resistance, but one thing we do know is that the right side of the prefrontal region that lies behind your forehead lights up when we’re trying to avoid something. This same region also lights up with negative emotions.
One thing we’re wanting to do is intentionally practice and repeat shifting the activity to the left prefrontal region that is more associated with approaching things in life and with resiliency.
The fact is resistance is relentless, it’s a deeply ingrained wiring that we all have to move away from what the brain anticipates to be uncomfortable and stay with what’s comfortable. Not only is this hardwired into most of us, but we’ve practiced is so often that it’s strengthened the default. The brain has such a lock on us, that we’re not even aware of it.
This is why procrastination is so common.
So what do we do about it?
The best way to get the brain to change it seems is through engaging novelty. Kids are doing it like crazy, everything is new. I remember when my oldest was born and we’d walk around the neighborhood. I’d grab a leaf on a tree and say, “See this, this is a leaf. Look closely at the shape and see how it has veins.” In the process I was interacting with life as if for the first time and it inspired wonder and joy within me. I tapped into something important and I knew it.
In the now famous book Tuesdays with Morrie, Morrie points us in the direction of happiness:
“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”