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The One Major Lesson I’ve Learned

mindfulness and mental healthFor this APA Mental Health Blog Party, I’m going to get right down to it. If there’s one major lesson I’ve learned it’s that we can’t always control what happens to us, but true freedom lies in cultivating the awareness to choose how we want to respond.

Mindfulness is key to mental health.

In my work I see people who have suffered from addiction, anxiety, depression, and multiple forms of trauma. The fact is, they didn’t choose to struggle with this pain and stress, it just happened to them.

An unknown person once said:

“A diamond is just a piece of charcoal that handled stress exceptionally well.”

But how do we get to the place where we can handle this stress exceptionally well? That’s the trick. It doesn’t just happen overnight and it’s often a lifetime practice and one that thrives with patience.

For most of us, realizing that we don’t have to be held hostage by our uncomfortable feelings is a revelation. We can choose to hold them and relate to them from a place of curiosity and warmth. But before we can even do that we need to be aware that the feeling is there.

There is a tremendous amount of freedom in this and is also a practice in connecting with our own inner wisdom. We all have the power to be aware and to break free from the habitual ways of living that bind us. I wholeheartedly believe this.

The great question for you is how do your emotions run your life? Does fear hold you back from engaging in things that could make you happy? Are there moments in your life where you shut down from communication because you feel overwhelmed or angry? Does shame keep you stuck in the same addictive cycles?

Here is 3 steps to get started on regaining control over your life and beginning to recognize how much more freedom there really is.

  1. Recognize the feeling – You might even want to be on the lookout for it, calling it out when it’s there. This immediately disengages you from the narrative network in your brain and gives the choice to step into the next step.
  2. Get curious about the feeling – Give yourself the chance to do something different. Imagine that this feeling wasn’t good or bad, but just an arising sensation in your body. What is the texture of the feeling, the shape, the size, does it have a color? In doing this, you’re training your mind that it doesn’t have to be so reactive to this feeling.
  3. Wrap it in compassion – Imagine surrounding this feeling in a pool of warmth, a loving presence. This may not come naturally, but try to imagine this feeling like a wounded child and see how you could relate to it then.

Of course these instructions are simple, but this is not an easy task. Recognize that you have a choice in how you relate to your feelings, choose this different response, and start recognize that even though you can’t control what happens to you, you can control how you respond to it and this is where freedom lies.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Photo by Christina Rutz, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.

The One Major Lesson I’ve Learned

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is creator of the six month online program A Course in Mindful Living, author of the book Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion, The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler: Quick Exercises to Calm Your Mind, the premier eCourse Basics of Mindfulness Meditation: A 28 Day Program, the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations. Join The Now Effect Community for free Daily Now Moments and a Weekly Newsletter. Dr. Goldstein is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles.

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APA Reference
Goldstein, E. (2011). The One Major Lesson I’ve Learned. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from


Last updated: 18 May 2011
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