Sunday, 13 April 2014

Ways to Practice Self-Compassion

Most of the shadows in this life are caused by standing in one’s own sunshine.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

v Acknowledge common humanity- we all screw up.  We all make mistakes.  We all let people that we know and love down.  We do it on many occasions.  And so does everyone else.  It can be useful to remind yourself “everyone messes up, I am not on my own” and see if you can connect with a moment where a loved one messed up and treat yourself the same way that you treated them.

v Allowing your heart, values and integrity to be your guide rather than a desire to please or placate others.  When you make choices- check in to see are these choices going to bring you closer towards who and where you want to be?  Or will these choices in fact bring you further away from who and where you want to be?

v “Choose discomfort over resentment”.  I loved this saying when I first heard Dr. Brené Brown make reference to it.  Often we say yes when we really want to say no out of a sense of obligation, or no when we really want to say yes as we are hooked on some reason why we can’t do it.  These choices often give us some relief.  Yet this relief is often short-lived, quickly replaced by resentment, which unfortunately can hang around like a bad smell.

v Importance of seeing and listening deeply.  Zen Master Thich Nhat Hahn speaks of the importance of looking and listening deeply.  See if you can go below the surface of the situation/yourself and delve into the heart of what’s going on in situations/yourself.  He proposes that when we look at ourselves, and others, at a shallow level- we see only faults.  Yet, when we look more deeply- we are more likely to witness common humanity and the many strengths we have. 

v Allowing ourselves to be seen and heard deeply by others and ourselves.  It follows that it is not enough to see and hear deeply.  We also must be willing to allow ourselves to be seen and heard deeply.  Many of us, myself included, can hide behind masks.  We can find a false sense of security in only showing certain parts of ourselves for fear of rejection.  Yet, often the parts we expose are of the more shallow level, which is often judged by ourselves, and others, harshly.  And we protect and therefore hide the hidden gems within.

v Recognize that our emotions and bodily sensations often hold important messages for us.  It can be useful to slow down and connect beneath the surface level of these feelings to what helpful messages they might be trying to tell us.  For example, this past week I noticed the emotion of overwhelm that was about to tip into resentment and bodily sensations in the forms of sore throat and general lethargy.  When I tuned in I could see clearly that I had overcommitted and spread myself too thin.  I could also see that I wasn’t getting a sense of freedom and joy any more from these activities as I was doing things out of a sense of obligation completely disconnected from the values underlying my actions.  So I needed to make some uncomfortable moves for me, which was lightening my load by pulling back from some things.  Risking the potential to disappoint others in order to be true to my inner core values.
v Acknowledge that on the journey to loving ourselves more, when engaged in fully, we may often love ourselves less temporarily.  Personally when I fully showed up to who I was- warts and all- I found this difficult.  I often found more reasons to reject myself that to accept myself.  To be willing to recognize and acknowledge this- being accepting of my non-acceptance of myself was the first important step.  Wherever you are currently is the perfect place to start putting loving fluid into your tank so you can go that extra mile, or maybe even before you can take that first step in that direction.  

We are each gifted in a unique and important way.  It is our privilege and our adventure to discover our own light.  ~Mary Dunbar

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

How do I know when I'm Mindfully Overcoming Thinking Traps?

“No one ever tells us to stop running away from fear...the advice we usually get is to sweeten it up, smooth it over, take a pill, or distract ourselves, but by all means make it go away.”  ~ Pema Chödrön

Thought defusion isn’t working for me.  I’m not feeling better.  This is a common barrier that arises when people start to practice and apply thought defusion on a regular basis.  At first, people are simply curious to see what will happen.  They have no expectations.  Overtime though if we become used to having a particular distancing and calming effect of defusion- we can start to expect this.  And we’re none too happy when this doesn’t happen.

I would be lying to you if I said that I didn’t enjoy when I feel some sense of relief when I apply defusion after a period of being extremely hooked by some unhelpful thoughts.  I often have to remind myself, and others, that Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is all about living better rather than feeling better.  This can be such a difficult concept for us to get our heads around.  We are in a “feel good” society as the opening quote by Pema Chödrön illustrates so beautifully. 

We have years and years of conditioning that tells us that fear, anxiety, sadness, frustration, guilt and anger are “bad”.  Conversely happiness, surprise and excitement are “good”.  If we look at the nine basic emotions, as Dr. Russ Harris does in his best-selling book The Happiness Trap, we will soon realize that we are hoping to feel one third of our emotions 100% of the time.  A very clear recipe for disaster.  

I would like to share a very common barrier that arises for my clients, group and workshop attendees.  And the best way to overcome this barrier is for me to ask you a question.  If you would like the more entertaining version, which involves me singing unhelpful thoughts to the tune of Happy Birthday, then you can click here.

Here’s the scenario. 
Both Ann and Mary have social anxiety.  They both get hooked by the thought “I might have a panic attack” before they go to any event.  They are both learning to do thought defusion as a way of overcoming their common thinking traps.  They both value relationships and would really like to reconnect with old friends who they have lost contact with as they have been buying into their anxious thoughts and moving further and further away from who and where they want to be.

Ann decides to do defusion by saying the thought “I’ll have a panic attack” into the Talking Tom App and finds it really funny hearing it back.  She starts laughing and immediately feels better.  She decides to stay in and enjoy the feeling of not being anxious.

Mary decides to do defusion by singing her thought “I’ll have a panic attack” along to the tune of Happy Birthday.  Afterwards, she feels really bad.  If anything, she feels worse than she did before she did the defusion.  However, taking the time to do the exercise gave her a chance to reconnect to her values of relationships and connection so she decides to go out to meet her friend even though she still has the thought and continues to feel anxious.

Which person do you think did thought defusion from an ACT perspective?  Which one moved closer towards her values?  This is often easier to see for others than it is for us to see for ourselves.