Or put the kettle in the fridge, or even walked in to a room and forgotten why. All of these are practical examples of what goes wrong when we are not mindful. And all are examples taken from my own life.
There is a lot of buzz and hype about ‘what is mindfulness’ and how to practice it. John Kabat Zinn defines mindfulness as simply ‘paying attention in a particular way’. Pavel Somov, who uses mindfulness in the treatment of anger states that it is the gap ‘between the mindstream and its metacognitive riverbank’. Mindfulness is, simply, the act of being aware of our thoughts, conscious of our actions and intentioned in our choices.
I am a practicing psychologist and incorporate a number of psychological theories and models into my practice. Predominantly I use Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) as the underpinning basis of all my work. CBT focuses on a ‘magic circle’ of Thoughts, Emotions and Behaviours. The concept is that these are interrelated but distinct. For example, if we feel sad (emotion) then we may focus on sad things (thoughts) and cry (behaviours). Similarly if we feel angry, we may focus on those things that fuel our anger (the car that just cut us off, the fight we had with our partner, the irritating loud breathing of a work colleague) and this is where mindfulness becomes powerful because behaviour is always a choice.
I know you don’t want to think it is, and that you ‘can’t help’ yelling at your kids when they do that thing AGAIN, or at yourself when you make a mistake! But you can. And the practice of mindfulness is key.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the next time you’re angry you should just choose not to yell. Mindfulness is a practice after all, you have to practise. If you wanted to learn the violin you wouldn’t wait until the day of the concert to pick it up for the first time. You’d rehearse until you were fluent and could do it under the stressful conditions of the concert.
Mindfulness is the same. Start simple. Try taking a few breaths (seriously, try it). Did you notice the way your chest and stomach moved in and out? Did you notice that your clothes restricted your breath anywhere? Did you hear the sound of your own breath? Did you feel the air moving over your skin or into your nostrils? Did you notice any thoughts about how ridiculous this felt? Congratulations!! You were mindful! Now try it again tomorrow, and the next day, then choose something else to do mindfully (brushing your teeth is a real challenge!!). Just pay attention (in a particular way). Do it everyday until you are fluent. Then try it out when you are angry, or sad, or stressed out. You will get there!
This is the first of many blogs on mindfulness- we plan to integrate theory and research with our own experiences as we explore and practise mindfulness ourselves. So please keep (at)tuned!