Hello! Welcome to our second round of Mindful Monday (apologise for the cheesy name). You can find part one here, before I dive in here are a few reminders about the course.
Where was it taken? On FutureLearn (FL) which I have used a few times and highly recommend to visit to see if anything peaks your interest. Full course name: Mindfulness for Wellbeing & Peak Performance, courtesy of Monash University.
Price? All courses are free and some offer a participation certificate which you can purchase after completion of your course.
Can I join in the fun? YES. The course returns to FL, Monday 23rd May so if after reading you find yourself curious to learn more, head over there and save yourself a spot!
What did it consist of? We were given lots of resources in the form of: videos / audio / pdf / web links / books. There were also recommendations for further learning and ways to incorporate what we were taught into our daily lives. One major way we were encouraged to do that was by keeping a journal. Alongside our journal, we explored different mediations and asked to note down our experience.
The journal could also be used throughout the day to jot down thoughts we had, and over the next six weeks it was referred to throughout as a reminder to sit with our thoughts a while longer than we usually would, in keeping with a mindful practice.
Now for a recap of weeks three to four.
The week where we delve a bit more into multitasking and uni-tasking (which I hadn’t heard of before). So what’s the difference between two?
One is walking in a non-complex environment and having a conversation with somebody about something important. The other is complex multitasking. Where we’re trying to pay attention to multiple complex things at the same time. FL
The discussion quickly moved onto how when we force ourselves into doing complex multitasking, it can cause us so much unnecessary anxiety. This can have a huge negative effect on our bodies as well as our emotions.
Our state of mind has a very powerful influence on how our body feels. This area of science is called mind-body medicine. So for better or worse, our mental and emotional state has direct influences. The stress response has a very important role to play.
Unfortunately we’re activating that flight or fight response 99% of the time not over what’s happening in their environment but what’s happening in here. We are creating stressors.
We’re creating all sorts of anxieties about what if’s and maybe’s in the future or reliving stressors from the past, and that produces an inappropriate activation of that flight or fight response and that comes at a cost. FL
I think most of us are aware that stress is bad for our general wellbeing, but I don’t think we’re as well informed as we could be. I for one didn’t really understand how stress and anxiety could affect other areas outside of my head. I wasn’t really aware that it could affect my heart or even something like my weight.
And speaking of our bodies, this is the point in the course when we were briefly introduced to Immune Dysregulation. This is when things like activating our stressors causes our bodies to,
Get more inflammation, get less defence, so we get the worst of both worlds. We also accelerate the hardening of the arteries that leads to heart attacks and strokes. We lose calcium out of our bones at a much greater rate. FL
If nothing else gets you to at least explore mindfulness, I think delving into the health implications of stress should. As I’ve mentioned before stress is my middle name, and learning more about how damaging it can be, definitely helped motivate me to complete the course. Especially with facts such as:
We actually lose brain cells at a more rapid rate when we are activating the stress chemicals more often then we need to. Our brain ages faster, and the areas of the functioning areas of the brain and the learning and memory centres, the ones we rely on for high performance.
The week ended on this beautiful reminder to take care of ourselves: The body, in a sense is very happy when the minds happy as well.
By this fourth week I didn’t think there was anything new that we could possibly learn, BUT I’m happy to admit I was wrong. In fact I think this was the point in the course I found most relatable. Mainly because it started to dig deeper into relationships (my favourite subject), self-kindness and HAPPINESS.
Anything we practice gets hardwired into our brain and becomes our new default function. The latest findings from an emerging scientific field called ‘contemplative neuroscience’ show that happiness is a skill, just like any other. FL
* If you’d like to know more about contemplative neuroscience, here.
One major takeaway from this week was about another sticky subject, self-criticism. I was really shocked to learn that,
Self-criticism often comes from a well-meaning place. We use it to motivate ourselves to do better, to avoid making (or at least repeating) mistakes, and to protect relationships (by not hurting other’s feelings). FL
Now anything that is to do with the word ‘criticism’ to me has never meant anything good it’s also been associated with being negative and hurtful. Looking at it from this perspective was refreshing to learn BUT before we all start thinking that it’s ok to do this not only to ourselves but to others, we were reminded that of course it’s not all good news.
Self-criticism comes at a cost. It activates the amygdalae and triggers the stress responses, flooding us with adrenaline and cortisol and compounding the suffering we are already experiencing. FL
The teachers explain what this looks like in one of the most beautiful ways they could’ve by introducing the Arrow concept.
It’s like we have been shot with an arrow (the initial failure, set back or other form of suffering) and rather than tending to our wounds and being kind to ourselves, we shoot ourselves with a second arrow. We have little control over the initial wounds that we receive in life, but we have a great deal more over whether we let fly the second arrow. FL
That last sentence has now become a sort of affirmation to myself these days, I try and remind myself daily that just because I don’t have control over some of the hands I am dealt doesn’t mean that I should make things worse for myself by letting a second arrow pierce through me.
One way to ensure we don’t release that second arrow is by practicing self-compassion. This was briefly introduced in week one, but we touch on it again this week.
Self-compassion refers to being kind to ourselves when we are suffering or you could say because we are suffering. Another form of self-compassion is self-kindness. Self-kindness is a sense sorry and a sense of common humanity, and mindfulness.
Self-kindness refers to the tendency to be caring and understanding with ourselves, rather than being harshly critical or judgemental. Common humanity involves recognising that all humans are imperfect. FL
How lovely would it be if we ALL came to that understanding and didn’t spend our time comparing ourselves OR judging other people for who they are? It should be a universal language, but sadly it isn’t. It’s something I personally struggle to imprint into my own head that we are all imperfect.
I grew up comparing myself to other people, to an unhealthy level. It affected me in ways that are still apparent today and I think that’s because we don’t speak about often enough about our own imperfections. We strive to only show the good, which isn’t always an honest portrayal.
Moving on, we went over the fact that there can sometimes be a blurred line between self-compassion and self-esteem BUT that two couldn’t be more different.
Self-esteem refers to a person’s overall subjective emotional evaluation of their own self-worth. So when we fail, for instance to rebuild our self-esteem, we have to try harder or alternatively, to tear other people down. And this is why it can lead to perfection, anxiety, narcissism, and bullying. It also requires everybody to be above average, which is of course a logical inconsistency.
Self-compassion on the other hand, means that we respond in a friendly way to ourselves when we fail or when we’re experiencing suffering or discomfort. We can learn to relate to the vulnerable parts of ourselves in supportive loving ways. FL
One of the most interesting things we discussed was our memory. About the fact that sadly we notice and remember on average seven times more unpleasant events than positive ones! A term that I loved was from Psychologist Rick Hanson that puts in into perspective is: The human brain is a ‘velcro’ for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.
One way to combat self-criticism and low self-esteem is by being kinder to ourselves in the form of loving kindness which,
Refers to an attitude of goodwill- genuinely wishing for others and ourselves to be happy.
When we observe things within ourselves or around us that we don’t like we tend to get emotionally reactive to them. Unfortunately these negative and oftentimes angry reactions tend to reinforce the neural circuits that generated them in the first place. The tendency to fixate attention on things we perceive as negative at the expense of noticing other things is what Psychologist like to call ‘’negativity bias’’. FL
At this point in the course, we were introduced to another lovely concept called savouring. Which didn’t involve food but in the mindfulness sense refers to,
Increasing the intentions and duration of positive experiences and emotions. This can be done via both thoughts and actions that focus our attention on the positive experience. FL
Until this point as obvious as this sounds to do, to be honest I hadn’t ever thought to use savouring for my mind. I’m sure a lot of us as we spoke about last week, find it easy to replay negative experiences in our minds. The possibility that we can flip that over and just as ‘easily’ do it for our positive experiences stayed with me, it’s something that I am working on reminding myself as often as possible.
So how do we practice savouring? Our mentors gave us the following examples:
- Pause whenever you finish a task and savour the sense of completion.
- Notice pleasant sensations throughout the day and hang with these.
- Seek out pleasant things to enhance this.
We can pretty much savour any experience. In keeping with positivity our next topic was all about Gratitude.
There is growing evidence that practicing gratitude has benefits for wellbeing and functioning, because it orients our attention to positive things and therefore helps reprogram the negativity bias. FL
The week ended with us briefly connecting the process of savouring to self-appreciation.
This simply refers to noticing and savouring things that we like about ourselves. Many of us have a natural resistance to doing this, but it can be very helpful to do so. It is like self-compassion for pleasant experiences, and is a natural extension of savouring and gratitude. FL
That’s all for today, but I would love to know you’re personal experiences with savouring and mediation?
Join me for some more Mindful Monday next week.