You made it! You learned about Trait and State Discomfort, journeyed through the Cycle of Discomfort, and learned how Cognitive Distortions and Subjectivity can make everything feel worse. You’ve come a long way, Baby!
I hope you’ll forgive me for subjecting you to all the painful stuff first. I teach this stuff in public classes, and I am completely aware that it can feel exhausting to focus so hard on discomfort. I often hear, “Ok, but how do I stop this thing?” I empathize, I do. But remember, I operate under the belief that awareness and acceptance of the current reality are key to change. That means, I feel obligated to tell you ALL ABOUT how we get to where we are before I offer the solution – even though the solution is also about recognizing all the signs that tell us where we are.
That’s a mouthful.
At any rate. You’re here now.
And here’s the solution: Mindfulness.
Ok. Ok. You might be thinking, “geez, Tara….are you a one-trick pony or what? Is Mindfulness ALL you’ve got?”
Mindfulness is what I’ve got, and it’s SOOOOO BIG and delicious – like the biggest German Chocolate Cake you’ve ever seen. It has so much to offer, and if you savor each bite, well….
Enough about cake.
Let’s talk about the ways a mindfulness practice can help you get off the Cycle of Discomfort.
First, imagine the Cycle as a circle. There are 2 places on the circle that are all about action or behavior. Almost all the way around the circle is SELF LIMITATION or SELF SABOTAGE. These are the actions that you take to get away from feeling ashamed. If you back up a little more, to about the halfway point, you have your REACTION – the behavior that acts as the let-off valve for your emotional discomfort (energy). These are the spots where you quit school, kick the door, relapse, punch a wall, cancel an appointment, walk out, shut down, blame someone for something, curse, or leave your cart at the grocery store. A consistent mindful breath practice can help you slow down, take a breath, and avoid these emotion (energy) driven actions, make better, value-based decisions, and ultimately feel better about yourself. Try this daily for a week or more:
Find a comfortable seat, or if you have back problems or other issues that make sitting too difficult, lie flat or stand with your feet about hip-width apart.
Tune into your breath. Yep. Just observe your breath moving into and out of your body.
Now, starting on an out-breath, count the number 1. The next out-breath is 2, then 3 and so on. Count to 10 and start again at 1. If you get distracted in the middle, just start again with an out-breath and the number 1.
Do that for 10 minutes if you can. If that’s too long, it’s fine to split the practice in half or even into thirds. Just try to get in about 10 minutes a day.
Easy, right? If you practice consistently, I bet you’ll notice that you’re more likely to slow down and take a deep breath before you jump toward an impulsive action. How cool would that be?
I’ll answer that. Pretty cool.
Now let’s look at the parts of the Cycle that are specifically cognitive (thought-based) in nature and how a steady, consistent mindfulness practice like the one above can help you step off the Cycle.
The first half of the Cycle – one full side of the circle – is all about thoughts. We’ll start at the bottom with INTRUSIVE THOUGHTS. Consistently practicing mindful breath meditation can help you recognize intrusive thoughts as they happen and can give you the chance to come back to the reality of the present moment – reality is usually safer than the stories in our heads. If you’re practicing mindfulness, you may find it easier to remind yourself that you are in the cereal aisle and that you remember turning the stove off after your first cup of French Press coffee rather than increasing your anxiety with a story about the house burning down. Mindfulness practice can help you do the same thing when you recognize that you are PAST or FUTURE TRIPPING. You’ll be better able to catch it and come back to the reality of the present.
The real magic of mindfulness practice, in my opinion, is how it can help us first recognize and ultimately even change those initial thoughts at the top of the Circle. First, with a consistent mindfulness practice under your belt, you’ll be able to catch more and more of those thoughts (Thought Distortions, anyone?) as they happen. Over the long-term tho…. Over the long haul, practicing mindfulness will help you see the WAYS that you THINK and how your THOUGHTS (Beliefs and stories) impact how you feel, and that awareness is the first big jump in CHANGING how your perceive the world around you, ultimately changing how you FEEL about the people, events and things in that world. Can you see how you might start to feel more even, centered, and serene?
I’m picturing myself making the universal sign of MIND BLOWN right here, because that’s actually what that information did for me oh-so-many years ago.
It might be asking a lot, but I’m going to ask. Give this a chance. Try that practice that I mentioned above. Give it a week. If you can give it a week, give it 10. The only way to benefit from Mindfulness is to become more mindful, and in our auto-pilot loving society, the only way to become more mindful is to practice.
Giving up 10 minutes of social media seems like a tiny sacrifice if it could mean feeling more comfortable in your skin.