Q: I have areas of my life that I now know are influenced by Pavlovian Triggers. A phrase used innocently by someone that my bullying ex-partner also used to dig at me has set me off and upset me. I hate feeling like a prisoner of my past. I cannot seem to escape. Can Mind Fitness help?
Yes. In short. The principals of self-awareness, self-compassion, and an intention to begin the process of change. You may find that the Mindfulness exercises are helpful in limiting the trigger response. You’ll also find the ABC model of help in reframing your cognitive responses. Find out what works for you and practice. In time you can make positive change and go from feeling like a prisoner of the past to a pioneer of your future!
The same thoughts and Noise keep repeating, especially when I am doing the Mindfulness exercises
If you find that a thought appears two or three times have a think about whether it could be related to a belief you may hold. It is often hidden unhelpful beliefs that continually trip us up. For example, many of us harbour a deep-seated belief that we do not deserve the good things that we have or the positive things that are happening to us. If this is true for you then this may well be the obstacle that has prevented you from achieving what you could, or prevented you from really nurturing the success or happiness when it comes along. It is the reason why so many people seem to lose what they have obtained soon after they have found their greatest success, even if they have worked incredibly hard to obtain it. And this, of course, can apply as much to loss of purpose and loss of happiness as to loss of material gain. It’s good to have your notebook handy. When a thought comes for the second or third time, just note it down to deal with later.
Does it matter what ‘words’ I use when I talk to myself?
Words are actually incredibly important. It isn’t just semantics. Think about the last argument that you had. Now imagine that the language, the words used by the other person were considerably harsher. It becomes a completely different argument, even if their actions, tone and demeanour don’t change. Part of the change to being kinder to yourself is changing the language that you use. For very many of us the words we use to criticise ourselves we would never use to anyone else. And we employ the harshest of demands. If you can move from ‘I punish myself’ to ‘I allow myself’ you will have taken the heat out of the demands. If something is forbidden there is a perverse but common response to kick against it. If it’s allowed, well, hey – maybe we can move on to something else.
I know I should be staying in the moment, but I’m good at planning for the future, it’s one of the things I do best.
That’s great. Good planning can take a lot of the stress out of difficult tasks or situations. It’s the negative worrying about the future, imagining the list of terrible potential futures that does us harm. It’s a good sign of just how powerful our imagination is in that we can often feel our stomach tighten the moment the ‘what if’ scenario comes into our head. We would say, however, that balance is important. Don’t spend so much time planning forwards that you are missing the moment.
I am worried that with a lot of performers there it will get competitive. Does this happen?
Every performer who has taken part has commentated on the supportive environment created through the day. Many have said that this is one of the strongest aspects of the course.
I am being held back by being conscious of the Goals I have forsaken
Many of us have goals that have fallen by the wayside, and most of the time that’s OK. As a youngster I (BW) set out to be an ice-skater, training for 6-8 hours a day. But at 17 I stopped and went to college. It was a choice, made because I knew I was not good enough to move up to the next level and there were other things that I was interested in. Choice is the key.
Unfortunately all too often we make decisions, even life-changing ones, in times of stress and real difficulty. This means that we don’t acknowledge the decisions we are making and the paths that we are taking and rejecting, let alone accepting the reasons that these choices are being made.
It is common now for people to change career during their lifetime, often more than once. Some people I know have taken a new career path through choice, others have felt that this change was forced upon them. When this happens, when we take a path without choosing it or acknowledging that we have done so, we start to live with two realities. After college I went to drama school to train as a theatre director. I have several friends who over the years have given up acting and moved into other careers where they have achieved brilliant things. Despite having extremely successful lives – families, career, interests, they still see themselves as failed actors rather than successful writers, presenters or parents.
If you have two divergent paths running parallel in this way then one of them will almost certainly be holding you back and making you feel less satisfied with what you have. Remember, nothing that you have ever done is wasted. Your collective experience is what makes you the person that you are. Accept that you have taken one of the paths; in one short life we cannot do everything.
Surely I’m too Old to be Creative
You are never too old to be creative. Just a few inspiring stories. Harry Bernstein had written a number of unpublished novels when younger, then at age 97 he wrote the autobiographical ‘Invisible wall’ followed a year later by ‘The Dream. At the age of 98 he was awarded the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship to pursue his writing. Daniel Defoe wrote his debut novel ‘Robinson Crusoe’ when over 70. Even Judi Dench, of course, a well known stage actress throughout her career, didn’t make her first film until over 60. And, of course, creative people often continue to create until the end of their lives, spurred on by the passion and meaning. There is currently an almost endless list of musicians writing and performing at 70 years and over – Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Mick Jagger, Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, Art Garfunkel and Neil Diamond to name but a few.
Having embraced change, how do I make positive steps towards my long held but previously feared goals?
As we say in the chapter, part of the process of affecting personal change is to be clear of what we actually want. You may have dreamed of a change in career but felt too risk averse, for perfectly valid reasons to make that happen. Why rock the boat maybe? It’s bound to go wrong – possibly? That sort of thing. Many years ago I (AB) reached a crossroads in my career and I just couldn’t evaluate possible routes to travel. A very skilled coach helped me to clear my vision. I undertook an audit. I listed all the things I’d like to do, no matter how far fetched, and that helped me to create the right environment to evaluate feasible options (astronaut didn’t make it!) and begin my particular process of career change. Of course, we’re all different, with myriad priorities and potential, but the beginning of the process of change is to learn to embrace it through acceptance and then start to create a clear vision.
By adopting the ABC process, how far can I go towards achieving an almost entirely problem free life?
The ABC model is an effective way of identifying and reframing our unhelpful beliefs and unhealthy emotions in order to improve the way we think, feel and behave. It’s about improving your life, enhancing your relationships, being more productive and motivated and simply, by so doing, feeling happier. Of course, you’ll always have challenging times and troublesome situations, but the ABC model will help you to deal with those Activating events in a more helpful way.
How do you use the Awfulising Exercise when the situation is really awful?
The Awfulising Exercise isn’t relevant if you have suffered a real crisis. In these circumstances believing the situation should score high is right thinking, not distorted thinking. What you need is a safe place where you can sit with the negative emotions, however hard that may be, but do not allow the ANTS take you away from the emotion and lead you down the downward spiral of self-criticism and remorse.
If you are not sure if it is distorted thinking ask yourself:
- How permanent is this?
- How pervasive is this
- How much is it my fault
I value my opinions and politics. How can I stay politically active if I’m only supposed to act with compassion?
There is a fundamental difference between condemning something and not allowing it to disturb you. In no part of this book will you be asked to set aside opinions or ideas that are key to your identity. Not do you want to lose what makes you vital and passionate. The aim is that you feel more alive, not less.
In the book we looked at the difference between aggression and assertion, the former making you more likely to suffer chronic stress and less likely to win an argument.
If you vehemently disagree with a government policy of course demonstrate, and definitely work for change. You care. You want sincerely to be part of a process of improvement. What could be more in keeping with ‘acting with love or compassion’ than that?
It is the same if what you want to protest about is a personal issue. We had someone tell us in a course ‘I’m so angry at my husband’s behaviour I could tear myself into shreds. If I lose the anger aren’t I condoning what he has done?’ Absolutely not. You will be putting yourself back in control, into a place where you can decide properly whether to go forward with the relationship. To live inside that anger is to tear yourself into shreds. It isn’t a state, in a political or personal situation, from which you can make meaningful change.
I need to stay in the state of flow to finish a project I’m doing. I know I am close to the edge but don’t want to lose the intense creativity.
If you move into the phase of chronic or unhealthy stress it is likely that you will feel that you are continuing to be as creative and insightful when this might not actually be the case. As we lose connection our perception becomes warped. It’s important to build in some downtime or at least do some mindfulness work to bring yourself back onto the right side of the line. There is a whole area approaching the line where you can stay semi-permanently relaxing into a sense of control while still doing your best.
Why do successful people seem so prone to extreme unhappiness?
In our celebrity culture this certainly seems to be the case, although there are, of course, plenty of successful people living contented lives out of the public view.
There are a combination of reasons. The first is that being in the public eye is an almost inconceivable pressure. We all of us find it hard to keep enough of us for ‘us;’ how much harder must this be if you feel yourself to be public property and an object of intense scrutiny.
The second and most important reason is that success, in terms of fame and celebrity status, is not a major ingredient of happiness. As we have seen our beliefs and our Meaning are key, and perhaps it’s harder to be self-aware and authentic if you see yourself reflected back from magazines and social media, each a slightly different version of. You.
Looking For More Book Resources?
Extra content and additional useful exercises available for Unlock You readers.