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WHEN CHANGING YOUR MIND IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO

Some years ago, I read Eckhart Tolle’s book ‘The Power of Now’. It was a difficult read at the time because I found it hard to grasp both the complexity and the simplicity of what he was saying. Complex if you are in the throes of living a busy, heady, left-brained life, but simple in that the core tenet of it was simply to learn to separate ‘yourself’ from ‘your mind’, which should be a tool that you use, rather than the other way round.

But most of us are in the habit of believing everything ‘our minds’ tells us about ourselves and doing everything our mind tells us we ‘need to do’. By the time, we reach adulthood, we have absorbed so much from outside of ourselves whether through family, school, peers or other influences, we are so conditioned into thinking a certain way, to holding certain beliefs about ourselves and others, to identifying with our ‘mind’ and all it has accumulated over the years, to the extent that this becomes our personality. However, the reality is that this is rarely who ‘we’ really are, merely who we have become, to fit into the particular world in which we grew up.

Not all, but probably the majority of people, if they can separate themselves long enough to actually listen to their mind, will notice the volume of ‘negative self-talk’, the fear-based thinking or maybe on the other hand, it will be the judgement of others rather than themselves, but nonetheless stemming from fear and insecurity if you look deeper.

The mind tends to keep us very busy, mostly in the past or in the future, but rarely in the present moment, which is when our life experience is actually happening, so technically we are not present, available, conscious or aware for most of the minutes, hours, days and years of our lives, and to truly appreciate all we proclaim to value about it.

Think about it. How much of your day today so far do you really remember, in detail? Did you do anything on autopilot while ‘your mind’ was elsewhere? Was that almost all the time? What percentage of it was positive as opposed to critical or negative? If you tried not thinking for one full minute, how successful would you be? Who or what is controlling you then?

Would this reality give any insight into why we operate so much from fear-based thinking, why we react almost unconsciously rather than consciously respond, and why we struggle so much to enjoy the simple pleasure of whatever is going on in the moment?

We try to control so much with our minds when in fact the mind is controlling us most of the time.

Much of positive psychology teaching and tools today, emphasise non-resistance, letting go, accepting the ‘isness’ of the moment as a way of letting go of the struggle, simply accepting what is, what has already occurred or is happening, doing what you practically can do about it and then getting on with life, without overthinking, without trying to control it all. This goes against natural instinct for most ‘fixers’ and ‘doers’ out there. It’s a simple shift in perspective, but one that releases a lot of pressure and responsibility. Simple but complex!

Before you can achieve that goal however of real presence and acceptance in everyday life, it’s usually necessary to find a way to re/connect with yourself, to get out of the head and into the body.

In this process you start to observe thoughts, patterns, habits, self-talk and conditioned ways of being, reacting, of seeing and presenting yourself. Once you do this, you can start to make changes, to choose different perspectives, to choose better responses, to develop new habits and in doing so, change the quality and direction of your life. That shift in perspective towards accepting what already ‘is’ (as there is nothing you can do about something that has already occurred) is a prime example of how you can use your mind differently, to choose different responses to situations as they arise. You then start to become more your true self, rather than the conditioned, artificially created one.

Interestingly, as people progress along this deeper path, they tend to start to enjoy simple things more, whether it’s a nice sunset or a brief chat with a stranger, they spend more time with this increased ‘space’ doing what they enjoy, now that they actually know who they are and what they like, as opposed to the ‘conditioned’ version they mistook for themselves or buried under all the busyness and ‘to do’s’. They are letting go more, resisting less, trusting more, in the universe, in God, in the quantum field or whatever expression of personal or spiritual growth or self-actualization they identify with.

‘People need something to hold onto, especially when times get tough’, is a phrase I have heard multiple times, usually from the older generation, usually referring to the demise of traditional religious practices among ‘younger people’, which is basically anyone under 60 or 70 from their perspective.

But past generations trusted and believed that they weren’t on their own, that they didn’t need to solve it all, fix it all, pre-empt it all, they just needed to do their best with the right intentions and they would cope as best they could with whatever life threw at them.

So maybe people are indeed searching for something and finding it, in themselves, in a more connected, intuitive and natural way of living, as a modern-day form of spirituality in place of or alongside traditional practices, and the interesting thing is that more and more people are doing this, usually without others knowing!

“If you get the inside right, the outside will fall into place. Primary reality is within; secondary reality without.” – Eckhart Tolle  

Have you ever wondered how everyday life and work have evolved so much, that so many have to actively counter balance the mental stress and pressures, through more ‘activities’, consciously engaged in to come ‘back down to earth’ or ‘out of the head’?

If you’ve ever had a conversation with an older person, you may have been given a glimpse of the answer. The stories you will have heard may be along the lines of… while times were very tough, money was tight, there were big families to feed and shelter often in small houses with few of the facilities we now have, they were nonetheless largely happier. If you lived in the country, there was more hard, physical work, often outdoors on farms, with neighbours helping each other out and the door permanently open for the drop in cup of tea or the music session at the weekend or meeting up at the crossroads to cycle to the dance some miles away.

For the most part, their day to day lives involved close connection, neighbourliness, music, the outdoors, physical activity, baking, sewing, or whatever other craftwork was needed to meet basic needs. What was once a natural part of everyday life is now something we have learned we need to orchestrate, to provide balance and grounding and support mental wellbeing, in order to counter the effects of modern day living.

Most are now consciously burning off mental stress through active exercise and outdoor pursuits or supporting wellbeing through daily activities such as meditation, mindfulness, journalling, spending time in nature and with animals, listening to music, creative and craft activities of all sorts, all with the common thread of arriving at a place that facilitates inner calm, a focus on nothing other than the task in hand as opposed to the stream of thoughts in the mind, the to-do-lists, the worry lists, the what-if’s.

We know that connection is crucial to people’s sense of wellbeing. This was a strong feature of lifestyles of the past, possibly too much so some would argue, when you had half a dozen kids sometimes sharing not just the same room, but often the same bed!

Isolation as we know from the past few years of Covid lockdowns created havoc mentally for people, and indeed even still on an everyday basis for those who are or feel alone by virtue of circumstances. We all have an innate need to be part of a ‘pack’ or community for safety, but also to feel a sense of belonging and identity.

But we also need connection with ourselves, and when we don’t have this, spending time alone can be very challenging.

At its core, I believe that is what we are ultimately trying to achieve through the many and varied wellness tools and activities that are growing daily, to re/connect with ourselves. There is the obvious impact of social media detaching us from reality, minimising real human interaction and providing a false basis for endless comparison of life and looks, which in itself, generates a feeling of lack and separation.

But I believe it goes even deeper than that. Many are no longer comfortable when left to spend time with just themselves, with nothing to do, no opportunity to distract through busyness of all sorts. When this occurs, as it did for many over the past few years, people are left wondering what their purpose is, when they are not doing. This is where the ‘being’ versus ‘doing’ debate kicks in and few of us actually know the difference.

Many clients I work with are dissatisfied with some aspect of life or work and have hit the point where they want to make changes, but don’t know where to begin. I usually begin digging deep to get to know who they really are as a starting point. This is often the most challenging part for clients as they can’t remember, they have lost touch with themselves. But if you don’t know who you are and what brings you joy, or makes you miserable, how can you ‘become’ happy, how can you design your life to make ‘you’ happy? It is, as Eckhart Tolle says, the deeper ‘I’ that has that answer.

Many of today’s wellness tools and activities help people start this process of getting comfortable spending time with just themselves. As they begin to experience a bit of space or separation from all the busyness and distraction, they may even begin to recognise or remember who they are underneath all of that, those bits of themselves last seen in childhood!

Some find that as they go deeper than their typical daily routine allowed in the past, they begin to feel more grounded, more connected and less upended and buffeted about by external events, happenings or people, subject to the whim of their particular world on any given day and all that entails. They begin to feel less fearful, like they are taking back some control over their lives, they can respond rather than react, life becomes a bit more easeful and flows better, the way nature intended it…  


Breda Stewart

Core Needs Coaching

You’re always making choices … even when standing still

Email: bredastewart@coreneeds.ie
Phone: 087 7436254
Web: www.coreneeds.ie

If you were to add up the minutes, hours and days spent frustrated and angry over the words or actions of others, how much time and energy would you have wasted… so far? How much of your power would you have given to other people … the power to change your mood, your day, your self-belief?

The issues that tend to disturb us most, that keep us awake at night, most often stem from our interactions with others. Power and control are frequently the underlying themes. The blame and anger build, the emotions rise, the blood pressure joins in or the IBS kicks in. We replay the situation in our minds over and over again and repeat it to whoever will listen so the effects get multiplied, and most likely, in the not-too-distant future, something similar will occur again, and so the cycle repeats. Enough repeats and the stress levels and physical effects become chronic.

I gleaned one piece of information from a week-long course I undertook many years ago in what is called ‘Choice Theory, Reality Therapy’. In a nutshell it is that WE choose our responses to everything. We cannot control what happens, but no matter what, the reality is we get to choose how we respond. Likewise, nothing and no-one ‘makes’ us anything.

The key lesson I have learned is that in wanting anyone or anything else to change so we can be happier, we are leaving our happiness dependent on our ability to control other people and external situations.

Whether it’s a work colleague or line manager, a family member, someone on our sports teams or local committees, it really doesn’t matter. The effects and the outcomes are the same and the only common denominator in all these situations is you.

Everyone grows up with their own strengths and weaknesses, values and priorities, attitudes and beliefs, their default ways of being and their defensive mechanisms, most of which developed through childhood and conditioning as they navigated life in their early formative years … just as ours did.

These are never going to be in complete harmony with our own. This is why we are naturally drawn to some people and not to others.

But there are many situations in life and work where we can’t specify the personalities of the people we encounter. Inevitably, someone will trigger a reaction in us. It may be because we don’t like their attitude, we’re offended by something they said, or our perception of what they said, we may feel ‘it makes us look bad’. It may be because it challenges something in us, whether it grates against what we value as important, or whether it connects with a hidden fear or self-doubt we harbour.

Regardless of why it triggers us, the end result is our own internal defence mechanism kicks in … or ‘internal guidance system’ if you’ve mastered self-awareness! But by focusing on the other person and what they are saying or doing ‘wrong’ we are missing the point.  

We might want the other person to change their way of being so we can be happier, but we have no control over that. What we have control over is our awareness and perspective of what’s happening and more importantly, our response to it. Some people quit the committee or leave the job or avoid meeting whoever it is. Sometimes this can be a wise move, other times it is just running away from the situation rather then addressing the internal issue … until confronted once again!

Do you need to be more assertive (not aggressive, not plotting revenge, not growing an army of supporters or engaging in power plays!)?  Do you simply take away it’s power to control your emotions by taking away your attention from it?  Is there a different perspective you can take … is there a possibility the other person is acting out of fear, insecurity or lack of interpersonal skills rather than any perceived issue or weakness on your behalf? On the other hand, maybe, there is some validity to what is being said and you could accept and learn from this? If none of these are going to work in your situation, do you make a choice regarding your situation?

There are as many ways to change your response as there are situations which occur. Your task is to bring a bit of self-awareness to the situation and see what way you choose to handle this, how you will honour your own values, beliefs and perspectives while minimising the emotional charge going towards judgement and resistance of the other’s perspective or way of being.

As Viktor Frankl, a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps during World War 11 commented, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

When we realize that WE have the power to totally change those interactions, we realize we are in control and external situations or people no longer get to control our mood, our day, our state of being. The bonus is we grow in self-awareness and confidence in the process, so sometimes these challenges are the greatest lessons and tools for real empowerment.

 

Breda Stewart

Core Needs Coaching

You’re always making choices … even when standing still

Email: bredastewart@coreneeds.ie
Phone: 087 7436254
Web: www.coreneeds.ie

 

 

Many terms have been used to describe the essential or core needs we all have as humans. One that I particularly like is that of the human ‘givens’, referring to our fundamental physical and emotional needs, which if not met create disturbance within us.

We are designed in such a way that our emotions act as an internal guidance system to let us know when these needs are not being met. You’re probably familiar with that churning feeling in the pit of your stomach, or the sudden heart racing or breathlessness that occurs at times of stress or challenge, or maybe that ongoing low-level, lingering unease or anxiety.

In our usually busy lives, we have become accustomed to ignoring these alarm bells and dealing, as we have always dealt with, whatever the immediate issue or trigger is without much thought. We ignore multiple different situations and stressors, consciously or unconsciously, time and time again.

Then at some point, when our systems are overloaded and cracks appear in our physical, emotional or mental health, we are confused as to what’s happened and why. Most often, while the situations or people involved may vary, there is an underlying core need that is not being met or something that we value is being undermined or taken away from us.

So rather than waiting for the system ‘crash’, learn to tune into yourself more often, ideally in the moment, when you get that physical or emotional response, or if you miss that moment (it takes practice), take a minute afterwards to observe what was really going on for you. Maybe next time you will be better prepared and choose a different response that better serves you.

The reality is that, unlike a computer or electrical gadget with flashing red lights, you can’t be replaced, so preventing problems or at least taking remedial action, is critical.

A lot of people I meet are ‘stuck’ in some sort of loop of confusion, stagnancy, frustration, friction or fear. The emotions are doing the job of telling them something isn’t right, but they don’t know what, and they don’t know where to begin to look for the root cause.

This is where understanding our core needs can help, providing a sort of baseline or map from which to explore our current reality, identify the underlying problem and then make changes to get to a better place.

So what are these core needs?

Primary among these is a sense of safety and security. This can refer to our physical safety, having a roof over our head, having a job or income.

There are however, other apparently less fundamental needs, the absence of which can have a profound effect on our lives and happiness. These include a sense of connection and belonging, being part of a wider group or community of people.

They include the need to feel esteem for ourselves, to be achieving, recognised, valued. We also need to have our own sense of identity and freedom and space to continue to grow.

While these basic needs may appear less ‘important’, they are very often at the root of many of the challenges faced by people on an everyday basis.

Recognizing the missing elements in your life can help you become unstuck and begin making the changes necessary to get back on the right track for you.


Breda Stewart

Core Needs Coaching

You’re always making choices … even when standing still

Email: bredastewart@coreneeds.ie
Phone: 087 7436254
Web: www.coreneeds.ie

 

As we appear to be exiting the worst of the pandemic and re-entering the world we used to know under somewhat different terms and conditions, many people are questioning what’s important to them going forward into the next phase of their lives, recognising maybe for the first time what they really value, want more of, what they can no longer tolerate, what they simply do and don’t want.

While whirring away in the daily routine of life at work or home for years, there was little time or inclination to take this sort of ‘helicopter’ view. But Covid-19 and all its trappings, changed that. We had time, and plenty of it, in confined spaces with a limited number of people, working and ‘Zooming’ from morning ‘til night or getting to know every blade of grass in a 5km radius, depending on whether you were front-lined or furloughed.

But this new perspective presents a different kind of instability than was experienced over the past 18 months when we were told what we could and couldn’t do. This came with the ‘you can now hug your granny’ set of instructions.  Now the choices are increasingly ours to own, and people are feeling challenged in ways they never were before.

Resistance to the norm, the ‘done thing’, the unquestioning ‘normality’, has increased and this is something we often don’t know how to navigate. For much of our lives, we have followed familiar and often expected pathways. This internal shift has happened somewhat by default, through circumstances beyond our control.  

On an everyday basis, this is what we unknowingly tend to do. We wait for things to force change, rather than choose change, we stay in 'the comfort zone'. Other times, it’s unfortunate, unplanned events, such as redundancy, illness or bereavement, that foist change upon us. But in these times, the tendency is to feel more like victims, rather than creators of a new life experience more of our choosing.

If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it is that everything can change in an instant, there are no guarantees, there is no controlling everything, there is only making the best decisions you can with the information you have at any given time, over and over again. But I believe it has also taught us that we only have one life to lead and that we should value it and make the most of the experience.

Change challenges us, so we have a choice to stay as we are until life changes things for us, that is, we respond to external forces, or we can choose to design our own lives, with all the opportunity and challenge that may bring. We may revert back to comfort zones or we may build confidence and resilience as we live life more as we choose to. There is no right or wrong decision, only what works best for you. 

 

Breda Stewart

Core Needs Coaching

You’re always making choices … even when standing still

Email: bredastewart@coreneeds.ie
Phone: 087 7436254
Web: www.coreneeds.ie