If I were writing a fictional story and managed to dream up where we are today compared to one year ago, I may begin to question my sanity or praise my imagination. As a mindfulness practitioner, my experience tells me to get with the present because I can’t change the past and building positive thoughts is a great place to start.
I am fully present
Yet challenges land on our plates and affect our course. We do our best to change events to our favor or achieve outcomes that seem out of reach. This is stressful at best.
Shortly before Christmas, 2020, we lost a family member to an illness. The day after the funeral we were booked to cross the English Channel to our home 1200 KM south. 48-hours later, we were advised that travel home was only possible with a negative COVID-19 test.
Four out of six passed the test. My partner and our eldest daughter were left in the UK when we departed on Christmas day.
After exhausting all routes to bring them home, we accepted that we would be reunited once the authorities changed their policies or a negative covid test was achieved. Their gifts stayed under the tree until 8 January 2021.
We managed by mindfully letting go of the things we could not control or change and focused on the positives.
It’s not surprising that mindfulness is often seen as just another “thing” given its apparent popularity in the west. Yet research and my experience of personal practice and delivery of mindfulness programs repeatedly shows that it is more than a set of anecdotes or another passing trend.
Participation in mindfulness training has been shown to maintain and improve working memory capacity during high stress periods.
Mindfulness training has also been shown to reduce memories of negative stimuli and such reduction improves focus and can alleviate psychological distress.
Mindfulness originates in Buddhism and has only a brief history in Western psychological science. Some researchers consider mindfulness to be a one-dimensional construct referring specifically to paying attention to the present-moment experience.
Yet, there are vital missing factors which must also include curiosity, acceptance, and compassion.
Mindfulness is about observing and remaining neutral about what’s going on in your world. This includes the environment within you.
If you are struggling inside, stepping into an observer position offers new perspectives that neutralize discomfort and enables seeing things clearly without the weight of opinion or desire.
Nothing that happens is personal. People and events come and go. Everything evolves, no matter how much we do or, don’t want change.
I’m not talking about surrender or emptying your mind, rather awareness of this, the present moment without worrying about the past or what the future will bring.
What do you choose?
Mindfulness is a meditative practice that emphasizes staying in the moment and focussing on your current physical, mental, and emotional states without judgement.
The goals of my programs are to lower stress levels and to increase focus in the workplace. They are effective for individuals and company teams. All evidence based.
There are many benefits of mindfulness meditation and evidence shows it is a highly effective strategy for the reduction of stress and anxiety. It can also help you to reduce risk of cardiac disease, cognitive decline and boost your immune system.
Guided practice can help you to live your best life at work and at home.
At work, mindfulness helps to alleviate job-related stress and achieve more during working hours.
Mindfulness is a set of positive tools you can share with colleagues and team members to improve the workplace environment. With an experienced guide, a few simple changes can yield greater productivity and a happier and more relaxed atmosphere.
Contrary to some beliefs, mindfulness is not about sitting on a cushion deep in meditation surrounded by candles and incense. Neither is it about emptying the mind.
We are busy humans with plenty going on in our minds and worlds. How are we supposed to offload the content?
Mindfulness can be practiced sitting on a cushion, I often practice when I’m charging along mountain bike trails or for brief moments during my workday. Only I am aware, nobody notices. It is a mental training practice that teaches how to calm competing thoughts, let go of negativity, and soothe mind and body.
Techniques vary. Some people choose meditation sessions at the start of their day, others practice while they sweep the kitchen floor or gaze at the sky. It’s an evidence-based tool that helps with life without placing our activities on hold.
Wherever we are in life, it helps us to be there completely.
If your mind is fixed in the past or future, present moment actions become challenging.
In extreme circumstances, being locked into what was or what may be is like addiction. You don’t feel like there is a choice; often you don’t realize there is a choice.
Worrying about past or future is like sitting in a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere.
Mindfulness develops focus that can help to change the way you look at things. We can’t control what happens in life, we can control how we respond.
When we hear the same complaints about our products or services repeatedly, it’s natural to feel like we are walking in circles and taking more steps back than forward.
If we repeatedly affirm our limitations when these things happen, it becomes challenging to maintain positive momentum.
Stepping back from challenging thoughts or situations can be difficult.
Learning how to consistently step-back through the power of mindfulness enables us to discover solutions that were previously illusive.
Adding the power of positive psychology focusses on positive emotions and personal strengths.
Mindfulness and positive psychology are the difference makers that enable connection with the positives of demanding situations when it would be easy to sow seeds of negativity and despair.
One of things I’m often asked by potential clients is: I can follow mindfulness exercises for free on YouTube. What do you offer that I can’t get for free?
A search for “Mindfulness Tools” on Google returned over 75-million results including:
- Free exercises
- Simple explanations
- Some free and complete Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programs
None offer a qualified and experienced hand to hold, a guide to point to exactly what you might need, somebody to help keep you accountable and on track, a person to explain putting the theory into life. None offered programs customized to meet specific needs.
There is nothing wrong with most of the free resources, but they can only offer a limited and generalized level of effectiveness without any direct support.
Using a blend of mindfulness, positive psychology, coaching, and traditional therapies where appropriate, all delivered ethically, I offer a guiding hand, questions are answered promptly, and I gently keep my clients accountable while they progress toward their goals. Every program is designed with clients and built around their needs.
Having the qualifications I need to deliver effective programs is important, keeping them current with world-leading evidence based research is essential.
In 2013, Abir Bekhet and Jaclene Zauszniewski published a study in www.pubmed that explored how positive thinking interventions improve quality of life.
There is no shortage of memes, GIFs, blog posts and positive thinking mantras on the Internet and my own experience of positive thinking tells me there is something that makes a difference to my quality of life.
Or is it the absence of negative thinking that makes the difference?
There is a misconception that mindfulness empties the mind of emotions. In reality, mindfulness helps us become more aware and accepting of emotional signals. This helps us control our behaviour and responses to events such as the current world pandemic or challenges at home or work.
Mindfulness helps us to turn towards, and not away from negative thoughts or emotions with acceptance and seeing the thoughts as temporary or transitory. It cannot erase the challenges; it can help us develop the skills for positive management.
The degree at which we feel good or bad, calm, or excited by events comes from our interpretation of events rather than specific emotional feelings. Our feelings follow our interpretations and those are based on a lifetime of experiences.
The amygdala, a small structure lodged deep within each side of the brain, between the ears, helps us learn to be afraid of hazardous things and to rapidly respond to those things based on our past experiences.
Let’s take musophobia as an example. In many cases a phobic fear of mice is a socially induced, conditioned response. Mice may carry disease and diseases are bad for us. We can react fearfully or cut off the access points to our home and keep the mice out. Whatever we do, the mouse elicits an emotion based on our conditioning.
Redundancy, COVID, relationship challenges, political rhetoric, customer opinions, can all produce negative emotional responses ranging from upsetting and disempowering to anger and even rage.
Mindfulness practice can help to change the way we look at things and doing that enables our emotions to change and calm the storm.
We can’t control everything that happens; we can change how we experience our world.
Consider this . . .
A seed sown into the ground will grow under the right conditions. Sometimes seeds surprise us by growing in places we never thought possible.
When the seed grows, it fruits and produces more seeds.
Life multiplies, it is forever becoming more.
Similarly, every thought we have leads to more thoughts. Good, bad, or indifferent, there will always be more. Consciousness continually expands.
Every learned fact or process leads to another. Knowledge incessantly increases.
Our talents bring to mind the desire to cultivate another. The urge of life pushes us forward to seek expression, to be more, do more.
This is the gift of creativity. We all have this gift although sometimes life-events contribute to the growth of weeds that threaten the positive seeds.
There are eight key skills that contribute to positive thinking that can be recalled with the acronym THINKING:
Transforming negative thoughts into positive thoughts.
Highlighting positive aspects of the situation.
Interrupting pessimistic thoughts by using relaxation techniques and distraction.
Noting the need to practice positive thinking.
Knowing how to break a problem into smaller parts to be manageable.
Initiating optimistic beliefs with each part of the problem.
Nurturing ways to challenge pessimistic thoughts.
Generating positive feelings by controlling negative thoughts.
Lowering Stress Levels
Optimists not only experience less stress, but they also cope with it better. They tend to be more resilient and recover from setbacks more quickly Rather than becoming overwhelmed and discouraged by negative events, they focus on making positive changes that will improve their lives.
Turning Pessimism on Its Head
I came across this short “poem” recently. It’s a great thought starter and within those few words there is a wealth of supporting psychological and scientific theory and evidence.
What do you think?
Watch your thoughts, they become words.
Watch your words, they become actions.
Watch your actions, they become habits.
Watch your habits, they become your character.
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.
Positive and Negative Thinking Forms Habits.
Here’s a quick neuro-science explanation . . .
Neural pathways are comprised of neurons connected by dendrites. These are created in our brain based on our habits and behaviors. Dendrites increase when the frequency of a behavior is repeated. When we participate in and frequently repeat new activities, we train our brains to create new neural pathways.
In effect, we reinforce our habits.
On windy days, I stopped riding my mountain bike because I didn’t like the wind. No matter how much I wanted to ride, a windy day meant no ride, and this became a habit.
The good news is that we can change our neural pathways and develop new habits or erase the old ones.
I love to ride my bike and there are only rare occasions when the wind is dangerous enough to cancel a ride. There was no logic to my previous thinking so, I disregarded negative thoughts about the wind and focussed my thinking on the positive aspects of riding, repeating them in my mind frequently. The wind is just weather, I ride today regardless.
Here’s a challenge. Think of a thought that you have often that can be seen as negative. What does it affect?
List some thoughts that could cancel the negative thought, write them down and post them in prominent places. Repeat those positive thoughts frequently. Change won’t come overnight but you will write new neural pathways and change will come.
Happy New Year
Many people have reported a sense of weirdness in 2020 / 21 similar to being caught in a repeating time loop like the TV weatherman who found himself re-living the same day on repeat in the 1993 movie, Groundhog Day.
Some people have experienced “brain fog” as they juggle lockdown, working from home, looking after children . . . Not an illness in itself although It can affect mental processes, including memory and concentration. Stress, lack of sleep, or a poor diet can contribute to brain fog.
What about our strengths? We can be forgiven for thinking they may have been misplaced in the fog, yet we perform at our best when we find time for ourselves and focus on our strengths.
Celebrating our wins helps with this. Even the apparently insignificant smaller wins that are often taken for granted.
Don’t let them drift by unnoticed. Take a moment, breathe in the victory, and celebrate.
Have you ever been hijacked by a past experience?
I know I have and sometimes they take serious work to overcome.
Gripping thoughts, assumptions, beliefs that feel true even though deep-down we know they are not. When an emotion is triggered by a memory, it’s difficult to think of an alternative.
As we travel along the road of life, we experience situations and people, factual events, which have occurred. We internalize these experiences into our mind / body vehicle and pick-up passengers. These are our internal experiences in the form of beliefs and feelings about the world.
Passengers are a metaphor for our learned reactions from past experiences.
It is a natural human trait to do more of what feels good, and less of what feels bad. We develop emotional habits to keep the challenging passengers outside our awareness. There are many habit patterns we can develop to calm disruptive passengers.
Sometimes we become consumed in quieting down the passengers, we lose sight of where we want to go in life. The passengers start hijacking our life and they take control. Passengers drive the bus.
Here are two questions from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) I ask my clients that help take back the steering wheel:
Is it true?
Is it helpful?
Our minds have clever and persistent ways of convincing us of things that aren’t really true. These distorted thoughts reinforce negative thinking.
If we can recognize them, we can learn to confront them.
Turning distorted thoughts or feelings into positive emotions can be challenging and ignoring them doesn’t help.
We spend considerable time inside our own minds — worrying about the future, replaying events in the past, and generally focusing on the parts of life that leave us dissatisfied. While common, negative or unwanted thoughts can prevent you from enjoying experiences, distract you from focusing on what’s important, and drain your energy. They can also make you feel anxious and depressed.
With dedicated practice, you can replace negative thinking patterns with helpful thoughts. This can make a huge difference in your day-to-day happiness and wellbeing.
7 ways to manage (and decrease) negative thoughts.
Recognize thought distortions.
Our minds have clever and persistent ways of convincing us of something that isn’t really true. These inaccurate thoughts reinforce negative thinking. If you can recognize them, you can learn to challenge them.
Here are four thought distortions:
Black and white thinking.
Seeing everything as one way or another, without any in between.
Assuming you are to blame for things that go wrong.
Thinking someone did not smile at you because you did something to upset her when it’s possible that the person is having a tough day and their mood does not relate to you.
Choosing to see the negative side of a situation and not looking for the positives.
Assuming the worst possible outcome is going to happen.
Challenge negative thoughts.
Whenever you have a distorted thought, stop and evaluate whether its accuracy. Think about how you would respond if a friend spoke negatively. Would you offer a negation to their negative view? Employ the same logic to your own thoughts. Ask yourself if you are assuming the worst will happen or blaming yourself for something that has not gone your way. Think about other outcomes or reasons that something turned out differently than you hoped.
Take a break from negative thoughts.
It is possible to learn how to detach from negative thoughts. One way to do this is to allow yourself a certain amount of time (five-minutes maximum) with the thought. Then stop focusing on it and move on with your day.
This is a key mindfulness skill. We all judge ourselves and others, usually unconsciously. Constantly comparing ourselves to other people or comparing our lives to some ideal breeds dissatisfaction. When you are able to let go of judgment, you will feel more at ease. Some ways to take a break from judgmental thoughts include recognizing your own reaction, observing it, and then letting it go. Another helpful technique is to “positive judge.” When you notice you are negatively judging a person, yourself, or a situation, look for a positive quality.
Research shows that feeling grateful has a big impact on our levels of positivity and happiness. Even when you are experiencing a challenging time in your life, you can usually find things (even small things) to be grateful for. Noticing the things that are going well and making you feel happy will keep you in touch with them. Keeping a gratitude journal and writing a few things in it every day is one easy and effective way to do this.
Focus on your strengths.
It’s human nature to dwell on the negative and overlook the positive. The more you can practice focusing on your strengths and not dwelling on mistakes you’ve made, the easier it will be to feel positive about yourself and the direction your life is taking. If you find yourself thinking harsh thoughts about your personality or actions, take a moment to stop and think about something you like about yourself.
Seek professional support.
If you are unable to manage your thoughts or find they are interfering with your ability to meet your daily responsibilities or enjoy life. Coaching or therapy can help you weather life changes, reduce emotional suffering and experience self-growth.
As a psychologist and qualified coach, I offer both these services and it is worth noting the differences.
A therapist specializes in helping clients develop better cognitive and emotional skills, reduce symptoms of mental illness, and cope with various life challenges to improve their lives. There are a number of therapy options available depending on the experience of the therapist and needs of the client.
In short, the therapist enables the client to look at their past to enable healing of past trauma and move forward into the present where positive plans can be made for the future.
As a coach, I am interested in where people are and where they want to go.
Focus is on helping people make progress in their lives to attain greater fulfilment by assisting clients to improve their relationships, careers, or day-to-day lives. The client’s unique skills and gifts are given specific attention.
Responding in the comments section of this post with your questions is a secure method of contact. Your comments will never be published unless they are of a non-personal nature. Alternatively, you can email Steve Costello at email@example.com or contact us via direct messaging on Facebook .
Coaching and Tools That Help
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Comments and Questions
Leave yours below. Your thoughts or questions may well ignite a positive spark in other readers thinking. You will always receive a prompt response to your questions and there is no such thing as a bad question; only the one that was never asked.
I bow to the place in you that is love, light, and joy.
Peace & Light
Steve Costello is a British Community & Youth Studies and Psychology honors graduate with over 30-years theoretical and practical experience delivering therapy and coaching in the Personal Development public and private sectors. He works with businesses and individuals delivering out-of-the-box and customized programs.
He founded ExGro in 2018 with business partner, and friend, Leo Faerberg.
Leo is also a qualified psychologist with additional training in Psychotherapy and Clinical Psychology. He has over 20-year’s experience.