Using Mindfulness to Manage Thoughts
How can we manage our thoughts?
We begin by simply noticing them. Each & everyday we process between 50,000-70,000 thoughts, which means we have 35-48 thoughts per minute. It would be an impossible task to notice every thought but we can start by becoming aware of the re-current thoughts & thought processes that we have. By becoming aware of the thought processes we can stop them spiraling out of control. Most of the time our spiraling thoughts are negative ones. Our brain is able to process negative thoughts quickly if we’ve had bad experiences in the past because it links the memories & feelings of fear, worry or anxiety with the thought & it begins to gain momentum. If we’re able to catch ourselves during this thought process before the memories & feelings are attached we can stop it from taking hold.
The easiest way to notice our thoughts is to be ‘Mindful’. Being Mindful is the art of being completely ‘present’ in the moment, without distraction or judgement & has been defined by the founder of modern day Mindfulness as :-
"Living moment to moment in a non-judgemental way with an awareness cultivated by paying attention."
Jon Kabat-Zinn founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School
Mindfulness therefore allows us to acknowledge a thought & let it go without attachment.
It enables us to stop a negative thought process & replace it with a more positive mindset that we've chosen 'on purpose'.
How To Practice Mindfulness:-
Take some time during the day where you can sit quietly to reflect on the moment. Notice where you are & what noises you can hear. Can you see any colours or feel warmth or cold from your surroundings? Give yourself time to slow down & ‘just be’ for a few minutes. Begin to notice how still everything can be.
By quietening the mind & removing all distractions you can literally ‘hear yourself think’. If a negative thought pops into your mind whilst you’re in this Mindful ‘state’ you can acknowledge it as a thought & ‘only a thought’ so it doesn’t manifest into something bigger. Once you’ve acknowledged it’s merely a negative thought you can then choose to let it go or pick another kinder, gentler thought to replace it. By realising you can have control over your thoughts; your life will become a much calmer & happier place.
By acknowledging your thoughts & choosing to let them go, you’re on the first step to maintaining a happier state of mind. In order for happiness to become an everyday occurrence you need to practice Mindfulness daily. Studies have shown that by practicing Mindfulness for 20 minutes a day over an 8 week period the area known as the “prefrontal cortex” is strengthened in the brain. This part of the brain structure deals with decision-making & self-regulation. Stress & anxiety cause this area to weaken so decision making processes are impaired. By strengthening this through Mindful practice you’re able to manage stressful situations in a calmer, more controlled way.
The simplest way to practice Mindfulness on a daily basis is to build it into your normal routine. Here are some examples that you could try:-
Most of us rush through a meal & don’t take time to really enjoy our food. Mindful eating can be incorporated into daily practice easily by noticing the smell, look, feel & texture of your food or drink. Take time to un-wrap the item or to pour the drink. Maybe choose your favourite cup or plate to serve the drink or food in. Notice the colours of the food & be aware of the temperature, texture & pattern that it makes before eating it. Put the food or drink into your mouth & pay attention to every taste. Take time to chew properly & enjoy every sensation. Spend at least 20 minutes being Mindful about your meal & relaxing in the moment.
If you enjoy being creative then Mindful colouring could be the perfect opportunity to switch off & relax. There are many colouring books on the market these days that have very detailed patterns for Mindful colouring. Ensure that you have good quality colouring materials to use so that you can enjoy the experience. Choose a pattern that you find calming & really focus of every section of detail as you begin colouring. Think about how the colours will work together & look at the tonal patterns that can be created. Keep your mind totally focused on the moment & if you feel yourself becoming distracted, pause, let the thought go & then focus your attention on the colouring again. Do this practice daily for at least 20 minutes.
If you have time to be on your own in a quiet space during the day then Mindful breathing is wonderful. Take time to get comfortable in your position (sitting or lying down would be best) & close your eyes. Start by breathing in deeply through your nose then out through your mouth. Notice the cool air going into your nose & breathe it in deeply into your stomach area. Start to breathe out slowly to the count of 8 releasing the breath in a controlled & smooth way allowing the stomach to rise & the shoulders to fall. Repeat this at least 5 times then continue to breathe normally. You should be in a deeply relaxed state. You can then begin to notice the sounds around you or simply concentrate on your breath. Allow thoughts to flow in & out of your mind without giving them any feeling. Just acknowledge the thought & let it go. If you notice your mind wandering just bring it back to focusing on your breath. Sit quietly & relax. Now imagine a scene in nature such as the wind blowing a leaf up into the air or the clouds moving across the sky. Picture the sun rising slowly in the morning or the waves lapping on a beach. Continue to focus on the scene, sensing the light, warmth, peace & tranquility of nature. Let your mind be free to gently drift wherever your imagination takes it. Aim to do this for approximately 20 minutes to feel the full extent of the relaxation. Once you have completed the relaxation open your eyes, move around & stretch.
Music can be so uplifting if you take time to simply sit & enjoy it. Most of the time we may have music on in the background whilst we’re completing another task. If you make time to sit down to listen to a song you’ll find it can be very uplifting & often you notice words, rhythm’s or notes you hadn’t appreciated before. Choose a space & time where you won’t be disturbed & select a few tracks that resonate with you. Ideally choose something that you find relaxing & enjoy listening to. Sit in a seated position or lie down & close your eyes. Begin to breath deeply in & out 5 times (as described in Mindful breathing). Turn on the music & really feel the beat, notice the words or the rhythm. Imagine each note as it’s being played or sung by the artist. Engulf yourself in the flow of the music & enjoy the moment. Ideally listen to at least 20 minutes in this relaxed state.
Whether you’re able to walk to work each day or take a stroll in the countryside, woodland or beach, aim to get out in nature & notice the scenery around you. It can help by taking a camera on your walks as it gives you a reason to focus on your surroundings. Look for interesting shapes, patterns or scenes to capture. When you’re walking, take time to look into the sky & down at your feet. Spend time to pause on the spot to look around & notice the plants, birds, tress, grass etc. If it’s safe to do so, close your eyes & pay attention to the noises. Can you hear the rustle of leaves or birds singing? Are there distant sounds of cars or aeroplanes? If you have a preferred route each day notice how nature changes with the seasons. Aim to have locations where you stop each time to be Mindful & present in the moment.
The main aim of Mindfulness is to give your brain time to rest, to be present, enjoy the moment & switch off from distractions. There's no purpose in worrying about the past or being anxious about the future because really all we have is right now. As Mark Twain said: "My life has been filled with terrible tragedies, most of which never happened." If you change how you think right now you can impact how you'll feel in the future.