Sorry

Do you apologise frequently and/or unnecessarily? Maybe you suspect you do but your not sure? Spend a few days observing and noticing your “sorry” habits, taking note of how often you apologise and whether you have done it in the appropriate context.

The dictionary meaning for “apologise” is this:

To express regret for something that one has done wrong.

Have you done anything wrong? Do you regret your actions? If not, then an apology is not necessary! Here’s a quick tip for breaking the “sorry-itis” habit.

Replace “Sorry” with “Thankyou”.

Because in many cases that is the true essence of what you would like to say.

For example “Sorry to keep you waiting” becomes “Thankyou for your patience” and “Sorry things didn’t go to plan” becomes “Thankyou for your understanding”.

People respond more positively to gratitude and praise than they do to being apologised to (especially when it’s not necessary) AND the beauty of this approach is that it will put you in touch with what you truly wish to communicate, leaving you not only feeling more satisfied but also having others notice your integrity and authenticity. Give it a try!

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My Journey: Negative Self Talk

For some of us, negative self talk is constantly playing over and over in the background and for others it comes up in response to particular situations. My negative “demons” arrive when I have the opportunity to blame myself for something. My entire life I have been very harsh on myself whenever anything I do has an undesirable result. Sometimes my mind even searches for ways to blame me for things that are not even my fault!

Thanks to ACT and mindfulness I can allow this self talk to come and go gently without causing the difficulty and struggle that it used to. Here’s an example…

Recently I was driving to buy some honey from a family that keeps bees and produces it locally. On the way in the car I had been indulging in some unhelpful thinking about something that had happened earlier in the day. As a result I was already feeling less than average. I stopped just near my destination to get some cash out and fill up the car with petrol when I realised that I had left my wallet at home!

Urges, thoughts and feelings started welling up within me. Rather than give in to the behaviours that would normally follow on from this I just observed: I had an urge to cry, the feelings of frustration, anger and disappointment in myself all at once, I had a strong desire to call my husband and complain about my situation and that negative self talk was in full stead…

You’re useless, this is a disaster, you’re going to run out of petrol, there’s no point trying anything, you can’t do anything for yourself, what a waste of an afternoon.

I sat in stillness and asked myself “What would my confident, positive self do in this situation?” and the answer came to me immediately: “Find out if I can pay for the honey later!”. So I contact the woman selling the honey and made a plan to collect the honey and pay her at another time. This solved one of my problems, but I’m sure you’re not surprised that the thoughts and feelings were still there. I defused, observed, surfed and expanded as I continued on my way. I started to calm down once I had accepted everything happening inside my mind and body but then I was starting to worry about running out of petrol. This started my mind racing again! I soon realised that that this was beyond my control and accepted that IF that did happen that I would be ok.

Phew! What a ride I was taking myself on. I started to think it was over when I realised that I’d taken a wrong turn. Instantly all of my thoughts, feelings and urges returned with more volume than before. I must admit that I had to be very disciplined at this point so that I didn’t revert to unhelpful, ‘automatic’ behaviours. I observed my internal experiences while I turned around and found my way again. This time it was self compassion that helped me through.

By the time I arrived at my destination I had allowed, observed and accepted everything that my mind and body could throw at me and I actually started to feel content, grateful and maybe even a little bit chuffed with myself. I resigned myself to the fact that I may not make it home before I needed fuel and that knew that I would cope if this occurred.

So after picking up my honey, home I went. I was very pleased to have managed so well despite the circumstances and wasn’t even phased when I was stuck behind an incredibly slow truck for most of the journey home. And thankfully I made it home with enough fuel to pick up my wallet and to drive on to get petrol.

Without applying ACT during these events, not only would I have remained in auto-pilot and believed what my mind was saying, I would have also caused myself to suffer unnecessarily. Long standing habits of negative self talk can cause the potential for struggle however ACT techniques have the power to empower you and set you free… just like they did for me!

Always / Never

Do you use these words? If you do, are you aware of it? I challenge you to observe your use of these words and notice whether or not they contribute to your life in a positive way.

Firstly, these words are often used in statements and thoughts that are not entirely true, such as “You never pay any attention to me” or “I always get left out”. Thoughts like these do little to contribute to your wellbeing as are just complaints about how “terrible” things are and have been. This way of communicating also does not lend itself to finding a desirable outcome and instead insists on perpetuating the suffering.

We need to be willing to be honest with ourselves and try something new…

In order to fully change these habits, it’s important to focus on FACTS and FEELINGS. If you find yourself using “always” and “never” in contexts where the truth is being stretched, see if you can frame what you want to say differently and honestly e.g. “I feel worthless when I’m not listened to” or “I feel as if you are are avoiding me”. Don’t be tempted to simply replace “always” with “sometimes”, “all the time” or “most of the time” or replace “never” with “rarely”.

You need to commit to observing ‘what is’ and accepting what you cannot change. To practice acceptance of difficult feelings, try expansion.

A follow up post about “awfulising” coming soon!

Defusion From Unhelpful Thoughts

Defusion is a mindfulness technique that is useful for dealing with unhelpful thoughts such as painful or traumatic memories, disturbing images, fears or negative beliefs.

The aim is to simply observe the thought rather than becoming a victim to it. Defusion also helps by adding things to the thought – or ‘playing’ with it, so that the words and pictures no longer have an unwanted emotional response.

Try this defusion exercise below.

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Urge Surfing – Mindfulness for unhelpful urges

It might sound like a strange idea but breathing into and accepting your unhelpful urges or “urge surfing” will help to reduce the control they have over you. And what is an unhelpful urge?

Any urge that compels you to carry out a behaviour that you want to give up, reduce or that has a negative impact on your life. Urge surfing is very useful for breaking the pattern of addictions and avoidance behaviours as well as to assist you in making mindful choices rather than unconscious ones.

Start with something you do that is problematic for you and begin to notice when you’re having the urge to do it. Once you’ve become aware of the urge occurring before the action, you then have the opportunity to work with the urge to “ride it out” until it decreases and/or to reassess what’s truly important.

Consider the example of an overweight compulsive eater. It’s obvious that surfing the urge to have an unnecessary snack instead of mindlessly eating is going to be a healthy choice. Even if the surfing only delays the snack initially… the snack will be mindful because of the urge surfing.

With practice, urge surfing can be a very powerful tool to overcome addictive, unhealthy and “uncontrollable” behaviours. Give the exercise below a try:

Leaves On A Stream Mindfulness

By being mindful, present and by observing your thoughts you can learn to see thoughts for what they truly are – simply pictures and words. They can’t hurt or control you. The best way to enjoy the benefits of mindfulness is simply to give it a go!

The “leaves on a stream” visualisation is a very popular one for observing thoughts. If the image of a stream comes to you easily, that’s great! If you have difficulty visualising, see if you can imagine black moving ‘space’ or a conveyor belt if that’s easier.

Here’s my version of the classic leaves on a stream.

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Expansion and Self Compassion

Here is an audio file that I’ve created for expansion and self compassion mindfulness practice. Self compassion is useful to integrate acceptance. It reduces the need to seek approval and compassion from others once you learn how to offer it to yourself.

Expansion is a useful tool to manage and accept difficult emotions that seem automatic or appear to have control over your behaviour. When you find yourself struggling with unhelpful emotions, give this exercise a go.

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