When thoughts affect health.
The need for self-awareness.
I’ve been working with my son recently, gently showing him there is a link between our mind and body. Sometimes our thoughts can lead to feelings and physical sensations in our body. Which in turn can lead to actions, like not wanting to go to school.
As a parent, it can be hard to see clearly and not let our own emotions and worries dictate what we do. Having the ability to observe my own thoughts and feelings as I work with my son’s thoughts and feelings is a delicate balancing act that allows us both to find a way through our challenges.
We call this the mind-body connection.
Sometimes our thoughts and worries can lead to feeling sick, which has a spin-off effect on our actions, our ability to focus and our confidence. Learning about how our mind affects our body and vice versa is also called self-awareness.
If you haven’t heard of self-awareness, it’s fast becoming a critically needed mental health and leadership skill in education, healthcare and beyond.
The spin cycle.
With the plethora of distractions around us, like our devices and the need to ‘be on’ all the time, we’re more preoccupied and distracted than we were ten years ago.
Sometimes it feels like we’re on a spin cycle that never seems to end. Often it’s with people. Depending on who the person is and what they mean to us, people stress can be really hard.
Our minds wander and we often find the same thoughts keep spinning around, much like a song or tune we can’t get out of our head.
A few hours, days or weeks later, those thoughts pop up in our mind again and the same emotions move us to the same actions which end up with the same results.
Over time, our mental resiliency becomes depleted.
And we find it harder to bounce back and cope with stress and problems that are a normal part of life.
Why we spin.
An inherited way of living.
Our constant (and very human) need to want to fix things, when it comes to human relationships, can end up feeling like we’re spinning in a washing machine that never ever seems to stop.
Thousands of years ago, when faced with a threat, our brain’s amygdala helped us avoid pain and survive. If we were in a deep dark forest, surrounded by hungry desperate wolves facing imminent death, there were only two choices - fight or flee.
The trouble is our brains tend to operate in a similar manner, in our normal day-to-day lives today; like when we’re stuck in traffic, or having an uncomfortable conversation or giving a public talk.
We’re not being attacked by a wolf, but our survival mode kicks in none-the-less and we default to certain reactive tendencies.
We’re driven in part, by the parts of our brain that want to protect us from pain and failure.
That’s why we don’t like failing, or stepping out of our comfort zone and it’s also why we feel compelled to try to change or control outcomes that often cannot be changed or controlled.
How to find a way through.
1. Notice you’re going in circles.
It starts with simply noticing that you’re spinning. What does spinning feel like? What thoughts and feelings can you notice? Shift your attention to physical sensations. Let yourself be guided by your body. How does that constant spinning feel in your body. Listen to your body. Acknowledge how you feel without judging. Be ok with it. It’s a process, and it’s important to know that you’re shifting to a different space.
2. Get really really curious.
When we bring our beginner’s mind to these moments, we open to how things are and curiosity begins to shine a light towards openness, receptivity and compassion. Ask yourself have I been trying to fix a situation for weeks, months or even years and nothing seems to have changed? Do I have expectations of others that may be unrealistic and could they have influenced my thoughts, feelings and behaviour? Bring a deep curiosity without any expectation of fixing anything. This is key.
3. Re-direct your attention to those who need it.
Not everybody needs or wants your attention and love. And that’s ok. But never forget there are people out there who really need you. So re-direct your attention and focus your energies there. Maybe they’re complete strangers. Maybe it’s your own children or a friend. Everybody’s fighting a battle we know nothing about. Sometimes a simple smile to a stranger can change everything. Your love and attention is precious and unique. Give your time and energy to those who most need it.
You can’t stop it, but you can find a way through it.
We may never know why certain things happen.
What we do know, is we have one life. And our job is to live it as fully as we can.
And to remember that the things which have happened in our past or have yet to happen in our future are not nearly as important as what’s happening right now in the present moment.
It’s better to be loved by a few good people, rather then spending your energy trying to make the world love you. Love and take care of yourself, be kind to yourself and others. Learn how to forgive yourself and others.
Change starts within us. We are the change.
And while we may not be able to stop the spin cycle, we can find a way through it.
What’s the biggest insight you can take away and what if you were to turn that one insight into action?