To often we get caught up in the “what if’s” of life. What if I had done this instead of that? What if I had gone this way instead of that way? What if I had called this person instead of ignoring them? What if I had stayed calm during the argument instead of blowing up with my temper? When we focus on the past it’s called ruminating. Think of a hamster on their wheel when they get it spinning. They just keep running in place and they don’t get anywhere. When we get stuck analyzing everything, we have done wrong in the past and not giving ourselves permission to move forward, or sometimes more importantly forgiving ourselves for past mistakes we are that hamster just spinning in circles.
The other thing we as people tend to do is think too much about the future. Should I go to school? Should I work? Should I move in with my boyfriend/girlfriend? Or should I get my own place? This is what we call future tripping. We get so focused on the future and all of the things that could go wrong, that many times people don’t/can’t make a decision because they get frozen. We are that hamster back on their wheel spinning in circles. We get stuck in our own minds worrying so much about the what ifs that we forget to live in the present moment.
Mindfulness is choosing to be aware of the moment that we are currently in, on purpose, without judgement of ourselves. When we are being mindful, we gather our attention on the present moment and choose to focus our energy on what is going on around us at any given moment. It’s about learning how to hold your attention in this moment and being fully present in this moment.
In dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), we teach about the three states of mind, emotion mind, reason mind and wise mind. Think of your emotion and reason minds being on opposite ends of a teeter totter with the wise mind acting as a balance. Emotion mind is the part of the mind when we feel our emotions and make decisions based off our emotion. The emotion mind is considered hot mood-dependent and emotion focused. We tend to say things based upon our urge’s mood and feelings vs facts, reason and logic. This can be in anger, when we lash out at others or internalize the anger. Rational mind is our cool mind, its rational and task-focused such as when we are doing math. If you are ruled by your rational mind you are ruled by facts, reason and logic, your values and feelings are not important. The wise mind is taking the positives from both the rational and emotional mind and combining them to make the best decision.
Mindfulness is a skill that is learned to help us recognize when we are using too much of our rational mind or when we are using our emotional mind. It teaches us to slow down and use our wise mind. Mindfulness helps us to be more aware of our emotions and the way they are affecting our behaviors. Being aware of how we are feeling will help us to not make impulsive unhealthy decisions, it will teach us to slow down, analyze and make good healthy decisions.
So how do we become more aware of our emotions and how they affect our behaviors? We do this by learning the “What skills” of mindfulness. There are three what skills they are observing, describing, participating. Observing is paying attention to the present moment, without putting your own twist onto it. You are observing what’s going on without adding your narrative. It’s also observing your body sensations and how your body feels. I like to ask clients what their body is feeling that day, it helps them to become more aware of the sensations they are feeling and recognize if this is anxiety or I’m feeling calm today.
Describing is putting what you have experienced into words. It’s acknowledging what your body is experiencing. For instance, “my stomach tightened when I thought about giving the presentation at work” Label what you are feeling, the tightness in the stomach, what emotion are you feeling? Is it anxiety? Fear? Excitement? Lastly only describe the who, what, when, and where that you are observing. Just the facts. You are Joe Friday, the old TV detective who when interviewing people and they would go off on gossiping, he would tell them “The facts ma’am just the facts!”
The last of the what skills is participate. Throw yourself completely into any activity of the current moment. Are you playing with your kids, focus on them, your interaction with them, let the worry of work fade away! Are you hanging out with friends? Focus on the conversation and enjoying the companionship of being with friends. Become one with whatever you are doing, lose yourself in the moment, don’t overthink it, enjoy the moment. Act intuitively from your wise mind, think of yourself as a dancer, going through the steps with instinct from practice. And lastly go with the flow. You are going to make mistakes and fall back into unhealthy behaviors when you are first learning, that’s okay, push the reset button and start again.
Learning mindfulness skills seems so easy when it’s written down, and yet people forget to use the skills when they need them the most. For instance, when people’s anxiety gets out of control and they have a panic attack, they forget to pay attention to their emotions or what their body was trying to tell them until it was too late. Learning to slow down, pay attention and taking care of our spiritual and emotional self takes practice. If you are struggling and would like help learning more about mindfulness to help you manage your emotions please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.