Palma Michel, author of The Authority Guide to Mindful Leadership, takes us through some useful tips for maintaining good mental health and employing mindfulness, whether it’s for living fearlessly in the autumn, or sinply the autumn of our lives.
“One of the best ways to understand life is by observing nature. Everything in nature changes all of the time. Nature has different seasons and so do our lives.
“Change and uncertainty are inevitable parts of human life, and growing older comes with its unique set of challenges and uncertainties: we experience changes on the physical and mental level, or transition in our careers; and might find ourselves becoming carers for our parents, which can often confront us with our own mortality.
“If we can learn to stop resisting change and uncertainty and embrace them as an opportunity for growth rather than unwanted evil, we can move forward with more confidence and will be able to enjoy life more fully.”
5 tips for using mindfulness to live fearlessly, and embrace change.
1. Befriend Your Experience
Often we live with a feeling of unease, fear or groundlessness. We tend to distract ourselves by watching TV, eating, checking social media or busying ourselves. The problem is that ignoring something does not make it go away; rather it tends to perpetuate it. Mindfulness practice invites us to stop running away, and instead stand our ground and face whatever is. It invites us to allow our experience to be, as it is. The more we can ‘be’ with tension, fear, discomfort, boredom or impatience, and embrace them instead of pushing them away, the less grip they will have on us. As a result we will be more authentic, courageous and at ease.
Action Step: As well as embracing the tough stuff, start practising meditation for about 10 minutes each day. There’s tons of apps for this kind of thing, but you can start simply by setting aside that quiet time, observing your inhalations and exhalations, and cultivating an attitude of kindness and non-judgemental head space. When your mind wanders off to thoughts, feelings or sensations bring your attention back to your breathing. Meditation apps such as Insight Timer or Headspace are great for beginners.
2. Practice Appreciation
We create our world by where we place our attention. In each moment we have a choice of focusing on the things that don’t work in our lives, and following our mind’s tendency to create worst case scenarios; or we can focus on the things we appreciate, which can massively alter our experience and overall wellbeing each day. Research from positive psychology shows that practising appreciation is an effective way of counteracting negative thoughts and ‘worst-case scenario’ thinking.
Action Step: Every morning or evening, write down or think of a minimum of three things that you appreciate about your life on that day. Appreciation does not mean “I should be grateful” but means focusing on the things that you experience as nice, the things you enjoy. These can be big things like your partner, or having a roof over your head; or small things like the smell of your morning coffee or the smile of a stranger. It is important to think of different things each day, as the mind tends to get used to patterns, and the effect will wear off. Repeating this will help you be mindful of the positive daily aspects of your life.
3. Aaaaand breathe…
When we experience uncertainty, are worrying, are triggered by a situation or feel mental, physical or emotional distress, our body´s stress response kicks in and we engage survival mode. And when we are in survival mode, our breathing becomes shallow and stuck in the chest. One of the most effective ways to stop incessant thought spirals and get out of the funk is to do a short breathing exercise.
Action Step: The next time you are caught up in worry or feel triggered, activate your body´s relaxation response with this short breathing exercise:
1. Take a few conscious inhalations through your nostrils, inhaling deeply all the way into your abdomen and exhale through your mouth.
2. After a few of these breaths, elongate your exhalation by making it twice as long as your inhalation (count to 3 on the inhale and to 6 on the exhale).
3. Repeat this for a few breath cycles until you feel calmer.
4. Find The Silver Lining
Our can minds have a natural tendency to think in worst-case scenarios. Yet from my experience, those scenarios hardly ever happen and even if they do, we tend to underestimate our ability to cope with them. Looking back at even the most challenging events in my life, they always came with an important learning opportunity, and made me grow into a more resilient and happier person. Honest!
Action Step: Just pause for a moment and think back to a challenging situation in your past. Write down three positive things that came out of this experience (for example a new friendship, personal growth, a new skill you learned, space made for something/someone else, and so on). Practising this exercise on a regular basis for recent events can help you see the positive aspects of negative events and over time helps you to see challenges as opportunities for growth.
5. Cultivate Your Curiosity
So much of what we do on a daily basis is habitual and automatic and many of us stay in our comfort zones. In addition, growing older often comes with more being convinced of things we like or don´t like! As a result we can become closed and our world shrinks. Boredom can set in. Bringing curiosity to our experiences and asking questions interrupts automatic habitual behaviour, transports us into the present moment and makes us feel fully alive.
Action Steps: Try these for size:
1. When you look at your spouse, really look at them as if it was for the first time. What do you know about this person?
2. The next time you open your front door, walk into your house as if it was for the first time, what do you notice?
3. When you eat, engage your tastebuds and really notice your food. Close your eyes as you’re doing it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Palma Michel is an executive coach and author of ‘The Authority Guide to Mindful Leadership; Simple techniques and exercises to manage yourself, manage others and effect change’ published by SRABooks