As you begin a Mindfulness practice, you are often first taught to anchor on your breath as a means for increasing your attention on the present moment. However, in reality, you will often notice the many thoughts roaming through your mind. This is inevitable and should be understood that it is not cause for feeling like you are doing something wrong. Instead, this is an opportunity to begin to notice the quality of your thoughts.
Anytime you are able to really notice the kind of thoughts you tend to mull over, you have taken the first steps in changing the habit. As I mentioned in my previous column, can you become aware of the frequency with which you are angry, carry doubt, or believe you are often the one blamed for other’s problems? Just as we may walk the same path every day with our dog, or have a morning routine that helps us wake up and start the day, so too are the neural pathways within our brain. The synapses that fire together will indeed wire together, and that becomes our habit.
If within the first moments of Mindfulness practice you become aware that you are reliving slights from friends, resentments for not being understood by family, or notice that you are quick to grab your device rather than focusing on work or the people immediately around you, you have developed a higher level of awareness of how you tend to operate. You have cultivated a bit more understanding about why you see things the way you do, and there are simple strategies we can employ to start to change the path our mind tends to wander down. I acknowledge that although simple, it is not always easy to do this work. Yet, I can say it will take less time each day than it does to revamp your repertoire of recipes or to get to the gym for an hour.
Because our ancient brain is always working from a place of seeking threats and what to do in response to those threats, it is natural that we tend to hang onto the negative thoughts that remind us to stay alert, considering what we should have done differently so we can avoid that awful experience in the future. It is self-preservation! Yet, we can train ourselves to see the good and be confident in our lives as well.
It could be fun with your children to create a gratitude tree. You could cut out leaf shapes from construction paper and punch holes in them and leave a pile of them on your dinner table with colorful writing utensils. Make it a habit of once a day each family member writing down something that they experienced or have for which they are grateful. Maybe you do it at breakfast, maybe at dinner, or perhaps just before bed. Once you have written something down on the leaf, start stringing them up around the house — over a doorway, around the bathroom mirror, anywhere that the will be seen in passing as a reminder of the good that does exist amongst the challenge.
I found this suggestion in a book called Mindful Me Mindfulness and Meditation for Kids by Whitney Stewart. I believe our use of words has such a power over our perspective, and just like our tendency to use aggressive language in describing the play in a sporting event, we tend to use negative language toward ourselves or things for which we are uncertain. What if we turned the words, “I am no good at anything,” into, “I am trying the best I can? “ I wonder how differently we would see things if instead of thinking, “I failed,” we were able to notice, “Challenges help me grow.”
Just like the idea of hanging things around the house for which you and your family are grateful, what might happen if you started hanging ways of reframing thoughts around your house? You would have little reminders of alternative ways of thinking.
I would love to hear from you if you try any of these ideas. How did it feel to notice that even one time you changed your way of thinking about something?
Michelle Visser is a certified Mindfulness teacher having lead practice for youth in Wyoming and Idaho for the past five years. You can learn more about her work at www.mindfulevolution.net.