Can learning to mindfully notice our thoughts and feelings help us to live our lives with clearer purpose?

By Georgia Watkins-Allen

I’m an experienced clinical psychologist, but I’m also someone who is naturally impulsive… I’ve spent too much time over the years pulling my foot out of my mouth, or regretting my actions after reacting hastily, rather than responding in a way more true to my personal values. Like many of my clients, I have often felt frustrated and tangled in my inner turmoil instead of being fully present with the people and things around me that I care about. Bogged in my anxieties, my frustrations.

Luckily, a benefit of my clinical work with clients struggling with their anxiety and depression is that I can directly experience and learn a lot from paying close attention to the ways they also get stuck. In doing so I also become a better psychologist – helping my clients flourish, teaching skills to connect more with their values, and more effectively handle their difficult situations.

My children and my friends are quite naturally among the most important things in my life. Spending time with them is truly a treasure. One beautiful Saturday morning I was down by the bay with my kids and a couple of girlfriends from work. It was a rare opportunity for us to be together. I really wanted it to be a special day. But my mind had other ideas! Being with workmates triggered angst about a mutual colleague who had been making our lives at work very difficult. How I fought with my mind! It seemed this person’s name was rising on the wind trying to chase me down. After a bit I began to notice how my worries were ruining my time with these beautiful women and our children.

I grew more and more annoyed with myself, with my mind. I struggled to be present with my girlfriends and kids and enjoy this precious time. Becoming aware, with mindfulness, on purpose more fully in the moment, I spotted the battle. I named the fight with my thoughts, observed the tension in my jaw and muscles. I noticed my frustration as sensations in my body. In doing so I became able to “step back” from the battle. I gently smiled at myself for getting hooked, like a fish struggling on a line. Being with my workmates had simply cued my mind to  “fix the problem” of our difficult colleague.

But this was not the best time to fix a work problem! All of us need a break from such problems at times, to simply BE in our relationships and nurture ourselves. So I thanked my mind for trying to help, gave myself permission to let go of this concern until back at work on Monday. I spoke up, and shared the battle I had been in with my girlfriends. I gently suggested we take a few moments to ground ourselves.  To focus on our senses. To connect with each other on this beautiful day. As mothers and as friends.

So I really noticed the cool sand on my feet. The dappled warmth of the sun as it shone through the leaves on my back. The laughter of our children playing. The fragrance of the pine needles and the salty air. The bickering of seagulls. The soft breeze as it stroked my skin. Once I had compassionately named my struggle and focused on my senses I was more able to gently step aside from the battle and move towards those around me that I value so dearly.

It’s not about trying to change our anxieties, our frustrations, our negative thoughts about what’s happening in our lives. It’s about not fighting it. Not using the harsh strategies of struggle, those of war. The more we fight our thoughts, the more they tend to fight back! By self-compassionately stepping back from the battle to simply notice difficult thoughts drifting in and out of our minds we can return to being here and now. To be with what really matters.

It sure can be tricky, this mindfulness stuff! Training yourself to simply notice challenging thoughts and feelings can take some practice. Like any skill, finding an expert coach can make a huge difference. I’ve certainly noticed that in my own life.

And you really can learn to simply notice what’s happening in your mind and your body and use mindfulness to more skillfully come back to the present. You CAN use these skills to notice what’s happening inside you – and make much better choices. To live a more fulfilled life – more like the person you want to be, instead of being hooked by unhelpful habits.

Can you identify with some of what I’ve experienced? Would you like to spend more time moving towards the people and things you care about, and less time battling with your inner struggles? Take a step toward that life! Call Brisbane ACT Centre on 3193 1072. Find out how I can help you with effective skills to more easily choose to move toward the people and things YOU care about in life, even in the presence of your inner obstacles.

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