Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert concluded from their research a few years ago that “a human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.” Essentially, they concluded that us humans have this amazing ability to think about things that are not immediately happening right here in front of us, and this cognitive achievement comes at an emotional cost.
How do we deal with this wandering mind? We try to re-connect our mind with our body, with our present experience. There are a number of excellent tools for doing this.
The first is yoga. Integrate your movements with your breath and really notice your body. Learning how to move your body and knowing where your body is in space is the foundation for your Social and Emotional Learning system. Your ability to know where your body is in space and how to manipulate it effectively, directly relates to your ability to process and understand your emotions and social interactions.
The second is meditation. Allow yourself to sit quietly for 10 minutes every day and follow your breath. Notice when you’re thinking and gently label the thoughts “thinking” and come back to the breath. Meditation has a plethora of spectacular benefits on your mind, your body and your overall health.
If meditation seems awkward and uncomfortable (which it is, for all of us, because we are becoming friends with ourselves and really coming face to face with the inner workings of our mind), just try it for 3 minutes. Every morning. Make it a habit! Meditation has a wide-seated range of benefits, for example: increased attention and decreased heart rate.
Susan David and Christina Congleton (psychology researchers/coaches) suggest a 4-step approach:
The first step is to recognize your patterns: notice that you’re getting stuck in rigid, often self-recriminatory, repetitious dialog. “I always fail at this part of my job. I can’t do presentations. I am unable to do this,” or “He’s incapable of doing his job. Why does he still work here?” Be mindful of your inner emotional landscape.
The second is to label what’s going on. Instead of “I’m rubbish at my job,” think “I’m having the thought that I’m rubbish at my job.”
The third is to accept them. We frequently try to control our feelings by suppressing them. Acceptance is a very different approach than control. I find myself thinking “Why should I feel upset? I have an amazing life. Don’t be so ridiculous! Be happy!” What would be more helpful would be to respond openly to my emotions and to be compassionate towards myself.
The fourth is to act in accordance with your values, so that you act the best for the current situation.
Research is beginning to show that the practice of journaling about your traumatic experiences has significant health, social and behavioral outcomes.
If you think that writing about traumatic event will make you distressed, you’d be right! But these immediate feelings of distress and negative mood disappear in the long-term with improvements occurring in both objectively and subjectively measured outcomes. Writing for 15-20 minutes for 3-5 sessions about traumatic events has been shown to reduce blood pressure, improve lung and liver function, reduce depressive symptoms and give feelings of greater psychological well-being. These sessions also improve working memory and sporting performance, reduce absenteeism from work and students have increased grade point averages.
Writing about fears, prior to an event also has beneficial outcomes. Ramirez and Beilock required students to writer down their thoughts about an upcoming test. They found that the simple act of getting students to write about their fears prior to high-stakes testing improved their scores, compared to those students who did not.
What does all this tell you? Emotional agility has been extensively researched and refers to ones ability to approach ones inner experiences mindfully and productively, rather than suppressing them. These approaches: yoga, meditation, cognitive strategies and expressive writing can all contribute to a happier mind.
©Tamsin Astor-Jack, Yoga Brained LLC