Read Mindfulness Online

Authors: Gill Hasson

Mindfulness (10 page)

In a nutshell
  • Adopt a “beginner's mind” and put aside past beliefs about difficult situations.
  • Recognize, accept and acknowledge negative emotions rather than trying to suppress or battle with them.
  • Manage the impulse to react immediately; breathe.
  • Use assertive techniques to manage anger.
  • Let go of your fears and worries about the past and future. Write them down and free yourself to focus on the present.
  • Give yourself “worry time” and then move on.
  • Accept responsibility for your mistakes and learn from them, rather than blaming yourself.


Mindfulness for Self-Esteem: Confidence, Self-Esteem and Loneliness

What does mindfulness have to do with self-esteem? Everything! A key aspect of self-esteem and confidence is how it is influenced by your thoughts, beliefs and ideas about yourself in the past and the future.

If your thoughts about your actions and behaviour in the past (the past could be yesterday, last week or years ago) are positive – for example, pride, gratitude and relief – you probably feel quite good about yourself now. If, though, they are unhappy thoughts and feelings – guilt and regret, for example – you may have low self-esteem and confidence right now.

If your ideas and expectations about yourself in the future are negative; anxious, worried, frightened or hopeless, you may lack confidence and have low self-esteem.

On the other hand, if your ideas about yourself and events in the future are positive – trust and optimism – they can provide inspiration, hope and motivation for future events and what you can achieve. You will feel confident and positive about yourself.

While the reason why a person is lonely or lacks self-esteem and confidence may be different from another person's, the result is often the same; feeling sad, alone and disconnected from others.

Feeling good about yourself and your abilities, feeling connected to others and having a sense of purpose can be easier with mindfulness. There are plenty of tips and ideas here to help.

Mindful confidence

Confidence is not about what you can or can't do, it's what you
think or believe
you can or can't do. For example, you could be confident that you can pass a maths test. You
you can do well. (Whether you do well in the maths test or not is a different matter!)

Self-esteem is related to confidence. Self-esteem is how you
about what you can and can't do and whether you feel good, bad or indifferent about the things you can or cannot do.

If your feelings about your abilities are positive, you probably have good self-esteem. If your feelings about your abilities are negative and make you feel bad about yourself, you probably have low self-esteem.

Here's what happened to Eloise a few years ago:

“I landed a great job as a junior reporter on a fashion magazine. I was concerned though, about fitting in; would I make the right impression? People might think that I didn't have enough experience. I didn't have the right clothes, I wasn't trendy enough. I was full of negative self-talk.

I started spending out on trendy new clothes, went out to expensive clubs, bars and restaurants with my new colleagues.

The bills started mounting up; I wanted to keep up with everyone else at work and so when my cards reached their limit, I signed up for more. Before I knew it, I was £10,000 in debt.

I kept it all a secret and didn't even tell my best friend. When I realized how bad things had got, I felt paralyzed with worry and self-doubt.

I felt guilty and regretful about all that spending over the past two years. I told myself I'd been stupid and pathetic. I was worried and anxious about the future; telling myself the situation was hopeless and I'd never get myself out of this mess.

Things changed when I started to accept what had happened couldn't be changed. But what happened next
in my power.

I went to a debt advice service and they helped me work out what my options were.

Once I had a course of action that I could start working on, I felt a huge sense of relief. I felt better immediately; felt more in the present, grounded. I congratulated myself on having got to grips with the situation and I told myself I'd done well to seek help. Even if there were setbacks, I felt confident that I was going to be debt-free at some point in the future.”

Banish negative self-talk

How do you feel about “future you”? Can you see possibilities and positive things for your future or is your future negative and difficult? When faced with a new challenge, do you find yourself filled with self-doubt? “I'll never be able to do this”, or “I'm not good enough”, or “I can't”.

How do you feel about “past you”? When you judge yourself in a negative way it can lower your self-esteem. For example, when you've made a mistake, do you tend to judge yourself for it? Does your self-talk include comments such as “How could I be so stupid?” or “I'm hopeless”, or “I've screwed up

This sort of self-talk leads you into mind traps (jumping to conclusions, catastrophizing, tunnel thinking etc.) that undermine your confidence and make you believe that you can't do certain things. Negative self-talk also knocks your self-esteem making you feel bad about yourself.

Mindfulness can increase your awareness of these judgemental thoughts; how unhelpful they are and how bad they make you feel.

Next time you make a mistake or feel that you've screwed up, take a mindful approach. Instead of going back over what happened and spending so much time feeling bad about it, accept that you can't change what you did or didn't do. Know that you
influence what happens from now on.

Accept and learn from your mistakes.

Self-acceptance is an important part of self-esteem and confidence. Some people believe that if they accepted themselves as they are now, they wouldn't make any positive changes to themselves. But feeling so bad about yourself can paralyze you and stop you from making changes.

Whatever you've done or whatever happened – remember that acceptance means recognizing that what has happened cannot be changed. Of course, if you make a mistake or fail, you are probably going to feel bad; you might feel guilty or regretful and that can be the motivation you need to make changes. But feeling bad – guilty, ashamed, embarrassed etc. – is only helpful in the short term. If you feel bad about yourself most of the time, all that does is use up the energy you could have used to make positive changes (see “Managing guilt”).

When you stop giving the situation any more unhelpful thoughts, you will have taken the first step towards moving ahead. You can't change what happened but you can change what happens next time.

Think of a time when you made a mistake or failed at something that you felt bad about. What might you have done differently or do differently next time?

Beginner's mind.

People with good self-esteem see mistakes and failures as opportunities to learn about themselves. They take a “beginner's mind” approach – putting aside the judgements and conclusions from past behaviour and actions and, instead, thinking about what they've learned from these experiences. You identify new insights and they can help you do things differently, next time.

Focus on the things that make you feel good about yourself.

Confidence and self-esteem are based on the issues and areas of your life that are important to you; in the things you enjoy doing and do reasonably well. Those areas could be related to, for example, your work, family, friends, hobbies, sports, interests. They are, in fact, “flow” activities; activities where you feel a sense of control; no fear of failure or feeling of self-consciousness, you know what you're doing and where you're heading.

These activities are intrinsically rewarding and although they might be challenging, the effort required doesn't seem overwhelming. You get immediate feedback – you know what you have and haven't done well, and you adjust what you are doing to accommodate difficulties.

Crucially for your self-esteem and confidence, when you reflect on the activity you feel productive and good about yourself for your part in what happened.

What do you enjoy doing? What is it that is fun and brings you pleasure? Are there activities in your life that bring you a sense of satisfaction, that help you feel calm, centred and connected?

Find what you enjoy doing and do more of it!


Mindfulness to manage loneliness

Loneliness is something that most of us experience from time to time. Divorce, bereavement, illness, disability, discrimination and unemployment are common causes of loneliness. And although moving to a new area, getting a new job or having a baby can be exciting and positive; people often find that new experiences can leave them feeling lonely.

For some people, feelings of loneliness are constant and appear unrelated to external events like divorce, bereavement or becoming a parent.

And it might be a cliché, but it can also be true: it
possible to feel lonely in a crowd.

Whatever the circumstances, the common theme here is a feeling of being disconnected. While the circumstances that can cause loneliness may be different, the result is usually the same; you feel sad, alone, and that no one understands.

Is being alone the same as being lonely?

There's a difference between being alone and being lonely. To be alone simply means to be separate, to be on your own. But with loneliness, your mind has turned aloneness – a physical state – into loneliness, an emotional state.

Loneliness is an unhappy feeling of feeling detached, isolated and unconnected. If you are lonely, you are probably feeling you are without friendly, meaningful companionship and support. You may well feel that no one understands you or that they
understand you.

Typically, when you're lonely, your mind shifts to ruminative cycles of the past and future that lend themselves to disconnection, leading to more loneliness. But it
possible to manage loneliness; mindfulness can help you to see that a sense of connection is always available to you, regardless of your outside circumstances or internal thoughts.

Learning to be alone

In his book,
, psychiatrist Dr Anthony Storr challenges the idea that successful personal relationships are the only key to happiness and feeling connected. He suggests that a person's hobbies and creative interests can also be an important source of stability and contentment.

Chapter 4
of this book, you will have read Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's suggestion that the mind “with nothing to do, begins to follow random patterns, usually stopping to consider something painful or disturbing”.

However, a mind engaged in flow activities leaves no room for undesirable thoughts. As you focus on what's happening and what you're doing, you lose your sense of self. You can reduce feelings of isolation, and loneliness by creating opportunities for flow; where merging activity and thoughts keep you fully absorbed in the moment.

Don't let yourself wallow. Instead of dwelling on feelings of loneliness, do something!

Explore activities and hobbies.

Don't be afraid to try new things. New experiences give you something to talk about, which will interest and connect you to other people.

Activities like gardening, reading, drawing, painting and writing, exercise such as yoga, swimming and cycling, can help you to relax and accept a calmer sense of yourself.

They are activities where you experience flow; they will help you feel engaged and connected. Whatever the activity you choose, focus on the pleasure it gives you and the fact that periods of time spent alone
be rewarding.

If you have a hobby or passion that you can “lose yourself” in, you will find yourself actually searching out moments when you can be by yourself in order to write, paint, bake, garden, cycle etc.

You will also be able to reach out to others with less of a need and more of an ability to give. You will find you have more interest in them and the world around you, which they will respond to.

Make the most of opportunities for social contact.

Connect with others through a shared interest. Consider what you most enjoy doing, whether it's walking in the country, playing chess or singing. Maybe it's an activity like football, tennis or rock climbing.

Learn something new that you can do with other people. Are there new skills or interests you would like to develop? Singing? Playing the ukulele? Joining an evening class at beginners' level will put you on the same footing as everyone else. Don't go with the sole idea of making friends or meeting people. Try to go with no expectations; just see what happens.

Make a contribution.

Recently, on the radio I heard a 103 year old woman being asked what her tip was for a happy life. She replied “Give more than you receive. Always do good where you can.”

Although, when faced with loneliness, you can feel overwhelmed with your own concerns, if you can help other people, in the process you help yourself.

Experience the good feelings that come from connecting with – and helping – other people.

Even helping just one person is a start. If you're feeling lonely, reach out. Volunteering for a cause or other people will automatically take the focus off you. Volunteering is a good way to not only make yourself feel better about the world but also to help you meet people, other passionate people, with whom you can make a genuine connection.

If you have some spare time, think about whether you could spend a few hours working as a volunteer. It could be a cause you feel strongly about or a group of people whose interests you feel are particularly worth fighting for.

Most organizations, clubs and societies also have a website, so search the internet for groups in your area.

Try to find an activity that offers:

  • A role relevant to your interests. It might be to do with the environment and conservation, arts and music, or perhaps families and children.
  • An opportunity to use the skills you already have, or will commit you to training yourself.
  • Personal contact with the person you help, or at least an emotional connection, such as by phone on a phone hotline. Personal contact increases your understanding and sympathy for the situation of others. Meet the people you help, see their lives and connect with them.
  • The opportunity for regular helping. Aim for a couple of hours a week. Frequency of helping is important, because it enables you to build support and empathy for others.

The sense of connection that can be gained from helping other people is also an important aspect of spirituality. Spirituality is about having a sense of being connected to something bigger, more eternal than yourself.

You may get a sense of connection from contemplating a beautiful sunset, or the power of the sea. Gardening or being in the countryside on a regular basis can make you aware of the eternal cycles of nature. Listening to or making music, singing and art can connect you, too.

Being part of a local community or a global organization such as Amnesty International, the Red Cross or the World Wildlife Fund can make you feel part of something worthwhile; something with a shared set of values.

Spirituality also encompasses a sense of flow –- the experience of energized focus, full involvement and continuity. In essence, flow is an intrinsic aspect of spirituality. Take, for example, taking part in harmony singing; it is mindful, spiritual and encompasses flow. Harmony singing can provide an experience of inspiration, peace of mind and connection.

Certainly, for some people, spirituality involves a religion – a specific set of beliefs and practices concerning, amongst other things, the cause, nature and purpose of everything in the world and, indeed, the universe.

But for others, spirituality simply involves an awareness of – and relationship with –something that connects you to a purpose in life larger than yourself.

Spirituality is about exploring this idea and understanding that although there are things that are part of the past and the future, you are experiencing them now, in the present.

You can choose to define what that means for you, in whatever way feels most appropriate.

Join or start a support group.

When you are struggling with a difficult situation, a situation that leaves you feeling isolated and lonely, a support group can help develop your coping skills and reduce feelings such as fear, resentment and hopelessness that come with loneliness.

Good support groups provide members with a real sense of connection; feeling that you belong and are with people who understand you.

Support groups offer various forms of help, provide opportunities to share experiences and information. Knowing you are not alone can be a real source of strength.

Whether you are struggling to cope with a problem in your life or simply want to get together with like-minded people to develop an interest or promote a cause, being involved with others can help you feel connected.

Most organizations, clubs and societies also have a website, so a search of the internet may prove useful. If there is no support group in your area, for your particular situation, why not start your own?

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