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Mindful Monday Tip #10: On Control, Power, and Letting Go

Born into slavery in the first century A.D., Epictetus, a Greek sage and Stoic philosopher, advised humans to to “make the best use of what is in your power and take the rest as it happens”.  Almost 20 centuries later, Reinhold Niebuhr, an American theologian, wrote an untitled prayer whose most recognized form is:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

In their own way, both men challenge us to examine our need to control.

Aimed at other people, our need to control often creates power struggles which suck the life of relationships.  How often does the self-esteem of a spouse diminish when living under the control exerted by a verbal or physical abuser?  What about parents who place stifling demands on children just so parents will feel or look better?  What about adult children who tread on  elderly parents’ autonomy when the octogenarians are functioning fine?  How would you like someone to rearrange your cupboards to fit their agenda when your kitchen has been fine for you for 40 years?

Aimed at events, our need to control often creates power struggles with forces outside of our control.  Have you ever railed at weather that disrupted outdoor plans?  Felt hopeless or angry when the stock market took a dive?  Projected doom and gloom when the candidate you didn’t support won the election?  Ruined a meal by complaining when restaurant staff did not meet your demands for service?  Weather, stock market, election results, and restaurant service are generally outside our power to control.  So are a lot of other events.  Such power struggles sap our energy and leave us bent out of shape.

Imprisoned by a mindless need to control, we and our relationships suffer.

If we approach this topic with a mindful perspective, we will recognize and let go of our need to control people and events outside our realm of power.  Like Niebuhr and Epictetus, we will become aware of what is within our control and what is not.  Today’s tip suggests a way we can focus our energies on the former and let go of the latter.

Mindful Tip #10: Let Go!

From this day forward, challenge yourself to become aware of power struggles in your life, and daily make a choice to let go of the need to control some person or event over which you have no true power.

  • Pray Niebuhr’s prayer daily.  (You may recognize it as the Serenity Prayer used in 12-Step Groups).
  • Get a helium filled balloon and a permanent marker, and mindfully write the things you choose to let go of on the balloon.  With awareness of your choice, release the balloon into the sky, and imagine letting go of your need to control in these areas as the balloon  floats away.  If the balloon gets stuck in a tree or something else, mindfully recall that it is not in your hand.  You have let it go.

Nothing magical will happen when you release the balloon, but it may become a powerful reminder of the choice you have: to control or not to control.  That is the question.  

How might we and our relationships change when we let go of controlling people and events outside of power?

Are You Ready to Start?

If so, please Contact Me and describe your concerns and we'll discuss how counseling can help.

Mindful Monday Tip #9: Finding the Present Moment and Our Place in It

Today’s post is written from the golden shores of Lake Michigan.  Our family’s annual 2-week vacation has begun, and already we struggle against the daily pull of mindlessness.  To find peace and to regroup, we must each engage our vacation with mindful purpose.  For me that means pausing to remember where I am, what choices I have, and what I want to do.  When we are not mindful of the present moment and our place in it,  we can be mindlessly carried away by agendas we don’t truly support.  Our family’s vacation challenge inspires today’s  tip.

Mindful Monday Tip #9: A Mindful Pause

When it’s safe to do so, pause and for one minute reflect on:

  • Where am I?
  • What choices  do I have?
  • What do I want to do?

What might happen after we take a mindful pause?

I predict that we may move with greater attention and intention after such a pause.

 

Are You Ready to Start?

If so, please Contact Me and describe your concerns and we'll discuss how counseling can help.

Mindful Monday Tip #8: Rescue Relationships with Mindful Communication

Much can be damaged or lost by mindless communication.  Ever feel like you engage your mouth before engaging your mind?  Ever send a seemingly brilliant email, and later realize some of its content may be offensive to the receiver?  Relationships are unintentionally damaged by words, body language, and tones of voice.  Jobs are lost.  Political campaigns end prematurely.  Credibility suffers.  All because of mindless communication.

How does mindless communication happen?  Perhaps Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl,  provides a clue: “Between stimulus and response, there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.   In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”   Too many times, maybe our communication creates emotional havoc because we ignore the space between a stimulus and our response – we’re not aware of our power to choose a communication response.  Think of a stimulus as anything that triggers an emotional reaction in you: accusation by a spouse, criticism by a coworker,  defiance by a child, overbearing control by a parent.  This week’s tip invites us to recognize and mindfully use the space between stimulus and communication response.

Mindful Monday Tip #8: Mindful Communication

Whatever your stimulus or trigger, use the space before your communication response to focus on two things:

  1. Attention: Recognize and pay attention to your choice of response.   This is how you discover the space between stimulus and response.  Pay attention to the setting and the nature of your relationship to the other person or people.  Can you imagine what their internal worlds look like?  What does your internal world like?
  2. Intention:  Now consider how to bring your communication response in line with what’s important to you.  Ask yourself, What do I want to communicate? Next ask, How do I want to communicate it?  Answers to these questions describe your communication intention.

However you choose to communicate,  respond in a way that reflects your newly discovered attention and intention.

How might relationships change when we embrace  mindful communication? 

 

Are You Ready to Start?

If so, please Contact Me and describe your concerns and we'll discuss how counseling can help.

Mindful Monday Tip #7: How to Handle Mistakes with Mindfulness

What happens when you make a mistake?  We’ve all experienced oops moments with varying degrees of severity: speeding tickets, burned toast, a missed bill payment, a forgotten birthday or school assignment.  What do you notice when you make a mistake?  Maybe your heart sinks and your gut churns.  Perhaps your mind is flooded with unpleasant reminders of your error.  Too often mistakes can direct our focus to a narrow realm of negative possibilities.

Maybe it’s time to challenge the way we perceive mistakes.  Perhaps our oops moments can become doorways to opportunity.  Henry Ford suggested as much when he said, “even a mistake may turn out to be the one thing necessary to a worthwhile achievement”.   So instead of letting mistakes shine a light on our failure, this week’s mindful tip challenges us to let mistakes trigger a healthier form of awareness.

Mindful Monday Tip #7:  Mindful Mistakes

At least once each week, permit a mistake to trigger a mindful response.  When you realize you’ve made a mistake:

  • Observe what’s happening in your body – tension, rate of breathing, etc.
  • Notice the negative thoughts passing through your mind, and let each one float away like a fluffy passing cloud.
  • What do you observe when you focus on the oops moment without judgment?
  • What do you learn?
A mindful approach to mistakes may turn many oops moments into doorways of opportunity.  What might you discover with a mindful response to mistakes? 

 

Are You Ready to Start?

If so, please Contact Me and describe your concerns and we'll discuss how counseling can help.

Mindful Monday Tip #6: The Importance of Small Steps of Change

How can I change?  

What must I do to change? 

When will change begin?

These are tough questions, often heard in counseling rooms and frequently heard in  conversations with friends and family.  What we so often forget is that change, like a big journey, often begins with small steps.

Change can seem elusive if we’re not mindful of the progress that small steps reveal.  This reminds me of a big cross country trip I took years ago with my mother-in-law and two young children.   Starting from Northern Virginia, we had to travel more than 2600 miles before we reached our  destination of Santa Monica, CA.  One SUV. Two kids. Two adults. On the road for seven days.  We weren’t out of Prince William County before I heard the first, “How long till we get there?”  I would hear variations of that question multiple times a day for the next seven days.  By focusing on the final goal, it was easy to become mindless of the current day’s progress.  Easy to overlook the wonder of the country through which we were passing.  Easy to overlook the fun of sharing Cheese Whiz and crackers while waiting for Gran to check-in at the nightly hotel.

Think about all the things we may want to change.  Weight.  Anxiety. Depression. Self-esteem.  You name it.  We may be aware of the big change we want to experience.  Shed 30 pounds.  Have fewer anxiety attacks.  Experience hope.  Believe in ourselves.  But where does change begin?  What can the small steps look like?  Maybe today we take a walk or make a healthy eating choice.  Maybe we search the internet to locate a therapist or call to ask questions.  Maybe we check out a self-help book from the library.  These small steps can be evidence of change.

This week’s tip is like a gift: it encourages us to become aware of small steps that reveal change.

Mindful Monday Tip #6: Become Mindful of Small Steps 

  • Identify one area of your life that you wish to change.
  • What small step in the direction of change can you take today?
  • Observe what you experience as you take the step.
  • Repeat daily.

What small step of change will you mindfully take today?

And what will you experience as a result?

Are You Ready to Start?

If so, please Contact Me and describe your concerns and we'll discuss how counseling can help.

Mindful Monday Tip #5: Finding Peace with Mirrors

What happens when you look in a mirror?  Is the voice of a critic immediately unleashed in your mind?  Do you focus on a zit or a wrinkle and ignore the sparkle of your eyes or the beauty of your smile?  Too often mirrors automatically subject some of us to judgement.  Like the apple in the photo, we ignore what we are in the present moment, and focus on what we are not.

This week’s tip challenges us to look in a mirror without judgment, to practice awareness of our reflection without the usual distortion.

Mindful Monday Tip #5: Mindful in the Mirror[1]

  • Step in front of a mirror and remain there as long as you can (from 2-10 minutes).
  • Stay aware of your reflection for a bit longer than your typical level of comfort.
  • Notice any urges to step away and observe feelings of silliness or discomfort.
  • Become aware of how you think and feel about your body.
  • Focus on one part of your body and expand your awareness to your complete image.
  • Now describe your appearance instead of judging it: note color/texture of hair, texture of skin, shades of lip and eye color, texture of skin, etc.
  • Describe your shape using non-judgmental words like curved, oval, or straight.
  • Notice if you feel tempted to use words like fat/thin or pretty/ugly as you describe your appearance.
  • If your mind draws your attention to what you looked like in the past, or if it focuses on what you wish you’ll look like in the future, close your eyes and repeat the exercise.

What might you discover if you see yourself in the present judgment –free moment?   Maybe you’ll look more like a whole apple and less like a chewed up core.

 [1] Susan Albers, Eating Mindfully (Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 2012), 133-135.

 

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If so, please Contact Me and describe your concerns and we'll discuss how counseling can help.

Mindful Monday Tip #4: How Do You Use Your Financial Resources?

 

Becoming mindful of money in a plastic age is a worthy goal.  Money is a top cause of stress for about 75% of adult Americans (American Psychological Association).  Clearly too many of us seem to experience stress and anxiety about how much money we lack. Yet how often are we truly aware of how we use  money?  In their Anthem “For the Love of Money”, the O’Jays declared that “money is the root of all evil”, but the Bible says that “love of money is a root of all sorts of evil” (1Timothy 6:10, NASB).  While the O’Jays’ declaration resonates with some people, I think the ancient writer was on to something: how we use money can be a source of all kinds of trouble – especially if we use it mindlessly.  So this week’s tip is about becoming aware of how you use your financial resources.

Mindful Monday Tip #4: Mind your Money

  1. For one week, keep a record of each purchase you make: cash, credit/debit card, or check.
  2. Record the date, amount of purchase, and what you bought (without changing your habits).
  3. Do this with curiosity and without judgement.
Becoming mindful of how you use money is a first step to creating financial change and reducing financial stress.
 
What might you discover when you become more aware of your spending habits?
 
If you try this tip and find it helpful, please let me know on my Facebook page or leave a comment here.     

 

Are You Ready to Start?

If so, please Contact Me and describe your concerns and we'll discuss how counseling can help.

Mindful Monday Tip #3: Use Nature to Combat Sensory Overload

Are you living in sensory overload?  It could wind up your anxiety by taking your body where you don’t want to go.  After all, our bodies process whatever we take into them – from substances we ingest to high stimulation from the environment.  Read my article here  about how changing intake can reduce anxiety, and try today’s tip.  Maybe it’s time to cultivate presence by becoming mindful of nature.

Mindful Monday Tip #3: Observe Nature

For a few moments each day, pay close attention to one aspect of nature.  (Do not attempt to multitask during this experience).  That’s it.

When I gaze into the star studded sky from the edge of a sand dune on Lake Michigan, a peaceful sense of presence fills me.  Pesky worries retreat and chaotic mental chatter flees from my mind.  A similar calming effect occurs as I mindfully gaze  at a tall tree in my Northern VA  backyard.

What might you discover by observing nature for few moments each day?

Are You Ready to Start?

If so, please Contact Me and describe your concerns and we'll discuss how counseling can help.

Mindful Monday Tip #2: Tune into Your Body

Remember when we had to adjust the rabbit ears on a TV in order to get a clear picture and undistorted sound?

Mindfulness is basically about eliminating distractions so we can tune in to awareness of the present moment.  Today, dear readers, we  focus on tuning in to the body.  Many of us move through our days on autopilot without awareness of how our bodies move until something doesn’t move or work properly.  When we have a stuffy nose, we miss our ability to smell and taste.  When we sprain an ankle, we miss our ability to run.  When we burn a finger, we miss our manual dexterity.  What might we learn if for a few days we pay attention to how our bodies move?

Tip 2: Mindful Movement

This exercise is about observation and becoming mindful of how your body moves (Albers, 2012).  Don’t change anything, don’t judge, just observe your natural movements in these situations:

Observe how you eat at meals.
o How much food goes in your mouth at one time?
o How fast do you eat?
o Do you mix foods together or eat one thing at a time?

Observe how you sit.
o What’s your posture like?
o Do you shift around or sit still?
o What do your legs do while you sit?
o How long can you comfortably sit in one place?

Observe how you move while talking.
o What do your hands do?
o What do your legs do?
o How close to do you stand to another person?
o Where do you look while talking?
o How loudly do you speak?
o What are your nonverbal expressions communicating?

Observe how your body moves you from one place to another.
o Discover the sensations of walking.
o Become aware of how your legs move – notice their rhythm and pace.

Observe how your body reclines.
o Do you lie down on your back, side, or stomach?
o Do you shift, roll over, or remain motionless?

Observe how you balance.
o How hard does your body work to keep your balance?
o Notice when you shift your balance or lean against something.

Observe your internal sensations.
o How do your joints and muscles feel when they move?
o Notice when they feel sore and when they feel good.

What changes for us as we learn to move mindfully?

Reference:

Albers, S. (2012).  Eating Mindfully.  Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

 

Are You Ready to Start?

If so, please Contact Me and describe your concerns and we'll discuss how counseling can help.

Mindful Monday Tip #1: Mindfulness on the Tip of Your Tongue

I’ve been reading a lot about mindfulness lately, and realizing just how often we eat, drink, communicate, spend money, or live without awareness, in a mindless manner.   To challenge each of us to live in the present moment, I will post a Mindful Monday Tip each week.

Tip 1: Palm to Tongue

 

I discovered this tip when I worked as a mental health intern:

  • Place a bite-sized  piece of food or candy in the palm of your hand. I used dark chocolate.
  • Observe the food and become aware of what you see.
  • Touch the food and notice what you feel.
  • Bring your hand up to your nose, close your eyes, and observe what you smell.
  • Close your eyes and place the food on your tongue.
  • Become mindful of the texture and taste of the food on your tongue.
  • What bursts of flavor or sensations do you experience as the food sits on your tongue?
  • Now slowly chew and swallow and focus on what you experience.

What did you learn from this mindful experience? I learned that savoring a small bite of dark chocolate is more satisfying than mindlessly consuming a whole bar in mere seconds.

Are You Ready to Start?

If so, please Contact Me and describe your concerns and we'll discuss how counseling can help.