By Bruce Craig, MA, Resident in Counseling in Northern Virginia
In everything and everyone we encounter in life there will be aspects we appreciate and aspects we maybe don’t prefer. As we discussed in earlier articles of this series our minds naturally focus on the negative first because this was necessary in some ways for survival. In primitive times, when you went out to hunt for food and were unsuccessful, you could live to hunt another day whereas if you were to meet with a danger that killed or injured you, that would be it. These days however, life is less about survival so it is often more useful to cultivate our thoughts toward a focus of positive aspects. This can largely be accomplished with the same
Mindfulness process we have been discussing to work with difficult emotions.
Noticing and Working with Thoughts
Here is that word again and hopefully your practice so far has helped you become more attuned to the process of mind that allows you to notice and work with what is happening in the moment. As we discussed in past parts of this series, it is important to work with the thoughts. This is the same process except we are now trying to cultivate a process that encourages positive emotions instead of simply waiting to work on the negative emotion that arises next.
As you walk in a room and notice a thought of something you do not prefer, I encourage you to grab that thought and try to understand where it comes from. Maybe you walked in and saw a long line at the front counter. When you go to your mind you see the thought that this is going to take forever, but you grab that thought and you tell your mind the line will move quickly and we will be up soon enough. Once the initial negative thought has been worked with, I encourage you to focus your consciousness on something positive in the present moment. Maybe that is some beautiful artwork hanging in the waiting room or maybe it is the wonderful temperature in the room on a day that is unbelievably hot or cold outside. The more we practice this process it will eventually become your habit energy and your mind will begin noticing positive aspects of things initially on its own.
A practice of gratitude that intentionally notices things and people we appreciate in our lives can have profoundly positive effects on our mental health. This can be as simple as leaving yourself a reminder to say three things you are grateful for in your life before you go to sleep. The three things may remain the same each day or maybe they change. You may even decide to make this part of a journaling practice. The idea is to make this a practice in your daily life, it can be difficult to implement anything new in our life consistently but this practice will encourage positive thinking for your mind over time.
This practice can be expanded to help you communicate these things to the important people in your life. It is quite easy to get caught up in our day to day responsibilities and forget to let the people in our lives know how much we appreciate them. I encourage you to communicate the things you are grateful for to friends and family and notice when you do not feel comfortable doing so. Vulnerability is hard for everyone so notice this discomfort in a non-judgmental, curious way and consider this a lifelong growth edge to be worked with.
Working with Perspective
Working with our mental process to cultivate a focus on positive aspects first to encourage positive emotions within us does not mean you will be oblivious to negative aspects or stop trying to improve things in your life. This process is one that simply encourages us to not focus on things that we often cannot change or things that we would not consciously decide to put our time and effort toward anyway. If we either cannot or would not change something then why would we want our mind to have these negative thoughts that inevitably lead to feelings. Like all other aspects of Mindfulness this is an experiential process so I encourage you to try it for yourself and see what works for you. Set an intention to practice this way of being consistent for a couple of weeks and you will likely see a measurable difference in how you feel throughout
While we are on the subject of cultivating positive thought processes and positive emotions, we should discuss Self-Compassion. Some negative self-talk is normal, expected and necessary for striving and achieving in our daily lives. I have found that most of us talk to ourselves in a way that far surpasses this normal, expected and necessary amount and this can become quite limiting when it comes to cultivating positive emotions.
Self-Compassion is a strangely complicated subject to work with at times but I have found a Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook that is useful for most people. I met one of the authors, Christopher Germer, in the Mindfulness and Mediation in Psychotherapy certification program I attended and have recommended this workbook to many clients since. I have attached the link below and encourage you to give it a try and not only notice the exercises and prompts you find useful but also notice where you feel resistance. I have found some of the exercises the workbook encourages that cause clients to feel resistant are often the areas they need the most in their lives. When you notice your mind saying “this is stupid”, or “this seems silly”, notice that and consider that maybe it is simply out of your comfort zone and that section may be what you need most.
The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook: A Proven Way to Accept Yourself, Build Inner Strength, and Thrive on Amazon.com
Links to the Whole Series can be found here:
Working with Our Emotions – Part 1
Learning to Notice Emotions Early and Objectively – Part 2
Working with Thoughts – Part 3
About Bruce Craig:
Bruce is a resident in counseling providing counseling services at our Fredericksburg location. Bruce is a recent graduate from Eastern Mennonite University with a MA in Counseling, following a B.S. in Social Psychology from Park University.
Bruce completed a rigorous internship working with individuals, couples, families and groups. Bruce also finds Mindfulness to be useful in helping clients be in the present moment. For clients who are receptive to it, he teaches them ways of controlling their thoughts instead of becoming anxious about things that might happen or focusing on aspects they cannot change.
He is currently in a course to become certified in the use of Mindfulness in therapy but already has experience and success applying Mindfulness with clients. Bruce provides a warm, empathetic, and non-judgmental space for all people to bring whatever issues they need to work through. To learn more about Bruce, visit here.