I would love to know how much time I have spent in waiting rooms. Like those list telling you how much time the average person spends on the toilet or sleeping. I would love to know how much time I have already spent waiting for this appointment or that.. I know it’s a lot of time and will be loads more by the time I am an old lady knocking on the pearly gates. Over the years I have used this waiting time by taking a friend or family and filled it with chatter, or with my head in a book or a crappy crinkled waiting room magazine. But I must say in the majority I have just used this waiting time by sitting quietly with my internal chatter and own thoughts. I was doing this waiting for my anti-coagulant appointment recently, and found myself thinking how much nicer my internal world is now than in previous years.
Watching where my thoughts go
I sat watching where my thoughts went and it is so interesting how many topics my mind spins through when just sitting waiting. What I am going to cook for tea, what I am going to teach tomorrow, what I will say to the nurse if she wants to change my anti-coagulants, what I am going to blog about next, is blogging a worthwhile use of my time, when can I finish that portrait I am painting, how I can help my friend whose having a rubbish time. And I was only in the waiting room for a really short time. I don’t know about you but my internal voice talks fast.
Over the last nine-years I have come to realise the more I practise mindfulness my thoughts are an endless merry-go-round of half thought-out ideas, distant opinions that I haven’t fully formed, daydreams and worries and a lot of remember to do this or that. When left to their own devices my thoughts are really just a collection of chaos in an unorganized library of clutter. As I am sure most people’s inner voices are. When was the last time you took time to examine what your mind whizzes over in a day?. If it hasn’t been a while take 10 minutes to do this and I think you will be surprised how many topics you cover.
I know that before I spent time working with a stroke physiologist nine years ago (to work on my cognitive behavioral and emotional changes as a result of my brain injury) I had never acknowledged that you are the captain of your thoughts and the unguided mind was not only a rubbish tip of chatter, but also could be very self-destructive. Although not necessarily easy, taking charge of your thoughts and not carrying on letting them roam wild in whatever directions they want, can at first be really enlightening and the first step towards a happier life. After all lots of our suffering is done in our imagination we spend a lot more time in the thinking mind that you might realise. A Harvard study in 2010 by psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert found we spend about “47% of our waking hours is spent thinking about what isn’t going on”
Whilst in the UK we don’t take up talking therapies as much as our American brothers and sister we are slowly becoming more accepting toward these as useful. Although it seems to me that this is only in the context of when an upsetting or life-changing event happens or if a person presents with symptoms of mental illness and even then these therapies are not easily or readily available on our NHS. My own experience is just one piece of evidence of this. I was at no point offered any counselling, or psychological support to work through my changes in cognition, or my new physical limitations at the time of my strokes. I was only offered this seven years after my stroke as I was suffering from major headaches that seem to come hand in hand with a variety of emotional and behavioral difficulties.
I had tried antidepressant, medications and had been to a private counselor that we paid a fortune for without any positive outcomes. In fact they had tried to guide me down the route of all feelings being linked to past family relationships despite me making it very clear that I knew my situation was a result of my stroke and the massive impact it was having limiting me and my life choices. I was looking for coping strategies rather than where it came from. It took a long time and lot of heart ache and self advocacy of putting pressure on my GP to finally refer me back to a stroke specialist, who during his first meeting of me referred me to stroke psychologist straight away. I was at a very low time in my life and can honestly say this was the turning point and the start of learning how to take a look at my internal voice and the damage it was doing.
I am not suggesting in any way that everyone needs to attend talking therapy for a happier life. But I am suggesting that taking time for a long hard look at your internal stream of consciousness is definitely a helpful stepping stone in the right direction. Sadly one that I don’t think the majority of people take the time to do.
We don’t get to hear the internal chatter of others and most of us would probably be mortified if all our internal dialogue was laid out loud for the world to hear. Most of us try to sensor which thoughts we share with the world, why is that? Why don’t we give ourself the same respect? For most of us our minds are a whirl of shopping and to do’s list, work and family, day dreams, fears and worries. But for many people there are also a stream of horrible hateful thoughts about themselves. Thoughts that are not kind or caring, but harsh, judgmental and very negative. A nagging voice telling you, you should be better at a hundred and one things or be doing more, achieve more. Or dwelling on something stupid little thing you did or worrying how people see you. Critical hurtful thoughts constantly putting you down and damaging to well-being. Many self-help writers including Louise Hay have written endless books and self-help guides about the very fact that many of us would never speak to someone else the way we speak to ourselves. I know. I used to be like this and sometimes still am. But now and for the past few years I have made efforts to explore my internal voices, to monitor my thoughts and feelings and not leave them to run wild causing havoc with my happiness and well-being, it has definitely lead to a better life. One that despite its numerous challenges and difficult life events is no longer frantic or consumed controlled or dominated by negativity.
If you are really honest how much of the negative in your life goes on silently in your own mind? How much time do you give to being kind to yourself inside your internal world? Have you even given this a second thought today? Take a day and examine your internal thoughts, especially if you are not feeling that great or you are having a particularly rough time. How many of your thoughts are negative, critical, unkind unforgiving or unsympathetic towards yourself? Are you surprised by your findings? If you are, this is the moment to make a change. To start a new chapter where you take hold of your thoughts, recognise they are just thoughts, your thoughts they are not happening to you, once you become mindful of where you mind wonders you can start to take control and turn them around to help you to love you, to be kind and nurture you. This takes time and is something you have to work on and practise but it is truly worth it. I know loving yourself to most Brits is not something to be proud of and tends to be associated with arrogance, cockiness not something not to aspire too, but self – love is something completely different.
Pursuit of happiness
As I have talked about before I know for me I have only managed my grief for the losing my mum by managing my thoughts, not allowing them take hold of me. When dark and painful thoughts and feelings bubble to the surface of how unfair life is without her, how much I miss her and fears of how I am I going cope with my health and life challenges and happy moments without her. I simply acknowledge them, take a moment to feel them and then bat them away rather than dwell on them or giving them too much time. At first I had to actively find a distraction and it was a bit of an internal battle of wills, but with time I have learnt in all manner of circumstances this really stops me from spiraling into pity party. I am saying these thoughts and feelings are not valid or justified. Which is why acknowledge them without criticising myself for having them and at times allow myself time to think and feel this negativity, but for self-preservation I limit this. I actively make myself stop thinking them. This is simply one of the method of mindfulness I use to recognise and manage damaging thoughts their impact on my life and how they hamper my pursuit for happiness and well-being. And it is something I would recommend to everyone as I really do believe you are what you think but you are also able to control what you think.
Things helped me get started in the right direction:
Stroke Physiology and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural therapy)
Mags O’Brien Life Transforming Specialist http://www.magslifetransformationspecialist.com/
reading lots of different self help books including Louise Hay you can heal your life
Listening to guided meditations.
Things I do now to help guide my internal chatter in a positive direction:
Practising daily Gratitude
Practising mindful and guided meditations www.breathworks-mindfulness.org.uk
Practising and pursue mindfulness.
Reading blogs, magazines and listening to ted talks that are nurturing of my pursuit of calm, balance and positivity. (Breathe is a great magazine to start with. www.breathemagazine.co.uk)
Wherever you start it will be the start to a happier internal life and the and is absolutely vital to the pursuit of happiness.