In honour of Credit Education Week 2018 ( #CEWC2018 ) and their theme of #MoneyMindfulness, here are easy directions on how and why to practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness of Sensations and Thoughts
Why should I do this exercise?
This exercise is effective for learning to observe the thoughts, reactions, and actions that we have in response to emotions or physical sensations which are uncomfortable. Most people continually respond to their unpleasant sensations according to a pattern of practiced behavior and thought.
Why behaviors important?
When we feel an uncomfortable sensation, we might seek a distraction (shopping, buying an item, purchasing a treat, watching television, looking at our cell phone, etc.), or seek to numb the sensation (alcohol, illicit drugs, over the counter drugs, binge eating). These behaviors require a lot of our time and energy, and often prevent us from achieving our goals, or otherwise result in outcomes that we are not happy with.
Why are the thoughts important?
We are constantly thinking to ourselves at the rate of 300-1000 words per minute. Most of these thoughts are basically judgments or appraisals. They are judgments of our environment, our internal feelings and sensations, our actions, the actions of others, and of ourselves. We often cause ourselves distress by judging our environment or ourselves to be “bad” or negative in some way. Our thoughts evaluate everything. If it is “good”, we like it, if it is “bad”, we don’t like it. If it is neither, we have no feelings about it one way or another, and may hardly notice it at all. When we evaluate things in our environment, our own actions, or ourselves as not the way we think they should be (or “bad” according to our wants), the result is our unpleasant sensations and emotions. In observing our thoughts, we can remember that these evaluations are just that, thoughts, and not necessarily objective realities. When we recognize our thoughts as being thoughts, then we can create distance between ourselves and our feelings, and decide how we would like to respond (or not respond) instead of spending our energy in our habitual patterns of reactionary action.
When should I do this activity?
This can be done at any time, especially once you become practiced at it.
How long should I spend doing this?
You can set aside a couple of minutes to practice this, or you can try to apply it any time you experience a distressing sensation, in the moment. The first few times you try this, it will be easier if there are no distractions, and you are alone.
What to do:
- You can either sit quietly and wait for an emotion (ex: guilt, stress, sadness, anger, etc.) to come up, or you can take a moment any time you experience the sensation to focus on observing it.
- When you encounter an unpleasant emotion, attempt to simply observe it, without reacting by moving into another activity, task, or distraction. This can be difficult when sensations are unpleasant or strongly experienced. Focusing on continuing to breathe through this experience can help you to stay with the sensation and observe it.
- Try to notice: Where in my body is the sensation? What does it feel like? Cold? Heat? Tension? Weight?
- Attempt to notice any thoughts that come up just before, during, or just after this sensation.What did I think before / during / after feeling this way? Often people will notice that a harsh judgment thought, such as “I shouldn’t have done that.” Or “I’m so stupid” immediately preceded a negative feeling. Other times, you might notice that you were thinking about something you find sad, stressful, etc., right before the sensation was felt. If we do not spend time observing our thoughts and sensations, we can spend a lot of time and energy reacting to thoughts and feelings that we may not even have full awareness of.
- Attempt to be an accepting observer of any thoughts or feelings that come up. Sometimes, we will observe ourselves making a judgment about ourselves, and then we will place judgment on ourselves for having made that judgment. This is normal and natural. Attempt to accept any judgmental thoughts that arise non-judgmentally, and to view them as an important bit of data about yourself that you can learn from.
Remember, the more you practice this, the easier it will be to use in moments when you really need it. That is, if you practice it regularly on all levels of sensation, the more likely you are to be able to also use it when the sensations you experience are very strong or highly distressing. For example, the next time you strongly feel that you need to buy something new and shiny! Observe those thoughts, emotions, and sensations. 😊
As always, thank you for reading.