It has been a challenging 2 weeks in my world. My health has faltered, my adorable Archie (my 5 month old Black Lab pup for those who don’t already know!) has been in hospital, and there have been so many goings on at work that I really wish were not going on, I wouldn’t know where to begin.
Yet amongst all of this, I have made a conscious decision to question my thoughts surrounding these events – and observe how easy it would be for me to make things so much worse (or so much better) pending the belief systems I attach to each and every occurrence.
Today I was chatting to a friend about the link between our state of being and our thoughts. Each affects the other; they are directly and inevitably linked. So, when I feel at peace (say post meditation) I am aware my thoughts are more positive. Conversely, if I think something bad or angry it disturbs my state of being. My very special meditation teacher, Mita Shah, talks about 2 levels of suffering. That which is inherent to being human and is simply part of life, and that which we as humans create by attaching certain thoughts and beliefs to things which occur.
Similarly Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) poses that how we think (cognition), affects how we feel (emotion) and how we act (behaviour). Our thoughts determine our feelings and our behaviour – in fact they all interact together.
Our fabulous education consultant, Adrian Bethune shares research on this in his newly published book about children and wellbeing (keep an eye out for our upcoming blog on his wonderful work!). In one of the chapters he discusses the ABC model, which is what he uses with his children (Adrian is also a primary school teacher). For Adrian, ABC represents Adversity-Belief-Consequence – a model derived from the work of psychologist Albert Ellis. If something bad happens e.g. Archie falls ill, my belief could be ‘I really think this is all my fault, I’ve not been adhering to the puppy plan I was sent – I’ve made my dog sick’. The consequence of which (bar me crying and feeling awful) is that I become over-protective of my little boy and he’s not allowed to have the fun ‘puppyhood’ he’s had up until now. However, if my thought is ‘my Archibald is not well, let me get him to the specialists, let us discover what is wrong, and whatever treatment he needs, let me ensure he gets it’, it is likely I will not crumble to the floor and will feel a whole lot better.
Historically, I was the master of catastrophising – the process of having an irrational thought, that something is, or will become, far worse than it is in reality (e.g. ‘Archie is going to die’ I think, before I’ve even got him to the vets). Adrian talks well about observing these ‘beliefs’ and thought processes we attach to adversities and external occurrences. And psychologists advise that being aware of our negative thought processes is the first step to changing them. But what next?
For me, I practice 2 approaches. The first is to simply recognise this process of negative thinking and attempt to take a step away from it – as if I were an observer, or a trusted objective friend. I strive to be non-judgmental, to accept adversity in the present for what it is, and to desist from attaching some fundamental belief to it, or some future horrid occurrence. Instead I try to have perspective, to detach myself – to chat it through in my head, or ideally with a (non-dramatic, sensible!) friend always helps. And ultimately the goal is to replace it with a healthier, positive, rational thought or belief.
This approach can work for sure. At times it is easier, at others I can’t deny my mind is a like a wild forest fire and I simply struggle to rein it in. But… practise has helped; I am so much better than I used to be in these situations. And importantly I am aware of my vulnerabilities – those events that press my buttons and have the ability to take greater hold.
My other tool, and one which for me is the most powerful, is meditation. Ilana wrote last week about how tough she initially found quieting her mind, but that she was giving it another go. I can truly say that in my experience taking time out daily, even for just 10 minutes, to be and not to do, to breathe and re-connect with myself, and to not be ruled by my thoughts, makes the difference. The more regular my practise, the more at peace I feel throughout my day, and the more perspective I have when it comes to life generally. I panic less, my thoughts don’t spiral out of control, I am more able to be an objective observer of my daily goings on and to gain a healthy detachment from events and create a ‘space’ between the occurrence and the thought.
So, Hubbers, whichever model resonates with you, whether you like meditation or not, or if you’ve had a good week or bad, I urge you to first observe your thoughts and beliefs – and then try to choose those, as best you can, that support a happy, healthier you. Oh and just to let you know, little Arch is on the mend. Yippee!