9 Steps to Soothe a Troubled Mind

One of the hardest things about having a busy mind is knowing how to quiet it. Sometimes it feels like rather than being able to control our thoughts, they in fact, control us: our emotions, our actions, our responses, our motivations, our self-confidence, and what makes us feel whole.

Negative thoughts in particular can be some of the most difficult to contend with, as we quickly find ourselves becoming wrapped up in self-criticism and self-doubt, believing the often-fictitious mental dialogue we perceive as fact. We are incredible thinking machines, capable of generating hundreds of negative thoughts each day, that come to define the way we think about and relate to ourselves.

The more we try to stifle such thoughts, the louder they become. It’s easy to believe that resistance is the easiest path to a quiet mind, but more often than not, the opposite is true. By learning how to acknowledge our negative thoughts, and approach them with compassionate awareness, we can reduce the hold they have on us and find a path toward inner stillness.

The next time you find yourself caught up in a sea of self-deprecation, consider these steps to clear out the mental deluge.

1. Allow the mind to be active and remember that you don’t have to engage it. Our thoughts come and go with little conscious effort. We expend our valuable mental energy only through those thoughts we choose to entertain. One of the most difficult practices, even for the most mindful among us, is simply allowing our thoughts to be present without clinging to their compelling storylines.

2. Gently tell the mind that you hear it and simply allow the thoughts to be present. Sometimes, just telling the mind, “I hear you,” can provide relief. The negative thoughts that consume our minds may be trying to tell us something important – they just haven’t found an appropriate way to express themselves yet. By acknowledging that you hear such thoughts without buying into their message, you begin to create space between yourself and the energy they exude.

3. Tell yourself, “I’m sorry you’re feeling this. I hate to see you hurting.” We rarely show ourselves the care and kindness we deserve when we’re bogged down in negative self-talk. Failing to acknowledge the pain this dialogue causes only makes our suffering worse. What would you say to a friend who spoke to herself in this way? Pause, and take a moment to show yourself some tenderness for what you’re feeling.

4. Remind yourself that you did not cause your suffering, and you deserve to be kind and loving toward yourself. There’s a Buddhist saying, “Don’t shoot the second arrow.” Each time we face a misfortune, two arrows fly our way: the first is the event that caused us pain, while the second is the suffering we bring upon ourselves by how we emotionally respond to it. By responding to our existing pain with self-blame, we increase it greatly. Instead, we can gently remind ourselves that our pain is not self-inflicted, and begin to relieve it by treating ourselves with kindness.

5. Challenge messages of self-criticism and self-defeat with messages of self-worth and understanding. It becomes harder to hold our negative thoughts in spacious awareness when we contradict them with competing messages. If you’re feeling inadequate in some way, look for evidence that doesn’t support your beliefs. Repeat the new messages out loud or write them down so you can see them regularly.

6. Remind yourself that you are not alone. You have a community of others who love and support you. We tend to isolate ourselves when we’re feeling distressed, yet these are the times when we most need the comforting presence of those who care about us. Think about who would want to be there for you if they knew what you were going through, and reach out to them.

7. Remember that your thoughts will pass. You are still you, whole and human. When we’re trapped in a negative thought cycle, it can seem like we’re never going to come out of it. Yet our thoughts are as temporary as the changing seasons, and while it can be difficult to separate ourselves from them, they do not define us.

8. Actively engage in something that soothes you. Repeat until you feel relaxed. One of the most powerful ways we can prevent ourselves from becoming overwhelmed by our thoughts is by turning our attention to something else and being fully present with the activity before us. Exercise, sit down with a cup of tea, meditate, listen to music, or journal. Tune into what you’re needing in the moment and allow yourself a break.

9. Remind yourself that it’s not easy and that’s ok. If you approach it with patience and an open mind, you deserve to be proud of yourself. If clearing our minds of nagging thoughts were easy, we’d all walk around with an air of lightness and ease, free of the distraction and tension a cluttered mind can bring. Celebrate the open-heartedness and attentiveness you bring to the process. Seize the opportunity to be kind and gentle toward yourself for your efforts.

The more you engage in the steps above, the more natural they will start to become. If you can catch yourself early on in a negative thought cycle, you decrease your chances of being carried away by accompanying emotions, and give yourself more space to be present to what brings you joy.

Bonus

Check out my free guide, Calming the Mind –Click here to download!

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Calling All Bookworms

If you’re like me, then you know nothing beats curling up with a good book on a cool weather day, preferably with a warm drink in hand. In the eternal words of C.S. Lewis, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” So grab your favorite mug and stay tuned to see what’s on my reading list this winter!

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are — Brené Brown

A leading researcher on shame, authenticity, and belonging, Brown seamlessly weaves in tales of her own struggles with perfectionism and people-pleasing, with years of research around our struggle to fit in without compromising our unique, “wholehearted” selves. Brown is a natural storyteller, and will make you say “Aha!” and “I’m not the only one?” in this thoughtfully candid page-turner. I just finished it and like a good conversation, am already looking forward to starting it again.

In the eternal words of C.S. Lewis, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”

The Best Buddhist Writing 2011 — Melvin McLeod and Editors of the Shambhala Sun

I first encountered this book in a meditation yoga class a few years ago, and didn’t pick it up again until last month. A collection of writings by leaders in the tradition, it’s enlightening, informative, and thought-provoking. A must-read for meditators, or anyone looking to bring a little more calm into their lives. Like all short story collections, some chapters may speak to you more than others. Read at your leisure, and don’t be afraid to skip around.

The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun — Gretchen Rubin

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this book. Rubin’s practical wisdom, humorous anecdotes, and gleanings from some of her greatest teachers, invite readers to challenge their preconceived notions of happiness, and cultivate practices to achieve the all-too-fleeting state of being. Lighthearted and engaging, Rubin’s style pairs well with the research she includes. Reflections that initially seem intuitive are explored to reveal deeper meaning, and will leave you happily engrossed page after page.

Unaccustomed Earth — Jhumpa Lahiri

Author of The Namesake and Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri has a way with words, easing the reader into the worlds of her characters with descriptive flair. In this short story collection, Lahiri brilliantly reveals the troubles and insecurities we hide beneath polished exteriors, and the unique, often unseen ways in which our close relationships create room to grow, retreat, and find comfort in the familiar. I loved not knowing where each story would lead, and while not always feel-good, the endings were never disappointing.

The Rosie Project — Graeme Simpson

If you’re looking to get lost in a lighthearted, laugh-out-loud, memorable read, you’re in luck. This one’s been on my list for some time, and I finally got around to listening to it (thanks, OverDrive!), finishing it in a record 3 days. Hilarity ensues when altogether socially inept Don Tillman embarks on the Wife Project to find the perfect partner. Enter, Rosie, an imperfect rule-bender who enlists Don’s help on a not-so-small project of her own. Thoroughly funny, heartwarming, and refreshingly insightful, this book quickly draws you in and doesn’t slow down. If you like it as much as I do, you’ll be pleased to hear, there’s a sequel.

How to be Lovely: The Audrey Hepburn Way of Life — Melissa Hellstern

A timeless icon, Audrey Hepburn lived with grace, style, poise, and elegance. This book has been part of my collection for some time, and it was worth a refresher to go back and read about the way she moved through the world with a rare kindness, sense of humor, and considerable thoughtfulness. One of the features I love about this book is the inclusion of quotes from Audrey herself, and from those with whom she was closely acquainted. To know Audrey, was to love her. If you’re looking for an intimate portrait of a woman whose beauty was surpassed only by her genuine spirit, this one’s for you.

Small Great Things — Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult bravely tackles prejudice, race, and privilege, in this gripping novel that will leave you replaying its plot in your mind long after you’ve put it down. Told from the perspectives of three lead characters, Picoult gives an intimate and eye-opening glimpse into the ways our attitudes about race shape our identities, and the advantages, disadvantages, and pressures we face. Provocative and raw, this book kept me up into the wee hours of the night, and is one that belongs on your nightstand. (I highly recommend the audio version, which brings this masterpiece to life.)

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Like it Matters

On our best days, we live like it matters. We give our bodies the attention and care they need and deserve. We nurture our relationships. We focus on what we have, instead of what we lack. To do so takes discipline and present moment awareness. Most of all, it takes willingness to believe that each of our days makes a difference, even when it feels like they may not.

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Write a Letter (To Yourself!)

There’s a beautiful practice I want to introduce today: writing yourself a letter. I learned about it a few years ago and it’s stuck with me ever since. If it sounds silly or strange, I encourage you to keep reading. You don’t have to be an eloquent wordsmith or an experienced writer. All you need is a little motivation, a blank slate, and an open mind.

You might be wondering, what could I possibly have to write to myself? There’s no shortage of messages we send ourselves, but often we do so in a way that’s not very helpful. Think about your first thoughts upon waking. What type of foundation do they lay for your day ahead? What about when you’re driving and your mind starts to wander? Our minds are often abuzz with activity, and it can be hard to filter out the messages that guide us in the right direction from those that lead us into a cycle of self-deprecation or habitual responding.

When you sit down to compose a letter to yourself, you’re naturally more deliberate in your self-dialogue. Writing allows you to tap into a part of yourself that is not as accessible via thinking or talking aloud. Imagine it as tuning into your deepest and wisest self, one with unlimited potential.

Maybe words aren’t your thing, and the thought of putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard with nothing but a blank page before you seems intimidating. (If doing laundry, cleaning the bathroom, or standing on your head for 5 hours sounds more appealing, I’m talking to you.) You don’t have to be a skilled writer to benefit from this practice. It’s not about how smoothly your sentences flow from one to another or how extensive your vocabulary is to draw from. It’s about communicating with yourself in a way that lets you honor who you are while celebrating the highest self that you can be.

You may choose to write to your present self, your past self, or your future self. You may choose to write to the parts of yourself that you struggle with or the parts that you adore. You may choose to write a letter that you’ll read every day or one that you’ll only pull out at certain times — when you need a confidence boost, when you’ve had a bad day, or when you can’t sleep.

There are no set rules. You need only write from a place of inner truth. Letter writing can help you:

Clarify your thoughts and feelings around an important decision

Identify your goals and values

Recognize where you’re being hard on yourself

Celebrate your strengths

Let go of past hurts

Shed light on how you’ve grown

Confront your fears

Embrace your shortcomings

Energize your body, mind, and spirit

Handwriting your letter is preferable as it often reduces the tendency to edit and self-censor that can be tempting when you’re sitting at a keyboard. You can always type it up afterward if you prefer this format, but I find sitting down to write it first eases some of the formality.

I hope you give this practice a try. If it sounds like something you wouldn’t ordinarily do, use it as an opportunity to step out of your comfort zone! If you have questions or feel stuck, get in touch. I’d love to hear what your experience was like and how it’s helped you. Put that pen to paper and soak in your wise words.

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A Minimalist’s Guide to Goal-Setting

This article originally appeared on No Sidebar.

Have you ever tried to form a new habit or set a goal for yourself only to lose motivation and give up midway through? Or you might even try to implement several new habits at once and after a successful first few weeks, gradually begin to wane in your progress.

New habits are hard to form. Even the best intentions can be swept away by busy schedules, exhaustion, and overwhelm. Diet and exercise fads come and go, novel mindfulness trends intrigue us, and fresh challenges excite us; but despite our most valiant efforts, we slowly slip back into our old ways.

A few months ago, I decided it was time for me to get reacquainted with the healthful habits I’d been neglecting for too long. Each day I was determined to drink 3 bottles of water, exercise, meditate, read for 30 minutes, write down what I was grateful for, and do an act of self-care. Sound ambitious? I’d been doing each of these practices for years, I reasoned, albeit rather inconsistently. What could be so hard about starting them up again all at once?

I rolled up my sleeves and made a monthly tracking chart for myself, colorful and creative, true to my nature. For 30 days, I hit nearly all my marks. I loved seeing the brightly colored boxes that reflected my progress and was feeling empowered by my old-now-new-again daily rituals.

By the second month, relishing in the high of my recent success, I began falling off course. I couldn’t keep up during weekends of travel and the novelty of my tracking chart was beginning to wear off.

By month three, I’d all but abandoned my daily routines and began casually fitting them in when I could. Had I tried to make too many changes at once, I wondered. Each month I vowed to start anew but my motivation had long since faded.

As a minimalist, I never thought that maybe I should take the same approach toward goal-setting as I did toward so many other things: quality over quantity, deliberation over impulse, abundant joy over excess need.

Recently I discovered a new way of setting goals for myself: instead of trying to implement several goals at once, I would simply pick one goal (not two or three or five) and focus on it for 30 days. When I first learned about this method, it struck me how well it aligned with the minimalist values I’ve long embraced.

It was simple:

No fuss or frills, just one goal at a time.

It was meaningful:

It didn’t depend on rapidly changing trends or contemporary crazes, only on what was most important to me.

It was pressure-free:

There was no urgency to strive for more than I was capable of, only what was within my reach each day.

It was about the journey rather than the destination: by devoting my full attention to one area of focus, I was able to release myself from being driven by any particular outcome and could instead tune in to what I was learning along the way.

It’s natural to set our sights on more than we can attain and doing so can even be a strong motivator on the way to success. But when we struggle to achieve a goal that’s a bit beyond our reach, it can quickly derail our self-confidence and inner drive. We become so engrossed in our failure, we forget the why behind our what and get lost in the how.

Have you ever bought something only to later forget why you wanted it? So too with our ambitions, we can lose sight of the personal significance they once held as we develop more and more to try to match the joy their initial achievement once brought us.

When you set a goal for yourself, remember why you chose it. See what it has to show you. Is it difficult for you to do each day? Why? What might make it easier? Is it not as challenging as you expected? Find a way to make it more so.

Imagine each monthlong goal as one of your most cherished belongings: spend time with it; get to know it; don’t discard it in favor of something more enticing. Do it each day and let it be a reflection of your strengths and values.

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Spilling Over

Within each and every one of us, there is a place of inner stillness from which our thoughts and dreams arise. It’s hard to pinpoint, easily escaping our limited grasp. How do you find this place within yourself? There are many reasons why we may fail to recognize this dwelling space deep inside: anger or discord, shame or embarrassment, worry or fear.

Yet it exists within all of us, and when we access it, we are free from the constraints of that which weighs us down. You may know it as quiet mind or relaxed awareness. It is a place of possibility and ease, contentment and security.

I often experience this state of mind in nature, when I’m surrounded by trees, wildlife, running water, and abundant blooms. In the neighborhood where I live, there are places where the flowers spill over onto the sidewalk. I’m filled with joy each time I see them, because their impulse to grow knows no limitations. They brim with radiance, unapologetically thriving.

We too are overflowing with potential to flourish. No matter our circumstances or what each day might bring, we can lean into our natural tendency to grow, to overcome uncertainty, to bloom wherever each changing moment finds us.

The flowers I pass don’t know they’re blooming beyond their natural bounds; they’re simply free of self-restraint. The limitations they may experience — excessive heat, lack of rain, trampling feet — are never self-imposed. Nature exhibits a beautiful absence of self-hindrance.

As humans, we have the exquisite gift of free will. We are privileged to make hundreds of decisions each day, from the seemingly inconsequential to the life altering. But we are also burdened by the restrictions we impose upon ourselves when we’re feeling afraid, inadequate, powerless, or disappointed.

When we shrink into worry and self-doubt, we immediately dampen our potential. If we were flowers, we’d soon shrivel up and wilt. But when we can face whatever hardships may arise from a place of inner stillness and surrender, we give ourselves permission to thrive.

Some of our bravest decisions are a result of heartbreaks and failures, of recognizing that we have the ability to grow even when our outer surroundings may be telling us otherwise. If we allow ourselves to flourish in the midst of life’s biggest challenges, imagine what we could do if conditions were ideal.

The conditions of our lives will never be perfect. At times, they can feel quite close. At others, we may feel our world’s been turned upside down. In the most unpredictable of landscapes, let your abundant beauty, your unwavering potential, spill over into life’s sidewalk cracks. Let the hope of what could be fill you to the brim and grow toward it.

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Take a Mindful Moment: 5 Simple Practices for Daily Life

Take a Mindful Moment: 5 Simple Practices for Daily Life

Mindful

How often have you rushed out the door and into your day without even thinking about how you’d like things to go? Before you know it, something or someone has rubbed you the wrong way, and you’ve reacted automatically with frustration, impatience, or rage—in other words, you’ve found yourself acting in a way you never intended.

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