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!

Read More

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.)

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

Free Self-Care Kit

Ready to start taking better care of YOU? Sign up below to receive your free Self-Care Kit, packed with goodies to help you start tapping in to all the ways you can nourish your mind, body, and soul! Here’s what’s included:

30 of my favorite self-care practices to get you started,
A weekly calendar to help track your progress, AND
3 self-care mantras to help you connect with your most open-hearted self

Already subscribe but didn’t get your free kit? Get in touch!

Read More

12 Ways to Start Being Your Own Best Friend

Think about your closest friends. Your friendships may span months, years, or even decades. You might have a dozen best friends you can call on day or night, or maybe your pack has always been small and mighty. Any way you count them, our friends teach us who we are and help us toward who we want to become.

When our life circumstances change, our friends often change with them. Cross-country moves introduce us to new social groups; coupledom expands our inner circles; and parenthood fosters additional bonds. Gone are the days when our closest confidants were just a short drive away. Now, get-togethers are planned months in advance and frequent flier miles are racked up with regularity.

But what about being a good friend to ourselves? We put heart and soul into our sisterhoods (and brotherhoods!), but can forget that it starts with being kind to the fresh face we greet in the mirror each morning.

Self-compassion, or treating yourself with the same kindness as you would a close friend, can radically change the way you relate to yourself. Check out these 12 tips for doling out some serious self-love. And while you’re at it, pass ’em on to a friend!

Spend time getting to know yourself better

How well do you really know yourself? It’s easy to put your best foot forward and forget about the parts you keep hidden. But when they surface (and they always do), you can recognize and accept whatever arises as pieces of your complete, imperfect self. Learn what makes you tick and what makes you cry. What do you crave after a long day at the office? What brings you joy and fulfillment? Dig in, and let yourself marvel at what you uncover.

Focus on your positive traits

You are an abundance. Of good, bad, weak, strong, tender, and tenacious. We all have bad habits and things we’d like to change: about ourselves, our past, even our future. But that doesn’t mean we have to consistently dwell on the negative. Use your faults and weaknesses as stepping stones to create something positive. When your mind wanders back to the negative, remind yourself of what grew from it.

Show yourself compassion

We are naturally compassionate beings, but can be unmoved by, even insensitive to our own suffering. Be patient and gentle with yourself, especially when you’re struggling. This is when we most need a little tenderness and shouldn’t have to look any farther than ourselves to find it.

Do a random act of kindness for yourself

Leave yourself a cheerful Post-it. Eat your lunch outside. Let yourself sleep in. Cook your favorite meal. Take a new route home that intrigues you. Have an impromptu visit with someone you love. No act is too big or too small. Soak up your own thoughtfulness and reap the rewards.

Honor your needs

We often rush to fulfill our wants without focusing on what we’re really needing. If you’re unsatisfied in a particular area of your life, think about what your inner needs are. You may need work that brings you fulfillment, a relationship that lets you feel heard, or a space that reflects your taste and values. No one’s needs are all the same, so don’t let others steer you away from what’s most important to you. By honoring your own needs, you make room to honor all of your talents and strengths that manifest as a result.

Be honest with yourself

Sometimes we have a harder time being honest with ourselves than we do with others. The truths we tell ourselves are the ones we live by, so we better be sure they’re on point. This means knowing when we’ve messed up and when we’ve succeeded. It means trusting our inner voice, but not being afraid to question it from time to time. It means finding room to forgive ourselves when we stray, reflect on our values when they’re challenged, and stand by our convictions when we know they’re worth fighting for.

Learn how to have fun by yourself

Whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, or somewhere in between, it’s important to be comfortable in your own company. Learn to enjoy it! Go sightseeing and travel at your own pace. See a movie with a friend and then see it again by yourself. Take a book to your favorite coffee shop and soak in the sights, sounds, and smells. Experiment and see what else you can come up with.

Realize that you are fundamentally worthy

This one might look easy on the surface, but how often do we live with this in mind? Our self-perceived worth can rise and fall a dozen times a day because we evaluate it based on unstable criteria: a conversation with our partner, an ad on television, a performance review. The truth is, you are as worthy on your best days as you are on your worst. Your worth comes from within, so start owning it because it’s not going anywhere.

Say attentive and affectionate things to yourself (Yes, out loud!)

You say these things to others, so why not to yourself? I’m not suggesting you start having regular conversations aloud with yourself — that’s sure to warrant a few questions! But make a habit of lifting yourself up each day with a compliment or a few words in the morning to boost your spirits before you get out of bed. You’ll be surprised at how natural it feels and how much it can improve the course of your day.

Listen to your body

There will always be pressure to look a certain way as beauty standards are constantly changing. We often forget that societal trends are much less important than our own body’s signals. Make friends with your insecurities and embrace them as part of what makes you whole. When it comes to eating habits and exercise, tune in to what works best for you.

Accept rather than punish yourself

If you’re tempted to punish yourself, you’ve likely already suffered: from an argument, a disappointment, a personal failure, or maybe just a plain rotten day. Think about how you’d treat a friend in the same situation. Maybe you’d encourage them to see their strengths, draw their attention to what’s within their control, or remind them that their pain isn’t permanent. Start doing this for yourself. Recognize when you’re being hard on yourself and change course. It’s easy to accept ourselves when we’re feeling on top of the world, but it’s just as important when we’re feeling run down by it.

Treat yourself

I’ll end with an easy-peasy: treat yourself! Don’t wait until it’s your birthday or until you snag that big promotion. Celebrate you! I love getting gifts for others. Giving is my nature. But I’m reminding myself that in order to give to others, I first have to give to myself. So whether you crave a milkshake or a glass of wine, a day out shopping or a walk in the woods, treat yourself just because. (A pedicure and a pint of ice cream have been known to work wonders for this writer.)

Bonus

Keep these 12 tips nearby with this handy visual – Click here to download!

Read More

Letting Go

During a recent silent meditation, I found myself feeling distracted. As the minutes wore on, I wondered how much time was left and felt restless at the thought of sitting in quiet solitude any longer. To my relief, the familiar bell soon rang signaling the end of the practice.

I’ve had this experience during meditation before: just when it starts to feel that I can’t hold my focus any longer, I’m snapped back to attention with a welcome bell tone. Afterward I find myself wishing that I could have stayed focused for the entire duration, without the thought of “This has to be almost finished” entering my mind. Nonetheless, this nagging voice of impatience surfaces again and again.

How often have you found that just when an experience starts to feel unbearable, it ends? Or suffered through something only to think, “That wasn’t so bad” when it’s over? How often has your anticipation of an event been worse than the event itself?

It’s natural to worry about how things might turn out, or to become so caught up in the desire to get out of something that we fail to notice the joy and opportunity it brings us in the moment.

Lately I’ve been noticing when things work out better than I’d expected or when something I’m worried about fails to come to fruition: when I’m feeling overbooked and a commitment gets rescheduled, when an expense ends up costing less than I anticipated, when good news comes in the midst of a stressful day.

There’s a wonderful Dutch saying, Don’t fret. It will happen differently anyway. It’s become a favorite of mine over the years, and one that continues to manifest itself in my life in different ways.

Sometimes an entire day can unfold in ways we didn’t expect. Sometimes it might be a whole year or even several. There’s a unique beauty in being able to live so fully in the moment that we can release our expectations on the present and simply be open to the days’ events as they unfold.

Imagine all the energy you could get back that you spent worrying about final outcomes. Imagine how it would feel to experience things exactly as they are, knowing that they are neither a fulfillment of nor a deviation from your expectations.

Things don’t happen a certain way because we believe that they will; they happen entirely independently of our predictions. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t work hard for what we want or take precautions to avoid disappointment.

But we can do so with an awareness that things might happen differently anyway. It’s reassuring and gratitude-inducing when something works in our favor, all the more so when we didn’t expect it to. It can feel discouraging though, like a betrayal even, when something turns out worse than we’d imagined.

It’s hard to loosen our grip on the present, to give up some of the control we might exert over how things unfold. But it’s also rewarding: to tune into the intricacies of the moments before us, to develop a curiosity about the world around us, and to trust that what doesn’t work out creates more space for what one day will.

Read More