Catalyst Counseling

Collaborative, compassionate, confidential, and curious approach to working with behaviors and perceptions that keep you from what you want.

HOW TO be HERE & NOW 

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Being "present" is something everyone talks about wanting, but seems pretty difficult to actually do. We are pulled in so many directions by too much stimuli, too many responsibilities, too much rushing and too much of too much. This can cause the mind to be living in the past (“shoulda, woulda, coulda”) or in the future (worry about what *might* happen).

I would like to try to simplify it and make it fun for you, because if you are like me, learning how to meditate or "being" can seem like another thing on the needed to do list.

Multitasking is Focus' nemesis — many of us spend our days in a state of divided attention and near-constant multitasking, and it keeps us from truly living in the present. 

Experiencing the NOW is creating attention anchor points that bring it into your purview.  

A list of examples intended to get your engines started.....

1. Do your dailies, differently.   

-Take a different route home and notice the homes, streets, trees, panhandlers, banners, fonts, etc.  

-Change the radio station from the regular.  Look and listen and be forced to be taken out of your routine. 

-Chances are you have a leg that you use first when putting on your pants.  Try starting with the *other* leg.  The *other* shoe.  Loop your the bunny ears of your shoelaces the *other* way.  

2. Write with the opposite hand.  

Use the mouse with the opposite hand or brush your hair with the opposite hand. You’ll laugh at how preschool-ish your handwriting suddenly becomes, and how you really have to focus on making your letters NOT look like potatoes!  Those of you who have written Tooth Fairy notes know how hard this can be.

3. Pay attention to the full experience of walking. 

Take a moment to focus on the sensations, the small and large movements you make while walking, your step, your gait, your breath, your heart beating in your chest, how objects seem to move past you, the temperature, the wind, etc.

4. Take a DEEP breath

Meditation is one form of Mindfulness but there is so much more. Mindfulness means, simply put, the active state of being fully conscious and aware. One common mindfulness exercise involves letting yourself becoming fully conscious and aware of your own breath, which is a great way to to focus you right into the current moment. While you hold it, notice and name 5 things you can see, feel, hear.  

Don't know how to breathe?  No problem, here you go...

1) Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound. 2) Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four. 3) Hold your breath for a count of seven. 4) Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight. 5) This is one breath.

5. Plate Presence-

Will you be eating any food or drinking anything today?

Thought so.

When you take the first bite of any meal, or first sip of any beverage, just take a moment to really pay attention to the taste.

Look at the food or drink carefully, the colors, feel the textures in your mouth, smell it and notice how your body reacts to it.

You don’t need to keep this up throughout the meal, but use it every now and then to lasso your attention.

6. Laugh and don't take yourself so seriously.  

Laughing brings us into the present moment in a mindful way. Joyful laughter and meditation even look similar in the brain, according to this study .

 Photo by Hannah Nelson from Pexels

Photo by Hannah Nelson from Pexels

Start small.  Mindfulness can be incorporated throughout your everyday life by simply paying a little more attention to your daily activities as you’re performing them.  

Mindfulness isn't a goal, because goals are about the future, but you do have to set the intention of paying attention to what is happening at the present moment. 

Gratitude: lather, rinse and repeat.

What exactly *is* gratitude? It's simply (not that simple) the practice of being thankful, literally "counting your blessings" and taking note of the things to be grateful for and expressing that gratitude to others when applicable.  There are so many benefits to being thankful that I think it should be called "self giving" instead of thanksgiving because it improves your Self.  This doesn't come easily though does it? Our minds fall victim to negativity bias and it is our brains natural home base. We remember bad events more than the good ones and hang onto that nasty thing that our coworker said and forget praise that our boss gave us.

There was a cool research study done (Emmons and McCullough, 2003) where they assigned groups to journal about things they were grateful for, another group wrote of things that annoy them, and another reasons why they were better off than others.  Did you know that the young adults assigned to keep gratitude journals showed greater increases in determination, attention, enthusiasm and energy compared to the other groups?? While that shows a clear benefit of gratitude, it also makes it clear distinction. Realizing that other people are worse off than you is not gratitude. Gratitude requires an appreciation of the positive aspects of your situation. It is not a comparison. Sometimes noticing what other people don't have may help you see what you can be grateful for, but you have to take that next step.  You actually have to show appreciation for what you have for it to have an effect.

Gratitude takes practice like any other skill. The more you practice gratitude, the more attuned you are to it and the more you can enjoy it's psychological benefits.

Wait, but, what *are* these benefits?   Gratitude does something quite peculiar to the brains system: it activates the hypothalamus. This hypothalamus is one of the brains control centers, and gratitude seems to motivate it to excel.   The limbic system (which the hypothalamus is part of) is activated whenever we feel gratitude, pride or do something altruistic for someone else. The hypothalamus wakes you up in the morning and gets the adrenaline flowing. It is also an important emotional center, controlling the molecules that make you feel exhilarated, angry, or unhappy. That actually means the gratitude can make our metabolism, hunger and other natural bodily functions work more smoothly.    Gratitude interventions have been shown to result in improved sleep, more frequent exercise and stronger cardiovascular and immune systems. Crazy, right???

Gratitude begets gratitude, in part because it releases a hormone, dopamine, the brain chemical correlated with reward, pleasure, and satisfaction.   Man, we do anything for dope. Once you have the feel good benefits of gratitude, you'll want to keep feeling it. Dopamine is like the Britney Spears of your brain saying "hit me baby, one more time". In other words it's the brain saying "oh, I liked that, do that again".   The more you're grateful for, the more you want to feel grateful. Gratitude interventions (fancy word for thanking exercises) create a positive feedback loop.  It's not just a simple pleasure like the kind you get from having sex or chocolate.  Instead, the brain's response to  gratitude is to activate a reward center, one specifically targeted at boosting our bonds with other people. It rewards you, makes you want to want this feeling again and somehow attached to others at the same time.  It's like Gratitude is a social emotion.

The more practice you give your brain at feeling and expressing gratitude, the more it adapts to this mindset- you could even think of your brain as having a sort of gratitude "muscle" that can be exercised and strengthened.

But, HOW???

I tell clients the best way to reap the benefits of gratitude is to notice new things you're grateful for every day. Gratitude journaling works because it's totally changes the way we perceive situations by adjusting what we focus on. While you might always be thankful for your great family, just writing I'm grateful for my family week after week doesn't keep your brain on alert for fresh grateful moments. For example, when I write in my gratitude journal, I get specific, I say things like "I'm grateful that my husband paused the hockey game long enough for me to finish my story and for him to acknowledge".  He's Canadian, so you know that I am grateful :-)

And while most of you know that I'm part Amish (minimal electronics) I also realize that people may not carry around a pen and a composition book or moleskin journal to jot down their  "thanks", so, there are apps for that. It's called My Gratitude Journal by Happy Tapper.  It's highly rated and highly used.

Gratitude jars- find a jar and think of at least three things throughout your day that you are grateful for. It can be something as benign as a coffee at your favorite coffee shop, or as grand as the love of your significant other or dear friend. Do this every day, write down what you are grateful for on little slips of paper (bonus points for colored paper!, and fill the jar. 

Gratitude letter- This is perhaps the most powerful gratitude exercise there is. Write a hand-written letter to a person you are particularly grateful to have in your life. Be detailed. Express all the wonderful qualities about this person, and how they personally have affected your life for the better. If you have the time personally deliver this letter to the person yourself.

Whichever route you choose, it's a way to train your brain to develop better habits and create a healthier future.  It doesn't do all the work for you, but it certainly seems like a good start.

I'm grateful you read until the end.  What are you grateful for today? Yesterday? Tomorrow?  

Barbie@Catalyst-Counseling.com