mindfulness

Choose Joy: Using Mindfulness to Increase Joy in Your Life

  • Do you want more joy in your life?
  • Do you dwell on the negative in your day?
  • Do you want to live more in the present moment?

“For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half-lived life.”

                                          Melville

Leah, a middle-aged administrative assistant, had a history of depression. She had experienced problems in her past relationships and isolated herself because she felt like a loser. She did not want to repeat that pattern, but her new partner began to complain that she was always negative.

Leah sought help to learn mindfulness to help her become aware of her negative thought patterns. She tended to apply a negative filter to her thinking. Cognitive psychologists have found that this type of despondent thinking is prevalent in those with depression and can be changed. Negative filter thinking refers to when we focus on the negative and discount the positive. The brain is like glue for negative and Teflon for positive. Leah started to notice the Teflon effect when she was given compliments or positive attention, and she observed the frequency of sticky negative thoughts.

Leah realized that she learned this way of thinking as she grew up and the fact that she could change her thinking and behavior gave her hope. Many people were raised in households with little joy and ample negative thought and behavioral patterns. Our models for thinking about the world are formed at young ages and become unconscious. By gently shining a light on inner-injurious thoughts without judging herself, Leah was able to become aware of why she felt and acted as she did. Through her practice of mindfulness, she could live more fully in the present moment.

By slowing down and experiencing the moment it is possible to feel more alive, and you’ll find that sensory perceptions are heightened. It is too easy to rush through life and not take a few minutes to enjoy the simple things. Leah began a practice of staying in the present moment and experiencing joy in simple acts like washing dishes. She let herself take in the lemony aroma of the soap. She slowed down for a few special moments to experience the feeling of the soap on her hands.

By developing mindfulness skills she learned to be able to focus on the now and the pleasure of the moment. Joyful moments began to be sticky while her negative thinking became more like Teflon. Since thought and feelings are meant to come and go, she practiced letting go of  the detrimental glue of her negative preoccupation. As her focus changed to appreciation and celebration of life, she began to notice joy, love, and miracles in the everyday.

As Leah’s inner experience began to change, she smiled more and spoke more positively about life. Relationship researcher Dr. John Gottman has shown that couples who thrive over time have a 5 to 1 ratio of positive interactions over negative ones. Leah’s relationship improved as her negative filter weakened and she could expand her experience of  joy. Research has shown that mindfulness practice can help those suffering with depression. Symptoms of depression are reduced with a regular practice and parts of the brain associated with negative arousal shrink in size. Volume and activity in brain centers associated with calm awareness are increased.

Choosing Joy

  • Savoring moments of joy, like holding the hand of a baby, playing with a puppy, or stepping on fall leaves becomes a thought habit and the brain likes to repeats habitual ways of thinking.
  • The feeling of joy is a practice; As you practice, your brain wires neural networks to fire in the direction of joyful thinking.
  • As neuroscientist Dr. Wayne Drevets observed, “In the brain practice makes permanent.” Fortunately because of neuorplasticity, we can reroute our brains in the direction of gladness at any age. 
  • Notice if your thoughts are Teflon for positive and glue for the negative. Imagine letting thoughts pass through your mind like clouds overhead.
  • Imagine a neural railway and that you’re laying track toward enticing stations.
  • Look for joy in everyday things; open your eyes and imagination. Practice staying present in your body. Learn to focus as you experience moments in the day. Let your attention come into your senses as Leah did by smelling the soap when washing dishes and feeling her hands in the water.
  • Develop a simple practice of mindfulness and practice it daily to increase your ability to feel joy in the moment. So much of life is spent replaying what happened in the past or imagining what might happen in the future that people do not fully experience the present.
  • As you practice mindfulness you begin to realize that you can choose joy in the moment by getting away from repeating negative thought patterns and using your senses to fully experience the gifts of the present moment.

Your Turn

Take a moment to close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Breathe deeply using your diaphragm. Let your attention scan your body. Notice places of tightness or tension. Imagine that the tension is a knot and in your mind release the knot gently. Let it go. Feel the tension loosen.

Imagine a time when you were very happy. Allow yourself to experience that feeling. How does your body change as you recall this memory? Open your eyes and look around the room until you see something that gives you pleasure—a picture, a book, flowers. Allow your attention to linger on that sensation.

Train your brain to go to places of peace and joy. Set an intention to focus on joy instead of attack thoughts. As you do this you may experience small changes in your mood. Over time, your ability to choose joy and peace of mind will increase.

You will find if you practice this throughout the day, even for a moment at a time, you will see objects in more detail and begin to experience peaceful joy.

There is no right way to practice noticing your past thoughts and recreating them in the present. Keep trying this until it feels right for you. This is a very simple practice, however most people do not do it long enough to really make a difference. Make a commitment to set a time to practice. You can set a chime to ring on your phone as a reminder. You can do this alone or with others.

mindfulness

 

Change Your Story, Change Your Life
by Dr. Linda Miles

Do you feel as if someone else is writing the story of your life? Learn to program your brain to live with purpose. Change Your Story: Change Your Brain is a guide to living more fully in the present moment. As you live with greater intention, you can literally change the structure of your brain.

Click here to learn more.

 

choose the right partner

How to Consciously Choose the Right Partner

Dr. Linda MilesThere’s nothing worse than getting deep into a relationship and then suddenly realizing that you’ve made a poor choice. Before you get into a committed relationship with someone new, it’s important to avoid some of the common mistakes.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is becoming a “dopamine dope.” In the early stages of a relationship a chemical called dopamine is secreted in the brain that results in a high. It diminishes your ability to think clearly and see your partner objectively.
Too many people focus on making a great impression instead of keeping in mind what they want, being true to themselves and enjoying the present moment without jumping to conclusions. By taking time, you can get to know your partner and measure whether you have safety and connection.

Here is a Guide for Conscious Choices in a Partner.

  1. Kindness and Respect – The expression, “we should treat family like strangers and strangers like family,” is indicative of the amount of disrespect that is tolerated in relationships. This attitude is a barrier to the basic building blocks of long-term goodwill and respect.
  2. Ability To Learn: Curiosity – Although it is normal to have disagreements and power struggles, many couples fail to learn from conflicts and may repeat the same self-destructive scenarios and behaviors for decades.  We shouldn’t talk unless we can improve on silence.  As James Thurber noted, our tendency is to look back in anger or forward in fear, instead of “around in awareness.”
  3. Flexibility – Many people grew up in rigid families, with rigid roles. Consequently, it doesn’t occur to them to let go of patterns that clearly aren’t working.
  4. Ability To Hear Your Pain – This is what often brings couples into therapy, because they have not learned to sit and listen to one another with empathy and compassion.
  5. A Deep Inner Life On A Personal Journey – Often couples becomes too fused together, losing their individual joys and passions.
  6. Similar Passions – (Ability to have many varied good times together) – Many couples lose their pleasure bond with each other, sharing mostly complaints and drudge.
  7. Similar Values – Unfortunately we read too many “happily ever after” fairy tales, instead of understanding the importance of conscious negotiation of rules, roles, religion, and money issues, early-on in couple-hood.
  8. Compassion – Many people learn “shame and blame” games in their family. They engage in rascal hunting and learn to use these behaviors in close relationships. Families fail to watch each other with “soft eyes,” (Levine 1995) in order to address problem behaviors in a gentle manner without judgment about toward partners. Often a partner will take the “moral high ground” and lecture to the other about perceived inadequacies. Instead, of compassion shared between two equals, partners often relate to each other like they are parents of children.
  9. Ability To Laugh At Ones Self – Because many people grew up in a shame-blame environment, it is difficult for them to look at themselves lightly.
  10. Substance Abuse, Dishonesty, Cover-up – A lack of knowledge about substance abuse introduces a wild card into relationships. Also, dishonesty and cover-up cause a build-up of bad feelings, becoming ”brown stamps.”  This can lead to what I call the “anchovy pizza” syndrome. In my practice I have seen countless couples who’ve saved “brown stamps” of bad feelings, until they are ready to cash them in at the break-up redemption center. In one such case, a woman saved book after book of bad feelings about her husband’s inability to hear her needs. The last stamp was pasted when he ordered an anchovy pizza. She hated anchovies. Then, she announced, to his shock, that the pizza was the last food he’d ever order for her, because she wanted a divorce.
  11. Ability To Be A Friend And Not Just A Lover – Passion without friendship in relationships, is like doing somersaults on a circus trapeze without a safety net.
  12. Someone Who Makes Your Life Bigger, Not Smaller – Unfortunately, too many people grew up seeing family in terms of correction-city, drudge and duty. Consequently, they perceive commitment as a prison sentence, instead of a shared adventure.

Although, this is an easy list to memorize, the difficulty lays in breaking the patterns that prevent maintenance of our desired behaviors. Peggy Papp, a famous family therapist remarked that we come out of our own family of origin with a “cookie-cutter” approach to life and it requires “heroic moments” to change the shape of our own cookie-cutters.

Visualize your dream relationship several times a day and that will help to begin to change your cookie-cutter. Focus on who and what you want, instead of who and what you don’t want. Only one person can defeat you in the endeavor, that person is you. Inner correction creates outer correction.  

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