“…it’s not faith that comes from miracles,
but miracles that come from faith.”
It is difficult being a human being. I remember once when I was a teenager telling a friend that I intended to figure out how to be happy all the time. I remember her being skeptical about this but I was pretty sure I could pull it off. I was too young and naïve to fully appreciate what I was up against. What I did not realize then was how my own mind would sabotage me in my efforts to achieve constant happiness.
More than four decades have passed and I have learned to be more humble and realistic when it comes to my mental state. It isn’t a simple thing to control our outlook. We can’t simply decide to be happy, content, fulfilled or satisfied. Even when we achieve such states, few of us can maintain them for long.
The good news, as I’ve mentioned in previous columns, is that mindfulness-based cognitive therapies like Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), provide us with reliable methods for increasing the likelihood that people will become more psychologically flexible, which is actually better than happiness. Why better? Happiness is only a temporary mental state that usually depends on external conditions that we cannot reliably control. Psychological flexibility, however, is a skill that we can acquire and develop that allows us to achieve a rich, full and meaningful life, regardless of external conditions.
When we are psychologically flexible, we live in the present moment. We do not live in the past or the future. We are mindful of the fact that our thinking mind may want to dwell on regret or guilt based on past events or worry obsessively about possible futures. But by utilizing defusion methods, we can effectively decline to become entangled in such useless thoughts.
When we are psychologically flexible, we deal with the world as it is. We are open to and accepting of reality. We are conscious of our tendency to resist or avoid reality when it is painful and instead we recognize the value of being open and willing to experience life as it comes to us. When we psychologically flexible, we are in touch with our values. We know what we care about and what is important to us and we set goals based on these values. When we are psychologically flexible we accept what we can’t change as we act on what we can control in the service of our most cherished values. When we are psychologically flexible, we accept that life is painful. We make room for it. We refuse to let disappointments and difficulties deter us from pursuing what we truly value. We are able to stay conscious, aware and grateful, in touch with our feelings and needs and able to communicate clearly with others about issues that matter to us.
Here are a few simple methods for increasing your psychological flexibility today:
- Notice the judgmental mind. Notice how difficult it is to observe anything about yourself, others, the external world, your emotions, memories, thoughts or physical sensations without judging it good or bad. See if you can experience the world (including yourself) without judging it. Just see it as it is, not as your mind thinks it is.
- Be present, fully present. Get out of your mind and just be here now. Experience this moment with all your senses. Notice at least five things you can see, hear and feel right now. Notice the difference between experiencing this now and thinking about it. Notice how unnecessary thoughts are compared to awareness.
- Notice your resistance. Notice how often you “push back” against your experience. Notice how often you find yourself wanting something and feeling a little anxious about it. Notice the things you have that you don’t want. Notice how often you are not content as you go through your day. Perhaps you can see how this discontent arises from how you choose to perceive and think about reality.
- Pay attention to your expectations. Notice how often you think “should” thoughts. When you think that you should have done something or someone else should do something, how do you feel? What happens when life does not meet your expectations? How do you react when what you have does not line up with what you want? Can you see the various ways you disturb your own peace?
- Notice how you dwell on problems. Life is what it is but our minds are constantly looking for what is wrong, not what is right. When our minds find the wrong thing, it defines it as a problem. You might see it in your reflection in the mirror or you might dwell on what you think of as your mistakes or failures. Perhaps you dwell on what you consider to be your inadequacies or shortcomings. How does this help you to do this? What benefit does this problem-focus provide you with? How do you feel when you dwell on what is wrong with yourself or others? When you become aware that you are judgmental, can you not judge yourself for judging? Can you forgive and accept yourself?
- Observe how often you use the word, “but.” Imagine someone complimenting you and then saying “but…”. We all know what is coming after the “but.” It is negative. Try using the word “and” instead. When we use “and,” we allow the negative to be present without allowing it to negate or cancel out the positive. When speaking to loved ones, try using “and” instead of “but” and see if it feels better for both of you.
- Try to see reality from different perspectives. How does your spouse, friend, son, daughter, parent or sibling look at things? Without judging it good or bad, see if you can understand and empathize with them, even if you don’t necessarily agree. See if you can find some compassion for someone with whom you disagree. Perhaps you might understand why you would think or feel differently if you were that person.
- Notice the difference between blaming and understanding yourself and others. Notice when you blame, you don’t really understand and when you understand, you don’t really blame. Notice the difference between accepting and resisting yourself or others. How does it feel to open your heart and mind?
- See if you can tell the difference between being conscious and being unconscious in your relationships. When we are conscious, we are in tune with our feelings and what we perceive to be the feelings of others without judgment. We are open to the emotions that are present in a spirit of understanding and acceptance. When we are conscious, we are not defensive. We are receptive. We don’t take the behavior of others personally. When we are conscious, we ask others what they need and feel and we seek to understand.
- Finally, right now, get quiet for about five minutes and see if you can connect with the part of you that is beyond your thinking mind and is pure awareness. See if you can connect with that which is perfect in you. See if you can understand that you are exactly where you should be at this moment. This is the perfect place and time to learn what you are here to learn. Notice that you have tremendous power in how you choose to see yourself. See yourself as completely forgiven and whole. See yourself as deserving of blessings. Open your mind and heart to receive them. Let the negative thoughts be. Realize there is no need now to argue with your own mind. They’re just thoughts. Breathe in peace and repeat, “And that’s ok.” And never quit. Know that deep inside you are love. Just know that. Just know. And thank you. I am very grateful to you.