Dealing with Mental Chatter

We all have mental chatter. It’s often a running commentary on our lives, going on inside our heads. Sometimes it’s a dialogue where a couple of voices argue the rights and wrongs of a situation. Often it would be nice if we could switch off those voices that take us out of the present moment. So what can we do?

There is a simple but effective way of acknowledging the thoughts without allowing them to carry us away into the future or into the past. The first step is to recognise that although thoughts may weigh us down, they don’t actually have a mass. They aren’t real things. One of the common problems people report when trying to meditate is that they can’t clear their minds and switch off their thoughts. However, what if the thoughts occur for a reason? What if they ‘mean well’? What if all we really have to do is acknowledge them.

In psychology despite appearances we aren’t very good at multi-tasking. Our attention is very selective. We can’t process all the information that comes our way, so our attention shifts to the things that have the greatest importance for us or to the things that shout loudest? So what if all of this mental chatter is just a way for our brains to get our attention.

It’s often said that when we face death, our lives flash before us. One theory is that our brains indiscriminately download everything we know, in the hope that the solution is there somewhere. A similar thing happens when we are stressed. Our brains chatter away like small children trying to get attention, often repeating the same things, over and over again.

The technique for dealing with mental chatter in everyday life is simple. It’s the same as dealing with mental chatter when we are trying to meditate. All we have to do is name the thought. Just acknowledge the thought and say ‘Thought about. . . . ‘. Then bring your attention back to the present moment. It is  a choice to engage with the thought. Often naming it is enough.

Often when trying to solve a problem, the mind will often keep firing off the same thoughts. If naming the thought doesn’t quieten the mental chatter, simple ask ‘Is there anything new here?’ If there is, make a note of it, if there is not say ‘nothing new, got it covered’ then let it go.

This simple practice, quieten the mind, reduce stress and give you a useful list of possible solutions.

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About the author

Picture: Dr Gary Wood author of Unlock Your ConfidenceDr Gary Wood is a social psychologist and life coach. He is author of Unlock Your Confidence which is based on his confidence-building workshops. Gary is based in Birmingham and Edinburgh where he runs his own training and coaching practice and research consultancy. He also offers coaching worldwide through Skype. Contact Gary by email to see how his solution focused (life) coaching approach would benefit you or your organization. See: Testimonials from former clients.

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Calmer – Confidence – Compassion Meditation (with Script) for Dealing With Difficult People

In psychology we know that the states of anxiety and relaxation cannot co-exist. This has become the mainstay of behavioural therapy for dealing with phobias and other anxiety disorders. We can also adapt this approach when dealing with ‘difficult people’. Some may argue that there’s no such thing as a ‘difficult person’ only ‘difficult behaviour’, However, when we are on the receiving end of someone whose habitual patterns of behaviour cause us distress, the distinction really doesn’t matter.

In the, Dhammapada, a collection of Buddhist sayings, there’s one that says ‘ Hatred cannot coexist with loving-kindness, and dissipates if supplanted with thoughts based on loving-kindness’. This saying was the inspiration for a the Loving-Kindness meditation that is used in the Broaden-and-Build in positive psychology. The idea is that we gain more by actively cultivating positive emotions rather than forever trying to ‘mop up’ negative feelings.

I’ve adapted the loving-kindness meditation for my confidence building approach which is based on our ability to feel comfortable in our skin, that is, to be able to relax. True inner confidence comes from stillness, whereas the busy ‘in your face’ over-confidence is often masking anxiety. Another key theme is in my approach is the concept of confidence-karma. This is the idea that we build confidence in ourselves as we build it in others. So this is how I devised the calmer-confidence-compassion meditation for my confidence building workshops. The idea that it helps to lay the foundations for positive interactions, even with the people we find objectionable.

The Calmer-Confidence-Compassion Basic Script

  • Begin with long, slow deep breaths to relax. As you breathe out, repeat the word ‘calmer’
  • Start directing feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion to yourself
  • Smile and mentally repeat the mantra ‘calmness, confidence and compassion’ for a few breaths
  • Reflect on your positive qualities, and make a positive statement about yourself
  • Continue to direct feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion to yourself
  • Now direct your attention to someone (not a family member or friend), who you admire and respect; it could be respected public figure or a spiritual leader
  • Direct feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion to them and see them smiling at you (and sending back feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion). Take a moment to experience the positive feelings.
  • Now imagine a close friend, a family member or a loved one and direct feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion to them.
  • See them smiling and redirecting the feelings back to you, taking a moment to experience the feelings
  • Now imagine a neutral person to whom you have no special feelings, such as a shop keeper or the person who delivers the post.
  • Direct feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion to them and see them smiling to you (and sending feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion back). Take a moment to experience the positive feelings.
  • Now consider a ‘difficult person in your life’, someone you are currently having issues with.
  • Direct feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion to them and see them smiling to you (and sending feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion back). Take a moment to experience these feelings.
  • Now bring your attention back to you and direct the feelings of calmness, confidence and compassion to yourself. Smile and repeat the mantra (‘calmness, confidence and compassion’).
  • After taking a few long, slow, deep breaths, open your eyes and return your awareness to your surroundings

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodThis is  an edited version and represents the first stage in a three stage process (The full version can be found in Unlock Your Confidence).

The order is always the same:

  • begin with yourself
  • then focus on a famous figure whom you revere and you don’t know
  • then a family member, friend or loved one
  • then a neutral person – a casual acquaintance you know by sight
  • the difficult person
  • back to yourself

Practised regularly it will open up opportunities to take small, significant actions to boost and build confidence in others. It will also help to begin to change your perceptions of difficult people in your life. You may not see a dramatic transformation but you may well see a few glimmers of light.

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About the author

Picture: Dr Gary Wood author of Unlock Your ConfidenceDr Gary Wood is a social psychologist and life coach. He is based in Birmingham and Edinburgh where he runs his own training and coaching practice and research consultancy. He is author of Unlock Your Confidence which is based on his confidence-building workshops. Contact Gary to see how his solution focused coaching approach would benefit you or your organization.

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Is there a positive takeaway message behind the cynical celebrity endorsement? David Beckham and Lego

In a seemingly quiet day in the news, David Beckham reveals that he likes to unwind and relax with expensive building brick construction kits (Lego). The story has made most of the British tabloids.Some have pointed out that this is rather an expensive ‘addiction’. I suspect it has nothing at all to do with addiction and everything to do with money and column inches in the press. The story screams of free advertising and celebrity endorsement. Imagine how much it would cost in advertising for Lego? Furthermore, if Mr Beckham has ever paid for these £200 (plus) construction kits of famous buildings and landmarks, it is unlikely that he will have to do so in the future!

The therapeutic importance of play

So is there a message for ordinary people? Yes. Despite the cynical nature of the story, it’s actually about the human capacity to play throughout our lives. Play is a significant method in learning about the world from an early. We get to try out scenarios and express ourselves in a low threat way. Why should we be surprised that David Beckham likes to play? After all he has made a career out of playing a game and dressing up. Other famous people like to play. Who can forget ‘Prince of Darkness’ Ozzy Osbourne’s fondness for ‘colouring in’ the reality programme, The Osbournes? We only have to think of grandparents playing with their grandchildren to see how easy it is to forget to act your age. Play is incredibly therapeutic. It is also used in the training setting, where role-play, loved by some and loathed by others, is a mainstay. Play is good for us, whatever our age or income bracket.

The importance of goals and the concept of ‘flow’

As a hobby, construction kits and jigsaw puzzles also offer us ready-made goals. The goal is simple: just make it look like the picture on the front of the box. When we are motivated to do a task that stretches us, it puts us in a state of flow. This is a state where we lose sense of our selves and lose all sense of time as we become totally absorbed by the task. Another phrase for this is ‘being in the zone’. According to positive psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Chick-Zent-Me-Hi), ‘being in flow’ is a state of happiness. The more time spent in flow, the happier we are.

Takeaway value – play more – create flow

So yes, this celebrity endorsement story does have takeaway value. The answer does not lie in lashing out on expensive toys. You don’t have to ‘break the bank’ to get a similar beneficial effect. Instead, just get a hobby. Find something that absorbs you and uses your skills and helps to develop those skills. If you already have a hobby, spend a bit more time doing it. Spent more time in flow. That’s it.

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If you enjoyed this post and found it useful:

About the author

Picture: Dr Gary Wood author of Unlock Your ConfidenceDr Gary Wood is a social psychologist and life coach. He is based in Birmingham and Edinburgh where he runs his own training and coaching practice and research consultancy. He is author of Unlock Your Confidence which is based on his confidence-building workshops. Contact Gary to see how his solution focused coaching approach would benefit you or your organization.

Links:

Mental Preparation: Look for What Sparkles

As a coaching psychologist I’m often asked for tips on mental preparation for interviews, exams or presentations. Recently I was asked for help on something that didn’t really fit any of those categories and so I used a technique that I used in coaching, called ‘looking for what sparkles’.

Personal Resourcefulness

At the beginning of the first coaching session I spend a little time finding about about how you like to spend your time. It’s not idle chit-chat. What I’m looking for is a topic where you come alive more. So that might be flower arranging, baking, horse-riding or what ever else ‘floats your boat’. It doesn’t really matter what it is as long as it’s somewhere or doing something where you lose sense of yourself and feel more resourceful. Once you have discovered what sparkles in your life, you can transfer it to another less resourceful area or task.

Learning by Association

We learn by making associations between concepts, ideas, thoughts and events (classical conditioning). Think about Pavlov’s somewhat cruel experiments with dogs at feeding time. The dogs learned to associate the sound of a bell with food and eventually would salivate over the mere sounding of the bell. One of the most evocative aromas in British culture is the small of fish and chips. We can’t help pass a chip shop and have positive memories flooding back of family holidays and so on. We can use this innate ability to make associations to prepare for new challenges.

The Luxury of Learning

Having taken a fair few exams one of the importance of the context of learning was perhaps the most important thing I learned. In academic coaching I work with students who haven’t yet made the connection between attitude and knowledge retention. They resent the time spent revising for exams when they could be out enjoying life’s many luxuries. I suggest that learning is a luxury. Everything above basic survival is a luxury.  We then discuss ways to make studying more enjoyable. Now for me that was getting in some great coffee and biscuits and creating a really comfortable place to learn. Resentment acts as a barrier to learning. If you let go of the resentment and realize that learning is a luxury and will lead to further luxuries, this positive mental attitude makes learning easier. If you remove the block to learning then ironically you don’t have to spend so much time and working so hard to force the new information in. Context is a vital component of learning. The positive attitude and the positive environment become encoding with the information.

Preparing for New Challenges

One of the main techniques I use for exam preparation  is active rehearsal of the material. I don’t just sit down with the books and try to cram the knowledge in. Not only is it more passive it’s usually quite boring. Instead, I give lectures or presentations to an empty room! I pretend I have an audience and with just a handful of flash-cards or a few brief notes, I stand up and talk to my imaginary group for 20 minutes. If I struggle I can look at my notes but I can’t stop until the 20 minutes is up. What this does is put me under a mild amount of stress and forces me ‘think on my feet’. As new connections occur spontaneously they are added to existing information. Understanding deepens and it becomes more memorable.

Another way it which we can prepare mentally, is to learn the material while we are doing something we love doing. So if you’re preparing for an interview and you love baking, then combine the two. If you’ve got a presentation, rehearse it on horseback. Or it may be something as simple as going for a walk in nature. This is a great way to generate new ideas, connections and associations. Research has shown that a humble walk in the park can help to boost self-esteem (and confidence). You achieve the same by combining learning with something that you love doing.

The new information takes on a positive association with what sparkles in your life and so is easier to recall. Then once you have worked everything out in your head, you can take a more formal approach of dressing up as you would for the presentation, interview or exam and use the ‘lecture to an empty room approach’ and talk for 20 minutes.

Finally, when studying or preparing for anything, never underestimate the effects of a relaxation.

The Importance of Relaxation

When we are stressed we switch to survival mode which tends to narrow our range of thoughts and behaviours. When we are relaxed, that range is broadened. The effects of working with what sparkles in your life is that you are more likely to be in a relaxed state and are able to tap into a broader range of emotions and cognitions. In short, you are more resourceful. So never underestimate the benefits of taking two minutes out of your busy schedule to take a few, long, slow deep breaths. It will give you a physical, emotional and mental boost.

So there you have it. Mental preparation is about exploiting a few key, innate learning abilities. Relax, adopt a positive mental attitude and use the associations of what sparkles in your life to create positive context for new learning.

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