This week in my Exploring What Matters course run by Action for Happiness we focused on peace of mind.
In class we explored mindfulness and being more aware of our thoughts, seeing how our thoughts effect our moods and our actions.
We were given the image of a bucket with a tap.
The bucket symbolises our mind. Each time a new thought, event, or stress comes in, the bucket fills up. This increase to a certain level is manageable, it is a healthy mental load, we have mental space to think and make decisions.
However if the bucket becomes too full our brains have no space to think, to process, or to make decisions. Our mental load is too high.
When our mental load is too high it effects our resilience and peace of mind.
The word resilience comes from the Latin ‘resilio’ to jump back.
I always think of resilience as an elastic band. We can stretch an elastic band to a healthy and useful size and it will jump back to its relaxed state. But if we overstretch the band it will snap.
In order to stop our minds from ‘snapping’ we need to ensure we have space to think, process and make decisions.
‘A vital contributor to our resilience is how we choose to interpret events, which in turn affects our emotional responses and our behaviour.’
It is very difficult for us to interpret events positively if our mental load is too high.
To reduce mental load we need to look to the tap on the side of the bucket in our illustration. Opening the tap represents things we do for ourselves, or self-care.
Self-care enables us to reduce our mental load and create space.
This time for ourselves may take the form of writing a to do list and sorting some of the ‘background noise’ in our heads. It could also take the form of meditation, exercise, socialising or even hoovering. See my other blog posts here to understand how we can fit in regular self-care.
With our mental load decreased we can find it easier to interpret situations and with practice we can increase our resilience by challenging our unhelpful thoughts.
I found the illustration below helpful in understanding this.
When an adverse situation occurs, such as a failed exam, we can think about it in many ways. Our beliefs, however, hold the key to the consequences. If we can challenge our ‘thinking errors’ such as “I’m no good at anything” we can effect the consequences in a positive way.
So rather than giving up after a failed exam we might choose to retake or rethink our journey looking at what we have learnt along the way. Thinking instead of “I really need to work a little harder and not watch so much Game of Thrones.” Or “This course really didn’t fit with what I wanted to do, I found it more challenging and less engaging. I wonder how I could change?”
Challenging our unhelpful thoughts takes practice but if done regularly can have a great effect.
The more we see adversities and ourselves in a positive light the less we see adversities as difficulties, instead as our resilience grows we can see adversities as opportunities.
My parents taught me growing up, you never fail.
No matter how many exams you may not succeed in, no matter how many knock backs you may take, no matter how many new paths you take as a result, you never fail.
The only time you ever fail is when you give up on yourself in your mind.