The Coping Kete

Tag Archives: Self-talk

No. 160: Call On My Compassionate Self

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

… I will create a compassionate self to call on in times of stress and distress. We often have a strong self-critic or even a self-bully that pipes up to tell us all the worst things about ourselves and what we are going through. If we reflect on our self-talk in times of distress we might notice we use blaming, judgmental and sometimes downright mean words with ourselves that leave us feeling ten times worse. Having a compassionate self allows us to use soothing, understanding, non-judgmental, kind and supportive words with ourselves instead of or in response to the self-critic or the self-bully.

The first step is to create a character map of my compassionate self. This starts with thinking about what compassion means to me. I will think about what I might need from my compassionate self and what compassion involves for me. Is my compassionate self forgiving, respectful, kind, aware of what is important to me, caring, accepting, humorous or all of those things and more?  What does my compassionate self think about making mistakes, flaws, limitations, weaknesses and negative life events?

The next step is building a visual image for my compassionate self. What does my compassionate self look like? My compassionate self could look like someone who has treated me this way in the past, a creature I have found comforting or it could look like me when I am being compassionate, understanding and kind. I’ll think about what facial expressions and gestures my compassionate self might make to show their compassion and what it feels like to be near that. How does my compassionate self look at me? Next I need to create a voice for my compassionate self. What does my compassionate self sound like? I’ll think about what tone of voice it uses, what it sounds like, how loud its voice is and how fast it speaks. Finally, I need to create some words for my compassionate self. What does my compassionate self say to me? I will think about what words and phrases my compassionate self uses to soothe, show kindness and be understanding. It’s easiest to do all this on a piece of paper, in writing or drawing, to make it concrete and give us something to come back to later.

When I have created a character map for my compassionate self, I will practice using it by taking one to two minutes each morning to sit mindfully and visualise my compassionate self talking to me about the coming day, whatever it might hold. Whenever I notice other thoughts distracting me, I will describe them to myself, respond to them using my compassionate voice and return to visualising talking to my compassionate self about the coming day.

Once I am familiar with visualising my compassionate self and responding to my thoughts with my compassionate voice, I will add “Call on My Compassionate Self” to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping with stress and distress. I will be able to call on the compassionate part of myself to talk me through stressful times with soothing, kind, respectful and understanding words, ideas and images. My compassionate self can even talk directly to my self-critic and my self-bully when they appear. I might not be able to make those parts of me go away altogether when times are tough, but showing compassion for why they are there and sharing some different ideas with them might make them quieten down.

No. 159: Mindful Drawing

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

… I will practice being mindful by taking a few moments a day to sit and draw something I see.  Drawing can teach us to notice properly rather than gaze absentmindedly (The Book of Life), it doesn’t have to be about artistic ability at all. The aim can be simply to notice properly the parts of things and how they fit together. This makes it a good way to strengthen our mindfulness muscles. My drawings could be simple scribbles in pencil or ballpoint pen. If I notice I get too caught up with trying to draw a ‘good’ or accurate picture, I could do the exercise without looking at the paper at all – it really matters that little what I actually put down on the paper.

It’s never easy to start a new practice, I might need to schedule in some time to do this each day and organise myself some basic materials to have on hand. I could snatch a moment at lunchtime or I could plan a little trip to somewhere I might enjoy noticing in more detail.

Sitting down to draw, I will take a moment to settle into my stillness and allow my breath to fall into its natural rhythm. Sometimes concentrating on drawing can lead us to hold our breath – this isn’t a breathing exercise, but it’s still important to breathe. I’ll allow my eyes to wander until they settle on a scene or object to draw. For the next few moments, I will simply draw what I see on the page, however it comes out. As my mind wanders, I will notice my thoughts and bring myself back to what I am drawing. As I notice my thinking mind judge the ‘goodness’ of what I am drawing, I will use my watching mind to observe the thoughts and bring my attention back to the detail I see around me and continue with the task of drawing it.

As I move through the week, I will experiment with drawing in different locations and drawing different things and observe how focusing on these different things effects my thoughts and feelings.  What is beautiful and soothing to me? What is energising and inspiring for me to see? What sights and scenes weigh me down? How does my body respond to this? Always coming back to my watching self and the act of marking down what I see.

Practicing mindful drawing could help me ground myself in the present moment during times of stress and distress. It can be a useful way to learn mindfulness when it is hard to do breathing or visualisation-based exercises, or if mindfulness is an unfamiliar practice. Really, mindfulness just means paying attention to the present moment, this involves using the part of our mind that is aware of our thoughts (our ‘watching mind’) instead of being totally involved in the part of our mind that is doing the thinking (our ‘thinking mind’). Other names for our watching mind are our ‘Observing Self’ (in ACT) or ‘Wise Mind’ (in DBT). In DBT our ‘thinking mind’ is broken down into our ‘feeling mind’ and our ‘rational mind’, because we really do have lots of different kinds of thoughts running through our brains at any point in time.

Once I am comfortable doing mindful drawing in ordinary moments, I will add Mindful Drawing to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping with stress and distress. Mindful drawing could take me out of my thoughts for a moment, allow my body a chance to calm down, and give me something neutral or positive to focus on for a while, which could give me a tiny injection of positive vibes when things are feeling chaotic or overwhelming. I could also use the exercise as an excuse to take myself somewhere I might enjoy. Giving myself pleasurable experiences is an important part of engaging with a life I feel is worth living.

No. 158: Plant Seeds and Nurture Them

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

… I will practice being aware of my valued actions by visualising or symbolically planting seeds for each of my valued intentions. New Years Eve is a good time to set goals for the coming months, but goals tend to be short-lived and easily side-tracked by shifting priorities. On the other hand, our values represent how we want to be in the world, regardless of the state of our goals. Values are always in progress, whereas goals can be achieved, failed or finished with. A goal might be to ‘Quit Smoking’. A value might be ‘Care for my Physical Health.’ Different values tend to take on differing levels of importance as we move through life. Much of the suffering we go through is the result of being distant from our values.

So this week, I will do a ‘Seed Planting Ceremony’ for the New Year. First, I will take a moment to sit in stillness and bring my mind to what I want to nurture in the coming three months. How do I want to treat myself, the planet and others in the coming months? What is most important to me right now? When my mind throws up thoughts of what I don’t want, I will name it to myself and bring my awareness to the values I would like to be guided by in such situations. Next, I will choose an object for each of the important ‘seeds’ or values I want to ‘plant’ and nurture in the coming months, or make ‘paper seeds’ by writing each one down on a piece of paper. Finally, I will take a moment to name each of the ‘seeds’ I am planting, visualise what nurturing that ‘seed’ will look like for me, and place it in a special jar or container. I’ll try to make sure there’s a different seed for each of the most important areas of my life, such as my relationships, my identity/self, my body etc.

As I move through the coming days, I will take time once a day to turn my mind to the ‘seeds’ I planted and my visualisation of nurturing those values in myself.  Over the coming weeks, I will practice bringing my attention to these seeds and seeing how they can guide my actions. When I notice myself feeling lost or confused or distressed or at uncertain, I will pause and visualise how I might nurture each of my seeds as I move forward. Focusing mindfully on these positives that are meaningful to me, might soothe some of that stress or confusion, by opening up a flexible path ahead for me and perhaps balance out some of my negative expectations and self-talk.

Once I am comfortable with setting my intentions by naming and visualising the values I want to nurture, I will add ‘Plant Seeds and Nurture Them’ to my Personal Coping Kete. In times of stress and distress, I will practice planting new seeds or returning to seeds I have previously planted and visualising how I want to move forward, given what I have got.

No. 157: Saying Thank You for the Stories

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will practice noticing and naming the stories my brain tells me and thanking my brain for trying to keep me safe, in all senses of the word. We usually all have a few chains of thought that repeatedly pop up to trigger stress and distress and pull us away from the things we really want to be doing. We can think of these repetitive thought patterns as stories our minds have learned to tell us to try to keep us safe. In a way our brains are automatic storytellers. Often we get caught up and stuck in the stories our minds are throwing up at us. One way to detach from those stories and take the heat out of the distress they create, is to practice naming each of the stories and then literally thanking our brain for doing its job. We don’t need to believe, accept or agree with the story. But instead of resisting it and struggling against it, this week I will practice naming it and saying ‘thank you brain!’

To prepare, I will take some time to write down some of the things that my mind often throws up when I am distressed. I will then name the most repetitive thoughts or the ones that trigger the toughest emotions – there is often some kind of “I can’t cope” story, “bad self” story or “dangerous others” story in the mix.  These are tough thought-chains to deal with when we are caught up believing them or struggling against them, especially when they have been ‘true’ for us in the past. Struggling against a story makes our mind keep repeating it. Naming the story and saying ‘thank you brain’ lets our mind know we are aware and reframes the thoughts as ideas and words instead of realities we need to act on – this often lets our mind know it can stop telling the story so loudly.

Once I have named some of the stories I notice my brain often tells me, I will practice naming them as I notice them throughout my day. This week, I will pause whenever I move between tasks or situations to practice observing what stories my brain is telling in the moment and saying “Thank you brain, for telling me the xyz story. I hear you.”  I will then move forward with my valued direction or do another coping strategy to make things workable.

To start with, I will practice naming stories and thanking my brain for telling them in ordinary, transition moments, rather in times of intense distress when it will be difficult to use a new strategy. It can help to also observe what the function of the story and the emotions that go with it might me.  It can also help to name what our intentions and valued directions are too.  These can be like alternative stories we are learning to tell ourselves. For example, “Thank you brain for the “I can’t cope” story, I know you are trying to make me anxious, to keep me safe from threats. My intention is to discover how to handle this risk because independence and new experiences are important to me.”

Once I am comfortable naming my mind’s stories and thanking my brain for telling them, I will add the strategy to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping during times of stress and distress. Naming and acknowledging the chains of thought will help me to untangle myself from the automatic stories my brain is telling me, quiet them down and focus on the other story about what is important to me.

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Note: Saying ‘thank you brain’ is a common technique from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT – pronounced ‘act’). You can find some worksheets to help you identify your common stories and understand how they pull you away from your valued directions at www.thehappinesstrap.com/free_resources  

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No. 155: Make Space for What is Here

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will practice expanding to make space for stress, distress and upsets when they appear, rather than tightening up around them and getting stuck struggling against them or having to make them stop. Being human involves a wide spectrum of emotions; I can feel them all and this week I will practice allowing myself to.

To begin with, I will pick a couple of anchor-tasks that I do every day that I can use to practice with, like making my morning cuppa or waiting for emails to load. Whenever I find myself doing my anchor-task, I will take a moment to observe my thoughts and moods in the moment by putting words to them, one by one. Breathing deeply, for each observation, I will tell myself “I have space for what is here” and imagine myself expanding around it as I breathe and shift into an open, relaxed posture, releasing any muscles I am tensing. If I notice a struggle to expand around something, I will repeat the strategy with that set of thoughts, observing, describing, making space. After a moment, I will bring my attention back to my surroundings and the task at hand (or what I really need/want to be doing), carrying this sense of space with me.

Once I am familiar with using this strategy at a planned time, I can practice using it throughout the day whenever I notice an unwanted shift in my moods, so I start to get used to expanding around stress and distress. Sometimes, part of making space for stress and distress, means soothing it. It might help to respond to distressing thoughts and feelings with supportive self-talk as I breathe and relax around them.  Expanding to make space also means accepting what I need and getting those needs met. I might need some self-care or distraction or support to help me, expanding around distress, doesn’t mean I have to carry it on my own or give up on trying to feel better.

When I am comfortable expanding around stress and distress, I will add ‘expanding to make space’ to my Personal Coping Kete as a way to survive the times when I am struggling.  I’ll be able to take a moment of observe my thoughts and moods in the moment by putting words to them. Breathing deeply, I will tell myself “I have space for what is here” and imagine myself expanding around it as I breathe and shift into an open, relaxed posture, releasing any muscles I am tensing. If I notice a struggle to expand around something, I will repeat the strategy with that set of thoughts, observing, describing, making space. After a moment, I will bring my attention back to my surroundings and what I need/want to be doing next, carrying this sense of space with me.
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Acknowledgement: “Expansion” is an acceptance strategy found in Russ Harris’s ACT self-help book ‘The Happiness Trap‘.

This post is one person’s way of learning and practicing expansion – it isn’t necessarily the right way. When it comes to coping there is almost never a right way. We’ve each got to experiment to make it our own.   

 

No. 154: Supportive Self-Talk

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

… I will practice catching my inner critic and responding to my self-talk with kindness.  As I move through my week, I will pause each time I notice my mood change and take a moment to observe what I am telling myself about the situation and my feelings. When I notice critical, judgemental or harsh self-talk, I will label the thoughts and deliberately respond with self-talk that is kind, compassionate and supportive towards my situation, my feelings or myself. When I notice supportive self-talk, I will label that too and respond with self-talk that recognises the way I have been able to support myself in the moment and encourages me to keep talking to myself in this way.

For example, I might say “I notice I’m telling myself I am a stupid, loser for making that mistake. It’s okay to make mistakes sometimes. It’s okay to feel bad about it. It doesn’t mean I’m a loser though. I am still learning.

As I move through the week, I will learn to label my unhelpful self-talk and deliberately talk to myself in a way that builds me up instead of cutting myself down.  Self-talk is automatic but we can bring it into our awareness and use it to support ourselves through moments of stress and distress.

When I am comfortable noticing, labelling and responding to my self-talk with support and kindness, I will add ‘Supportive Self-Talk’ to my Personal Coping Kete for moments of stress and distress. When times are tough, I’ll be able to catch my harsh inner critic and feed myself supportive, compassionate self-talk to balance out my response. Self-judgement adds another layer of distress to already difficult situations. Giving ‘voice’ to my inner supporter can make my distress less intense and easier to cope with.

No. 153: Label Thoughts As Thoughts

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

… I will practice noticing my thoughts and seeing them for what they are – thoughts. This week, whenever I notice myself look at a clock, I will take a brief moment to be still, take a breath and register what is in my mind. As I notice a thought running through my head, I will tell myself “I am having the thought that…“.  For example, if I look at the clock, breathe and think “I am going to be late”, I will say to myself “I am having the thought that I am going to be late”.

If I notice a second thought attached to the first, I will describe that to myself too. Thoughts often come in chains of ‘this’ and then ‘that’ and then… etc. Sometimes we have second thoughts about our first thoughts. I will let these surface if they are there too. If I notice myself judging or labeling my thoughts as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in some way, I will describe that to myself too, “I am having the thought that…”. I will try to use neutral words.

When my mind goes blank or I feel distressed, I will label my thoughts about that and come back to my breathing. After I have taken about five good breaths in and out, I will return my attention outward again by describing what is around me right now, “Right now I see…Right now I hear… “. Then I will turn back to whatever I was about to do before. As thoughts pop up to distract me from my task, I will label them as thoughts and return my focus to what is around me and what I am doing now. Sometimes I might only spend a couple of seconds noticing one thought and labeling it as a thought, it doesn’t matter what thoughts I notice and label, but this week I will practice stepping back and labeling my thoughts as thoughts.

Usually our thoughts are constantly running through our minds without us noticing them and we just go along reacting to them on auto-pilot.  By doing this exercise, I will get used to taking a step back to observe my thoughts and recognise them as ideas happening in my mind. Labeling my thoughts as thoughts will highlight the distinction between what is coming in through my senses and what is the meaning attached to it by my mind. Often these two things we will be an obvious match. However, just as often things are a bit more ambiguous and unclear. Often there are multiple potential meanings and labeling thoughts can help me keep sight of that. This can help the body know it is safe to calm down any stress responses it has been automatically firing off.

It is harder to step back and label our thoughts as thoughts when our emotions are high. This is why practicing for just a moment at regular intervals when emotions aren’t high is helpful while we get the hang of it. I might find that looking at a clock isn’t the most useful reminder to practice for me. If that’s the case, I can pick another thing I do everyday to use as a reminder to practice.

When I am comfortable with stopping to label my thoughts as thoughts during everyday moments, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping in times of stress and distress. When I notice my emotions getting high or my mind starting to race, I will take a moment to breathe into my belly and let my thoughts register one by one. As I notice a thought, I will describe it to myself “I am having the thought that…” . Once I have sat for a moment and let each of my thoughts register and be recognised as  a thought, I will turn my mind to the sensation of breathing and what is surrounding me right now. “Right now I see… Right now I hear…”. I will turn my attention to what I need to do next by telling myself, “Right now I could…” . This might be a self-soothing or distraction exercise or some form of expression, support or engagement.  Labeling my distressing thoughts as thoughts might help to soothe their sting if they are overwhelming, slow them down if they are racing or make them clear if they are clouded.

No. 151: Mindful Moment

This week to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

… I will pause once a day to practice being mindful of the present moment and myself inside it. Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment on purpose, without judgment and with full awareness of both the internal and the external parts of our experience. I can do this by purposefully observing the present moment, describing it to myself and then participating in the experience.  In order to fully observe, describe and participate in the moment I need to focus on one thing at a time, take a non-judgmental stance and be effective. Being effective means choosing the direction that is most helpful or doing what needs to be done without being trapped in our emotions but without ignoring them either. This week I will practice taking the time to observe what is around me and what is inside me. I might need to set an alarm or decide on another reminder ahead of time to help me remember to practice. While I’m new at mindfulness, I’ll practice at a time when my emotions aren’t running super high.

Once a day I’ll practice taking a mindful moment. Breathing calmly and moving into a comfortable position, I will focus my mind on the here and now…Noticing what is happening around me right now, I will observe my surroundings and describe them  to myself without judgement. When I notice myself making judgments, I will observe them that way, carefully re-word them and return my mind to the present moment as I continue with my breathing. I can ground myself in the present moment by paying attention to my five senses and participating in them with awareness. What do I see around me right now… what do I hear… what do I smell… what do I taste… what do I touch? I will allow my thoughts and feelings to register and come back to my senses. I will name thoughts as thoughts, feelings as feelings, separating the past from the present, acknowledging the things that are unwanted instead of pushing them away. I will observe and describe any thoughts and worries about the past or future that arise, without evaluating them or chasing them. I will then turn my attention back to observing and describing the physical environment around me and how I experience it. Once I have observed the whole of my surroundings and what is going on inside me, I will turn my attention to the next task I have at hand, carrying my wider awareness with me.

When I am comfortable paying attention to the present moment at an ordinary time, I will add ‘Mindful Moment’ to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping with stress and distress. When I notice my emotions starting to run high, I will be able to pause, ground myself in the present and tolerate my distressing thoughts and feelings without pushing them away. I will be able to observe and describe my experiences for what they are and continue to be fully aware of my surroundings and my senses.

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Acknowledgement: Mindfulness can be traced back to buddhist philosophy. Thich Naht Hanh is known for creating the Engaged Buddhism movement  and popularising mindfulness in the Western world. Jon Kabbat-Zinn is known for popularising mindfulness in the medical community with the Mindfulness-Based Stress-Reduction (MBSR) programme at the University of Massachusetts. Marsha Linehan is known for popularising mindfulness in the mental health community with Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT).  The basic practice of mindfulness features in many strategies shared in The Coping Kete. Once you learn the basic skills, you can use mindfulness in any moment you find yourself in, in countless different ways. There is an awful lot behind each of the skills involved. Follow the links above to learn more. 

No. 148: Practice Compassion

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will practice being compassionate towards myself. When I notice critical thoughts or judgments about myself or things I have done or not done, I will practice responding in my mind with kind words, that share sensitivity for my suffering and respect for my humanity. I will practice choosing compassionate and accepting words to talk to myself about my mistakes, weaknesses, flaws and limitations.  Other people can criticise me if they wish, but I will give myself compassion.

As I move through my week, I will keep an eye out for self-talk that is harsh, critical and judgmental. For example, I will watch out for self-talk where I label myself stupid or useless when I make a mistake. When I notice I am labeling myself harshly for my mistakes and limitations, I will give myself compassion by pausing to remind myself it is human to struggle. I will appreciate my strengths by remembering them to myself and recalling that my flaws and limitations are simply part of a whole, not all that I am.  By responding to myself with compassion throughout the week, I will practice accepting my whole self, warts and all. I do not need to be perfect, nor would I want to be.

When I am used to talking to myself with compassion and acceptance on an ordinary day, I will add ‘talk to myself with compassion’ to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping with stress and distress. When I find myself in distress, I will be mindful of how I am talking to myself and be careful to use compassionate words. In times of stress and distress, I will be better able to give myself messages of kindness, instead of giving myself messages of shame or judgement that make me feel worse.

No. 147: One Thing at a Time

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

… I will practice doing just one thing at a time. I will pick one daily activity, like taking a shower or brushing my teeth, drinking a coffee or eating breakfast. Each time I find myself doing my chosen activity, I will do just that activity, with an awareness of what I am doing in that moment. For example, instead of drinking my coffee while I read emails – I will just drink my coffee and notice the experience in its fullness. I can anchor myself in each of my five senses as a way to practice being aware of what I am doing: sight, taste, hearing, smell and touch.

While I notice the activity at hand, I will practice letting my thoughts come and go, without chasing them. My inner world is part of my current experience in any moment and I will allow it into my attention.  By turning my attention to the one thing I am doing, I’ll practice not being pulled into other thoughts and feelings, even though I know they are there. As other thoughts enter my mind, I will observe them and my responses to them with kindness, then bring my attention back to the one activity in front of me.

Doing one thing at a time, frees our minds up to do that one thing more efficiently. Taking time to do one thing at a time also lets us experience the simple pleasures of everyday things more fully. Practicing doing one thing at a time and focusing my attention on the task during everyday activities, will help strengthen my ability to focus my attention on mindful distraction tasks during times of distress.

Once I’m used to the art of doing one thing at a time, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping when the going gets tough. When I am feeling overwhelmed by emotions or unwanted thoughts, I will choose any small activity I can find to do and I will focus my awareness on that for a while. I’ll observe my thoughts as they float to the surface of my attention, notice my responses to them and then turn my mind back to doing the one activity before me and experiencing it fully. It could be anything from dusting an ornament to making dinner. Whatever I choose, I will do just that one thing and I will pay attention to every part of it.