There are many things that I am enjoying about being a parent: watching my son grow, learning to sit and then crawl, walk and now run, saying words for the first time, looking at the world through his eyes with a sense of wonder at the smallest and most innocuous things like a clothes peg or piece of string that has blown onto the lawn from who-knows-where.
I have to say that there are also many things that I am looking forward to as a parent: watching him learn how to read, kicking a soccer ball and having his first crush. There is one thing that I know is likely to come along, something that will be sure to push my buttons particularly on days when I am tired.
The whys… “Why is the sky blue?”, “why can’t men have babies?” or “why don’t crabs have eyebrows?”. Why why why why why!
But there is something in this for us adults. We have stopped asking about the why as much as we used to and instead tend to nod our heads and go with the flow.
“You should exercise more”… “ok”.
“You should eat less sugar”… “ok”.
“You should recycle your garbage”… “ok”.
“Meditate for 10 minutes a day”… “ok”.
The why’s are really important. You see, the more we understand something, the more likely we are to engage with it and create new habits. Through understanding we know what we are trying to achieve beneath the surface, which makes the act of doing it way cooler and more rewarding.
For example, magazines, TV, newspapers, the dude at the coffee shop with tattoos up his arm – they all tell you that daily mediation is like drinking water or going to the toilet – it is vital for your survival. But why? Well, check out the research. Dr Amishi Jha argues that at least 12 minutes a day strengthens our attention and working memory. And those clever cats at Harvard have been able to prove a link between brain plasticity and mediation. Through daily meditation practice, you can play an active role in changing your brain and increasing your well-being. Meditation literally rebuilds your brains grey matter in just eight weeks.
Doesn’t knowing that make meditation more appealing? Rather than just being told to meditate by the magazines at the Woolworths checkout because Lara Bingle does?
See. The why is totally powerful.
So let’s check out a ‘why’ for today.
“Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”. Sound familiar? This guy called Shakespeare came up with it and placed it in a little play called Hamlet.
But what does it mean? And why does thinking something good or bad make it so?
Well, I’d like to introduce you to the Cognitive Behavioural Model.
This diagram depicts how emotions, thoughts, and behaviours all influence each other. It is the behind-the-scenes mechanics for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and can be a useful tool for stepping back from a situation and observing your own experience in terms of these interactions.
If you are getting caught up in thoughts of not being a good enough dad, employee, partner, then you are going to feel bad. Guilty. Worthless. Sad. And what happens when you feel like this? You might withdraw, spend more time by yourself, talk less, do less work because you feel lethargic. Before you know it, your thoughts are really going to be kicking you in the guts. Now I really am worthless! A terrible friend or parent.
But if you think you are doing an ok job as a parent or partner, that you make time to be present when you get home from work, you’re more likely to feel content, perhaps even happy. Which gives you more energy, so behaviourally you are more likely to spend more time being the person you want to be. Walking the dog, cooking dinner or bathing your son.
At the end of the day you are the same person, but your thoughts have influenced the pattern of moods and behaviours.
So why is this helpful I hear you ask? It’s helpful because you can target any of those areas – your thoughts, feelings, behaviours – and start the spiral back upwards if needed.
Feeling sad? Do something behaviourally that makes you happy. Watch Zoolander or listen to David Bowie.
Thinking you are a lazy dad? Take your daughter down to the local park this afternoon. In that moment you might start to think that you’re a somewhat engaging dad. Which will have a positive impact on your mood.
This is also where mindfulness or the ability to notice your thoughts as thoughts comes in handy. If you can start to change your relationship with your thoughts (try prefixing a particularly troublesome thought with “I notice I am having the thought that…” and see what happens) you can take some of the influential power out of it. Which can lessen the associated uncomfortable feelings and open you up to do something more helpful behaviourally.
Perhaps Shakespeare could have written “nothing is either good or bad, but holding on tightly to your thoughts makes it so”… meh, it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. That’s just something you’ll have to think in your head whenever you hear that quote.
So now you know a ‘why’ that can be really helpful. Why do I do something that used to make me happy, even if it doesn’t now or I find it hard to motivate myself to do it? Because it can start the ball rolling on new thoughts and feelings which can begin to make it easier to do those things.
Why should I learn to notice my thoughts? Because it can lessen their consuming strength and therefore reduce the scale of pain or discomfort (you might still feel anxious or sad, but perhaps a 4/10 rather than an 8/10, which is waaay easier to deal with).
Try it out for yourself – when you catch yourself feeling unhappy or lost, check out the cognitive behavioural diagram and see if you can find the links – what were you just thinking or doing? What could you do differently to turn the cycle around?
As always, have a great week ahead being the human you want to be.
PS I've had some great feedback about the online meditation course. If you've thought about trying out meditation before, check out the details HERE.
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