Mindfulness, Solution Focused Therapy

Looking on the bright side

In Solution Focused Hypnotherapy, one of our main intentions is to shift the client’s focus away from the problem and towards the positive. Humans have a natural negativity bias, particularly when we are feeling stressed. This is because when we are stressed, we spend more time in our primitive minds and the primitive mind is a negative mind: it always sees the world from the worst possible perspective. The primitive mind has to be negative to ensure our survival as a human species. If we answered the door to an eight foot tiger, it’s highly unlikely that we would invite him in for tea, and chuckle as he ate all the cupcakes and drank all of Daddy’s beer, as happens in Judith Kerr’s children’s story The Tiger Who Came To Tea.

Thankfully, if we did open our front door to an eight foot tiger (or it’s less fantastical equivalent) our fight or flight response would kick in within a fraction of second, pumping out adrenalin, increasing our heartbeat, preparing our body for escape. Operating from within this stress response, we would assume the worst, we would be hyper-vigilant to any movement the tiger made, and we would be obsessional about figuring out an appropriate escape route. In this scenario, our stress response is our friend, it’s working for us, we are immensely grateful for its input.

However, in many situations, this negative focus causes us an enormous amount of needless suffering. Raging or descending into gloom about a smashed wing mirror doesn’t fix the mirror. It just suck us into our negative primitive mind, reducing the value we can both give and receive from our interactions with others. When we surface from our rage and gloom back into our intellectual minds, we are likely to reward ourselves with a hefty serving of shame about how we handled the situation. We have grown our hurt. Similarly, ranting when we find our kitchen wall has been redecorated with permanent marker, courtesy of our three-year-old, doesn’t miraculously remove the scribble. It just sucks us into our negative primitive mind, reducing the value we can give to, and receive from our child. When we escape from the cycle of ranting and regain intellectual control, we’re rewarded with the all familiar weight of parental shame about how we handled the situation. Our suffering has swelled.

In these stressful moments, wrenching our attention away from the problem and towards the positive can loom like a mammothian task. ‘Looking on the bright side’, as simple as it sounds, actually entails a lot of practice if we are to be able to apply it when we most need to. In his book Waking Up, Sam Harris suggests that just one positive thought can act as a lever to pry the mind loose from “whatever rut it has found on the landscape of unnecessary suffering.”

Acknowledging, out loud if necessary “at least the rest of the car is undamaged” or “at least we have some paint left to cover up the marker pen”, can help us to manufacture a feeling of gratitude for all the bad things that have not happened. Research has shown that gratitude is a powerful mechanism for increasing well being over time, but it can be equally powerful as a safety net when stressful events occur, bouncing us back into our intellectual minds where we can access rationale and reason, and suffer less than we otherwise would have done.

References

Harris, S. (2014). Waking up. Simon & Schuster

Kerr, J. (2006). The Tiger Who Came To Tea. (1st Ed). London: HarperCollins

Mindfulness

Is mindfulness selfish?

One of the criticisms often levelled at meditative practices, like self-hypnosis, is that they are selfish. Too introspective, too inward-looking. Drawing our attention away from all the bad things happening in the world that we should be out there trying to fix. Encouraging us to settle, to embrace inadequacies. To sit cross legged in a bubble of peace while everything around us collapses. 

In 2017, Psychiatrist Dr Alison Gray of the Royal College of Psychiatrists suggested that solitary meditative practices can cause us to become more self-centred (Petter, 2017). Instead, Dr Gray encouraged us to seek out a community with whom we can practice mindfulness.

However, as COVID-19 isolates much of the world in their own homes, away from their support networks and away from their communities, these solitary meditative practices can be a useful tool in lowering our anxiety, building our resilience, and connecting with our inner resources. Gifting ourselves some time each day to nurture our minds, release anxiety and embrace the present moment can be a powerful antidote to the feelings of frustration and helplessness brought about by the lockdown. We are locked down, but our minds don’t have to be.

Embracing mindfulness to protect our mental health can be far from selfish. As neuroscientist, philosopher and best-selling author Sam Harris writes in his book Waking Up, meditating alone doesn’t necessarily equate with self-centredness; in fact, it can amount to precisely the opposite: “One can […] spend long periods of time in contemplative solitude for the purpose of becoming a better person in the world – having better relationships, being more honest and compassionate and, therefore, more helpful to one’s fellow human beings.”

We don’t need to feel guilty for prioritising our inner peace sometimes, even while those around us are struggling, as we have more to offer them when we ourselves are calm and centred. As Sam Harris argues “The world is in desperate need of improvement – in global terms, freedom and prosperity remain the exception – and yet, this doesn’t mean we need to be miserable while we work for the common good.”

References

Petter, O. (2017, December 29). Mindfulness could be making you selfish, psychiatrist warns. The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/mindfulness-selfish-mediation-psychiatrist-dr-alison-gray-a8133106.html

Harris, S. (2014). Waking up. Simon & Schuster.