How to Be Kind to Your Mind

aka top ten tips for thriving

Green fields - How to be Kind to Your Mind | 10 tips to thriving today | Petros

Did you know that there are nearly 200 phrases in the English language that include the word “mind”?

From changing your mind and being absent minded to making up your mind and being mindful, right through to going out of your mind, or even losing it!  It makes me think about how busy our minds actually are; being changed, absent, made up, full, or even lost. It’s no wonder we can sometimes feel overwhelmed.

For the past 30 years I have been exploring people’s minds (with their permission I might add) in my role as a psychologist. It is an extraordinary honour when people share what’s on their mind and, as a result, I have learnt a great deal about how our minds function.  Obviously, there are huge variations, but we share much in common.  And here is my general conclusion:

Our minds are both epic story tellers and expert mischief makers!

This is all well and good when the stories are light, fun, fantasies, and the mischief is entertaining, but that’s not generally when people seek the help of a psychologist.  I see people when their minds are telling them horror stories and the mischief has turned nasty.

Here’s a typical, personal example:

My 22-year-old daughter is out on a blind date. She said she’d ring me at 10pm and she hasn’t.  By 10.01pm I’m frantically scanning her social media to see if she’s been ”active” and am having to physically stop myself calling the police and the local hospitals. Faster than the speed of light my mind has created a horror story. I don’t even need to tell you the story, do I?  You already know it.  Eventually, she calls me at 10.30 apologising profusely – she is having a wonderful night and had lost track of time. Now, that is NOT where my mind went!

Throughout our lives we are rarely, if ever, taught how to manage our minds.  

If we were, we would know that horror stories are just that, stories and, as we are the authors, we have the power to change the script. We have the power to step outside of the plot and marvel at our imagination, be curious about where the ideas came from and make a choice whether to follow that particular story line or not. However, this type of reasoning takes knowledge, skills and practice.

To get us started, what might be useful are some basic tips for managing our minds, in much the same way we have tips for looking after our bodies.  It’s widely accepted now that practical tips for a healthy body might include:

·      Eating fruit and vegetables

·      Limiting sugar and alcohol intake

·      Cleaning your teeth twice a day

·      Getting some exercise

·      Spending time outside in nature

·      Aiming for 7-8 hours sleep (also very good for mind health)

Here are 10 tips for looking after our minds. Remember, it isn’t so much a set of instructions, as a tool kit of things to try if your mind is getting up to unpleasant mischief.

1. Follow the previous healthy body tips. Our mind and bodies are a closed system: everything connects. Addressing physical things can help with emotional things.

For example:

· exercise can be more effective than anti-depressants for mild to moderate depression

· eating healthily ensures we have the right energy for managing our minds

· being outside helps the production of vitamin D, which is known to help stabilise our mood.

2. Think about where you mind is – is it present or absent? When we are absent-minded we are operating in fantasy. When our mind is present, it is focussed on reality. There’s nothing particularly wrong with absent-mindedness (unless you are driving or operating machinery!) except that nothing else is going on, and that’s usually when stuff gets forgotten, overlooked and accidents happen.

3. To help keep your mind present, come to your senses! You have five senses but listening is possibly the best. Give your full attention to what you can hear. Notice how the chatter in your mind stops. Practice that several times a day for maybe a minute at a time. With practice you will find your mind becomes present more naturally.

4. Give your attention to What’s Important Now (WIN). That might be a meeting you’re in, a drive you’re undertaking, a report you’re writing, doing the washing up, listening to your partner or child… Whatever it is, give it your full attention. If it helps, do a running commentary of what you’re doing (but only out loud if you’re on your own!), or practice “Rapid Repeat” – repeating in your own head what someone else is saying as they say it. Both these techniques can help to keep your mind present.

5. Write it down. If your head is full of worry, anxiety, anger – whatever, write it down, uncensored, in the raw, as a stream of consciousness. Once something is out of your head and on paper it often loses its power. Write for three or four consecutive days for about 15-20 mins. Notice the difference it makes.

6. Make a list. If you feel like you have loads to do and it feels overwhelming, a list can unburden your mind. It often looks far less intimidating on paper too.

7. If you feel you have to worry, or your worry feels out of control, put 15 minutes aside a day to do just that – but only 15 minutes. Worrying is damaging to our health, so we don’t want to overdo it (or do it at all). Many people find that forcing themselves to worry feels a bit daft – that’s because worrying is the province of absent-mindedness when we think daft things! It is interesting to note that worrying is nigh on impossible with your mind present

8. When you feel emotional about something (whatever the feeling), try to be curious about why. It’s surprising how many of us are a bit fearful of our feelings. We feel stupid for crying, are scared about feeling anxious, or worried about feeling low. But emotions are a signal that something is going on for us. So, once you’ve received the signal, see if you can figure out what triggered it.

9. Do a bit of research about looking after psychological health. Some of this work has already been done for you by the Petros team. Go to our Petros Mental Health Website Review for 2021 and you will find a review of some of the most useful websites and lots of useful resources and guides.

10. Treat yourself as you would your dearest friend. In all the years I’ve practiced as a psychologist, I am still horrified at how vile people can be to themselves. Listen to what you’re saying to yourself and then ask if you would speak to anyone else that way? The answer is probably no – not even your worst enemy! So, speak to yourself with compassion, understanding, patience and even humour. You may need to be firm and set yourself some boundaries, as sometimes we do, but that’s also fine.

Above all, be kind to yourself. You have one mind and one life, and many ways in which to flourish.

This blog was originally written as an article for Axis Security in January 2021.