Did you know we have around 40 thoughts per minute? And linked to many of these thoughts are a vast assortment of emotions, both pleasant and unpleasant? No wonder at times we all feel overwhelmed by the noise in our heads and feel that emotionally, our day is a roller-coaster!
It’s pretty hard to prevent thoughts and feelings. And worse, as humans we’re programmed since cavemen days to have a bias towards the negative – we were on high alert for imminent danger (that lion attack!) and accompanying emotional responses such as fear. Even though nowadays there is a negligible risk of a lion walking through the front door, we are still biologically attentive to disappointment, frustration, sadness, shame, anger and fear…and the list goes on. Instead of battling the lion, we battle ourselves.
So, if we can’t always block our challenging thoughts or prevent our unhelpful emotions, we need to work out how to live with them - without acting on them, stopping doing things we love or living the way we want to, in line with our values or goals.
A well-researched framework used by Coaching and Positive Psychologists is ACT (an acronym for Acceptance and Commitment Training). ACT mixes mindfulness and acceptance strategies from psychology. We encourage our clients to notice their thoughts and emotions, but to let them come and go without “fusing” and becoming entangled with them in an unhelpful way.
Here’s an example of how 3 steps in the ACT process can work for mums.
Scenario: You’ve organised a park play date with some local mums but one thing has led to another and you’re late!
Mummy Self-Talk: “I can never get out of the house on time! I’m so annoyed with myself! I’m a useless mother!”
Step 1. Diffuse. Reduce the power of painful or unhelpful thoughts. Notice your thought, then distance yourself from it.
- More helpful self-talk: “There I go again, calling myself a useless mother. That old story ….”
Step 2 - Expand. Notice your emotion. Label it. Make room for it by imagining a vast space inside you comprising this emotion and every emotion you experience (including the pleasant ones), in effect, watering it down.
- More helpful self-talk: “I’m feeling annoyed. That’s OK. I’ll take some breaths and this feeling can float in the balloon all my emotions, good and bad.”
Step 3 Engage. Start to direct your attention outwards to what you were doing and remember why you were doing it – how is your activity important to you?
- More helpful self-talk “I’ll grab the keys, my daughter and her shoes as I really want her to have fun at the park and to enjoy a catch up with the other mums who are going.”
In our day to day lives, when we mindfully focus on the task at hand, and when we allow thoughts and emotions to come and go without struggling with them - we enjoy our days more, and allow ourselves to do things that are important to us both now and into the future.
Best wishes from Flourishing Mothers
Flourishing Mothers were inspired by the work of Steven Hayes and Russ Harris