Heavy thoughts? Feeling rattled? Then ACT.......

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!

ACT on heavy thoughts

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

Let’s do a bit of “future-telling”!

At 5pm on a Tuesday afternoon, in 2 years’ time, where will you be? 

What will you be doing?  What will you be feeling happy about?  What will you be proud of?  What will you be excited about?  Do you ever wonder? 

The truth for most of us is that we’re generally so busy each day doing what we need to do for our families, our jobs, our health etc., that we don’t take much time to plan for the future.  We probably all have to do lists in various formats but do you have a plan for achieving your hopes and dreams over the next few years?

Knowing what is important to us, being able to express what we hope for and dream about doing and achieving, helps us to recognise our values and experience meaning in life.  This is important, because as we wrote about in our last blog (What's the meaning of life anyway?), feeling a higher level of meaning is linked to higher levels of wellbeing and engagement.

A great exercise to try from Positive Psychology is the “Letter from the Future” which is all about discovering and acknowledging your hopes and dreams.  Your dreams for the future can give you the impetus to set some more concrete goals for yourself and help you to notice opportunities in your daily life that might help you achieve what you wish.

Letter from the future

Creating your letter from the future

Here’s the procedure.  Choose a date some months or years ahead.  Then imagine that life has gone rather well.  Things have turned out the way you wanted them to.  You have generally been able to do the things you want and have behaved in the way you would prefer.  Write yourself a letter telling yourself about the developments in your life.  Try to imagine how your life would feel if you were successful and fulfilled.

It doesn’t have to be written!

I know that not everyone enjoys writing so please don’t be turned off by the concept of a letter.  This activity can be done in various ways.  One of my clients recently recorded a “voice message from the future”.  She found chatting into her phone felt much more natural than writing or typing.  Instead as speaking or writing you could also draw, paint or collect images.  The important thing is that you’re finding a way to express your vision of how things are at a specific moment in the future.

We hope you find your letter enlightening and encouraging!

Best wishes

Flourishing Mothers

Adapted by Flourishing Mothers from the work of Anthony Grant and Jane Green

Optimism - it's going to be good for us!

Joyful Optimism in Inside Out

This week, I took my daughters to see the new Pixar film, Inside Out.  The character of Joy in the film is relentlessly cheerful, and positive that a quick injection of happiness will fix all problems.  She embodies optimism – a strong expectation that good things will be plentiful in the future and bad things scarce.

Optimism can be observed, and developed, in the way in which we explain the causes of negative events in our lives.  For example, we can decide that a problem is a temporary setback (rather than an ongoing disaster) and that its causes are specific to the situation (and therefore unlikely to recur). 

Rather than immediately heaping blame on ourselves for every issue, we can decide that things happened due to circumstances, bad luck or other people.  These are the defining characteristics of an optimistic thinker.

Imagine that you reach across the table now and somehow knock over a cup of tea…..  Which of the following responses is more likely to jump into your mind?

Arrrggghhhh!  I’m always sooooo clumsy!  I can’t do anything without making a mess!  There goes my good mood for the day!

OR

Arrrggghhh!  What a shocker!  How on earth did that happen?  Too much stuff on the table!  Ok, clean it up, move on…..

Both responses acknowledge that the spilt tea is a negative event but the level of optimism in each response differs strongly.  The second response firmly places the problem as temporary and doesn’t leap to self-blame.  It also keeps the event specific to the time and circumstances rather than having wider impact.

As Mums, negative things happen, and sadly they can be worse than a spilt cup of tea. However, learning to think more optimistically can definitely help to maintain wellbeing and build resilience.  Research has linked higher levels of optimism to a reduced incidence of depression and anxiety and to overall better physical health.  For example, a recent study from the University of Illinois focused on cardiovascular health and found that individuals with higher levels of optimism were twice as likely to be in ideal cardiovascular health, as compared to more pessimistic people. 

The next time that something goes wrong please notice your response and see whether there are ways in which you can guide your thinking in the direction of optimism.

best wishes from Flourishing Mothers

Adapted by Flourishing Mothers from the work of Carver & Scheier and Seligman