Part 7: Interpreting Facts, Nipping Negatives and Potting Positives
This is a critically important part of your mindfulness journey. And it is a big awareness exercise.
And it is one which requires what you have learned in the previous sections.
It may be one of the most important lessons we will share with you about living mindfully, in which you bring awareness to every moment of your life.
Awareness. There it is again.
In our first article Introduction to Mindfulness, we set the scene by saying:
Mindfulness is not just meditation.
And that a meditation practise is just a small part of living mindfully.
But meditation as a practice is a really important tool, a tool that can help us focus on living a mindful life.
And that the key element of focus, is awareness.
When we do not bring awareness to our physical, mental, and/or emotional state, we miss obvious cues as to why we react or relate to a situation or fact in a negative or positive way.
And because we are presented with multiple facts at EVERY MOMENT of our lives, it is critically important that we are aware of how we view those facts.
Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness. Awareness.
So we hope you get the hint.
This lesson; “Interpreting Facts, Nipping Negatives and Potting Positives” is a critical place in your mindful journey to be aware of “the moment”.
This moment can have a positive impact on the next moment. And the many moments after it.
Sadly, it can also have a negative impact on that next moment. And the many moments after it.
By bringing awareness to the moment (and maybe a short mindful practice if necessary) we can question any negativity and halt its snowball effect.
And that is a phrase that we want you to remember and keep close to you.
The Snowball Effect of Negativity. BUT also the snowball effect of positivity.
If there is an all-in-one book to understanding mindfulness, it is The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, Jon Kabat-Zinn
It is the simplest, matter of fact, common sense book. And it leads the reader through some real stand out, eye-opening truths about sadness and how it can evolve, if not careful, into self-doubt and depression.
I first read it in 2007 and have bought many copies as gifts.
For me, there are many pin drop moments in the book.
I will be honest and say that it changed me in so many ways. And these changes took place even though it was months before I began to tentatively practise mindfulness meditation.
In this section on mindfulness, we want to look at how we interpret facts.
Or rather, how our interpretation of facts is affected by how we feel at THAT moment and can lead to negative or positive thoughts and how this can snowball.
I joke and tell friends “I am a fretter.” But herein also lies a problem. I created a cute defensive excuse for being a worrier. A worrier over things that I have no control over and a worrier of imagined scenarios.
In The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness, the authors bring up a test that told me I had to change the way I interpreted my moments.
I had wasted too many years draining my energy interpreting the facts in a very unhealthy way.
The Friend On the Street Test
It’s worth giving yourself a moment here to pause. The next few lines describe a scenario.
Try to imagine this scenario as vividly as possible. As if you are actually there.
And as soon as you read it. Sit back and think about the thoughts and reasons that come to mind as you imagined being in that scenario.
Ready? … Go.
You are walking down a familiar street … you see someone you know on the other side of the street … You smile and wave … The person makes no response … just doesn’t seem to notice you … walks right past without any sign of recognising your existence.
How Does this make you feel?
What thoughts or images go through your mind? (source)
The situation itself is ambiguous.
But when this scenario is presented to different people, the authors realised they got a wide range of reactions.
This is because it can be INTERPRETED in different ways i.e. we each tell ourselves a different story when we are presented with the same scenario.
They note: “Our emotional reactions depend on the story we tell ourselves, the running commentary in the mind that interprets the data we receive through our senses”
The authors found that those in a good mood have little emotional reaction or just brushed aside the scenario.
In other words … meh. Not important.
Some even found possible explanations; like the other person was not wearing their glasses, or they may have been miles away and so they did not “see” you.
However. If you are having a bad day or week then the authors noted the running commentary may be telling us something completely different.
- we have lost a friend,
- that the other person deliberately ignored you or
- that they were angry with you for some imagined incident.
“Our mind may spin-off, ruminating about what we did to upset this person … this sort of self-talk can make us worse. If the self-talk says we have been ignored, we may feel angry. If it says we must have upset this person, we may feel guilty. If it says we’ve probably lost a friend, we may feel lonely and sad”
The situation may have been ambiguous, but it is our interpretation of it that influences our reaction
“This is the A-B-C model of emotions.
A represents the facts of the situation; what a video camera would see and record.
B is the interpretation we give to a situation; this is the “running story” often just below the surface of awareness. It is often taken as fact.
C is our reaction: our emotions, body sensations and behaviour.
Often we see the situation (A) and the reaction (C ) but are unaware of the interpretation (B).
We think the situation (A) itself caused our emotional and physical reactions (C), when in fact it was our interpretation of the situation.”
These negative interpretations, if not addressed, cause a snowball effect of negativity that affects immediate subsequent moments
I too am prone to the snowball effect of negativity. In my role as founder of a start-up, I have to be supremely positive. But I am often tired, battered, and have (or been caused by others to have imposter syndrome). So … Yes, I am prone to a negative running commentary.
I have a stressful job. I have to meet many people. Some are nice. Some are not. But I make an interpretation of the facts (and it definitely depends on my sleep, stress, current mood, confidence levels and any wins I already have had in the day. If every meeting was painful, the level of confidence slowly saps away and I begin to have self-doubt and that is THE perfect petri dish for breeding negativity).
They manifest in thoughts like:
“Why did they do that? Did I do something wrong? They must think what I am doing is worthless. Why do I even bother? I have wasted my life.”
My Brake: “Where is the proof?”
But I have managed to insert a Brake in this process.
Brake: “Where is the PROOF?”
Brake: “You said, ‘They must think what I am doing is worthless.’ Where is the proof?”
Me: Well I don’t have it, but I just know it!
Brake “Actually no. I don’t know what you mean. Either show me the proof and then we deal with it. Or move on to the next moment with all the energy and awareness you can bring. As if it is the first fresh moment of the day.
Because you have just made that up. You have interpreted the facts and have literally projected a possible action someone else MAY have and fixed it in your mind as a certainty.
Now you are going to be distressed, it will eat away at you AND this will just sap your energy and it will affect the rest of your day and the interactions you have with people (you’ll moan about the day) and situations (“Why is this always happening to me. What is it about this week!”).
Because you are (choose one) tired/had no sleep/hungry/had a bad week/anxious already and met some unkind people.
So STOP. Just stop it right there! Because if you have NO proof, and you have just made it up. Blindly imagining scenarios do you no favours.”
Does this sound familiar to you? When our thoughts race ahead and cause us anxiety?
This brake helps me slow my racing mind down.
As soon as I am able to do that. I take stock of what I am feeling and WHY I am feeling it. I identify the cumulative effects of the day; the lack of sleep, the dehydration, the hunger and I stop.
I immediately ask to be excused for a few mins (even if I have to excuse myself from myself, “Ok, I need a few moments, please.”)
I either breathe calmly for 3–5 minutes using mindful meditation practice or I do the Mindful “HiiT”
And when I come back. I tell myself to be acutely aware of the negative thoughts if they try to creep back in.
The Pin Drop Moment
What you read above, was not actually the pin-drop moment of the book for me. This was:
“Imagine what effect it would have on you if someone stood behind you all day telling you how useless you were when you were trying desperately to cope with a difficult experience.
Now imagine how much worse it would be if the criticism and harse judgement came from inside your mind. No wonder it seems so real; after all who knows us better than ourselves?
These thoughts can trap us, turning a small sadness into a tangled web of brooding preoccupation.”
That was my pin drop moment
And what did I take from it?
- Always be aware of someone else’s mood and always bring kindness to each moment. You do not know what another person may be going through. Your one little ray of kindness could have a huge effect on their day.
- Every time negativity pops in, STOP EVERYTHING for just a moment. Ask “Where’s the proof?” Breathe. Be aware of the positives. What did I learn? Why am I feeling this way? Am I tired, hungry, sleepy, dehydrated or just worn out for the day? Can I give myself a break? What can help me recharge?
- Even if I do not embrace meditation practice fully, I can still be mindfully aware throughout my day and learn to be more compassionate towards myself.
Bring kindness. Spread Joy. Make Smiles. Share Peace. Acknowledge Gratitude.
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