Learn some insightful tips for keeping the mind in an optimal state.
There are many approaches to mental health, and finding the one that fits you is a journey. By deliberately reappraising and recalibrating our thinking, we can change the way we feel and create an optimistic view of our world. Our lives are complex, fast-paced and filled with burdens, and we should not be surprised if we need to ask for help with our minds at some point.
Beneath a crisis, we are being allowed to restart our lives on a more generous, kind and realistic footing.
When the mind is unhealthy, something triggers a collapse. We feel unhappy, mysteriously exhausted, sad or overcome with unmanageable anxiety around everyday challenges. We complicate it with shame. We accept problems with other organs in our bodies without shame. We should provide the same for our minds.
Mindfulness approaches being present, noticing thoughts, feeling, emotions and bodily sensations, and not reacting. Instead, using a coping skill. When the feeling of being overwhelmed comes over us: stop, take a breath, observe and proceed.
An aspect of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is questioning our thoughts. We tend to be prisoners of our reviews, a set of stories we repeat to ourselves without even noticing how partial and usually unfair they are. An example of this is a self-statement like, “I am not being good enough,” “No respectable person has sexual urges like this” and “Mistakes can’t be undone.” We may not even realize that we have punitive or limited beliefs. How do we challenge ineffective thoughts?
Byron Katie’s The Work teaches us how to isolate thoughts. By asking these four questions we allow genuine answers to arise. The Work is about discovering what is true for ourself. To begin, isolate a statement for inquiry. Now apply these four questions. Begin by repeating the original statement, then ask yourself each question. The Work is a meditation practice, it’s like diving into yourself. Contemplate the questions, one at a time. Drop into the depths of yourself, listen and wait. The answer will meet your question.
Question 1: Is it true?
Question 2: Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
Question 3: How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
Question 4: Who would you be without that thought?
(For more information on Byron Katie, visit her website www.thework.com.)
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) begins with the concept of states of mind. According to the theory, there are three states of mind that we are all in at varying times: wise mind, logical mind and emotional mind. The wise mind is the ideal state of mind we strive for to make our decisions. The logical mind is the state of mind that people use when doing math, reading a map and various other concrete tasks. It is described as the “cool” state of mind that we use to deal with empirical facts. The last state of mind is the emotional mind. The emotional mind is the state of mind in which we feel the depth of our emotions and act from an emotional state. In an extreme, this state of mind would be used if we reacted impulsively out of anger, without regard to consequences. This is considered the “hot” state of mind.
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The wise mind is the state of mind in the middle of both the logical and emotional mind. In the wise mind, we are aware of our feelings, and we decide how to act in a way to honor our feelings and goals. In a wise mind, if we were angered, we would acknowledge our emotions and act in a way that would not create negative consequences for ourselves.
(For more information on Core Mindfulness: Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), visit www.goodtherapy.org.)
Then we think of what it means to feel mentally well, we often picture excitement or exuberance. However, what really defines our optimal moments is that we feel stable. We take things in stride, we are neither weary nor fearful, bored or manic. We are in our window of tolerance. The concept is we all have parameters in which we operate comfortably in. Challenges may come our way, and we can engage with them — we may feel tired but know that rest and calm are required to overcome them. We pull a wry smile and forge on. We might be in high spirits but don’t succumb to risky ebullience. We live happily within our window of tolerance.
In your mind, picture a dial like an airplane’s altitude indicator where our mood moves up and down between two lines. The top line is overwhelming, guilt and shame, and the bottom boredom, loneliness and deadness. Remaining in the window of tolerance is a skill. Awareness of self–observation, introspection and self-regulation are key to maneuvering in the window. For example, spending too much time on social media, visiting a demanding family member, drinking or watching politically charged news, should be taken with care and in limited doses. By keeping the dial on our emotional dashboard, we can stay within its safety parameters.
Wayne Dyer writes, “You create your thoughts, your thoughts create your intentions and your intentions create your reality.” There is no point in thinking, for the millionth time, about how unfit we are, “I can’t do it,” “I don’t think I’ll ever,” or a number of other flawed thinking patterns that arise unknowingly from a complex history. With due respect to our minds, we’re better off putting on some music, counting to 100 or calling up a friend.
Anthony Cupo is a trained mindfulness facilitator (TMF) from the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. He is a co-owner of Stepping Forward Counseling Center, LLC, and has been meditating for over 30 years.