It All Starts with You
Just a gentle but wise reminder that the most important place to start when you’re facing something challenging is inside with yourself. That may not be news to you, but I would imagine you may not always remember that when in the midst of an emotional fallout with your pre-teen; or walking into a difficult meeting at work; or watching your loved one suffer health issues. You may find yourself being more reactive to their behaviors, thoughts and feelings, than responsive to your own.
I have had the benefit of attending (virtually 🙂 ) a summit on Mindful Leadership this week and was pleased to hear this reminder from all of the speakers – as something that can be applied in the Board Room, or conference meeting room, as easily or importantly as applying this idea to one’s living room or bedroom. Each speaker made it clear that the best way to mindfully lead or work or connect with others – at the work place, or in one’s own family or community – begins first with that ever-important PAUSE of course; followed by a mindful check-in with one’s own feelings, thoughts and body state. Knowing your self helps you to know and accept others.
It’s important and central to check your own compass. Notice your feelings – especially if they are unpleasant. Notice your sense of irritation at being interrupted yet again by your boss. Or your anger when your child defies you, or the pit in your stomach when it feels like your co-worker just bullied you. Recognize your own hurt feelings or sense of rejection when you don’t hear back from a new date; or you do hear discriminatory comments from someone who has authority over you. Acknowledge your own feeling of helplessness or fear when you’re planning for a difficult discussion with a family member. Get quiet and notice if the terrible feeling in your gut is your wise intuition or your old familiar fear that something isn’t right for you. Feel your own anxiety, when someone yells at you, and notice any accompanying thoughts. Feel your own shortness of breath or intense unexplainable hunger when you’ve just sat through a very conflictual meeting. Pay attention to the words filling your thoughts – especially “always”, “never”, “shouldn’t” – when you notice you or someone in your life has made a mistake.
Start to reframe your thoughts as simply being mental sounds (not the gospel truth you have to believe) when you hear self criticism. Get good at reading your own body signals, taking your own pulse; knowing what you’re feeling and thinking. It’s OK that you have feelings. Let yourself slow down; breathe gently into the uncomfortable feelings, as you allow them to be just one moment longer. Let them be. Try not to run when things get uncomfortable. Offer kindness to yourself and your feelings. Maybe even congratulate yourself for being self-aware in this moment. Allow yourself to breathe some more.
Let this feeling of openness toward your own true nature guide what you do next. Have the intention to do no harm. You may consider the other person’s feelings, needs, wishes and speak from a place of understanding. You might realize you need to get outside or go for a walk so you can calm down. You might simply give a little space around those thoughts that seem to speak so loudly of your worthlessness or inadequacy. Realize they may not be true. You might remember “My thoughts are not me.” You might feel your feet on the ground when having to make a difficult decision. Or the strength of your spine as you try to live with integrity. You might redirect your attention when you notice your mind has wandered to a terrible future, and let the noise or mud in your mind settle.
Ten minutes of inner alignment or “time in” is worth hours of outer focus. The more practice you have taking a “time in” with yourself, the more skilled you will become at tuning in to others and communicating more effectively.
Remember to start with tending to yourself – not in a selfish “Me-first-it’s-all-about-me” kind of way; but in a knowing, caring, curious “I matter and can impact my own world in favorable and unfavorable ways. I care about my well-being and values and the well-being of those around me.” way.
Mindfulness practice is good self-care that helps us be better stewards in our world. Connecting first to ourselves improves how we handle stress and manage our relationships with others. Go ahead: start with yourself. Check in with your thoughts, feelings and body sensations and see how that positively affects your own well-being, and then how you interact with the rest of the world.
For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.
Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
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