At the heart of mindfulness is the belief that we are not our thoughts. Our minds are distinct and separate from our ‘inner self’ or our ‘voice of calm’. We can see the mind as a puppy, which needs to be trained in a non judgmental, loving but firm way. Can you make yours walk to heel?
How is your mind like a puppy?
Let’s say I gave you a puppy. It’s so cute! A fluffy ball of energy who loves to roll around, chew the skirting boards, bark at her reflection, poo in places she shouldn’t and cry all night to get into your bed. No, you can’t give it back!
Now, bear in mind that I will be back in a month to see how well you are caring for your puppy. I want to see discipline, house training and walking to heel. Sorry, but that’s the deal. How will you spend the next month with your puppy? What will you do when it poos behind the sofa? How do you react when your puppy runs off in the park and into a busy road?
You need to be firm but fair
Training is essential to change behaviour and your mind is no different. Have you ever had a conversation with someone who isn’t there? An argument which you’ll never actually have? We all do it. If we don’t stop ourselves from doing this then we cause ourselves unnecessary stress and anxiety.
Your mind is like a puppy sitting on the back of the sofa, looking out the front window and barking at passing cars. It is wasting energy and making a lot of noise. You need to catch the puppy in the act of barking at the front window and tell it,
No. Stop that, little puppy! Come away from that obsessive behaviour and we’ll do something else, much less stressful.
You need to speak to your mind in the same way when it wants to bark endlessly at things that don’t matter. Be the mindful adult in charge of your thoughts. Say to yourself,
There are those thoughts again. Chattering away with no purpose, giving me negative and angry feelings. I’ll change those thoughts by focusing on what I am doing right now.
Your puppy mind needs to be told ‘NO’, with love
When puppy is chewing the carpet you’re not going to just walk past and ignore it. Neither would you kick it across the room! But you do know that you will need to get on top of that behaviour sharpish or your house will look like a shit hole in no time. So you pick the puppy up and give it your attention. You are loving and kind to the puppy and maybe treat it to a chew toy instead.
The chewing puppy is the overeating human. Boredom, frustration, loneliness often lead to eating, drinking and other unhealthy and addictive behaviours. Stop yourself mid binge and ask what it is that you really want: love; attention; sleep or maybe just water. The puppy doesn’t always know what it wants and neither does the mind.
When you are eating for no reason or start thinking about indulging your addictive or just unhealthy desires stop, give yourself a chew toy. Something that you will enjoy that isn’t so destructive. I have a list I call my Happy List which is a menu of things that make me feel warm and satisfied. Things like cooking, writing, making kombucha or even going out to a gallery or a museum. If the puppy is given interesting alternatives it will eventually choose those over the carpet.
Your puppy mind must walk to heel
Your mind must walk to heel just like the puppy. When the puppy wonders off you have to get it back long before it runs into traffic. It is a process of keeping the puppy close by and never letting it get too far away. As soon as you recognise the puppy is showing interest in eating another dog’s poo, call it to heel.
Similarly, when the mind starts to indulge in negative, self sabotaging thinking, you need to bring it back to heel, back to the present moment. The trick is to do this long before the puppy has run into traffic or your mind has spiralled out of control.
Anyone who ever suffered with depression knows how to observe signs of the mind wondering into dark thinking. If you can recall it to lighter activities and more meaningful thinking then you avoid a lot of pain.
Don’t judge your puppy
Oh look, the puppy is humping my slipper. No bother, let’s put the puppy in the garden where it can run off some energy.
There is no judgement or punishment. Just observation and then a change in attention. If you get into judging your thoughts then you play mind games with yourself. You are a wonderful, loveable person and you need to treat yourself as such. It’s just a case of retraining negative thinking.
Mindfulness is a practice. Over time you get better at it and stress, depression and anxiety are less likely. So, go train your puppy and watch out – I think I just saw her sneak behind the sofa!