Do you toss and turn in bed? Can’t get to sleep (or go back to sleep) no matter what you do?
I’ve been there and one thing is sure: insomnia is frustrating!
It’s also bad for your health. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. It has also been linked to changes in brain function, poor decision making, difficulty with problem solving, depression, and even suicide.
Unfortunately, many of the classic strategies for overcoming insomnia don’t work all that well. You probably know this. I bet you’ve already tried some of them.
New research suggests there may be a path forward, and it isn’t what you think…
Controlling Sleep Doesn’t Work Very Well
One reason the natural things we do to solve sleep problems aren’t very effective is that they invite you to do too much, precisely when you need to do nothing. What does that mean? Think about it this way…
Your body knows how to sleep. It should be darn good at it too … millions of years of evolution tends to work out the kinks. Get out of your own way, do nothing to wake yourself up, and voila: you sleep.
But your logical problem-solving mind is only a few hundred thousand years old … surely not more than a couple of million. We know that because our closest relatives don’t have symbolic language – the core element of our thinking processes. Your mind sure knows how to problem solve … but it is not very good at sleep because it is not very good at doing nothing.
The problem with most existing psychological sleep interventions is that they too invite you to do too much.
Let me ask you this. If you are half asleep and you start trying to solve a problem, any problem, what happens? That’s right. You wake up. Solving a problem is the brain equivalent of sprinting around the block. Hardly likely to encourage snoozing.
So what is the first thing you do when you wake up in the night and start to worry? You try to put the worries out of your mind or you try to convince yourself things aren’t as bad as all that. You treat your thoughts as problems to be solved. The problem: all that mental stuff is waking you up!
The Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) community has an alternative: psychologically flexibility. Basically, that means allowing thoughts and feelings to show up, then gently attending to what helps move you in the direction you value. In that case of sleep that mean noticing the temptation to problem-solve (e.g., to push away worries and anxieties), and instead to do nothing. Your body know how to sleep. Your mind? Not so much.
Studies have shown that psychological inflexibility is a key player in sleep problems. Recent studies have also shown that training people to be more psychologically flexible helps reduce insomnia in those who have chronic pain and chronic fatigue.
So if you’re an insomniac, what’s the bottom line for you?
Accept Your Experiences
Let’s face it. Suppressing your night time thoughts and feelings or struggling to go back to sleep just doesn’t work that well. You probably already know this. If you have sleep problems, I’m sure you’ve tried it. Has it worked for you?
Try becoming more psychologically flexible instead. Here are three techniques you can experiment with:
These techniques are counterintuitive. That’s true. But what have you got to lose? Maybe some useless problem solving time?
The next time you are trying to get to sleep here is a better idea. Get in bed, close your eyes, and do nothing at all.
Many Thanks to Steve Hayes for this post. Steve is the founder of ACT (Acceptance & Commitment Therapy). Dr Russ Harris brought ACT to Australia and trained me to be an ACT Therapist. ACT is very much a Mindfulness based therapy. Feel welcome to book a One-on-One session with me. Mindfully Yours as Always! – John
We need to teach our children how to think, not so much what to think. We need to teach children how to handle difficult thoughts, feelings and emotions as they arise. This would drastically reduce stress, anxiety and depression in later life, especially HSC time. It would also help reduce bullying and anti-social behaviour. At the same time, it would greatly increase creativity and productivity. Studies around the world clearly show that mindfulness in schools is making a huge difference. Academic performance up 15% – disciplinary instances including suspensions, detentions and bullying down by 63%. Follow this link to see what is happening worldwide.
We need your help to prepare a series of weekly mindfulness lessons for primary children. Our research is complete and we have enough material to make 36 lessons a reality (9 in each term). Each lesson will also have a note or email message to send home to encourage mindful practice with family and carers. Teachers & parents (especially home schoolers) will also benefit greatly by participating in the program.
Our goal will be fueled by your generosity. Please donate to help slow down the epidemic of depression, substance abuse and youth suicide in our communities. To show my gratitude, you will receive The Mindful Way PDF – 75 pages with 33 chapters. It teaches you what mindfulness is, what mindfulness is not and how to develop a mindful practice. It is written for older teens and above, I recommend reading one chapter per week and practice. Donate via PayPal: https://goo.gl/H3f1Zf
If you are unable to help financially, perhaps you could share this blog. Please feel welcome to phone me on 0418 864 162 anytime for further information.
Thank You & Be Mindful! – John Shearer [Mindfulness Master & Founder of mindfullyMAD.org (mindfully Making A Difference)]
This is the 4th track on The Mindful Way CD. It is about happiness and other sound reasons to develop a mindful practice or a good reminder to keep it going! Feedback welcome. Enjoy!
The most obvious benefit of developing a mindful practice is a huge increase in happiness. Happiness becomes a bi-product of mindfulness and almost an automatic choice. Happiness isn’t a destination, an award, a goal or something you chase after, it’s the main reason why we are here – to be happy! So wake up every day with a determination to be mindful and happy, no matter what comes your way.
There are many other benefits of developing a mindful practice. I have taken note of the benefits that I have experienced since I embarked on the mindful way. These benefits have also been confirmed with feedback, from both my coaching clients and from my book Mindful Actions. My favourite feedback is hearing from people coming off meds. Mindfulness is now a proven alternative to medication. It is true that meds can help when people’s lives are out of control but honestly, most of the benefit goes to pharmaceutical companies.
Is your mindful practice fully developed? A sure sign is a deep desire to help others. If this sounds like you, I invite you to have a look at my Keys to Mindfulness Mentoring certificate course. It involves three one-on-one sessions with me personally, either live or via video link. The sessions are at least one month apart, go at your own pace. I have made this course as affordable as possible, only AU$250 (Approx EUR160 or US$180)
Mindfully Yours with Love, Joy & Peace Always! – John Shearer
Is there a Role for Mindful Leadership in the Workplace?
Leadership can be a place of great loneliness. Reaching a position of leadership can enslave a person, causing them to work unsustainable hours at the expense of family, friends and self. They may even lose sight of their original purpose and ideals as they get caught up in the ‘doing’ of the tasks at hand, focusing on achieving outcomes and performance.
Learning some strategies for emotional resilience, such as Mindfulness, can free a leader from this treadmill as well as enhancing many great leadership qualities. Mindfulness is the art of learning to ‘just be’ and as Jon Kabat Zinn says, it can allow one to reclaim their position as a ‘human being’, not just a ‘human doing’.
Mindfulness is often described as paying attention without judgment. It’s the capacity to remain grounded in present moment awareness as opposed to being caught up in the stories we create with our thoughts. For a leader this is a vital quality but one that may seem to contradict their training.
Our society puts great value on thinking about things critically and in many professions including science, education, finance and law, the capacity to be judgmental is a prized quality. Of course, there is a place for this. But too often our judgments and criticisms invade our personal interactions, preventing us from hearing clearly what is being said and from taking on board valuable non-verbal queues. We’re too busy thinking of our next answer or refutation to listen.
A Mindful leader is attentive and observant, connected with the people s/he leads. And importantly, this connection comes from a place that is sincere and heartfelt. This is often described as ‘authentic leadership’. Mindful listening requires a high level of attentiveness and in turn, this allows the development of a deeper connection, one that permits possibilities to emerge. Mindfulness opens us to solutions that may be less obvious when struggling with a stressed, problem-focused frame of mind.
The reason for this is not just philosophical but physiological. It has to do with the way our bodies and brains have evolved to deal with stress. When we are stressed our heart rate, blood pressure and respiration increase. We secrete stress hormones that prepare our bodies to run or to defend our territory. Humans have evolved in this way because the caveman who stopped to consider the magnificence of the oncoming tiger instead of fleeing would become its dinner and not pass on his genes. The genes that survived belonged to individuals who instinctively ran or fought back in the face of danger. They reacted to the problem rather than thinking about it, and this rapid unthinking reaction is an essential survival quality when life is threatened.
In the business world our lives are rarely in danger, but it may feel that way because of workplace pressures. And our body reacts in the same way as it did when the tiger came bounding out of the bushes. As we curb the inclination to fight or flee, blood pressure rises and stress hormones become toxic, potentially causing stress-related illness. The result is frequently reactivity and a problem-focused mindset.
Our natural relaxation response is engaged when we practice mindfulness and this opens and broadens the mind to consider alternative solutions and responses. Creativity and lateral thinking are enhanced.
Mindfulness trains the mind to slow down and see the spaces in our lives, the spaces where we can take the time to consider our responses thoughtfully instead of reactively. It develops within us the capacity to be present and observant; to listen deeply, authentically, and truly see what’s happening both for ourselves and for others. It encourages us to let go of the stories, habits and views we hold on to and identify with, considering others’ viewpoints with open acceptance. And it teaches us to be open and non-judgmental of both good and bad experiences with equanimity and courage, even with preparedness to express vulnerability.
This mindset not only increases ones emotional resilience in the face of difficulty, but also builds a more authentic leadership style.
What Mindfulness Is Not
Mindfulness is becoming a global phenomenon but it is often misunderstood. I have recorded this track on Sound Cloud to clear up a few misconceptions. Be Mindful!
Mindfully Yours with Love, Joy & Peace Always! – John
I have created a CD called The Mindful Way on Sound Cloud. The CD starts with My Story and Reasons Why I do what I do. Other tracks include What is Mindfulness, What Mindfulness is Not & Happiness and Benefits. It is an excellent introduction to mindfulness. Follow this link to check it out:
Have you got a story of how mindfulness has transformed your life? Please help make a difference by sharing your story on mindfullyMAD.org (mindfully Making A Difference).
Mindfully Yours with Love, Joy & Peace Always! – John
The first Sunday in May is Mindfulness Day. This year, it is 1st May! You may remember the first Mindfulness Day in 2014 when I created a facebook event and invited Australians with mental suffering. 4,700 people turned up and Mindfulness Day launched Mindful May. I wrote a blog every day in May and the event was truly amazing with hundreds of lives transformed. The event became my book Mindful Actions and thousands more lives have been turned around since. I am amazed by the feedback I receive, I especially love hearing from people coming off meds or waking up by way of their mindful practice. This year I have created another facebook event and will be sharing my story, my knowledge and my vision. Please join and be part of the mindful revolution by sharing this event. Go a step further and send me your photo to dress up. For more info, go to mindfullyMAD.org and click on Mindfulness Day.
How is your mindful practice coming along? I was asked by a magazine to write about developing a mindful practice, this is what I wrote:
Mindful practice is about silencing our minds with awareness and focusing on being fully present with what is happening. Having a mindful practice enables us to develop more awareness of our thoughts and feelings. We are able to notice and observe what is going on without getting all caught up, especially the unhelpful and negative stuff. A mindful practice also enables us to pause and create more silence and peace of mind throughout our day.
Mindfulness doesn’t stop the never-ending flow of mental chatter, nor does it stop the ebb and flow of our feelings. Sometimes we avoid practising mindfulness because we feel that something is going on deep down inside. It could be that we’re feeling anger, fear, sadness, past trauma, powerless, unmotivated or just tired. We know if we pause or stop we might have to deal with what is happening. Instead of stopping to acknowledge and feel what is coming to the surface, we distract ourselves by eating chocolate, drinking alcohol, taking drugs, focusing on our to-do list, watching TV, working too hard or many other distractions.
As we develop our mindful practice, we learn to recognise these unhelpful feelings for what they really are, just feelings. We learn that feelings aren’t facts and we make room for them or simply choose to let them go. A mindful practice helps us to connect fully with our whole being, mind, body, heart and soul. Then by deepening our practice of being present, the connection with ourselves deepens. We feel more connected to love, joy, peace, aliveness, strength and many other qualities. The flow on effect is the ability to deepen our presence with our loved ones and everyone we connect with in our daily lives.
The very essence of mindfulness is awareness in its purest form. With practice, mindful awareness becomes second nature, your home base and your refuge. With practice, your sense of awareness (or the silent observer as I like to call it) starts to abide more and more in your daily life. With practice, you will be able to readily step back and be the silent observer of your thoughts and feelings. Notice how I keep repeating ‘with practice’? Practice is the overall key to developing mindfulness and I cannot overstate it enough.
Use of the key thought ‘Be Mindful’ is a great way to trigger instant mindful awareness, no matter what is happening in any given moment. Use ‘Be Mindful’ to activate the silent observer of your thoughts and feelings without any judgement. When you activate the silent observer, you are also tuning in to your sixth sense or intuition. It is a sure way to tap into your creative genius. It is also a sure way to gain clarity of mind and a strong sense of priority. Be sure to pause and tune in at regular intervals to maintain your mindful practice.
Mindfully Yours with Love, Joy & Peace Always! – John
I am a huge fan of Dr Wayne Dyer, this is what he had to say about the teachings of Lao-tzu:
“Some 2,500 years ago, Lao-tzu spoke of ‘the four cardinal virtues’ and noted that when we practice them as a way of life, we come to know and access the truth of the universe. These four virtues don’t represent external dogma, but a part of our original nature—by practicing them, we realign with Source and access the powers that Source energy has to offer. According to the teachings of Lao-tzu, the four cardinal virtues represent the surest way to leave habits and excuses behind and reconnect to your original nature. The more your life is harmonized with the four virtues, the less you’re controlled by the uncompromising ego.
The First Cardinal Virtue: Reverence for All Life
The first cardinal virtue manifests in your daily life as unconditional love and respect for all beings in creation. This includes making a conscious effort to love and respect yourself, as well as to remove all judgments and criticisms. Understand that you are a piece of God, and since you must be like what you came from, you are lovable, worthy, and Godlike. Affirm this as often as you can, for when you see yourself in a loving way, you have nothing but love to extend outward. And the more you love others, the less you need old excuse patterns, particularly those relating to blame.
The Second Cardinal Virtue: Natural Sincerity
This virtue manifests itself as honesty, simplicity, and faithfulness; and it’s summed up by the popular reminder to be true to yourself. Using an excuse to explain why your life isn’t working at the level you prefer isn’t being true to yourself—when you’re completely honest and sincere, excuses don’t even enter into the picture. The second virtue involves living a life that reflects choices that come from respect and affection for your own nature. Make truth your most important attribute. Walk your talk; that is, become sincere and honest in all that you say and do. If you find this to be a challenge, take a moment to affirm: I no longer need to be insincere or dishonest. This is who I am, and this is how I feel. When you know and trust yourself, you also know and trust the Divinity that created you. If you live from honesty, sincerity, and faithfulness to the callings of your spirit, you’ll never have occasion to use excuses.
The Third Cardinal Virtue: Gentleness
This virtue personifies one of my favourite and most frequently employed maxims: ‘When you have the choice to be right or to be kind, always pick kind.’ So many of your old thinking habits and their attendant excuses come out of a need to make yourself right and others wrong. When you practice this third virtue, you eliminate conflicts that result in your need to explain why you’re right. This virtue manifests as kindness, consideration for others, and sensitivity to spiritual truth.
Gentleness generally implies that you no longer have a strong ego-inspired desire to dominate or control others, which allows you to move into a rhythm with the universe. You cooperate with it, much like a surfer who rides with the waves instead of trying to overpower them. Gentleness means accepting life and people as they are, rather than insisting that they be as you are. As you practice living this way, blame disappears and you enjoy a peaceful world.
The Fourth Cardinal Virtue: Supportiveness
This virtue manifests in your life as service to others without any expectation of reward. Once again, when you extend yourself in a spirit of giving, helping, or loving, you act as God acts. As you consider the many excuses that have dominated your life, look carefully at them—you’ll see that they’re all focused on the ego: I can’t do this. I’m too busy or too scared. I’m unworthy. No one will help me. I’m too old. I’m too tired. Now imagine shifting your attention off of yourself and asking the universal mind How may I serve? When you do so, the message you’re sending is: I’m not thinking about myself and what I can or can’t have. Your attention is on making someone else feel better.
The greatest joy comes from giving and serving, so replace your habit of focusing exclusively on yourself and what’s in it for you. When you make the shift to supporting others in your life, without expecting anything in return, you’ll think less about what you want and find comfort and joy in the act of giving and serving.
The four cardinal virtues are a road map to the simple truth of the universe. To revere all of life, to live with natural sincerity, to practice gentleness, and to be in service to others is to replicate the energy field from which you originated.”
Mindfulness is about paying attention with flexibility, curiosity and openness. A mindful practice involves pausing your mind with awareness throughout your day and connecting to source energy within. The power of mindfulness is in the silence between your thoughts. Mindfully Yours with Love, Joy & Peace Always ~ John
Mindfulness involves learning to direct attention to our experience as it is unfolding, moment by moment, with open-minded curiosity and acceptance. Interventions which teach mindfulness are proliferating in all sectors, including most recently in education for students and staff. It is a skill that can be learned quickly and developed with practice. Here are some of the benefits of mindfulness for school staff that is based on growing evidence:
There are many reasons why the development of mindfulness for teachers and school staff is a welcome move. Mindfulness has the capacity to improve staff occupational wellbeing and job satisfaction, improve performance, and reduce the wasted expenditure and human misery represented by the many days of stress related sickness and attrition from the teaching profession. The evidence base for the beneficial impact of mindfulness on the young is growing rapidly and students clearly need teachers skilled in mindfulness to teach it.
Mindfulness intervention is demonstrably more effective when taught by those who can understand from within what their students are learning, and model and embody the particular qualities that mindfulness develops, such as flexibility, attention, open minded curiosity, kindliness, empathy, compassion, acceptance, and patience, in their everyday interactions with children. These are skills and attitudes that underlie all effective engagement with young people: mindfulness for school staff clearly has a central role to play in educational improvement.
Please feel welcome to contact me anytime for further information. Mindfully Yours with the next generation in focus.