Step One: Observe (reading time: 7 mins)
Let’s start exploring things. After years of various training, running therapy sessions and workshops, and most importantly experiencing my own health challenges, I find the following helpful when navigating through challenges and personal evolution in general.
Step One: Observe
Step Two: Reflect
Step Three: Adjust
Before you decide on where you want to go with your wellbeing and what you want to address, I’d advise pouring a cup of herbal, taking a long, slow breath and writing down (or simply thinking about) you as a whole.
It might seem obvious what you want to address – it could be something to do with your fitness, your anxiety, your feelings of disconnect, your relationship, your career/life’s calling, or it could be that you simply want to delve head first into the wonderful world of inner peace and the curious wisdom that comes with it (meditation, spiritual stuff etc).
The thing is, if we address things from one angle only we are often missing the most valuable way of getting to where we would like to be.
So what do these stages entail? I don’t want to launch a cognitive assault on you so I’ve broken these important steps into 3 blogs and will be referring to them through much of my writing.
We will start with Observation.
You may have noticed your mind is the boss. Sounds ridiculous, but you are actually not your mind. Your mind makes you think you are your mind but you’re actually a lot more than that. The mind is there so you can function, yes, but it’s only one dimension of you. The mind’s role is to think, to process, to filter, to imagine – it’s a miracle. But it’s also a monkey (as described by Jay Shetty). It can lead you in circles, down dark alleyways and into a right muddle. Our minds are simply responding to an external world, which (in our current time) is not designed for us to navigate with ease. The seas are choppy out there people, so we need to polish our compasses.
What has this got to do with observation? Well the first step of step one (traditionally named step 1a) is:
Observe your inner dialogue. Truthfully. What are you thinking?!
Tracking our thoughts can be very revealing and I don’t just mean the obvious ones, I mean the ones which you don’t even hear. They’re usually the ones which can potentially be causing the most trouble – the ones which bully you, bully others, damage your confidence, make you believe in restrictions and instil doubt and fear.
They are so deeply ingrained you don’t consciously hear them any more – it’s like when you can’t smell your new perfume a week after wearing it – they get deeper into your being and become a part of your regular thought patterns. The more these thoughts occur, the stronger the neurological pathway becomes – like a path through the woods getting more worn the more it’s walked along.
Practical activity: Keep a notepad by your side throughout the day, or use an app on your phone, to write down things you are saying to yourself. It doesn’t matter if it’s repeated thoughts – that’s how you discover the thought patterns. I’m talking about thoughts as words here but thoughts are weird, they can even be more of a feeling than an articulate sentence. For example:
- This will make me look stupid
- There’s that cute dog I see every time I walk to the shops
- She’s nice
- He’s judging me
- They think I’m rubbish at this
- I can’t handle this
- Wow, I love (insert person/thing)
- I wish I could do/have that
- I wish I was better at this
- That’s unfair, I’m losing out here
- This will happen
- This won’t happen
- I can’t…
- They’ve hurt me
- I’m not being heard
- There’s no time, I have to rush
- I can’t cope
- I’m confused
Of course, we think many potentially constructive thoughts as well as potentially obstructive ones. I’m highlighting the more obstructive ones here as these are the ones which you may want to become aware of as a means to later adjusting them (step 3).
Also, we think millions of thoughts in a day. This isn’t about trying to capture them all and then do some kind of cleansing of all the ‘negative’ ones, in a bid to stop them draining you of your wellbeing. This isn’t about sanitizing the mind – it’s about observing patterns and the stories we are weaving. As these thoughts collect over the hours/days/weeks/months/years you can see how they may grind away and potentially lead to certain beliefs, decisions and actions. That’s where they materialise into reality and potentially hold you back.
As a side note here, I try and tread carefully when it comes to the idea of ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ anything…life is chaotic and messy, it’s not often clear cut. Many perceived negatives can be there for a good reason and lead us away from certain things or towards other things which ultimately can be beneficial.
The second step of observation is:
Take a closer look at your habits.
Moving on from the mind, it’s also helpful to observe your habits. We all need habits to survive – if we didn’t have habits, we’d struggle to have any structure and repeat behaviours which keep us alive. What tends to spring to mind with the word habit is: smoking, drinking, drugs, eating certain foods, biting your nails…you get the picture. But just like thoughts, we have many obvious habits and we have hidden ones too.
A habit may be clenching our jaws and bad posture when we are working through emails. It may be communicating with someone in the same stale way every day. It may be breathing in a certain way, in a certain situation. It could be something cute like wrinkling your nose when you see a sausage dog. What habits have you developed over time which may be influencing your wellbeing? Start to observe yourself during the day. Is it something you’re doing, saying or maybe reacting to?
The third piece of the observation puzzle is:
What are you doing with your day?
Next let’s talk about lifestyle. What choices are you making and are you making them consciously or are they old habits, or the products of old thought patterns? Tip here – be honest with yourself. Completely. You might worry about doing this as it could mean facing up to something which you know will be hard to change. You might not even be conscious of that feeling – it could be buried so deeply that there are layers of defence, denial, apathy and skewed beliefs which cement them in.
You’re only accountable to yourself when it comes to this. It’s not rocket science either so I’m not going to spell out what we all need in the activity and nutrition department (this is where external information is helpful, but a whole other book’s worth of writing, so start with the common sense stuff and what feels right). It’s not just about these two mega-factors of wellbeing though, it’s about sleep and the balance of relaxation and stimulation.
Practical exercise: A (peaceful) mega cute alien lands in your back garden and looks up at you with big sad (and slightly unnerving) eyes. It tells you that in order to survive you need to feed it the best possible food and ensure it gets plenty of fresh air and exercise for 5 days (so it’s a bit like a tamagotchi, but a grey one with long fingers and a big head).
He needs to have plenty of sleep, have a good rhythm of work/a purpose to keep him occupied and relaxation to keep him calm. What would you honestly choose for him? Sometimes it’s easier to look after others than ourselves. But my main point here is that we know the answers without having to look outside of ourselves (well at least the basics). Oh, and the caveat is that if you send him back to his planet unwell or worse, his people will take their revenge by obliterating the earth – so a lot hangs on this.
I’ve digressed so will leave it there for now. Next time…reflection.