TOBY MIZZI, COUNSELLING PSYCHOLOGIST, STRONG MINDS PSYCHOLOGY
So far in our mindfulness meditation practices, we have focussed on mindfulness of breathing, mindfulness of body (body scan) and a mindful eating exercise for the Easter weekend last week. Given that we have focused on breathing and the body previously, I thought it would be appropriate to focus this week on our thoughts. Our thoughts are often a source of great discomfort and distress, with the brain constantly chatting away thinking about the past, the future, our worries, memories, attitudes, judgements and so on. There is often an assumption that we have a lot more control over our thoughts than we actually do. Sure, we can influence and control our thoughts to some degree but we often fall into the trap of struggling with our thoughts. Trying thinking about a really significant memory that has a lot of personal meaning to you. Now, try and delete or remove that memory. You see? It cannot be done. If I tell you NOT to think about an elephant, you are very likely to do the exact opposite. We have less control over thoughts than we often believe.
Learning to apply mindfulness and just notice our thoughts without judging them or reacting to them is an important skill to develop. Developing our capacity to not attach to our thoughts can lead to an improved sense of well-being and less psychological distress. The aim of this activity is to help you start developing that capacity, by bringing a sense of mindfulness to our stream of thoughts.
Time: 5 minutes
Body: lotus position, sitting comfortably in a chair, or lying down if you wish
Technique: once you have chosen a comfortable position, it is helpful to start with a brief focus on your breathing just to help centre and ground yourself. Having done so, bring your awareness to your mind where your thoughts originate. During this exercise, we want to notice the various thoughts that come to mind. Again, these might be thoughts about the past, the future, memories, worries, images, words, ideas, and contemplation on what to have for dinner tonight. You may even notice judgements, such as “doing this is silly”. As you complete this activity, visualise a conveyor belt that is in constant motion. Do your best to visualise one as clearly as possible. If you struggle with visualisation, just imagine a thick, black line constantly moving (like a conveyor belt) in your mind. Now, each time you notice a thought, imagine picking up the thought and placing it on the conveyor belt/line so that it just passes by. There is no need for judgement (“that is a good thought” or “that is a bad thought”). We simply notice the thought, pick it up and place it down. You may notice that sometimes you get caught up in your thoughts. That is OK. When you notice this, just pick up the thought and put it down. Keep doing so for around 5 minutes (more if you wish) before finishing.
Part of the aim of this activity is to build your capacity to be aware of the many different types of thoughts you may have. It also helps practice your mindfulness by bringing your full awareness to the activity of your mind. Each time you notice a different thought, you pick it up and place it on the conveyor belt. As an alternative, you can imagine a stream of water in your mind instead of a conveyor belt. If you visualise a stream instead, imagine that each thought becomes a leaf which you gently place in the stream to allow it to float away.
About the Author:
Toby shares his time between the Strong Minds Psychology team, Swinburne University, and his young family. He is passionate about providing individualised support, and empowering people to enhance their mental health. Toby provides counselling and therapy for children, adolescents, adults and couples – helping with depression, anxiety, self-esteem, relationship difficulties, grief & loss, and family conflict. Mindful Mondays will be a regular blog on our website and Facebook page.
If you would like to discuss how the Strong Minds Psychology team can support your mental health needs, complete the form below or call us on 0417 389 941.