Real health #25 How meditation can help you to change your mindset and your habits

We are long past the days where meditation is seen as something completely hippy or “out there”. Meditation and mindfulness are becoming every day terms understood and practiced by students, parents and business executives alike. We are starting to understand the impact of rushing through our lives in a half-conscious, distracted state is no good for our health and happiness and embracing meditation and mindfulness as tools to help us to become more present and aware. Yesterday I wrote about how to change your habits you first need to change your mind and today I want to explain how meditation can help you to create this mindset change.

Most of us spend our days operating from our conditioned mind. Our sub-conscious has a huge set of stored thoughts, beliefs, emotional responses and programmed actions that we play on repeat and these conditioned patterns define the way that we show up in the world and our identity. If we want to change our habits we have to consciously think different thoughts which enable us to feel differently create new pathways in the brain. But this can be hard to do when we are constantly bombarded with the familiar thoughts and feelings that tell us who we are. If we try to think differently, we will be greeted with a barrage of opposing thoughts and intense feelings because we have moved outside of our familiar comfort zone. This can make changing your thoughts very difficult!

How can meditation help you to get past this and change your mindset? Firstly, meditation helps you to become aware of your current habitual thought patterns. Yes all of those annoying intrusive thoughts when you are trying to meditate can actually be a good thing. Pay attention to them and you will see where your mind is probably wandering throughout the rest of your day too, without you even realising. Maybe you are distracted by things you should be doing instead or maybe you find yourself criticising yourself for not being able to empty your mind and meditate “properly”. Maybe your mind tells you that you can’t do it, you are uncomfortable or that you always fail. Whatever it is, take note! This is your first glance at your natural state of being from the point of view of an observer.

You can also use meditation as a way to practice disrupting these unhelpful thoughts and letting them go. When you aren’t paying attention, one thought can lead to another and before you know it you can spiral down the rabbit hole of negative thinking. Our thoughts affect the way we feel and those emotions then affect the way we think. We can easily become stuck in unhelpful loops of thoughts and emotions without noticing. Maybe you have a memory of being left out at school and the thought brings up emotions of sadness and loneliness. Those feelings then trigger other memories where you have felt alone and the feelings of isolation grow and become overwhelming. Over time of thinking these thoughts and feeling these feeling you can start to identify with the state of being as a lonely, unloveable person and this becomes your identity. Meditation offers you the opportunity to become aware of these patterns and break the chain.

When we have negative thoughts about ourselves, there is usually another voice present in our mind which knows better. For example, I’m sure many of you have experienced body image issues at some point in your life. That voice that tells you you are not beautiful enough or thin enough is probably loud at times but there is always that quiet voice underneath which says you are good enough as you are. Meditation slows down your thoughts and allows this alternative voice to have it’s say and become louder. In other words you are able to observe a thought and how it makes you feel then choose to think a different one. Of course you can do this through out your day but the focused attention state of meditation makes it much easier to observe your thoughts and engage your conscious mind.

How to start a meditation practice

There are many different meditation techniques but as usual I suggest to keep it simple if you are starting out. All you need is a quiet place, a comfortable place to sit and a timer. You can practice in your living room, on your bed, in your garden or out in nature. There are no rules, just find a place where you feel safe to relax.

  1. Set your timer for anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes (tip set it on vibrate or on quiet so you aren’t jolted out of your practice)
  2. Sit comfortably in a cross-legged position or sit on a chair with your feet planted on the ground
  3. Close your eyes and start to become aware of your body sensations, noticing areas of comfort or pain, tension or tightness, hot or cold and the contact points between your body and the surface beneath you
  4. Bring your attention to your breath. Notice the sensations associated with the inhale and exhale, the rhythm and depth of your breath, whether you feel it deep in your belly or high in your chest
  5. Hold your attention on your breath. You can count your breaths if it helps you to concentrate or continue to focus on the sensations
  6. As thoughts arise, notice the emotions they trigger. Note whether they are helpful, unhelpful or neutral and then let them go. If you find yourself distracted, at the point you realise, let the thoughts go without judgement
  7. Continue like this until your time ends and then slowly open your eyes and start to bring movement back into your body
  8. Try to keep this relaxed, focused awareness with you as you go on with your day

With practice, meditation can also help you to access your sub-conscious mind and change your beliefs. I especially like combining meditation with affirmations by starting with a full body and mind relaxation and then listening to repeated phrases that reflect the new way I want to think. I have recommended them before but my absolute favourite guided meditations for changing your mindset are from The Mindful Movement. They have so many free videos on Youtube on all sorts of topics from healing your physical and emotional body, improving self-confidence to releasing fear and worry and letting go of the past. The video below is a great one if you are embarking on a new healthy lifestyle and trying to change your habits. Listen to the meditation before bed a few times a week and watch your confidence and belief in your ability to succeed soar!

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts experiences with meditation, especially if it has improved your life and helped you to build healthier habits.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January blog series, like this post and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again!

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power of the mind

Real health #24 To change your habits, first change your mind

Yesterday I shared about how taking consistent, simple actions can set you on the road to success when it comes to reaching your health goals. But we all know we are creatures of habit and often in the beginning behaviour change is hard! Our brains are designed in such a way that all of our past experiences shape who we are today. We wake up in the morning and after a split second all our familiar thoughts come flooding back. We realise who we are, where we are and our mind already has an idea of how the day will go. We get out of bed, have our familiar morning routine and get on with our day, mostly in autopilot.

This isn’t a bad thing, it’s actually our brains’ way of making things easier for us. It allows us to go about our day without thinking too much, following the familiar path that we have created through our habits. But what happens when you want to change those habits and your life? If you want to act differently, you have to start to think differently first. In order to start eating healthier you have to let go of the image of you as an unhealthy person who hates vegetables and start to see yourself as the type of person who loves to nourish their body with good food. To become someone who enjoys exercise and keeping fit, you have to stop telling yourself that you are lazy, unfit and that you hate exercise. Or if you need to gain weight for your health you need to let go of the image of yourself as the skinny one or the fit one and start to embrace a new version of yourself that is more relaxed and free around food and exercise.

In short you want to create a new identity for yourself that aligns with the positive changes you want to make. You want to see yourself as the type of person who just does these things without even thinking about it, even if you aren’t there right now. We are all chattering away to ourselves most of the day without even realising it and these thoughts create our identity. To change this idea of yourself, start to think about the type of thoughts that your ideal self would have, then start telling yourself those things! I don’t mean just thinking them half-heartedly and deep down thinking otherwise but really feel and believe this as a possible reality and take actions based on those thoughts and feelings. It might feel unnatural at first but over time the nerve patterns in your brain will be hard wired and the new thoughts will become your default.

Whether you think of this as affirmations or you focus on the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy theory that the way you think affects the way you feel and the way you feel affects your actions, it’s the same idea that your thoughts become your reality. I have seen this play out in my own life with one of the biggest health challenges I have had – overcoming insomnia. The hardest thing was that after months of struggling with sleep, my brain was programmed to expect that I would sleep badly and wake up during the night. I would go to bed telling myself “I’m going to have such a good sleep” or “tonight I will sleep like a baby” but my sub-conscious mind didn’t believe it. Deep down I believed that things would be the same as always and that is how the same pattern ended up playing out for years!

I would also wake up in the morning and the first thought I would have would be about the time and how much sleep I got. I was so focused on my sleep that I let the amount of sleep I got dictate my energy levels and mood. The interesting thing was that during a period of letting go of obsessing about my sleep, I realised that some days I slept well and still felt exhausted whereas other days I slept less and actually felt more energised. I started to tell myself that my sleep quality and my happiness were two seperate things. Once I let go of the expectation, this gave me permission to be happy even when I slept badly and I actually started to feel better (and over time sleep better too!). Implementing this fully is a work in progress for me but it was mind blowing. And the same thing can be applied to other changes you want to make in your life too.

If you already predict the outcome that you won’t like healthy food or that you will fail at exercise then this is most likely what you are going to see happen for you. Instead, try giving yourself the chance to explore and genuinely see how you feel. Let yourself imagine the possibility that you will enjoy these things and be successful! If you’re interested in learning more about how to change your mindset and build habits I definitely recommend reading Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Joe Dispenza and The Power of Habit by Charles DuHigg. If you are wondering HOW you can possibly change your thoughts and start to access your sub-conscious mind, stay tuned for tomorrow’s post where I will be sharing how meditation can help you to change your thoughts as well as how to start a meditation practice.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts on changing your mindset to reach your health goals.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January blog series, like this post and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, pleaseĀ contact meĀ for information on the health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again!

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