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Dr Chantal Hofstee is a clinical psychologist who works in both private and corporate sectors. She combines Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques with research-based mindfulness training to equip her clients with easy-to-use skills that transform their lives. Through her company Renew Your Mind, she and her team provide mindfulness courses and business training to enable people to take control of stress, improve focus, solve problems and become more innovative. Find out more about Chantal at: www.mindfulnessontherun.com

To Pieter,
Thank you.

Contents

Introduction: Mindfulness for busy people

Chapter 1: Understanding your brain

Chapter 2: Introducing mindfulness

Chapter 3: Mindfulness and emotions

Chapter 4: Mindful connection to others

Chapter 5: The power of thoughts

Chapter 6: Changing stressful thoughts

Chapter 7: Mantra

Chapter 8: The mind-body connection

Chapter 9: Mindfulness for creating happiness and success

Chapter 10: The beginner’s mind

Chapter 11: Mindfulness for improving relationships

Chapter 12: Mindfulness in conflict

Chapter 13: Mindfulness and self-compassion

Concluding thoughts

 

References

Index

Introduction:

MINDFULNESS FOR BUSY PEOPLE

When was the last time you were not busy? How often do you feel stressed? Imagine that you could navigate your most challenging times with a mind that was calm and focused and filled with positive thoughts — what would be different?

Would you feel better? Stay calm when things don’t go according to plan? Be more effective at work? Would your relationships be different? Would you be kinder to yourself?

It’s easy to see stress as a normal part of life. But it does not have to be that way. I used to feel tired and stressed most of the time. My life felt like a never-ending race to do more, do better and tick the boxes on my to-do list, only to then add new things to it. Negative chatter and worries crowded my thoughts and I needed to achieve more and more to feel good about myself. All of this made it hard to be present and enjoy life.

I am grateful that those days are gone, and I have mindfulness practice to thank for it.

Mindfulness is very effective in reducing stress, and it doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming; you don’t have to go away on a retreat or sit still for 20 minutes a day to calm your busy mind. Mindfulness can be simple and practical. In this book I will show how you can practice mindfulness on the run by fitting it into your everyday activities so you can enjoy a busy life without a busy mind.

Research shows that mindfulness effectively:

Reduces Increases
Stress Physical health
Anxiety Emotion regulation
Depression Productivity
Impulsivity Overall wellbeing and happiness

These techniques changed me from a stressed and anxious over-committer to a content and mindful partner, parent and entrepreneur — and they could do the same for you.

This book will:

Give you insights into the functioning of your brain.

Help you understand the origins of your unhelpful patterns that cause stress.

Teach you practical mindfulness techniques that you can use in the midst of busy days.

Each chapter has a section called ‘Insight inspiration’. It contains questions that are designed to help you relate the theory to your personal life. This creates powerful insights, which increase the effectiveness of the mindfulness exercises. You might want to use a notebook or journal to write down your answers to the questions in this section.

To reach results more quickly and easily, I recommend the ‘Mindfulness on the Run’ CD or download. It has recordings of the mindfulness exercises you’ll find in this book. This way you don’t have to remember the steps, you just turn on the track of the technique you want to practise and hear my voice guiding you through the steps. Your practice couldn’t be easier.

You can purchase the CD or download it from our website: www.mindfulnessontherun.com

Today I am a clinical psychologist. But I first discovered mindfulness practice years ago, when I was a student, and it became a very effective stress-reduction tool through my university days. Years later, however, I found myself highly stressed, trying to juggle my roles as a partner, a parent and a principal in a busy psychology practice. I just couldn’t find the time to keep up my mindfulness practice, which led to a dilemma:

You need mindfulness practice the most when you are busy and stressed, but during those times you cannot go on a retreat or set aside 20 minutes a day to meditate — you are simply too busy!

My life was not going to change any time soon, so I had two options: either give up practising mindfulness, or create a way of practising mindfulness that would fit in with my busy lifestyle. This led me to develop the ‘Renew Your Mind’ method: mindfulness techniques that are practical and highly effective, yet do not require you to sit still and meditate but instead can be done ‘on the run’.

Let me share a real-life example of how I use mindfulness on the run to combat stress. Just recently I was packing my things in the morning, and I had exactly 20 minutes before I had to leave the house. I was going to drop off my two-year-old son at his nanny’s house and then calmly and mindfully make my way to the university where I was invited to teach mindfulness to a group of 32 students.

At the time our house was being renovated, so we were staying with friends. As I was preparing for the day my son was watching a Thomas the Tank Engine DVD in my friend’s beautiful home office. When all my things were packed, I went to get him — and found him drawing on her expensive, white office chair with a black marker. He could see the horror on my face and in an attempt to make me feel better he pointed at the drawing and said, ‘Mama, Thomas the train!’ I took a deep breath and suppressed the urge to scream ‘NO!!!!!!’ I calmly took the pen away from him and said, ‘Drawings on paper not on chairs, please.’

I tried to clean the chair with soap and water but the thick black stripes wouldn’t come off. Then I remembered I had read that milk can help remove pen from fabrics, so I poured a tiny bit of milk on a cloth and tried to clean the chair, but with no result. So, I went to the kitchen again to try the soap one more time. At this point I was already five minutes late.

When I ran back into the office, I discovered that my son had emptied the entire bottle of milk on the white, fabric chair! Half of the milk was on the chair and the other half had ended up on the beige, woollen carpet. Before I knew it a loud No!’ came from my mouth, which resulted in him crying as I rushed to the kitchen to get towels.

At this point I was 10 minutes late, had a crying child and a bottle of milk spilled on an expensive chair and carpet in my friend’s home office. And there it was — the adrenaline and cortisol were kicking my stress response into gear. I could feel my breathing changing, my heart rate increasing and tunnel vision kicking in. Realizing that going into stress mode was not going to help me, I used mindfulness to calm myself down. I focused on my breathing and calmed myself so I could make a plan. I called the nanny and asked her to come over and pick up my son. Then I comforted my son while trying to clean up the mess. When the nanny arrived I was 20 minutes late but I’d done the best I could to clean the mess. I jumped in the car and put the university address into my GPS system.

Then the thoughts came … What have I done? The milk is going to smell so bad. It will leave a big stain. My friend is going to be so upset! Knowing that there is absolutely no point, or benefit, to stressing out, I calmed my brain down with mindfulness of the senses: looking at the views, listening to the sounds and feeling the steering wheel, the pedals, the seat.

Feeling relatively calm again — knowing that I could still make it to the lecture on time — I noticed that the GPS had directed me somewhere unfamiliar. I stopped the car to check the address. Yes, I had put in the right address …

Ten minutes later I found myself in a part of town that was definitely not right. With just five minutes until the lecture was due to start I called the college to confirm the location and discovered I was 20 minutes away from it! Despair, frustration and pointless anger towards my phone kicked in. Again, I realized that this would not help me, it would only make me drive around like a mad woman, which isn’t good for anyone. So, I used the beginner’s mind technique to calm myself down again. I focused on the facts: I am in the car, driving to the college. The GPS brought me to the wrong place, but I know where I am going now and the students will be informed I am on my way. This worked for a little while, until different thoughts started to creep in: They are all going to think I am useless and that I don’t care about being on time. They will never ever invite me back. No one will listen to my lecture. How can they take me seriously when I can’t even manage to show up on time? And by the way, I have ruined my friend’s carpet!

My inner critic always picks excellent moments to show up! But I knew I could tackle it with the self-inquiry technique. After working through each of my negative thoughts, asking myself if I actually knew each was 100 per cent true, I came to realize that none of them was. While my situation was not ideal, it was not the disaster my inner critic had tried to convince me it was.

When I finally arrived, I was calm again; to keep calm I was mindful of my posture, facial expressions and my breathing. The class was happy to see me, and I started my lecture with a story of stress.

’Just image that you are getting ready to deliver a lecture for a group of 32 students and your son is watching a Thomas the Tank Engine DVD while you are getting ready …’

This example shows that no matter how much mindfulness practice you do, you cannot eradicate stressful and challenging situations from your life; there is no escaping them. Mindfulness is a way to train your brain to become better able to cope with these situations. It gives you a buffer that prevents your stressful thoughts or negative emotions from hijacking your brain and taking control.

This is mindfulness on the run.

Chapter 1:

UNDERSTANDING
YOUR BRAIN

When you want to make changes to the way you think and feel, it is important to understand the very thing that is making you think and feel: your brain. Your brain is your most important asset, a power station that connects your every thought, feeling and action. Without your brain, there is no you. Yet people tend to take better care of their teeth, their hair and even their car than their brain. Understanding how your brain works helps you to take care of it and make it work better.

Your brain is made up mostly of water, about 10 per cent fats and 100,000 miles of blood vessels. The brain’s basic building blocks are called neurons, and your brain has around 100 billion of them, each with between 1000 and 10,000 connections with other neurons. Information is passed along these connections through chemical messages and electrical impulses. These connections are called neural pathways and I will also refer to them as pathways or roads within the brain.

Neuroplasticity

Scientists used to think that the brain is fixed and hardwired by the time we become an adult. Research in only the past decade tells us that this is simply not true. The brain is flexible and changes throughout our lives, and this process is called neuroplasticity.

You can think of your brain as a dynamic power station, with many neural pathways that light up each time you think, feel or do something. The more a pathway is used, the thicker and stronger it becomes. This makes it easy for your brain to travel that road. If you make a conscious effort to think, feel or do something differently, your brain begins to carve out a new road, which means a new pathway is established.

Brain training

Your brain is constantly changing and adapting based on your experiences. Changing old habits and creating new ones comes with directed and repeated practice of the new way of thinking, feeling and doing. By practising the mindfulness techniques described in this book, you will literally rewire your brain. The techniques function as a circuit breaker that stops old, unhelpful patterns from being reinforced. They allow you to introduce and build new, more helpful roads. By doing this over and over again, the new pathways will become strong and take over. Eventually this new way of thinking, feeling or doing becomes second nature.

This process is not very different from physical exercise. Let’s take push-ups as an example. Every single time you do a push-up you are changing something in the structure of your muscles. The more you practise, the stronger the muscles and easier the exercise becomes.

It takes six to eight weeks of daily practice for a new way of thinking, feeling or doing to form a strong new neural pathway. The good news is that even if you don’t practise on a daily basis, you will start to notice changes within just a few weeks. The only requirement is that you do the exercises regularly.

The learning process has the following four phases.

Phase Category Old pathway New pathway
1 unaware unskilled existing not existing
2 consciously unskilled dominant existing
3 consciously skilled existing dominant
4 unaware skilled not existing existing

PHASE 1: UNAWARE UNSKILLED

When you decide to start practising mindfulness you are motivated to make changes. For most people at this stage, the desire to feel different is what drives them. When it comes to skills, at this stage you are unaware unskilled because you haven’t yet been introduced to the mindfulness skills. Your old pathways and habits are strong and no new pathways have been built — yet.

PHASE 2: CONSCIOUSLY UNSKILLED

In the early days of your mindfulness practice, your brain begins to form new pathways. It requires effort and conscious attention for your brain to build and use these new pathways because the old pathways are still dominant and therefore easier to use. In this phase it can be a real challenge to keep practising!

PHASE 3: CONSCIOUSLY SKILLED

After some weeks of doing the exercises you will notice that your practice becomes a lot easier. New pathways have been established and are strengthening. At some point the new pathways will become the dominant ones. But be aware — in times of stress, the old pathways can still take over quite quickly!

PHASE 4: UNAWARE SKILLED

In the last phase of retraining your brain, the old pathways have become dormant or have disappeared. New pathways have become ‘roads well travelled’. Your practice is still important to keep the roads maintained, but you will notice you are practising mindfulness without conscious effort. You have become a more mindful person. At this point, a mindful way of thinking, feeling and doing has become second nature.

The green brain and the red brain

The way your perceptions, thoughts and emotions work and interact is quite complex. They are constantly changing and consist of many different layers. Some are part of your conscious mind, while others are part of your subconscious mind. At any given moment, when you peel away the different layers of thoughts and emotions all the way to the bottom of your subconscious mind, there are two options: your brain either feels safe or unsafe. Throughout this book I will refer to the unsafe state as the red-brain state and the safe state as the green-brain state. All of your thoughts, feelings and actions in that moment will come from either the safe (green) or unsafe (red) brain state.

There are various levels of safe or unsafe — you can picture this as a spectrum: at one end is the extremely safe green brain, and at the other end is the extremely unsafe red brain. Where your brain is on the spectrum depends on the situation, as well as your current thoughts.

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THE RED BRAIN

The red-brain state is a state of stress. You can see the state of stress as a fire alarm. Stress is activated when the mind perceives a threat, this activates the fight-or-flight response, which is actually very useful when there is a physical threat. It is, after all, what keeps you alive when you are faced with danger. When the fight-or-flight response kicks in, your brain and body are in the best possible state to deal with a threat, hence ensuring the greatest chance of survival.

The red brain can be triggered when there is no actual physical threat. Your brain reacts to how safe or unsafe you perceive a situation to be. Therefore, your thoughts are the most important factor in determining how your brain assesses a situation. For example, if you fear public speaking and say to yourself, ‘I can’t do this’ or, ‘This will be a disaster’, your brain perceives the situation as unsafe and the stress response is activated. In this state the hormones cortisol and adrenaline are released, creating the following effects.

Physical effects:

Tunnel vision

Shallow breathing

Stopped or slowed digestion

Increased blood pressure and blood sugar

Increased heart rate

Suppressed immune system

Tensed muscles

Psychological effects:

Judgmental and black-and-white thinking

Feeling stressed

Narrow or fixed point of view

Unkind manner

Disconnection from others

The consequences of these effects include:

Overlooking information

Referring back to old patterns

Bad decision-making and prioritizing

Approaching problems with familiar solutions

Miscommunications

Decreased compassion and empathy

Having the fight-or-flight option available is essential for you to be able to deal with extreme situations — such as being attacked by a snake, running from a fire or seeing a child run onto the road. When you are running from a fire you need tunnel vision, tensed muscles, increased heart rate and blood pressure because these things help you to move as quickly as you can. On the other hand, being kind and considerate is not a priority — you simply don’t have time to think about how your grandmother is doing when you are running for your life! It is all about survival, and unnecessary functions, including your immune system and digestive system, are put on hold.

The state of stress is not helpful at all when you are worrying about a deadline, a messy house or a difficult conversation. Because of all the symptoms listed above, the red brain makes it more difficult for you to deal with non-threatening situations in a good way.

Another reason the red brain should be reserved for emergency situations only is that spending too much time in the state of stress damages both your brain and your body. It is designed to get you safely through extreme circumstances and then return to a state of calm. Once the snake has left, your system can calm down again. When the fire is put out the system can relax. The problem with stress caused by non-threatening situations is that there is often no calming down. When you are in the state of stress too often or stay there for too long you risk ongoing negative physical consequences such as high blood pressure and heart failure and psychological problems such as burnout, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

If you want to live a healthy and balanced life, the red-brain state does not have to be eliminated but should be reserved for emergency situations only.

THE GREEN BRAIN

The green-brain state, or as I like to call it ‘calm and present’, is on the opposite end of the spectrum. In this brain state the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline are reduced and the ‘relationship hormone’ oxytocin is released, stimulating the following responses.

Physical effects:

Wide vision and flexible attention

Deep breathing

Optimal digestion

Reduced blood pressure and blood sugar

Reduced heart rate

Optimal immune system

Relaxed muscles

Psychological effects:

Non-judgmental thinking

Feeling calm and in control

Seeing the bigger picture

Being kind

Connecting with others

The consequences of these effects include:

Eye for detail as well as the bigger picture

Good decision-making and prioritizing

Creative problem-solving

Social connection

More effective communication

Increased compassion and empathy

Spending time in the green-brain state is essential for your physical health because it is in this state that your breathing, heart rate and blood pressure are able to find their natural baserate levels. Essentially, your digestive system and immune system work at their best in this state.

In the green-brain state, defenses come down and all the resources in your brain become available to you. Creativity and flexibility are unlocked and you are able to see the bigger picture. It is in this brain state that you can make good decisions and be truly effective and productive. In this state you will also be able to relax and process events and emotions. On top of that, the release of oxytocin immediately increases compassion, empathy and the desire to connect with others. This hormone is the fuel for our relationships and is essential for wellbeing.

THE ORANGE BRAIN

The neutral, middle ground on the spectrum is the state of achieving, which I will refer to as the orange brain. This brain state is the ‘go-go-go state’, in which you plan and think about goals, and then set about working to achieve them. These goals can be big, such as building a house, or they can be small, such as simply posting a letter. This brain state is an area that falls between the green zone and the red zone on the spectrum. In this state you are telling your brain it will make it to the green zone once this or that task is completed. The orange brain does not have the negative symptoms of the red brain, nor does it have the benefits of the green brain. Because it is so goal-orientated, you can easily move from the orange to the red zone when something prevents you from reaching your goal.

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It is important to keep in mind that these states fall on a spectrum, and we can move very quickly from one zone to another — sometimes within a split second! Also, there is nothing wrong with any of the brain states. Red, orange and green all serve their own purpose, and there is a time and place for each. Understanding how they affect your health, feelings and behaviour can be very useful because it helps make sense of how you live your life. The goal of mindfulness is not to block any of these states; it is to allow you to take greater control of the state your brain is in.

Productivity myth

Many people spend most of their time going back and forth between the state of achieving (orange brain) and the state of stress (red brain). Being aware and present (green brain) is reserved for special occasions like holidays and is often associated with being lazy and unproductive.

This pattern makes sense because there is a small sub-state that is highly addictive and it is called success. When you reach your goal, the chemicals dopamine and serotonin are released, making you feel great. The sub-state of success can make it easy to get hooked into the pattern: achieving-stress-success. The problem with this pattern is that your happiness becomes tied to reaching your goals, instead of happiness coming from life in general. When your happiness is restricted in this way, it is fleeting and before you know it you are back in the stress or achieving state in order to reach your next goal. This is an unsustainable pattern and ultimately leads to burnout, because we simply cannot function well without having enough green-brain time.

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Research tells us that the belief held by many in this busy, modern world that stress increases productivity is simply not true. When you operate from a state of stress you are cognitively slower, make more mistakes, you overlook details and you are less likely to perform well. You might feel as if you are doing well, but if you look at it objectively your performance is likely to be poorer than it would be if you were in the calm and present state. In a state of stress you might work harder, but in a state of calm you work smarter.

Working from a state of stress is like driving your car with the handbrake on: you might get from A to B, but it takes a lot of effort and in the long run it does damage.

Spending time in the green-brain state is not a luxury; it is the key to achieving optimal brain activity. Being in this brain state is incredibly healthy — reduced blood pressure and blood sugar, reduced heart rate, optimal digestion and immune system — and allows your body the opportunity to restore itself. Research shows that the green brain is also the ideal brain state for you to be effective and productive because you can see the bigger picture and have all your brain resources available to you, thus allowing your brain to function at its best. When you operate from this brain state you are at your most productive, effective, efficient, flexible and creative, so things seem to come more easily, sometimes even effortlessly.

Spending time in the green-brain state is like servicing your brain, taking care of it to make sure everything runs smoothly. It’s just like servicing your car regularly because otherwise it might break down.

When you understand how the brain works and what the different brain states can do for you, prioritizing green-brain activity just makes sense.

What controls the brain states?

When there is a real physical threat, your system immediately moves to the red zone. However, there is another powerful trigger that can set off the red, orange or green brain: your thoughts. Your brain uses your thoughts as cues to determine how safe or unsafe a situation is, and based on this assessment it will activate one of the three states. Underneath all the rational thinking, your brain perceives worries and judgments as threats because they communicate to your brain that something is not right, and the brain then moves to the orange or the red zone.

For example, if you worry about your finances, the thought, ‘I don’t have enough money’ could come up. Your brain sees this thought as a signal for a potential threat and the red brain is activated. Your thoughts keep coming back to the perceived lack of money (fixed point of view) and you lose sight of the bigger picture of your financial situation, stopping you from prioritizing or coming up with creative solutions (bad decision-making). On a physical level you might lose your appetite (slowed digestion), your breathing becomes shallow and your heart rate, blood pressure and blood