'The Inside Track' Programme materials and resources
PART 1: Master Your Mind Inner leadership through mindfulness
Session 1: Introducing the ABC of Mindfulness
The bad news: life can be difficult
Life and work contain some problems that you simply can’t avoid. But often you may make things worse by how you react to the original problem. This is down to the ‘autopilot’ mode of the human mind, which evolved in humans’ prehistoric past to provide safety in a hostile environment. Humans share it with most animals. It’s like a problem-solving machine and is essential in carrying out routine tasks: you don’t have to work out how to do them every time. It’s like a ‘doing’ mode that keeps you alive and functioning.
But autopilot is not so useful when it comes to more subtle or complex human challenges (difficult emotions, a long to do list, etc.). The problem is that it often treats these in the same way as life-threatening emergencies (a wild animal chasing you). This sets in motion a rapid chain of events in the brain, nervous system and body – causing blood and energy to rush to the muscles, and stress hormones to be released. Your body can handle this once in a while. But if it happens too often, it can lead to a semi-permanent state of high alert and stress, and even exhaustion and burnout. When this happens, you can’t think straight – so you can’t actually ‘solve’ whatever the problem is.
To make matters worse, this failure to fix things can make you feel worse because it leads to negative and self-attacking thoughts. And then, because thoughts and moods are so closely linked, your mood may get worse, giving rise to more negative thoughts, then your mood gets even worse… and so you may find yourself in a downward spiral. This whole process happens at an unconscious level – you don’t mean to do this to yourself. It’s simply become a ‘mental habit’ to think and feel in this way. And it’s all because autopilot mode has been given too much power.
The good news: there is another way…the ABC of Mindfulness
The good news is that there is another way to relate to problems and difficult emotions: your ‘intentional’ mode. It’s the part of our brain that came last in human evolution, and it’s unique to human beings. It’s responsible for complex social interactions, advance planning, abstract thought and imagination.
When you’re in intentional mode, you feel calmer and in greater control. You don’t get overwhelmed by complicated challenges. It’s more of a ‘being’ mode – where you’re able to stand back from situations, see more clearly what’s going on, and come up with creative and effective solutions. The more this can happen, the more you can have true autonomy and agency in your life.
It’s possible to train oneself to step out of autopilot mode when that’s needed and into intentional mode. That’s what Part 1 of this guide is all about. The most effective training for this process is ‘mindfulness’. This is about simply noticing things, without judging them as good or bad; or trying to instantly change them – even if you don’t like them. The training involves our simple ABC model:
Awareness – of what is happening in your mind and body
Being with your experience – accepting what is already there and cannot be fixed immediately. This is about giving your brain and body time and space to understand and process your experience. This stage includes two key things:
Thoughts: loosening their grip by learning to step outside them, and simply watch them come and go in their own natural way
Emotions: noticing these in your body and allowing them, without them dominating. This is about cultivating acceptance.
Choosing wise responses – instead of reacting automatically, allowing helpful choices to emerge.
The A of the ABC - Awareness
In a narrow sense, mindfulness is about training the mind to pay attention… and to pay attention to your attention. In a broader sense, it's a different way of being: seeing things as they really are, and opening up the broadest perspectives.
The primary mindfulness training 'tool' is meditation. In the ‘Waking up to yourself’ meditation, you are training two skills:
1) Concentration or ‘absorption’. This is your ability to pay attention to your experience. You just notice what you notice. Don’t force your concentration, rather allow your mind to become naturally absorbed in the sensations.
2) Mindfulness. This is the ability to notice what is happening to your attention. Your mind will wander, that’s natural. Each time it happens, you just bring your attention back to your body/breath with kindness and patience.
You can mediate either sitting on an upright chair, on meditation cushions, or lying down. It's helpful to find a posture that supports a balance of relaxation and alertness. So it's good to ensure that your back is straight without being rigid; and to allow a sense of your weight being equally distributed on both sides of your body. It's best to experiment with a posture that works for you, and also not worry about getting it perfect.
The main aim of this practice is to become aware, and not to make relaxation happen. But if you are very agitated, stressed or restless, you can do some conscious deeper belly breathing to help you establish some calm. Some people also find that counting their breath helps them stay focused. So, you breathe in and breathe out, and say silently to yourself ‘One’, and so on up to ten, and then go back to one.
You don’t have to be completely still to practise mindfulness. The movement meditation:
Strengthens your ability to pay attention and to bring back your attention
Realigns many of the body’s muscles and joints, which helps to release stress in the body.
Some helpful pointers about how to approach this meditation:
Focus on the physical sensations
Notice how your mind relates to the sensations
See if you can find an ‘edge’ for each movement.
Starting to get to know yourself
Mindfulness is about seeing things more clearly – including yourself. As you practise more, you will see how your mind jumps about a lot from one thing to another, especially when it is either pushing something unpleasant away, or holding onto something pleasant. Start to notice this tendency. You can also start to notice the kinds of places your mind habitually tends to wander off to – and the kinds of thoughts, emotions and body sensations that accompany this. When you do this, you are really getting to know yourself – and that’s the foundation for making changes in your life.
Home practice after session 1
1. Alternate each day between these two practices:
‘Waking up to yourself’ meditation – follow the instructions on the audio meditation
‘Movement meditation’ – follow the video / audio instructions.
2. Mini meditations – several times a day take some brief time-outs with either of these two practices. You can use the audio at first. Eventually you will be able to guide yourself:
Three-step breathing space
3. Do a routine activity ‘mindfully’: Pick a routine activity that you do every day – for example, brushing your teeth. Instead of doing it on ‘autopilot’, try and get into more of a ‘being’ mode by bringing awareness to the physical sensations in your body. Notice anything coming into you through your senses: sounds, textures, light and colour, smells and so on. Bring curiosity and interest to how this routine activity feels different each time you do it.
4. Events diary: Jot down some notes about what you noticed happening in your mind and body after a few memorable events during the next few days. You can write either in your workbook, or on plain paper using the suggested format to the right.
Mindful movement video
Guided meditations for download or streaming