'The Inside Track' Programme materials and resources
Session 2: The B of the ABC - Being with your experience
To be truly resilient you need to be able to stay with your experience more fully, so that you can understand and learn from it. This kind of resilience can be broken down into two main elements: cognitive and emotional.
Cognitive resilience: working with your thoughts
The ‘autopilot’ mode that evolved in our prehistoric past to help us avert danger has left a legacy in the human mind: a strong tendency to make sense of things and to build up an accurate picture of what’s going on. How your mind interprets a situation then influences how you feel:
Situation + Interpretation → Emotion
The same situation can give rise to a whole range of different emotions depending on what your mind makes of it. For many people the automatic interpretation that the mind most frequently selects can lead to unpleasant emotions. If this happens repeatedly those emotions become habitual, just like the thoughts that led there in the first place. A habitual emotion then itself reinforces the original mental pattern, leading to more difficult emotions. As human beings with a common heritage we tend to have similar kinds of patterns and rules in our mind. But as we are also unique individuals, each of us will have our particular ‘brand’ of habitual patterns and thoughts.
Loosening the grip of thoughts
We have become so accustomed to our thoughts and interpretations over many years of them being there that they can often feel like the absolute truth. But the actual truth is that thoughts are not facts. They are merely events happening in our minds: they come and go. This doesn’t mean that everything you think is wrong, or has no truth in it all. Rather, it’s a cue to help you start to relate to your thoughts in different ways.
Confronting unhelpful thoughts with cool logic often doesn’t work – it doesn’t get rid of them, but just puts them off for a while. The mindful way to loosen the grip of thoughts is to step outside them, and simply watch them come and go in their own natural way. This is far more effective.
This approach also allows you to develop naturally a different kind of thinking altogether: what we can call ‘reflection’. This is when you allow yourself to turn things over in your mind in a paced and timely way – not rushing to instant action, but taking as long as you need to come to a considered view or decision.
Emotional resilience: working with your emotions
This is about really turning towards your emotions and body sensations – including difficult ones – and seeing what happens when you give them space to just be there.
Trying to ‘fix’ difficult experiences doesn’t work
Life and work can include plenty of difficult experiences that can lead to difficult emotions. These unavoidable challenges are ‘first layer difficulties’. Your autopilot tries to fix, ignore or get rid of them automatically – using a limited range of techniques (e.g. working even harder; ignoring things; giving up). These can kind of work for a while, but eventually leave you feeling exhausted or inadequate. In other words it can create ‘second layer difficulties’ that are even more challenging that the first layer.
It’s better to turn towards unpleasant experiences
You can choose to relate differently to ‘first layer difficulties’ – including body sensations, emotions, and thoughts. This is about acceptance. It doesn’t mean resignation, giving up or suppressing your feelings. Rather it’s about noticing how things actually are – and then choosing to turn towards them and feel them more deeply in your body. It’s pressing the pause button – and learning to become more comfortable with a problem not yet being solved. This creates space to allow other more effective strategies to become apparent, in their own good time. It means you can prevent ‘second layer difficulties’ from arising. This process requires both courage and kindness towards yourself.
Acceptance applies to pleasant experiences as well
The same acceptance approach is useful with pleasant experiences. If you allow yourself to feel a pleasant sensation fully, two things can happen. First, you learn about appreciating simple pleasures that are available to you without the need for too much external stimuli. Second, you might notice how the mind wants to ‘hold on’ to pleasant experiences for as long as possible – and how this is part of the same phenomenon of wanting things to be other than they are.
‘Being with’ experience opens up intentional mode
The ‘Being with’ stage of the ABC model can be thought of as the bridge between autopilot and intentional mode. It’s a bit like a ‘resting’ phase, where you deliberately and consciously press the pause button – particularly when you’ve got caught up in striving too hard or over-thinking things. When you stop trying to solve things in this way, you give certain parts of your brain a vital rest.
It’s actually impossible to stop your thoughts or emotions, or to totally ‘clear your mind’. But it is possible to slow things down bit by bit. You won’t achieve this by suppressing or ignoring your thoughts and emotions: that will only set up a vicious circle. Instead, you first ground yourself in awareness of physical sensations. Then, as your mind starts to settle down, you can observe and explore your thoughts and feelings from the ‘safety’ of the body awareness you’ve built up. The remarkable thing about this approach is that the very act of mindfully observing your thoughts and feelings starts to change their nature and impact on you. But only if you give them time and space.
Home practice after session 2
1. Alternate each day between these two practices:
‘Being with your experience’ meditation – follow the instructions on the audio meditation
‘Movement meditation’ – follow the video / audio instructions.
2. Keep practising mini meditations
3. Keep doing a routine activity mindfully – like brushing your teeth, making a cup of tea, etc.
4. Events diary: Jot down some notes about what you noticed happening automatically after a few memorable events. Then reflect on what your wisest responses might be – what you may have learnt, or what you might try to do differently next time? You can write either in your workbook, or on plain paper using the suggested format to the right.
Guided meditations for download or streaming
Mindful movement video