Session 3: The C of the ABC - Choosing wise responses
In the previous section, we saw how noticing and allowing ‘first layer difficulties’ can often prevent ‘second layer difficulties’. This boils down to observing your thoughts coming and going, and practising acceptance of your emotions. But this is not always the end of the mindfulness journey. In fact, perhaps the most significant thing that mindfulness teaches is to distinguish between things that you can’t change and things that you do have some control over. If it’s the first, by practising acceptance you may realise that you can stop wasting energy trying to change things. But if it’s the second, then you may need to develop clarity to work out what action to take, and then resolve to follow through on that. This is all about Choice – the C of our ABC model.
Everything you’ve been learning and practising so far is ultimately directed towards your ability to make wise choices. Someone who is resilient makes wise choices and someone who makes wise choices becomes more resilient by doing so. Often, by practising the A and the B of the ABC model you will find that the wisest choice naturally emerges when you need it. But it’s also possible to consciously cultivate a range of positive mental habits to enhance your ability to make wise choices in your daily life and work.
Developing critical thinking skills
Life and work are comprised of an endless series of choices and decisions that require us to process information – to think. To state the obvious, life goes better if we can think critically and clearly. There are several ways you can consciously cultivate higher quality thinking.
Reflection not rumination
There are two kinds of thinking. The first is rumination, when we’re stuck in autopilot mode. It’s unproductive and repetitive, and will often trigger challenging emotions, especially fear. It’s easy to get stuck here and to make poor decisions as a result. The second is reflection, when we can engage our intentional mode. It’s more flexible and productive, allowing you to step back and see things more clearly, without getting caught up strong emotional responses.
The first step in making the transition into a more reflective mode is to notice that you are currently caught up in autopilot. Common signs are circular thinking, rushing or straining, and body tension. Next, simply stop what you’re doing and take a moment away from the task at hand. If time allows, take a proper break. Even a few minutes’ pause may be enough. The three-step breathing space is an ideal way in. When you feel more settled, allow your awareness to reflect calmly on whatever needs your attention. The more you can do this, the more it can become a new positive mental habit.
The perspective spectrum: flexibility of intentional mode
Some activities in life and at work require big picture thinking. Some require attention to detail. Some call for a mix of the two. Mindfulness trains you to move freely along this ‘perspective spectrum’. This is a highly transferable skill, and extremely supportive of effective thinking and reflection.
Planning and prioritising
Set aside a few minutes at the beginning of the day to reflect on whatever is demanding your attention. You might be able to place each item from your to do list into the quadrant shown on the left. If something is important and you are motivated to do it (1) – you need to prioritise it. If it’s not important and you aren’t motivated (4), relegate it. It’s the other two you need to take care with. If it’s not important but you’re motivated (3) then it’s a distraction to be rationed. And if it’s important but you aren’t motivated (2) then you need a strategy to get it done.
Not all stress is bad. You need just the right amount to perform well. If there’s too little, you can get bored. If there’s too much, you can feel overwhelmed. In the middle is the ‘window’ of optimal performance. Check in regularly with yourself to ensure that as far as possible you keep yourself in that window. See the ‘stress curve’ to the right.
'Up' and 'down' activities: Mastery and pleasure
To cultivate resilience and wellbeing it’s essential to find sources of enjoyment and pleasure. Mindful self-awareness can help you understand what activities promote your general wellbeing and sense of fulfilment. Some activities nourish you and make you feel alive (‘up’ activities), while others tire you out and make you feel low (‘down’). Most ‘up’ activities are of two main types:
Mastery: skills that you learn and basic things you need to do to make life organised and run smoothly.
Pleasure: things that you really enjoy doing, for example, eating your favourite food, going for a walk, having a good conversation and so on.
You can enhance your resilience by choosing to spend more time on ‘up’ activities and less time on ‘down’ ones. This will be part of your suggested home practice.
Adapting – approach not avoid
Living wisely is often about adapting to unavoidable challenges and changes. The key to successful adaptation is the attitude or perspective you take towards these challenges. In autopilot mode, it’s hard to adapt because you are just trying to avoid unavoidable problems. In intentional mode,
you can actively approach the situation. When faced with a difficult issue, here is a simple set of questions that can help activate this intentional approach mode:
What are my best hopes for this?
What would be signs that it’s going well?
Who else might notice it going well?
What would they notice?
What’s the best I’ve done before in this kind of situation?
What did I do well on that occasion?
What might help it go well this time?
Guided meditations for download or streaming
Mindful movement video
Home practice after session 3
1. Alternate each day between these two practices:
‘Wise choices’ meditation – follow the instructions on the audio meditation
‘Movement meditation’ – follow the video / audio instructions.
2. Keep practising mini meditations
3. ‘Up’ and ‘down’ activities reflective exercise. Jot down some notes either in your workbook or on plain paper using the format below:
4. Mindful planning – at the start of the day:
Ground yourself using the three-step breathing space.
Next, ask yourself: “What tasks and activities need my attention today?”
Allow each thought to come to mind, then allow it to fade and make way for the next one.
Try not to plan anything yet. You may make a to-do list later, but for now just notice what’s calling for your attention.
Notice feelings and sensations accompanying thoughts. This is important information about your energy and motivation. This can help you to choose where to direct your attention.
Now jot down below some thoughts either in your workbook or on plain paper. First, you can note down your to do list, and then arrange the items in the importance and motivation matrix on the right: