'This Way Up' Programme materials and resources
Session 5: The C of the ABC - Choosing wise responses
By learning the two first core skills of Awareness and Being with experience, you already have all you need to make naturally wise choices in your life. That’s because you can create a gap between an initial event and your next move, and choose a wise response. This goes for both the everyday events, and the big decisions in your life. And as a carer, you may be having to make lots and lots of choices and decisions, both in relation to the person you care for, and to your own life and wellbeing. There are various ways where you can enhance your ability to make wise choices:
Connecting with your values and purpose
Self-awareness includes identifying your core values - the guiding principles about what you want to stand for. Our choices in life are more likely to be wise if they are in accordance with these values. It’s worth spending some time reflecting on your core values.
Clearer thinking and better planning
Mindfulness promotes a better quality of thinking processes than run-of-the-mill automatic thinking. This leads to better planning, organisational and decision-making skills. It’s due to your ability to pay attention to the detail while also seeing the big picture. You train this skill in meditation by being able to switch between a narrow focus (e.g. just your left big toe) and a broader awareness (your whole body).
Emotional intelligence is about being able to recognise emotions in yourself and other people, and working more effectively with this information to increase your wellbeing, to be more effective, and to build better relationships with others. Mindfulness is the best training for it because it teaches you how to be aware of and ‘hold’ all your experience, including your emotions.
1) Self-awareness, self-esteem and confidence
As you get to know yourself better, you can be more honest and balanced about your strengths and weaknesses. This can lead to feeling clearer about your priorities and goals in life, which is the basis for a realistic self-confidence.
2) Empathy, communication and kindness
‘Empathy’ is the ability to imagine the world from another person’s perspective – a vital skill in forming good relationships. It’s possible to consciously enhance empathy by using the same ABC of mindfulness applied to communication and relationships with other people:
Developing empathy means you also develop your natural human capacity for kindness and compassion. This isn’t about being ‘nice’. It’s about recognising that your wellbeing depends on good relationships with others. You can take this kindness practice out into your everyday life: each time you meet someone, simply wish them well. This doesn’t mean you have to like or approve of everyone – but you can wish them well.
Self-care: developing your own ‘manual’ for your life
Self-awareness also includes understanding what activities and pursuits promote your general wellbeing and sense of fulfilment. For carers experiencing high levels of demand and stress, this point is absolutely essential. Some activities nourish us and make us feel alive (‘up’ activities); while others tire us out and make us feel low (‘down’). Most ‘up’ activities are of two main types:
Mastery: skills that we learn; and basic things we need to do make life organised and run smoothly.
Pleasure: things that we really enjoy doing, e.g. taking a long bath, eating our favourite food, going for a walk, seeing a friend, watching a good film, listening to music etc. When people are very busy they tend to give up nourishing activities that seem less ‘urgent’. This tends to deplete energy rather than boost it. With less energy they then cut off even more nourishing activities – setting up a vicious cycle leading to exhaustion. To counteract this, it’s good to choose to spend more time on ‘up’ activities and less time on ‘down’ ones.
If you have a setback in life, mindfulness can help you recover. The key is to check if your thoughts and feelings are in line with reality – and to find a different way of describing things that’s true without being harsh. Then you can start afresh, and make a new commitment that’s positive while realistic.
You can consciously enhance ‘optimism’ in three steps.
1. Be realistic and objective in every situation: just notice and describe what’s actually happened.
2. Give yourself permission to feel whatever emotion arises in any given situation.
3. Change your automatic approach to success and failure. Take conscious note of successes and accept the credit for them. With failures, focus on realistic evidence that they are only temporary, and are in the context of lots of other successes in your life.
Gratitude and happiness
Research shows that one of the biggest factors for happiness is our day-to-day behaviour and thinking. Mindfulness has a role here – so that we can actually train in happiness. A good way to do this is to develop our ‘appreciative’ awareness by noting down frequently things we’re grateful for. Sharing this with others helps embed this skill further.
Home practice after session 5
1. Alternate each day between these two practices:
‘Wise choices’ meditation – follow the instructions on the audio meditation
‘Kindness' meditation – follow the audio instructions.
2. Three step breathing space: practise this as a way to find a wise choice quickly in a situation: either on your own, or listening to the audio.
3. Mindful communication: when you’re in communication with someone else, see if you can be more aware of your own feelings and needs, and sense what theirs’ are too.
4. Getting to know yourself better: Jot down some notes about which ‘up’ activities you could do more of, and which ‘down’ activities you could do less of.
5. Do something different – Strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know.
Mindful movement video