Here you are experiencing a tantrum, a non-sleeping baby, your kids being loud and obnoxious, a messy house, an unhelpful partner, or perhaps all of the above.
You are completely consumed by what is going on and you are stressed. You are stuck in this moment, like there is nothing else going on in the world but this all-consuming moment.
Common advice (including my own) is for you to live in the Now. However one may argue that you are already in the now – Right in it. In fact, you are completely consumed by it! It is difficult for you to even contemplate something bigger than this right now, because this ‘event’ seems to be causing you extreme stress right now.
But while you may feel like you are in the now, your mind certainly isn’t. What makes you feel stressed right now, is not that event. It is because of what you are thinking about this event. Furthermore, your thoughts are in conflict with the reality of this event.
This second step of the Mind TRACK to Happiness process is going to teach you how to change your thinking and stop the stress!
From this lesson onwards it is time to switch gears. It is time to stretch your mind past the habitual thinking of your past and begin retraining your brain to think differently in response to the challenges of parenting and life in general.
Before I get into this lesson though, there is one big disclaimer I must remind you of, as I have emphasised before. You will NOT change your thinking just by reading these lessons. That’s not how this works. You have seen in earlier lessons how the brain currently works the way it does because it has formed physical connections in the brain that have developed as a result of the repetitious exposure to life experiences, particularly those from your childhood.
Your brain has habitual thinking patterns that influence how you perceive your life. By now you may have even received some insight into what specific thinking patterns you hold that are responsible for how you feel.
What is needed now is new information to be fed to your brain in this same repetitious fashion, so that you can begin re-forming new habits of thinking in the brain which will cause you to feel differently about your life.
Unfortunately I can’t do this for you. This is where you will need to do the work.
Have you ever read a really inspiring book that has made you think about your life and change how to look at things, but a week or so later, you find that you are still doing the very things that you set out to change? Why this occurred was only because you stopped consciously repeating this new way of thinking and it hadn’t become a habit in the brain yet. You must keep repeating your new thinking over and over again until this becomes the super highway of thinking and the old way becomes the goat track. This is often why affirmations can be so effective.
Whenever you catch yourself feeling low or down, you must begin implementing the first step on the Mind TRACK to Happiness process that you have learnt, which is to identify your thinking. Ask yourself: ‘What am I saying about this situation?’ Because the answer to that; is what is actually causing your stress.
Once you have identified your thinking, you are then going to use this second step to change this thinking to be in alignment with reality. So let’s explore what I mean by reality.
What is reality?
The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of reality is this: ‘reality’ • noun (pl. realities) 1 the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them.
You feel stressed because you are resisting the current situation in your mind. It is different from your expectations. You have an ‘idealistic or notional idea’ of how this situation should be yet your actual experience is different to that idea. Your beliefs about what that means about you or your life’s worth is causing you to feel like this event is wrong, or that you are missing out on something. Stress occurs when the conversation in your mind resists the reality of what is happening and because of incorrect perceptions of what is happening.
Why is this happening to me? She shouldn’t be doing that. I hate living this way. I never get time out. I don’t want to deal with this. I’m hopeless. I’m a bad mum. I want my old life back. I’m tired and don’t want to do this anymore. I should be doing a better job. I should be able to cope. How come I’m the one who has to do everything? When do I get to do what I want?
The list of statements could go on and on.
All of this type of thinking is rejecting reality and we need to expand our mind from the smaller picture of what is happening to the reality of the bigger picture.
Remember the reality thinking Model?
This week you are going to learn how to expand your thinking to be in alignment with the ‘Reality of the situation’, ‘the reality of being a parent’ and ‘the reality of life’. The final one – ‘the reality of self-worth’ will be discussed in next week’s lessons as it is a big one that requires a detailed explanation.
By using the reality thinking model you can see how you are literally sending your attention in another direction. You are expanding your thoughts from the small, consuming picture, to gaining a different more expanded view of that situation which will stop the stress.
We begin to do this by accepting the reality of the situation.
We have established that when you feel consumed by an event, your mindset is conflicting with what is actually happening.
The first thing you must come to terms with when expanding your mindset away from stressful thoughts is to accept that what is currently happening is occurring because of how life has unfolded leading up to that event and that we cannot ever change the past.
If your child is having a tantrum, then it is because before the tantrum, there was a series of events that caused her to ultimately end up feeling angry and with her limited knowledge of appropriate behaviour (because of her age) or limited ability to understand the present situation like you do, a tantrum is the result.
If your partner is unco-operative, it is because before now there has been a period of time where this dynamic was set up by both of you and the way you treat each other, or the agreements you have in place are what were created in the past, resulting in your current experience. Or it may be that there is something going on for your partner in their mind that is resulting in their current behaviour.
Regardless of what your partner is doing, they are doing it because they are accessing their beliefs about life which dictate how they perceive the situation.
If you want to change this current situation you need to first accept the reality that you are where you are because of past agreements and past thinking (from you and your partner) that has occurred before now and then address them in present time (by continuing with the Mind TRACK process).
Any conversations you have with yourself (or others) about how things shouldn’t be this way, are all in conflict with the fact that it IS this way. That is reality.
You cannot change the past. What you are currently experiencing is what is happening NOW and it is here NOW because of how the past has unfolded leading up to NOW.
So the first part to expanding your mind is to acknowledge the current reality of this situation. That doesn’t mean you have to like this reality, but you have to accept that it is here now and deal with it from there.
Let’s see how to apply the acceptance of a situation by looking at other aspects of being a parent.
Your postnatal depression
You currently have postnatal depression only because of beliefs that you hold about what defines your self-worth. Because you have not lived up to the expectations you believe you should, you feel like you have failed at life and it causes you to feel like a failure. You want to, or already have, shut down certain aspects of your life to protect yourself from the pain of feeling like a failure. This is the reality of why you feel the way you do.
Any opinions you have about being a bad parent because of your depression, being too reliant on others, not being there enough for your kids, not being a good enough parent etc, are only contributing more to how you are feeling. Understanding that these beliefs are in conflict with the reality of true self-worth and being able to learn how to look at your challenging situations in a different way, will give you the ability to change how your are feeling.
You are at this stage in your life – that is you feel the way that you do, only because of the previous beliefs that you have had conditioned in your mind about your worth and that is the reality of how you came to have depression right NOW.
So by expanding your mind to this reality, rather than being consumed by your depression, you can already start to detach from your depression, realising that it is just incorrect beliefs causing this feeling, not because there is something ‘wrong’ with you.
‘This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be’
The reality of the situation is that it is the way it is. It doesn’t matter that it’s not supposed to be this way in your opinion. The fact of the matter is that this is the reality you are experiencing. Things don’t always work out the way we expect them to and in order to be able to accept this new, unwanted reality, we just need to be able to change the way we view it.
Whether you are talking about a labour that was supposed to go differently, a marriage that broke up, getting the skill of breastfeeding, enjoying parenthood or getting that ideal job, the reality is you are having the experience you are having now because of how everything else has unfolded in your past.
This cannot be changed. You can only change how you view it, and then set goals around what you would like to happen next. Accepting your new situation is paramount for not get consumed your new unwanted reality. Remember, you don’t have to like it, but if you don’t want to spiral into depression, you do need to accept it and move through the Mind TRACK process so that you can look at this situation differently then create some goals around what you are going to do about it now that it is here.
‘I’m stuck at home with the kids, day in day out’
Because of the arrangements you made between you and your partner, because you are a single parent or because of the choice you made not to put your kids in childcare, being home with the kids everyday is what you are currently experiencing in your life. This is the reality of the situation. You made the decisions that you did in the past, with the knowledge you had at that time and NOW you are experiencing the result of those decisions.
Perhaps now though, you have new information that may change this decision, such as, “I didn’t realise how much I would need my own time out.” Now that you’ve realised you don’t like the result of this decisions, you might find you need to revisit the decision to be a full time stay at home parent. However, you must accept that you are home right now with the kids full-time. Once you can accept this current reality, then you can change the way you look at it and perhaps set some goals around what you are going to do now that this is your current reality (you would do this in the aim step).
‘I never get any time to myself’
If you don’t get any time to yourself, it is because you have made other things a priority. This may be because you have really young children and can’t leave them for too long. It may be that you don’t believe you should take time out from the kids. It may be because you don’t want to put them in childcare or because you are a single parent. However the reality is that if you don’t get time to yourself, there is a specific reason. There are beliefs that you have that are stopping you from taking time out.
Getting time to your self has little to do with time and a lot to do with priorities. You will learn how to look into this further in Week 6, however understand, as you are learning to expand your mind with the reality of various situations, that the reason why you have very little time out, is because of decisions made in the past that have resulted in the current outcome. You cannot change what has unfolded in the past. You can only change how you deal with your current reality now that it is here.
It doesn’t mean you were wrong to make those decisions in the past, or for making your kids a priority over your time out. It just means that in order to change how you feel, you must first accept the fact that you have little amounts of time out because of the priorities you had in the past and revisit these priorities and beliefs to see whether they can be changed or re-organised to give you time out.
Challenging your thoughts
Another way to align your thoughts with the reality of the situation is to pull yourself right into that moment by allowing yourself to experience what is actually happening. Remember when you are going through something difficult, your mind is going crazy with resisting the situation. What if you were to stop that resistance and force yourself to really allow yourself to experience the situation? Once you are doing this, allow yourself to look at it objectively and without judgement, for this is the reality that you are experiencing regardless of your opinion about it. For example:
A Baby Crying
Instead of resisting the noise just allow yourself to listen to it. Hear the noise in your ears without judgement. Challenge those thoughts about the noise meaning something is wrong with your child, or that you aren’t ready for him/her to wake up. Challenge those thoughts about how you have to stop it or that you can’t stand the noise any longer. It is just sounds. Just like the music that comes out of your stereo or TV, your child’s cry is just a sound. It is all the other labels you place on that crying that causes you stress. The reality is that your child is crying. That’s what babies do. That’s how babies communicate.
When you allow yourself to hear these sounds (your baby crying) without resistance, then observe your child, – still without judgement, you can do so with a bit of objectivity. What is she trying to say? Look at her. Does she look like she is tired (rubbing eyes)? Does she look like she wants to be held? Does she look like she is in pain? When you stop resisting the sounds she is making, you have a clearer head to search for why she is crying and what you can do to help her.
If you are a new parent and just starting out with a newborn, accept that these sounds coming from your child and remember that you are learning what each different cry is for. Give yourself the time and resources to learn about how to deal with her crying. Whenever you hear your child crying, try labelling it as ‘just sounds’ and stop all the other opinions on what this crying means about you and your capabilities as a parent.
As above, make yourself listen to the noise without resistance and label the noise as ‘sounds’. Put the noise in the same category as being in a crowded room or having your TV up loud. None of these things have any urgency. It is how you are interpreting your child’s tantrum that is causing you to feel resistance and stress. The sounds are coming from a learning child who is trying out different ways to behave. That’s it. If you have a plan for dealing with tantrums, implement it now without resistance. If you don’t really know what to do, try what you can to move past this moment and vow to research ways to handle this situation for the future. A tantrum is only an older child’s way of communicating and learning what behaviour is appropriate. It’s a normal experience happening to parents everywhere. It doesn’t mean anything about your capabilites as a parent or your quality of life.
What are you saying to yourself about bonding with your child? Many parents worry they are not bonding enough with their child, or question whether they love them enough, or at all? Some parents question whether a child loves them enough. Challenge this thinking by getting out of your head the pressure of this ‘bonding’. Chances are you have all sorts of warm and fuzzy Huggies pictures floating around in your mind of how your bond ‘should’ be and because it’s not matching your ideal you are worried that you are not bonding at all.
You need to abandon all your beliefs about how it should be, as your beliefs are probably the experience that someone else had of bonding and everyone has a different way of connecting with others and showing and receiving love. Here’s a little exercise to help you to just BE with your baby:
Set aside some quiet time with your child when they are sleeping and the house is quiet. Stop everything that you are doing. Even if you have to wait until the middle of the night when everyone (including your child) is sleeping, then do that. Just sit with your baby and look at her, really look at her. Take in every single bit of her body and begin to caress her arm or leg gently. Take notice of her little head and how soft her hair is. Look at her tiny little face and lips and take notice of the small breaths and the rising and falling of her chest. Begin to see her just for how she is – a perfect little child that has come into the world.
Whenever you notice your thoughts trying to make judgements or analyse whether you are ‘feeling the bond’, just gently shift your attention back to just being with your child. Don’t criticise, just notice those habitual thoughts that are trying to control the bond unfolding the way your brain thinks it should, and then shift it back to your child.
Sit with your baby for a while, just relaxing your own breath and sit in this quiet room just you and your baby. That’s it. This is the current moment and this moment is the start of your future together. Let go of everything that has happened – any sadness, the labour that didn’t go to plan, any frustrations of the day. It’s all over now and all you ever have is the current moment. Right now, in this moment, it’s just you and your child and the physical connection of your touch.
Repeat this exercise as many times as you can over the next few weeks. Sometimes we just get so caught up in what we should be doing, how things should be going, what tasks we need to complete, stopping behaviour, managing behaviour, being a good parent, getting organised and trying to control life so we can get it right, that we often don’t just stop and BE with our children. It is only all this thinking, judging, controlling and planning that is causing you to feel like you are not bonding with your child and sometimes all you need to do is STOP. Acknowledge that ‘this is my child’ and we already have a bond, just because she came out of me’ and this bond is not definable. It is unique to me and my child.
Accepting the reality of a situation is the first way to expand your thinking in the direction of being in alignment with reality. Accepting reality doesn’t always mean you will like that reality, nor does it mean that you have to just put up with it and do nothing. This first step to expanding your mindset is just the start of looking at the situation differently. This must start with consciously acknowledging and accepting what IS and understand that it can’t be any other way because of how life has unfolded before now. Accepting the now is also about stopping what you are doing, sitting in a quiet room and just acknowledging that all those opinions you have about your day to day activities is not the reality of the situation, it is just your memes playing out.
Acknowledging that ‘this is what is happening right now’, stops you from entering into those pointless conversations about how life isn’t going the way it ‘should’ and what you are missing out on now that you are not getting what you wanted. As you continue with the TRACK process, you will get to start doing something about this situation in the aim step, but for now this step requires you to accept the current situation the way it is, because that is reality.
Summary: How to expand your attention towards The Reality of the Situation.
Bottom line is to accept what is going on right now as the reality and do not let your mind enter into any conversations that are in conflict with the facts of what is going on right now.
In tomorrow’s lesson, we begin to expand your attention a little further by looking at the reality of being a parent. This is where we start to look at this situation in the context of the overall experience of parenthood. Already we begin to widen our perspective on what is going on instead of being sucked into thoughts that are in conflict with this reality.