Week Four / Day Three – The reality of life


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Stress started out by being consumed by a moment in our life.  Whether that moment came because of one event, or because of a series of events, it ended in us feeling like something was wrong, that we were missing out on the life we needed, that things should be different or we (or someone else) could have done something differently.  We then drew the final conclusion that all of this meant something bad about our lives, or our worth as a human being.  This thinking is the small picture.  This repetitive, habitual small picture thinking is what you need to change in order to stop your stress.

We then began the process of expanding your mindset towards the bigger picture, starting with the reality of the situation.  ‘Everything I am currently experiencing is a result of how the past has unfolded and I cannot change any of it.  It is what it is.’

Then we got you to think about this situation in the context of the reality of being a parent.  ‘There are enjoyable and unenjoyable moments for both me and the kids.  We are all learning and growing from our experiences and when the kids are displaying challenging behaviour, this is only a small part of my entire experience as a parent.  I am getting to know my child and learning the best ways to raise them as I go and sometimes I will make mistakes.  My child is learning how to behave and live harmoniously in the world and they will sometimes make mistakes.  Whenever I experience hard times when parenting, I know that I also have good times too and keep that in mind.’

You can see that we have already begun to expand our attention to look at the bigger picture of what this challenging situation really means and how we can align it with reality.

Now we expand even further by looking at what this unwanted situation means about your life, because often we feel as if it diminishes our quality of life.  This is only because we have a narrow view of the situation that is in conflict with the reality of life.

What is the purpose of life?

There is much speculation as to what the purpose of life is and many people will give you different responses.  However, there is one indisputable fact about life that most people would agree with, and regardless of how life unfolds, we all experience life in this way.

The purpose of life is to learn, grow as a person and contribute to the circle of life. No matter what we are doing or how we are doing it, we are always contributing our knowledge and a part of ourselves to the world around us.

Throughout our journey we have many different experiences.  Some are enjoyable and some are not.  We set goals and some of them we achieve and some of them we don’t.  We have relationships that are fantastic, warm and fulfilling, but there are times when they are not.  Money comes and goes.  Children come into the world, then grow up and leave home.  Friends join us and then leave us through moving away or growing apart.  Jobs and careers come and go, or end in retirement.

Every single experience brings with it a shelf life because everything rises and passes away.  And all the while we continue to learn new things, take the knowledge we learnt and apply it to other areas of our lives, or share it with others and grow, mature and age.  The sun rises and sets every single day.

This is the reality of life!  However we continue to get stuck in the tiny events of our lives, thinking that this is it for us.  ‘What I’m experiencing right now is the be all and end all of my life.  This small event when measured against my whole journey through life is what defines my worth.’

This is the thinking that causes you to feel stressed or depressed.  Your worth is not defined by this moment, or by any of the moments that have occurred in your past.  This moment is just an experience on your journey.  That’s it!  It will come and it will go.  You will get learning and it will contribute to who you are and what you experience next.  It will influence those around you and contribute to their journeys.

You may argue that your whole life so far has been full of this same disappointment and stress, but that is only because you have been taught to look at it in a certain way – a way that is in conflict with reality.

You have been taught to look at what’s wrong, what’s missing and who’s to blame.  You have been taught to respond with guilt, anger or self-criticism once you have noticed that your life has gone wrong.

But now you are being challenged to force your mind to see things in a different light.

  1. What am I getting (not what am I missing out on)?  What am I gaining from this situation?
  2. Is this just one of the low times that form my ups and downs?
  3. Is my entire life really only about everything going wrong?  Or are there some good things in my life? Are there times when I laugh, or I do have things go my way?  Have I ever received good news?  Have I had great things happen to me?
  4. What am I grateful for in my life?  What do I really appreciate?

It doesn’t matter what you have been through in the past.  It is over and you are who you are for having experienced everything in your past.  Right now is a new moment and teaching your mind to think in alignment with reality is about being consistent with noticing the thoughts that cause you stress, then challenging and changing them by shifting your attention to focussing on a different way to view that situation.

We become consumed by tantrums, non-sleeping babies, back chat, messy houses, differences in beliefs, lack of money and a myriad of other events that occur in our lives.  But when we learn to see the bigger picture and the reality of the ups AND downs of our lives, and see the value that these events bring to our lives and our knowledge of life, we stop seeing these moments as defining us.  We start to see that these events are only part of the overall picture of your life.

When you expand your mind in this way, it becomes impossible to be consumed by any single event happening in our lives.

Here’s a little exercise to help you with this expansion:

Imagine you are an outsider looking down at you and your situation with your child (or whatever is causing you the stress in that moment).  Imagine what you would look like from this person’s perspective, what your child would look like.

Now imagine looking down at the whole room that you are in.  How big are you now that you are looking at this whole room?

Now imagine looking down at your whole house and seeing yourself in that room.  How big are you now?

Now imagine that you are looking at yourself from above your whole street.  How big are you now?

Now imagine looking down at yourself from above your whole suburb, then your whole city, your whole state etc. How big are you in each visualisation?   Keep expanding your thinking wider and wider until your FEEL how insignificant this moment is in comparison to the rest of the world (or universe if you get that far).

This little moment is only a small part of your life, of your whole existence, yet we easily get consumed by this small picture.  Doing this visualisation helps to remind you that you are NOT what is happening right now.  Life is sooo much bigger than this.

This is only a very quick way of expanding your mindset to seeing the bigger picture of this situation, rather than being sucked into it being a reflection of your whole life, which can be so easy to do as a parent.

Why do you think that common advice for parents when things get noisy or tough is to put your child in the pram and go for a walk?  Because your mind becomes expanded by being outdoors.  It is no longer you and your child in that small room, with all that noise and frustration.  It is now you and your child, and the trees, the road, the huge sky, the houses, the fresh air and all that space around you.  You no longer feel so consumed by these moments when you are outdoors with your child, or take a walk by yourself.

But it’s not always possible to go outside (because of the rain or cold), or take time out (other common advice).  Sometimes all you have is your mind to help you through those challenging times.  This is why it is imperative that you work on your mindset, rather than just relying on all those external factors to make you happy.

When we become stuck in the small picture, that small dot on your whole journey of life, we need to expand our mindset past the habits of seeing what is wrong with this situation and start seeing the value in it.  Even if you can’t see the value in it, know that at some level this experience is teaching you something and contributing to your life and your unique story.

You are not this event.  You are the experiences of ALL your events, both good and bad.  It is your ignorant mind that has been trained to look at what is wrong, what you are missing out on, what should be happening and how worth-less you are that keeps you stuck.  And this thinking is the ignorant beliefs that were handed down to you from someone else who also didn’t know any better.

‘When you change what you think about, what you think about changes’.

When you stop seeing all the faults in your life and start seeing them in the context of the reality of life, its ups and downs and its value, then your mind will follow in that direction and continue to think differently.

Start challenging your habitual thinking when something’s not going the way you had planned.  Start catching the conversations you are having with yourself about what this situation means and challenge your responses.  Here are some questions to get you going:

  • What does it mean that you are experiencing this situation?  You have opinions about this situation and what it means about you and your life.  Start to become aware of what these judgments and opinions are so that you can challenge them.
  • Says who? Who taught you that these judgments and opinions were true?  How do you know that what you are thinking is right?
  • Has there ever been a time when this wasn’t true?
  • Is there another way of looking at this situation?  Remember the questions that I wrote above:
  1. What am I getting (not what am I missing out on)?  What am I gaining from this situation?
  2. Is this just one of the low times that form my ups and downs?
  3. Is my entire life really only about everything going wrong?  Or are there some good things in my life? Are there times that I sometimes laugh, or have things go my way?  Have I ever received good news?  Have I had great things happen to me?
  4. What am I grateful for in my life?  What do I really appreciate?

These questions send your attention in search for the answers, sending your attention away from the event being a problem and instead viewing it in a different way.  

It’s kind of like when the make and model of the car you are going to buy appears everywhere when you have decided on buying that car.  Because you have your attention on the make and model of that car, this is what you see around you as you are out and about.  Similarly when you put your attention on searching for the answers to these questions, you will find evidence of life being better than you thought it was by changing what you’re putting your attention on.

All of this new thinking must be done consciously first.  A deliberate replacement of new thinking will, over time, change how you habitually think.

The reality (the bigger picture) is about having a realistic perception of these highs and lows that occur in your life and in parenting.

It is being able to view a tantrum as a developmental stage and not a reflection of your parenting.  It’s about being able to look at red paint on your carpet and see it as a ‘teachable moment’.  It’s about being able to view any of our child’s behaviour and remember that the connections in their brains are still learning how to live in the world and that this is another opportunity to reinforce life lessons.  And finally, it’s being able to accept that your life is not less worthwhile because of this situation by seeing it as valuable to you, your child and your journeys through life.

Here are a few examples of how to use these questions to challenge your thinking.

“My child is not sleeping well.  He’s waking up so many times a night.  I’m not getting any sleep. He’s missing out on getting a good night’s sleep.  I should be able to get him in a sleep routine.  Everyone else is coping, why can’t I?”

So what does it mean that you are experiencing this situation?
“It means that I’m not getting enough sleep.  My baby is not getting enough sleep.  I am miserable.  It means that I am not coping.  I should be able to get him into a sleep routine.  He is 6 months old and I should be having a full night’s sleep.  I have other kids to tend to and I can’t be this tired.  I must be doing something wrong.”

Says who? (How did you learn that experiencing this situation means that?)
“Mmmm, well all the parenting info I read says that by 4-6 months old my child should be sleeping well and that if he is not then I am not using the right technique for him.  I must be doing something wrong.  My friends have their kids sleeping well too by this age, so it must be something I’m doing wrong and my mum even said that she had us kids sleeping through by 6 months of age”

How do I know this to be true? (Why are their/your beliefs truth?)
“I guess because other people are saying that I should have him in a routine by now. Because my definition of coping is me having everything under control with my child and being able to get him into a routine.”

Has there ever been a time when this wasn’t true? (this is where you really start to challenge your thinking)
“I guess other parents have had babies that aren’t sleeping through at age six months.”

What is another way of looking at this situation?  Remember the key questions to challenge your thoughts.
“Sometimes it takes a little longer for mums to figure out what works best for their babies.  Sometimes it takes a little bit longer for babies to learn how to sleep through the night.  Perhaps I’m not doing it wrong. Maybe I just haven’t found what works for my child.  This is just a small part of the whole parenting experience and it doesn’t mean I’m a bad parent.  I’m just learning what my child needs and how to respond to those needs. I do love being a parent and there are other aspects I enjoy, like when I do get her to go to sleep in my arms and we have that quiet cuddle time. ”

Here’s another example of how to challenge your thinking:

“I yelled at my son and I hate myself for it”

So what does it mean that you are experiencing this situation?
“I’m a terrible mother/father.  I know logically that he is only little and is just learning, but his naughty behaviour really got to me today.  I’m the adult.  I should be able to control my emotions.  But I didn’t and I feel really guilty because I don’t want to mess him up and be that kind of parent.

Says who? (How did you learn that experiencing this situation means that – ‘you’re a terrible mother/father’ and ‘you should be able to control you emotions’?)
“Good parents don’t yell at their children. Parents are supposed to be calm and rational and be the teacher to their children. I learnt this from society.  There is so much information out there that tells you all of the effects yelling has on your child.  As far as my emotions are concerned, I don’t really know where I learnt that.  I just should be able to control them, I guess.  I have the knowledge of an adult.  I should just be able to calm myself down and be that good parent I’m supposed to be.’  I guess society teaches that too.

How do I know this to be true? (Why are their/your beliefs truth?)
“Because all those studies show that children who grow up in angry homes are angry too, or have some other problem because of their upbringing.”

Has there ever been a time when this wasn’t true? (this is where you really start to challenge your thinking)
“I guess I have heard other parents (which I consider to be great parents) say they have yelled at their children before.  I guess everyone gets angry at some point in their life.

What is another way of looking at this situation?  Remember the key questions to challenge your thoughts.
“My yelling was only one moment in time.  My son also experiences lots of love, cuddles and good times from me. I tell him that I love him all the time.  My yelling is an indication that I have to learn more strategies for dealing with his behaviour and becoming more aware of my thoughts that are leading to my anger.  Patience does not come natural to me, but I am learning how to change that.  Today was just one of those days that I allowed the moment to overwhelm me.  Right now is a new moment and I can continue to train myself to think about situations differently in order to avoid anger in the future.  Whenever I learn something new, that has its ups and downs too.  I won’t always get everything right and I can’t always expect to stay calm in all situations.   All I can do is to stay conscious of my thinking as much as I can and change it.  Over time it will become easier to stop my anger.

Trying to look at the situation another way is possibly the hardest part of the whole Mind TRACK to Happiness Process.  We have been so heavily conditioned with that wrong path/right path thinking, to look for what we are missing out on and how it should be different, that it can be difficult to even contemplate how to change that, let alone change it right in that moment.

This new way of thinking will take practice.  Any new skill does.  This is where your commitment comes in.  As written in the last example, with learning something new, there will be ups and downs, so through your journey towards postnatal depression recovery, there will be times where you feel like you have stopped your thoughts and changed them effectively and there will be times when you still feel overwhelmed and don’t feel like you’re getting anywhere.

A helpful thing to do is to keep a journal of all your wins.  Whenever you catch yourself stopping your usual thinking and changing how you view a situation, write down the date and what you did to change it.  That way when you have your down days, you can refer back to your book to see all those entries where you did change. It will keep your progress in perspective.

There are always highs AND lows in anything that we do.  This whole program is centred around being able to acknowledge both ends of the spectrum and seeing the value in either one.

As we continue over the next couple of days, I am going to help you to learn just how to keep changing your thoughts to be in alignment with reality by finding the ‘hidden good in the bad’ – essentially finding the value in challenging moments.

Because at the end of the day – how we feel about something all depends on how you look at it.