Karen Richards has over 20 years’ experience in Nursing, Public Health and Sociology and is a Mental Fitness and HeartMath® Certified Coach. She is a parent of 3 daughters. Whilst in the turmoil of brain fog, overwhelm and depression, she was introduced to a handful of simple heart-based techniques with biofeedback which, with daily practice, have transformed the way she approaches stressful circumstances.
On my usual stomp around my local area to get some evening exercise, thoughts started crowding in about a friend who’d recently let me down. Within a minute or two, my thoughts had gone from focussing on what that person had done, to thoughts of a relationship I’d had when I was in my early 20s (30+ years ago!). Then nostalgia, a feeling of loneliness, melancholy, of ‘not fitting in’ and a ‘what if’…as my victimized self began to take hold.
And then it stopped. I found myself smiling. Curious at how fast these negative thoughts jump back in, start flexing their muscles, ready to run away with my mind and create a long story (of what would be a draining self-pity) if I’d let it. All under the guise of aiming to protect me! From what? From being hurt again. This is how our Survival Brain works.
It stopped because I had chosen to stop it. I’d commanded it to.
Self-pity versus compassion
The feeling of self-pity can be satisfying for a while, but it doesn’t feel pleasant, and I didn’t want to waste my time entertaining it. So, then what? How do you change the trajectory?
To begin with, I focused my attention on the ground under my trainers, the movement of my feet and the sound of the gritty path. This created a break in the cycle of negative thinking.
10 seconds later, I asked myself “How do I want to feel? What do I need?”. After all, I can’t change what’s done. I didn’t want to block it out either. Life isn’t perfect and I wanted to honour my experience of it. I didn’t want to deny what I felt but I wanted to feel better!
What would be a more positive emotion for me to reach for? Something that respected the efforts I’d made and the sadness, anger, and frustration I felt?
Compassion and love for myself was what came up. My heart felt compassion and then followed it up with love. It acknowledged and appreciated the pain I felt. It didn’t judge me, and it helped me let go of the resentment towards the two people I was angry with. I felt peaceful. Now I began to properly enjoy my walk, noticing the shapes and changing colours of the leaves and the flowers and shrubs in the gardens.
Other thoughts popped up: “Hey! Wow! Look at you in your late 50s and striding up this steep incline with ease!” I even thanked my body! I felt happier, lighter and the negativity which had almost hijacked my mind, paled in comparison.
Choose positive thinking and emotions
Our brain’s neural pathways have a tendency towards the negative. This has become a problem because our needs as a human species have changed. Our pain is exacerbated because we reinforce these neural pathways with our negative thinking and emotions. Thankfully, we can train our brain to create and reinforce pathways which make us feel better, with huge health benefits.
We weren’t given a workable operating system from childhood. We weren’t given the best tools to navigate our way through life’s challenges. I’m not blaming parents, because often they weren’t given the best tools either, but there are simple, effective ways to shift out of negative thoughts and emotions. Insight is only 20% of transformation. The other 80% comes from practice. You can rewire your brain and build emotional resilience like you build muscles, with a few minutes of repeated practice a day.
Start with choosing to feel compassion and love for yourself, focus your attention on something in nature, and tap into the awesome power within you.