recurrent argument

How to Fix Relationship Problems

Relationships matter. They make us happy, and keep us happy. Countless studies including one at the London School of Economics, and a study of 1200 Germans in 2018 have shown that our social relationships are absolutely fundamental to our happiness. So this pandemic, with its social distancing and lockdowns, will almost undoubtedly have had an effect on your relationships in some way or another. Separated from family and friends, with most of our leisure activities cancelled, couples have either been kept apart, or spent a previously unimaginable time in the house together. It has been a weird time, and the anecdotal evidence about strained relationships is starting to manifest itself in increased in divorce rates around the world. So in this week’s article, we thought we’d try and do our bit for love. We’re looking at ways to catch little problems in our relationships before they get blown out of proportion and end up in another fight, and we’re starting with the things that keep coming back again and again.

It’s not them, it’s you

Do you find the same things happening over and over again in your relationships? Do your boyfriends always turn out to be versions of the same feckless manchild? Are your girlfriends always too needy or too controlling? Does your partner always seem to have a go at you about the same old stuff? For many of us, relationship issues seem to have a cyclical quality. We just can’t get a break right? Can we really be that unlucky? Every single time, with every single partner, we just happen to experience remarkably similar problems from them. But who is the common denominator in all these relationships? An old friend of mine once summed it up very nicely in an expression. If you notice the same bad smell everywhere you go…. Check your shoes! Or as relationships and dating expert Sarah Louise Ryan told us when we reached out to her for advice:

The first step to strengthening communication with your partner and within your relationship is to take responsibility for your own actions. Often when we start to look at our partners and find things that we don’t like or habits and behaviours in the relationship that aren’t serving us, there is something unresolved within ourselves that we need to consider and be accountable to. 

Happiness Pillar #1 - Self Knowledge

If there is a problem – you are a part of it – if you like it or not – you play a part.

It’s very tempting to see the other person as the problem. But as the old saying goes, it takes two to tango. If there is a problem in your relationship, you are a part of it, whether you like it or not. And the good news is, you’re going to be a big part of the solution. So we’re going to have to start with YOU. Progress is impossible without self-knowledge. There’s a reason it’s number one in our Seven Pillars of Happiness (link to that blog article). If we’re going to get better in any way, we have to get to know ourselves better. Do some deep feeling and thinking. The fights we have with our partners go much deeper than the surface irritations we use to get at each other. It’s never really about mess, or eating the avocado. There’s a deeper reason for our annoyance. And as our clinical psychologist Dr Marsha loves saying, You’ve got to feel it to heal it. The first step is always introspection and acceptance. So sit and really think about how you’re feeling. Our emotions can’t be avoided, or denied. When we try to ignore them, or squish them down, they tend to pop back out in other forms when we are least prepared for them. Ever overreact to something your partner says or does? Course you do. We all do. Time to check your shoes! Listen to your emotions. Breathe through them. Accept that they are a part of you. Not all of you, but a part of you.

Notice Patterns

One great way to notice recurring patterns is to keep an emotions diary. Have a place in a notebook or in the notes section of your phone where you can jot down your thoughts every time you have a disagreement. What are they about? What do you think they’re really about? Why do you think you feel like that? Why does it trigger you? What are your thoughts when your partner triggers you? What did you do after you were triggered? These patterns are enormously important to uncover and give you a lot of insight into what might really be at the root of the issue.  For a jaw-on-the-floor how-did-I-not-know-this-about-myself dose of insight into your behaviour patterns in relationships, you might want to look into adult attachment theory, check out Attached by Levine & Heller. 

Don’t pull away

Difficult feelings instinctively make us want to pull away, but if a particular issue keeps coming back again and again, chances are it’s because you’re avoiding the underlying feelings you’re experiencing. You will need to break that cycle by having a new narrative within yourself in order to shift your reactions every time you find yourself triggered. We have some great free SOS exercises in the app which lead you through a process to accept, feel, and process difficult emotions. Give them a try.

Recognise the elephant in the room

When you’ve done some work on yourself, and got to what you feel is the root of the problem. It’s time to talk it through with your partner. This bit isn’t going to be easy. It’s a touchy subject between you, and you’ll need to make sure you’re feeling calm, and diplomatic going in. It’ll go a whole lot better if you start by owning the problem. Admitting your part in it. Behaviour is much less hurtful when it can be understood as an unconscious pattern rather than a purposeful bit of spite. You’re not doing it on purpose, and neither are they. It’s a pattern you’ve fallen into, and you want to work out how to fix it. You’re going to have to name the problem. Recognise that it’s a problem. Describe it. Break it down. Talk it over. Even if it is scary to share with your partner. Explain the patterns. Look for understanding.

Here’s Sarah Louise Ryan again:

If there is a blame game being played, it’s often a projection from one partner to another to avoid one’s own shame around something in particular. When it comes to resolving any conflict within your relationship it’s really important that you don’t see the debate as a winning or losing scenario, you focus on the end goal which is having and maintaining a happy, loving and fulfilling relationship with your partner. When relational conflict becomes about winning or losing an argument a couple can lose sight of the most important thing – the relationship itself.

Repair the Rupture

If you get this far, you’re doing amazing work, and you can start to feel super proud of yourself. You’re a proper partner whisperer! You’ve understood the underlying causes of your recurrent behaviours, and hopefully put some measures in place to try and address them. Now it’s time to repair the rupture. Fighting hurts you both. You need to repair that hurt, and you know how to do it. Remember all the things you did at the beginning of the relationship? The stuff that made them fall for you in the first place? You’ve still got it! Give. Love. Apologise. Tell them you love them. Show them by responding with kindness and taking ownership of your part. Ultimately, this is all about understanding and connecting.

Make sure you’re always seeking to understand your partner and asking more questions so you can land on communication solid ground. If you’re always speaking to be heard you aren’t necessarily actively listening to one another, rather just speaking to get your view across. Make sure it’s always a two way street of communication. 

 

Keep filling your own cup – what I mean by that is make sure you’re always self-developing and learning how you show up in your relationship with yourself and your partner. Make sure you’re clear on how you communicate your love for them both verbally and non-verbally and that they are aware of that too so you can understand each other on a deeper level, strengthening the connection within your couple.

Gratitude

Last, but by no means least, develop a gratitude practice. We bang on  and on about this at Mindshine, because it is incredibly effective. If you start the day by writing down all the things you are grateful to your partner for, you change the way you look at them, and you start the day off on the right foot. Every day. It takes two minutes, it’s free, and it can change your life. Don’t think about it, just do it and see what happens.

You can find Sarah Louise Ryan dishing out very sound relationship advice at her site LOVE LESSONS. As we said at the start of the article, there’s nothing more important to your happiness than your relationships and connections. They are worthy of your work and attention to keep them as healthy as possible. So get to know how you are showing up in your relationship, talk it over, listen, and repair the areas of rupture. Have patience, and do the work, and it’s very likely your relationship can be brought back to a state that makes everyone happy, and if all else fails, look her up for matchmaking and dating advice!

You can find more articles about self-belief, positivity, self-awareness or mindfulness in our Magazine.

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Download the Mindshine app (iOS or Android) for more mindfulness and happiness exercises that help you find out what you believe and who you are.


How to work out who I want to be

We’re all looking for a better life. Ever since the first cave man put on his best animal skin, picked up his club, and set out to make something of himself, humans have been asking themselves the same question. Who do I want to be? We don’t just think, we think about how we think., and this self-awareness is what distinguishes us from the other animals. It has allowed us to create the world we see around us, and do amazing, inspiring things. It has brought us great knowledge about the world, and about ourselves, but as we stand here in the twenty-first century looking at ourselves in the mirror, the question remains just as important. Who do we want to be? And for many of us, it’s a very tricky one to answer. Where do we even start? We’re not all born with burning ambition and our eyes set on the prize. Many of us feel like we’re just getting by, or flitting aimlessly through life, taking the opportunities presented to us, or not, with no grand plan in mind. So how do we cultivate direction in life? Read on to find out…

Self-Awareness

If we are going to change our lives for the better and find more happiness, we won’t get very far if we don’t first of all understand who we are, and have a good idea of who we want to be. In fact, self-awareness is so important to the process of self-improvement that when we were working out our 7 Pillars of Happiness for Mindshine, it came in at number one.

7 pillars of happiness

Self awareness has been proved in numerous psychology studies to encourage personal development, helping us improve in all sorts of ways. When we practice self-awareness we can make better decisions, become more proactive, more accepting of ourselves and others, more self-confident, creative, productive, better at our jobs… the list goes on and on. So if we’re trying to work out who we want to be, the first step is to start developing knowledge of self.

Step 1 - Find yourself on the page - Journaling

Journaling

Writing down your thoughts is one of the best ways to get at the truth within. There’s nothing quite like sitting with a pen and a blank page to make you take a good hard look at yourself. It’s a slow process, and it requires consistent effort, but the rewards are definitely worth it. We recommend making it a nice part of your morning ritual (rituals actually work by the way, don’t believe us, read it here)  Buy yourself a nice notebook and pen and sit down with a cup of tea to start the day the same way, every day, by filling three pages with writing about your life. It doesn’t matter what you write. The idea is simply to put pen to paper and see what happens. Write about your hopes and dreams, your fears and problems. Just write. And when you run out of things to write, which you undoubtedly will, keep writing. Write about what you have to do that day. Write about how you can’t think of anything to write about. It doesn’t matter. Just keep writing until you’ve filled up three pages. You’ll be surprised what starts to come out of your pen. It might even start to give you clues as to what you really want from life.

Step 2 - Find the Flow

Meditation masters have known for millennia that the path to happiness is to be found by paying close attention to the now. We are at our happiest when we can be truly present. Think of some of the times in your life when you felt most alive. Moments of flow, where time disappeared, and you were ensconced in the moment. What were you doing? Who were you with? See if you can make a list. Can you see any patterns? These moments are the times when you are most yourself. When you are living the most authentic version of your life. By creating more moments like these, and by making choices which allow you to be this version of yourself, you are bringing more joy into your life. Find the moments of flow, and go with them. That’s who you want to be.

Step 3 - Look at your role models

Another powerful tool in finding out who you want to be is to look at your role models. Make a list of people who you admire. They don’t have to be famous. They could be your friends, or people at work, or from your community. You just have to admire them. When you’ve got a list written down, see if you can work out what they have in common. How would you like to be more like them? What qualities do they possess which you’d like more of in your life? This will help you no end with the next step.

Step 4 - Discover Your Core Values

When you’ve had a good think about what you want, when you are truly yourself, and who you’d like to be more similar to, it’s time to narrow down your core values. Below is a list which you can use as a starting point. Have a browse, and try and narrow yourself a list of 4 or 5 values which resonate the most with you. 

list of values

These are your core values. Use them as your guiding principle life, a kind of North Star for where you should be going. Aligning your life choices with your core values, and moving in the direction of who you really want to be will allow you to achieve something remarkable,  a life of purpose, and that has been scientifically proven to be a massive step down the road to a happier life. 

You can find more articles about self-belief, positivity, self-awareness or mindfulness in our Magazine.

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Download the Mindshine app (iOS or Android) for more mindfulness and happiness exercises that help you find out what you believe and who you are.


connection and happiness

The Seven Pillars of Happiness | Pillar 7: Connection

It’s one of the great ironies of modern life. We live in the most connected time the world has ever known, and yet so many of us are suffering from a deep lack of connection, both to others, and to ourselves. What’s going on, and why is connection so important anyway?

We are social animals

humans are social animals

We know that connection is absolutely vital to happiness. In fact, scientists believe that it’s so important that it comes back into us in our genes. According to neuroscientist Matthew Liebermann’s excellent new book, Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Connect, evolution so favoured individuals with a stronger propensity for forming groups that it’s written into the physical code that makes us human. 

Our need for social connection is so deeply rooted in us that feelings like loneliness and embarrassment actually activate the same neural circuitry as physical pain. Being left out really hurts. It stands to reason that our bodies have evolved to nudge us physically to want to feel part of the group. If you put yourself in the shoes of your distant ancestors, surrounded by big beasts with sharp teeth and claws, who definitely wanted to eat you for lunch, being able to organise yourself into a group, and remain part of it, was literally the difference between life and death.

Connections keep us healthy and happy

Connectedness is a core psychological need, and it’s so vital to us that it has an effect on our physical health. It has been shown to make us live longer. It helps us feel less pain. It’s been proven to be as important to our physical health as not smoking. But does it make us happy? The evidence certainly leans in that direction.

According to one Harvard Study that has been looking into what makes people happy and healthy for over 80 years, good relationships are the key factor that matters most when looking at long term happiness. Another study on 1400 students found stronger correlation between social support and happiness than that between smoking and cancer.

A study at the University of Leipzig recently looked at a group of 1200 people and their strategies for happiness. They found that those people who chose social strategies for increasing happiness , like volunteering, joining groups and socialising more, reported far greater increases in happiness a year later compared to those who were more focussed on themselves. 

As anyone who’s been added to their street’s Whatsapp group during lockdown will attest, there’s something about people coming together during times of crisis to help out and look after each other that just leaves you feeling happier than you did before.

How do we build more connection? 

how to build connections

Prioritise the personal

So how do we build more social connection into our hectic modern lives? The easiest answer is to make it a priority. We all have a lot to do nowadays, and there never seem to be enough hours in the day. We have emails to answer, and projects to finish, and stuff to sort out, but our social connections are not something we can get round to after we’ve finished all that stuff. The truth is, there will always be more stuff. To keep up with your social connections, you need to schedule them into your day. You need to see them as just as indispensable as everything else, because as far as your happiness is concerned, they are.

So put that lunch date in the diary, and don’t let a meeting go over the top of it. Schedule in the coffee and the swim. Book yourself a drink next week after work with your bestie. Make plans to see the people who matter to you. Do it for your health!

Don’t be a wallflower

Put yourself out there. If we’re honest, we’re all guilty of holding back from social interactions to some extent, lurking in Whatsapp groups, pretending not to see acquaintances in the street, avoiding eye contact on public transport, but our instinctive desire to avoid awkwardness doesn’t actually do us any favours. It’s all down to the fact that we’re actually really bad at judging both what will make us happy, and how people will react to us.

A fascinating  2014 study entitled “Mistakenly Seeking Solitude” published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology asked participants whether they’d rather be forced to talk to strangers on their daily commute, or leave them alone. Unsurprisingly they nearly all chose the latter. But when it came to the crunch, those participants randomly assigned the task of engaging strangers in conversation on the Chicago subway found people more forthcoming than they’d imagined, and rated their journeys as far more enjoyable than those who were told to mind their own business. And in case you think it only works for chatterbox Americans, the BBC ran a similar study in the UK with very similar results. And it’s just as effective for introverts as for extroverts.

So even though your inner voice might be shouting “Nooooooooo!”, why not give it a go. Get involved. Put yourself out there. Chat to the neighbours and the street sweeper and the people who serve you in shops everyday. Connect with the people around you. It makes you happier. It’s a stone cold scientific fact!

Participate

If your social circle has dwindled through lack of care, it’s time to widen it up again. What are you interested in? What do you like doing? Have a think about it. There will be a group of like-minded people in your area who regularly meet up to do exactly that. And that’s the thing that you like doing. There’s a good chance you’ll like them too.

Reach Out

We all feel low from time to time, and we all need a little connection. Remember, IT’S OK TO NOT BE OK. If you’re having a tough time, reach out. Call a family member or a trusted friend, send a message, or get in touch with a medical professional. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. 

Connection with Yourself is vital to Happiness 

And finally, as we saw last week when looking at Pillar #6 – self-belief, our relationship with ourselves is very important to our ability to generate happiness. Looking for connection within ourselves and working on self-compassion has been shown time and time again to have a host of positive happiness-enhancing benefits. It’s hard to find joy when you feel disconnected from those around you, but when you’re disconnected from yourself, it’s impossible.

You can find more articles about self-belief, positivity, self-awareness or mindfulness in our Magazine.

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Download the Mindshine app (iOS or Android) for more mindfulness and happiness exercises that help you find out what you believe and who you are.


self-belief is key to happiness

The Seven Pillars of Happiness | Pillar 6: Self-belief

Believe in yourself! It’s easier said than done, but how does self-belief make you happy anyway, and how can we do it more? Read on to find out.

Self-belief is Powerful

Self-belief is a powerful skill. The ability to throw yourself into challenging situations without second guessing yourself or allowing limiting beliefs to hold you back will set you up for more success in the long run. Even just looking at it mathematically, the more opportunities you’re willing to take, the more successes you’re going to have in the end, but there’s more to it than that. Self-belief is linked to all sorts of important skills and attributes, like self-confidence, self-worth, and self-compassion. If you can look at yourself and judge yourself worthy, you’re not just putting yourself in the running, you’re giving yourself an automatic advantage because other people will feel it in you. Confidence is a very attractive quality. If you believe in yourself, it shows in how you behave, how you hold yourself, and how you interact with people, making them more likely to believe in you too.

High self-esteem has been positively linked to happiness in a variety of studies, and although it has yet to be proven that it actually causes happiness, many scientists believe it’s more than likely. In one wide ranging study conducted with 31,000 college students from 31 countries in five continents, self-esteem was the most important factor predicting overall life satisfaction.  

Lack of self-belief holds you back

Perhaps the easiest way to understand how important it is to believe in yourself is simply to imagine what life is like without it. People with low self belief and low self esteem can lack confidence, comparing themselves unfavourably to others, and judging themselves harshly. This leads to negative self-talk, increased worry and self-doubt. Ultimately, a lack of belief in yourself can get you so low you have problems accepting any positive feedback you do get, and make you unable or unwilling to ask for what you need. It has been linked to a number of negative health outcomes, including anxiety and depression. It’s pretty clear from the evidence, if we want to have a better chance of a happier life, we all need to take care of how we see ourselves. 

Self-Belief is NOT simply thinking you’re great

Self-Belief is NOT simply thinking you’re great

But there’s a difference between having a healthy sense of self-belief and simply asserting blindly that you’re infallible and amazing at everything. That kind of self-aggrandizing thinking might seem to work for the occasional rapper or politician, but it’s definitely not the example to follow if you want to get happier. 

Self-belief is not about thinking you’re the best.  You don’t have to look at your life and feel like you’ve totally nailed it in order to have self belief. In fact, self-belief is not based on things like performance or achievement, and it’s certainly not based on comparison with others. It’s about acceptance of yourself on a core level, and belief that you are worthy, regardless of whether you’ve won or lost. A healthy sense of self-belief cannot be tied to success or failure, or we wouldn’t be able to learn from our mistakes and carry on trying (and you won’t find anyone out there who hasn’t fallen a few times on the path to success). Self-belief is about the relationship we have with ourselves. It’s about being on your own team. It’s about liking yourself enough to cut yourself a break.

Self-belief involves getting to know yourself

get to know yourself through journaling

So how do we go about improving our relationship with ourselves? Well, for starters, if you’re going to have a good relationship with yourself, you have to get to know what you’re really like. In order to believe in something you have to know what it is you’re trying to believe in the first place, right? Who is this self you’re supposed to be believing in anyway? Going back to Happiness Pillar #1 – Self-knowledge. Who are you really? What are your core values? You can narrow this down through as process of self-reflection and mind dumps in journals. Once you’ve worked out what it is that you really care about in life. What you feel is at your core as a person, you will start to form a picture of the person you have to believe in. Then you have a good measure by which to judge your efforts. Are the things you are doing in your life moving you into alignment with your core beliefs? If you know what you believe in, and you’re trying to be that person, it becomes infinitely easier to believe in yourself.

Your inner critic is NOT your friend

It’s super hard to believe in yourself when there’s a part of you that’s constantly trying to sabotage the process. We all need to become aware of our inner critic. The voice in our minds that’s always telling us we’re not good enough, or clever enough, or sexy enough, or cool enough. The one that says, “nah, that’s not for me” or, “I suck at public speaking, why do I have to do a presentation?”, or, “I’ll just leave them alone, they wouldn’t want to talk to me”. We all have this inner voice, and we need to learn to identify it in order to reduce its influence on how we feel about ourselves. A good way of doing this is to be mindful of how you talk to yourself. Think of a time when you fell short of  what you were aiming for. How did you talk to yourself about it? Now imagine a good friend was in the same position as you, what would you say to them? How would you speak to them? Would you say the same sorts of things you said to yourself? If not, and I’m betting you were nicer to your friend, then learn from that. You need to be talking to yourself like a friend, like an ally. Remember, you’re on your team. You’re your own coach and cheerleader. You’re the only one in there talking to yourself. Support team you!

Self-belief can be enhanced by doing more of the stuff you’re good at

having more fun in life

Another good way of generating more self-belief, and a great way of generally having more fun in your life, is to identify areas where you shine, and simply doing more of them. Think of the things you do well at work, and get your boss to give you more of that sort of thing to do. It’s a win-win for everyone. Are you a watercolour whizz? Then join an art club, or put your paintings online, or give them away. Good at cakes? Then bake more cakes and give them to the bake sale, or a neighbour. Are you a great clarinettist? Join a local music group and get complimented on your playing, you might even get to play some shows and have crowds of people clap and cheer you. We all have skills we could be using more often to show ourselves ways in which we are actually pretty awesome. 

If you can get to know yourself well enough to start aligning with who you really are at a core level, encourage yourself through doing the sort sorts of things you love and are good at, and learn to quiet your inner critic, you can eventually get to the point where you start to believe the one and only thing you really need for self-belief… you are enough. You are. Fact. See you next week for our seventh, and final Happiness Pillar – Connection.

You can find more articles about resilience, productivity, self-awareness or mindfulness in our Magazine.

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Download the Mindshine app (iOS or Android) for more mindfulness and happiness exercises that help you find out what you believe and who you are.


positivity and happiness

The Seven Pillars of Happiness | Pillar 5: Positivity

Happiness pillar number five seems so obvious, you might wonder why we’ve included it at all. Why not just come out and say positivity is an important factor in your happiness? But how does positive thinking actually affect our levels of day to day happiness? And is there anything we can do to change something as fundamental to our personalities as how we look at the world. Read on to find out…

Positivity is NOT burying your head in the sand

The first thing to point out when talking about positivity, is that we are not encouraging people to pretend to be happy when they don’t feel it. You’ll find plenty of people on the internet and in self-help books extolling the virtues of a kind of fake-it-till-you-make-it happiness. There is a word for that; toxic positivity. Research and clinical experience points very clearly to the fact that our difficult feelings need to be accepted and processed in order for us to move on from them. Like Dr Marsha always says, you have to feel it to heal it. So we are absolutely not suggesting that you plaster a big smile over your face and keep on telling yourself everything is fine. If you are feeling anxious or angry or low, then sit with those feelings, and work through them. They’re there to tell you that you need to give that part of yourself some time and attention. Unprocessed feelings won’t go away if we avoid them, they’ll simply pop back up somewhere else in our lives and cause us problems, often when we least expect them. It’s a bit of a cliché but it’s a very important one, it’s ok to not be ok.

That said, a positive mindset is one of the most powerful tools we can develop in our quest for improved levels of day-to-day happiness. 

How does positivity make us happier?

As we noted before, the fact that people who have a positive, optimistic view of the world tend to feel happier than those whose worldview tends towards the negative might not come as a massive surprise. When you’re busy being optimistic, and hopeful, you’re far less likely to be dragged down by the kind of negative thinking which can lead to sadness and depression, and there’s a lot of truth to the old song, “When you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you”. But positive thinking has been shown to have a positive impact in several less blindingly obvious areas of our lives as well. For starters, it is good for our health. Positive thinking has been shown to have benefits for our immune system, help us recover quicker from illness, and even make us better at learning, all of which will tip the happiness meter in the right direction.

Negativity Bias

So if positivity and optimism is so good for us, what stops us from feeling this way as a matter of course all the time. To explain this we need to go back in time. Many of the behaviours and thought patterns which come naturally to us as humans, which we perform without so much as a second’s thought, are the result of thousands of years of natural selection. The people who were strongly affected by negative experiences and saw sabre-tooth tigers everywhere they looked, tended to be the ones who lived long enough to pass on their genes while their more relaxed cave-chums got gobbled up. Essentially, it’s an evolutionary benefit to look for the bad stuff in situations, and for the bad stuff that does happen to us, or to those around us to have a disproportionately large effect on us. Scientists call this effect negativity bias and it is so strong that it means in our daily lives we need three positive experiences to counteract every negative one.

The Tetris Effect

the tetris effect

Seeing as sabre-toothed tigers and other life-threatening dangers are gratifyingly thin on the ground nowadays, the negativity bias which worked so well to keep our ancestors alive has, to a large extent, become redundant, and now serves mainly as an impediment to our happiness. Luckily for us, there’s another effect which can help us to push back against negativity bias; the Tetris Effect. When researchers have studied what happens in the brain when people play Tetris, they’ve found that by repeating the same thought patterns over and over again, they become less taxing for the brain to carry out, and more automatic. Studies showed actual changes in grey matter over the course of the experiment. So if Tetris can change your brain and make certain tasks easier and more automatic, imagine what repeating positivity-boosting exercises could do for you…

Gratitude practice increases positivity

One of the best ways of practicing positivity is through gratitude practice. Sitting down once a day and simply writing down all the things you can think of which you have to be grateful for actually rewires your brain to notice more good things to be happy about in the future. And if you struggle at first to come up with things to feel thankful about, don’t worry. The mere act of trying to come up with something to be happy about, just like shifting those little blocks around on screen in tetris, changes your brain to make this sort of thing come more naturally.

3 Happy Things

The sacred to making it work is the repetition. So getting into the habit of journaling is a real help if you want to practice gratitude, but it’s not the only way. I use a little game to practise gratitude with my partner and kids every evening at the dinner table (they don’t know that’s why we do it!). We take it in turns to name three things which have made us happy that day and with the exception of my two year old whose answer is invariably “poo poo”, it has become easier and more automatic for all of us the more we play.

Daily shout out

Another great gratitude hack is to do a daily shout-out. Make it a habit to send one message of thanks per day to someone who has done right by you. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, If you want to send a card and a present, then don’t let us stop you, but just a little text to say thanks will do the job nicely, and make you, and whoever you send it to, feel all warm and shiny inside.

Acts of kindness

Can you remember the last time you helped out a stranger. Remember that feeling of wellbeing you noticed in your chest as you walked away having been thanked from the heart and smiled at? Did it give you the sense that life’s pretty nice after all all, and people on the whole tend to be alright? Want to feel that more often? Then say yes to more random acts of kindness.

They’re proven to make you feel more positive. One thing though, the latest evidence suggests that if you do this sort of thing too regularly, it starts to become a routine and loses its emotional punch. Once a week is plenty.

Reframing

Alongside gratitude, another great skill that promotes positivity is learning to reframe setbacks and negative situations in your life as opportunities to learn and grow. Look for the silver lining, and always ask yourself, “how can I use this situation to become a better version of myself?”.

Affirmations

Finally, affirmations have been shown be extremely effective in changing negative thought patterns into positive ones.  It might seem a little like wishful thinking, simply repeating positive affirmations about ourselves over and over again until we believe them, but the evidence is there that they do actually work. You need to have a healthy dose of self-esteem for affirmations to have the desired effect though. Scientists studying affirmations in people with low self-esteem actually found they had the opposite effect. Essentially, affirmations only work if you believe them. Which takes us back to our point at the beginning. 

Positivity is a mental superpower, and well worthy of its place as one of our Seven Pillars of Happiness, but it needs to be based on strong foundations. Filling yourself with false positive thoughts when inside you’re not feeling that way at all is going to have the opposite effect. 

You can find more articles about resilience, productivity, self-awareness or mindfulness in our Magazine.

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Download the Mindshine app (iOS or Android) for more mindfulness and happiness exercises that help you find out what you believe and who you are.


The Seven Pillars of Happiness | Pillar 4: Resilience

In today’s post, we’re looking at the strongest of our Happiness Pillars – #4 Resilience

Life isn’t always going to be plain sailing, no matter how hard you work on yourself, sometimes shit just happens. Ok, let’s really labour the pillar metaphor, and what else are metaphors for… Imagine your happiness is being held up by these seven pillars, and a few of them crumble and lose their strength. Your self-belief starts to crumble, your productivity goes to pot, you lose your mindfulness and power of living in the now, worrying about the future, looking back to better times in the past. I think you can probably see where I’m going with this. Without a strong, solid core of resilience in the middle, the whole lot can come crashing down. Resilience is your home insurance.

7 pillars of happiness

What is Resilience?

Happiness can be generated by many things, but to build a sustainably happy life, you absolutely have to be able to deal with the bumps in the road which will undoubtedly come your way. That’s resilience. The ability to get through hard times without losing our spirit, and bounce back from life’s setbacks better than we were before.

How does resilience make us happier?

While studies on Korean Cancer patients, Saudi medical students, and Catalan Psychology students, among others, have shown there is a significant link between resilience and life satisfaction, the main way in which resilience helps us live a happier life, is essentially not by causing happiness, but by minimising unhappiness. It’s hard to be happy when every setback knocks you out of action. Resilient people encounter the same amount of trouble and strife in their lives as the rest of us, they just manage to get through it with less pain and suffering, and bounce back quicker. But how do they do it?

Resilience can be trained

resilience can be trained

Thankfully, resilience isn’t something we are simply born with. It is a set of skills, and the great thing about skills is that they can be trained. In the same way that doing push-ups will make your arms stronger, there are things you can practise that will give you the mental ability to deal better with the challenging situations in your life. In fact, some of those things are push-ups.

Physical Exercise increases resilience

Not only does regular exercise keep you physically fit and healthy, but the evidence seems to point to the fact that it makes us emotionally stronger too. People who take regular exercise train their minds to recognise and deal with the same sorts of physical feelings we feel when we’re under stress, like raised heart rate, sweating, rapid breathing. Familiarity with these sensations makes them far easier to deal with when we encounter them out of the blue.

Mental fitness exercises help with resilience

There are all sorts of exercises we can do with our minds, which have also been shown to increase resilience. Learning how to reframe negative experiences and turn them into learning opportunities has great benefits, as does learning to develop a more positive attitude, and look on the bright side. You can find a range of exercises to develop these skills in the free areas of the Mindshine app.

Mindfulness makes us resilient

But one of the most intriguing findings in the world of resilience research of late is that mental toughness can apparently be trained by the softest of methods: mindfulness. Learning mindfulness techniques weakens the mental links which otherwise lead us to wallow in our misfortunes. Another interesting study recently showed that mindfulness helps us be more self-compassionate, which increases resilience by making us less likely to beat ourselves up about failures and mistakes. 

So there you have it. Resilience – our fourth, central, and perhaps most important Pillar of Happiness, and a skill that’s well worth working on in your daily practice. Being resilient might not be the one that generates the most joy, but it’s the one that’ll keep you smiling when the chips are down.

You can find more articles about productivity, self-awareness or mindfulness in our Magazine.

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Download the Mindshine app (iOS or Android) for more mindfulness and happiness exercises that help you find out what you believe and who you are.


Mindfulness

The Seven Pillars of Happiness | Pillar 3: Mindfulness

The secret to finding happiness… pay attention

This week we’re going to talking about Happiness Pillar #3 – Mindfulness. What is it? How does it contribute to happiness? How can we be more mindful? Will we need incense? Read on to find out…

Is Mindfulness just another word for meditation?

Ever get totally in the zone when you’re playing sport? Ever find yourself fully involved in the flavours and texture of a mouthful? You were being mindful. Essentially, mindfulness is paying attention.

Most people encounter the term mindfulness in the context of meditation practice, and meditation practice is definitely one way of practising mindfulness, or becoming more mindful, but there’s more to it than that. Mindfulness can be trained in all sorts of ways. By the way we eat, or the way we work, or move or bodies. Even in the way we breathe. Jon Kabat-Zin, the founder of the modern mindfulness movement says:

“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally”

Sounds pretty simple, but as anybody getting started in meditation practice will tell you, maintaining that sort of intention for more than a couple of seconds can feel like a whole lot of work. Our minds, especially nowadays, conditioned as they are by smartphones and modern life to flit from thought to thought without a moment’s respite, find it extremely difficult to slow down and focus. Asked to concentrate simply on the sensations of what’s happening right now with your breath, and before very long at all you’ll be dreaming about your next holiday, or singing a little song in your head, or thinking about your ex long before you even notice you’re doing it. So if it’s such a big ask, why bother with all the effort. What is to be gained from all this paying attention?

How does Mindfulness make us Happy?

Custard cream

The health benefits of mindfulness practice are extensive and well documented. Its effects have been tested all over the world from Tibetan Monasteries to prisons to the US Marines. It has been shown, alongside many other things, to reduce stress (and we all know how bad that is for us), improve sleep, reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, help with chronic pain, even improve our immune systems. So we really all ought to be trying to include some sort of mindfulness practice in our daily routines anyway, even if we just want to be physically healthier and live longer. But how does mindfulness actually make us happy?

Well, the principal aim of mindfulness is to become present. To pay attention to the here and the now, and to fully experience the moment. If it’s a happy moment, like swimming in the sea, or nibbling a custard cream, or watching your favourite band on stage, then it’s obvious how paying more attention and fully immersing yourself in the experience will bring you more of the happiness therein. But simply by training our minds to pay more attention, and to do it dispassionately, without judgement, we put ourselves into a position of power. We become more able to stop ourselves from getting carried away by thoughts and to choose what we want to attend to.

We can start to pay attention to all the little things in our life which bring us happiness. The cat on the corner who always comes over for a stroke. The way ice cream feels as it hits our tongue. The flowers in the park. The cool of the other side of the pillow. Mindfulness, when we bring it into our daily lives, brings with it gratitude for the richness of our lives, and we can learn to live fuller, more interested and less caught up in mind churn.

Mindfulness helps us avoid unhappiness

In training us to be in the present, mindfulness practice also helps us to avoid two of the things which are guaranteed to bring you the opposite of happiness, worrying about the future, and dwelling in the past. The Buddhists, who know a thing or two about mindfulness, have an expression for this sort of mindless mind-meandering; monkey mind. When our monkey mind is in control, we alternate between remembering, and imagining, launch ourselves off into flights of fancy, full of what ifs and if onlys. But wallowing in regrets or lusting after an unknown future, causes us to live in a constant state of dissatisfaction. We’re not happy in the now, because we wish things had gone differently in the past, and we don’t have what we’re hoping for in the future. Mindfulness is a way of stopping to smell the flowers.

Mindfulness increases Resilience

Mindfulness practice has also been shown in several studies to increase our resilience, that is our ability to deal with stress and setbacks and bounce back again. We’ll be getting much deeper into that in next week’s post, as resilience is Happiness Pillar #4, but suffice to say that when it comes to avoiding unhappiness, resilience is paramount, and if you want more resilience, mindfulness practice is a very good way to get it.

Productivity means more time

Finally, productivity allows us to achieve what we need to get done in less time, leaving us with more time, the one thing even billionaires can’t buy. And what can you do with all that extra time? Whatever makes you happy. Work on your hobby, or turn it into a side hustle, go for a run, do some yoga, knock off early and play with your kids, see your friends, take holidays. All good happiness-generating stuff.

So how can we become more Mindful?

In a word, practice.

The good news is that thanks to a little something called neuroplasticity, our brains can be trained just like our muscles, and the evidence for the effects of mindfulness practice are impressive. Meditation practice has been shown to increase grey matter in areas of the brain associated with joy and pleasure, emotional regulation, and perspective taking, and in some studies brain scans even suggest it shrinks the amygdala, the area responsible for fear and fight or flight, and thickens the pre-frontal cortex, the area associated with higher order functions like decision-making, and concentration.

It might feel like you’re doing nothing, but you’re actually making a huge difference to the way you think and react. And as we know by now, that has far more influence on your levels of happiness than your circumstances. So there you have it. Mindfulness, our Happiness Pillar #3. Get some practice in your life. Wake up and really smell the coffee, and then notice exactly what it tastes like, and how it feels in your mouth. Try our free meditation for beginners in the Mindshine App. Go for a walk and feel every sensation. Pay attention more. You only get one go at this life. Don’t miss it!

You can find more articles about productivity or self-awareness in our Magazine.

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Download the Mindshine app (iOS or Android) for more mindfulness and happiness exercises that help you find out what you believe and who you are.


The Seven Pillars of Happiness | Pillar 2: Productivity

So last week we wrote about the first of our Happiness Pillars, self-awareness. This week we turn to our second, and perhaps least sexy Pillar of Happiness – Productivity.

What has Productivity got to do with Happiness?

productivity and happiness

Ok, it’s not the first thing that springs to mind when you think about happiness, so why here at Mindshine do we rate sensible old productivity as important enough to sit in our Seven Pillars of Happiness? And before you start, no, it’s not just because we are German!  Happiness has been found in a slew of studies recently to make people more productive, up to 13 percent more productive according to one study from Oxford University, but how can we argue a case the other way around? Does being productive make us happier, and if so, can we help you to become more productive, and in doing so increase your day-to-day levels of happiness? Yes, and yes. Read on to find out how…

Productivity fuels achievement and motivation

Perhaps the most obvious way in which being productive generates happiness, is that it makes us feel good. Who hasn’t felt the little rush of joy that comes with ticking something off the to-do list? Having tasks hanging over us can be a horrible feeling, and getting going can be a challenge, but once we launch into doing mode, and start to get things done, there’s a feeling of strength and achievement that comes with action and makes us feel good inside. This isn’t just because we’re conscientious and love getting things done. In order to chivvy us along when there’s stuff to be done, our brains enlist the help of our own internal drug-dealer dishing out rewards for good behavior in the form of feel-good neuro chemicals. In this case, whenever our brains notice some sort of achievement, large or small, they hook us up with a shot of Dopamine, a neurotransmitter connected to feelings of pleasure, motivation and learning. This makes us feel good, and reinforces our desire to go back and do it again for another shot. Essentially hooking us on whatever behaviour we used to get the reward. It’s essentially using the same mechanisms which have us jonesing for a cigarette, or another go on that game on our phone, but when viewed as a way of getting more done, and actually enjoying the process, it’s the kind of addiction we’re totally ok with!

Productivity moves you toward Purpose

Hold on though. Don’t go filling your diary just yet. With this productivity stuff, just like a Sir-Mix-A-Lot video, there’s a big but. Don’t confuse productivity for business. Nowadays almost no conversation is complete without a whole load of humble-bragging about how “incredibly busy” we are. Run off our feet! No time for anything! This is not productivity. This is having too much to do. What we’re looking for in productivity is doing lots of stuff, but with purpose. When studies have been done on what makes us happy over the years, one thing crops up again and again, living a life of purpose. When we feel that we have a reason for getting up in the morning, and even better, that reason aligns with the core values that we hold dear, we feel a greater sense of wellbeing. It doesn’t really matter what we do, as long as it allows us to feel like we’re doing something worthwhile. We feel needed, useful, part of something. When we’re being productive, we’re moving things forward.

Productivity fuels growth

When we’re being productive and getting loads done with purpose, we grow. We move forward with our goals. And alongside feeling more positive emotions than negative ones, this is the other marker by which happiness is measured. Satisfaction with how our life is going and our progress towards our goals brings us measurable happiness, and productivity moves us in this direction.

Productivity means more time

Finally, productivity allows us to achieve what we need to get done in less time, leaving us with more time, the one thing even billionaires can’t buy. And what can you do with all that extra time? Whatever makes you happy. Work on your hobby, or turn it into a side hustle, go for a run, do some yoga, knock off early and play with your kids, see your friends, take holidays. All good happiness-generating stuff.

How To Become More Productive

By this stage, hopefully you’re fully converted by the idea of productivity and wondering how you can get more of it in your life. Well, wonder no more. Here are our quick and easy tips on becoming more productive.

Set priorities/Time management 

We’re all super busy. We all have way more to do every day than we can comfortable get though. So instead of stressing about it, or beating yourself up about what’s not getting done, try planning your day based on how much time you actually have, rather than based on what you’d like to get done. We have a great free exercise in the app called “Plan Your Day Backwards” which will talk you through the steps involved. 

Lists and micro tasks

Once you’ve got your list of stuff that’s do-able in the time you’re going to work, break all of those tasks down into much smaller units of efforts (we call them micro actions) and then tick each one off as you get it done. This not only makes beginning each bit of work far less intimidating, but if massively increases the hits of dopamine you’re getting doled out to you because you get a free one with every bit of achievement your brain notices, no matter how small.

STOP multitasking

stop multitasking

We all think we’re multitasking ninjas nowadays, and working from home is only making things worse. Who hasn’t found themselves reading articles while listening to podcasts while writing emails while cooking the kids dinner while shopping on Ebay? But guess what the research says? Doing more than one thing at a time is hugely detrimental to our productivity. According to a study at the University of London our IQ drops by ten points when we’re trying to multitask, the equivalent of losing a night’s sleep.

Pomodoro 

Developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 80s, this productivity technique, named after the tomato shaped mechanical timer in his kitchen, is designed to break up your work time into chunks of concentration followed by brief periods of rest. In the traditional version you do 25 mins of focussed work, followed by a 3-5 minute break, with a longer Half hour break after every fourth work cycle. Feel free to change the times to suit your working needs, but brief enforced breaks have been shown to be very effective in increasing attention and allowing you to get more done.

And finally, and perhaps most importantly, focus on the journey, not the destination. When we set goals, and allow our happiness to become dependent on whether or not we’re achieving them, we restrict our capacity for joy. As James Clear pointed out so nicely in his bestselling book Atomic Habits, when we take enjoyment from the process of doing, rather than getting the thing done, you’ve got yourself a happiness generating machine:

“When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running.”

You can find more articles about how to overcome the fear of going back to office, or self-awareness, the first pillar of happiness in our Magazine.

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Download the Mindshine app (iOS or Android) for more mindfulness and happiness exercises that help you find out what you believe and who you are.


happiness pillar 1: self awareness

The Seven Pillars of Happiness | Pillar 1: Self-Awareness

Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes. – Carl Jung

Check yo self before you wreck yo self. – Ice Cube

The Seven Pillars of Happiness:  #1 Self-Awareness

Everything we do at Mindshine is designed with one goal in mind; giving you the tools to live a happier life. These tools are based around the seven main areas we believe hold the key to happiness. We call them the Seven Pillars of Happiness, and over the next seven weeks, we’ll be examining them one by one, starting with Happiness Pillar number 1: Self-awareness. Want to know why self-awareness is fundamental to happiness, and how you can develop more of it? Read on…

Look for the answers inside

Nowadays, we spend  pretty much every waking second without attention fixed on something or somewhere outside of ourselves. It’s hardly surprising really. We have a little screen in our pockets which allows us to find out any piece of information we ask of it, lets us play games, allows us to snoop at photos of anyone we know, and millions of people we don’t, play any piece of music, learn to play any piece of music, take pictures, shoot movies, edit movies, send written messages to anyone in the world, go shopping, watch TV, and even occasionally talk to our friends. Where the hell else are we going to put our attention? Most of us have such an insatiable appetite for more and more information, and such an inexhaustible supply of said information at our fingertips, that we never look past it.

We’re super absorbed in the external world. And when we encounter problems in our lives, we google for an answer. Order a book from Amazon. Read a blog article. Someone out there knows the answer right? We seek and seek and read and read and that’s where most of us stay, in the outside world. This is our mind losing focus on ourselves and to avoid our internal experience. Suppressing the anxiety that comes with looking into ourselves. Avoiding the real internal work that we need to do on ourselves in order to create real change in our lives.

What is Self-Awareness

what is self-awareness?

Simply put, self awareness is the ability to see ourselves clearly. It’s the ability to understand our thoughts and feelings, hopes and dreams, know our strengths and weaknesses, our passions and our values. Dr Tasha Eurich, bestselling author and  one of the organizational psychologists behind a four year study into self-awareness breaks it down into two fundamental types. Internal and external. They are helpfully broken down in the chart below from the Harvard Business Review.

self-awareness table

She’s keen to point out that one type is not better than the other, and that the happiest and most successful people in her study actively tried to find balance between the two. But why is knowing ourselves so important anyway? 

How does Self-Awareness lead to more Happiness

Self-awareness is like a personal development superpower. A whole raft of psychology studies have turned up evidence that practicing self-awareness is positively correlated with all sorts of desirable outcomes. It has been shown to make us more proactive, boost our acceptance and encourage positive self development (Sutton 2016). It helps us make better decisions (Ridley, Schutz, Glanz, & Weinstein, 1992).  It makes us better at our jobs, (Sutton, Williams, & Allinson, 2015) and enhances our powers of self-control, productivity, creativity and self-esteem (Silvia & O’Brien, 2004). But how does it make us happier?

Know where you’re at

Any attempt to increase your levels of day-to-day happiness have to start from somewhere, and if you don’t know where that place is, you’re going to have a tough time starting.

Know what you want

What makes you happy? If you know the answer to this question, you’re going to have a much better chance of formulating a plan of how to get more of it into your life, but guess what you’ll need to work on to find out… you guessed it! Self-awareness.

Know your strengths

If you understand what you’re naturally good at, you’ll be able to steer your life choices down paths where you have a built-in advantage. You’ll enjoy the work because it’ll come easily to you, and you’ll impress people, and go further. All this stuff generates happy feelings.

Know your weaknesses 

Knowing what you’re not so good at is also a massive help in the quest for happiness. It allows you to swerve situations which won’t suit you, and more importantly it gives you a good idea of the areas in your life which you could benefit most from working on, making you a potentially better rounded person.

Know your patterns

The more self-aware you are, the more likely you’ll be to notice the patterns in your life that lead to unhappy outcomes. You’ll start to notice the kinds of thing that tend to trigger difficult emotions in you, and knowledge is power. Once you start to understand these things about yourself, you can work on making them better.

Know your core values

One of the most important things you can do to increase happiness in your life is live a life of purpose, aligned with your core values. When you know what is important to you deep inside, and make that the reason for doing what you do, you hugely increase your chances of feeling satisfied with your choices.

Know how you’re doing

When we are aware of how we’re getting on. When we keep tabs on ourselves, and measure our progress along the paths we’ve chosen, we not only bring ourselves happiness through the achievement of goals, but we gain the ability to steer our course more precisely, making it much more likely we’ll get there.

Know what you like

Alongside all the good virtuous, making-the-right-life-choices markers of happiness, self awareness also helps us to simply know what brings us enjoyment. And when we know what we like, we can make the kind of choices which are right for us. Avoid the parties we don’t want to go to, spend more time in jazz clubs, or doing needlepoint, or reading fantasy novels. Don’t follow the herd. When you know what you really like, do you, and be happier for it.

How to become more Self-Aware

So if you want to create change in your life, and you’re reading this so I’m guessing you have at least a passing interest in the subject, you know the first step is to develop your self-awareness. Now you’re probably reading this and thinking, “I’m pretty self-aware actually, that’s not my problem”. How do I know that? Well because according to the latest research we all think we’re self-aware. Unfortunately that same research found out that only 10-15% of us actually fit the criteria.

If you’re going to try and work on your self awareness, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Self awareness is really hard to do. It’s WAY easier to stay in our minds, rather than look at ourselves clearly, because when we get a really good look at ourselves, our self esteem can really plummet. The unfiltered truth about ourselves is often uncomfortable, especially when we see it from other people’s perspectives, but in the end, as the saying goes, the truth will set you free. Here are some ways you can do the hard work and gain more self-awareness:

JOURNAL

Sitting down with a pen and paper and just writing about your life is a great way of getting to know yourself. Dedicate a few minutes every day to simply putting your thoughts down on paper. You might be surprised at some of the things you learn about yourself. A great tip from Eurich’s research is to ask yourself questions that start with “what”, instead of “why”. “What do I need to do to fix this?”, instead of “why did this happen to me?”.

ASK FOR FEEDBACK

If you’re trying to get to know yourself, why not ask the people who spend most time with you what they think of you. After all, your friends, family and colleagues must have noticed the odd pattern or strength over the years. Be careful though, ask people whose opinion you value, and don’t get angry if you hear things you don’t particularly like. Their honesty is a gift. As long as it’s constructive, appreciate their feedback. It’s not a criticism. They are working with you for your improvement. It comes from a place of love. If they didn’t care about you it would be far easier to dodge the question and say “everything’s fine”.

MINDFULNESS/MEDITATION

This one’s a no brainer; it comes with a whole host of mental and physical benefits, it calms anxiety, it organises your thoughts and allows you to get in touch with yourself on a deeper level, and it’s FREE.

THERAPY

Sitting down and having a long think and talk about your life is a privilege. It’s a gift to yourself. If you can afford it, it’s a great way of developing your self-awareness.

MINDSHINE

We’ve put a huge selection of self-awareness exercises into our app so you can work on yourself. Download it and have a go!

So there you have it. Self-Awareness; Our Happiness Pillar #1. There are few better ways to invest your time than getting to know yourself better. Notwithstanding the fact that the benefits (like this article describing them) are almost endless, you don’t want to spend the rest of your life with a stranger. Next week we’ll be diving into Happiness Pillar #2, productivity.

You can find more articles about how to overcome the fear of going back to office, or how to avoid burnout in our Magazine.

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Download the Mindshine app (iOS or Android) for more mindfulness and happiness exercises that help you find out what you believe and who you are.


Angst vor Rückker ins Büro

Fear of going back to the office

Feeling anxious about the return to the office? Here’s how to feel more confident about it

Are you dreading going back into the office?

You’re not alone. With the economy starting to re-open, many companies are starting to think about how to encourage their staff to swap trackie-bottoms for trousers and make their way back into the office for some actual real life, 3 dimensional, face-to-face business time. And while for many employees, this new freedom from children, cramped, shared living spaces, and an endless succession of Zoom meetings, will be greeted with unbridled glee, for many others it comes with a large side order of anxiety. As many as one in four of us wants to stay fully remote, with many saying they’d take a pay cut in order to be allowed to stay away from the office.

With Covid rates rising again, new variants to think about, plus a comfortable new routine of home-based working which might have suited those on the introvert side of things, it’s not surprising that going out into the big bad world leaves some of us feeling a little unsure. But is all this newfound worry really just about going back to the office, or could it be a signal that you want to make changes in your work life? Maybe it’s time to explore a little and learn some more about yourself and what you’re feeling inside.

How to explore your feelings of anxiety

1) Don’t try and squash, avoid, deny or otherwise mask the feelings

You are reading this so there’s a good chance you’ve already acknowledged your nerves exist.  Great work!  Like Dr.Marsha always says, “You have to feel it to heal it”, so noticing you feelings and allowing them space is the first step.

Anxiety about any change is totally normal – allow yourself to have the feelings. We’re not saying it’s ok to let your feelings take over, and control you, but make some space for them to be a part of you, and validate their existence. If you try and squash them down, they’ll pop back up when you least expect them. 

To allow yourself to experience all the worries you have…try making some time to write them down.  Sit down with your journal, or just some bots of scrap paper, and write down how these emotions make you feel in your body. Where are they? Get granular. Are they warm, or cold, do they have a border? Where does it ache when you think of going back to the office.  Also, write down all the thoughts that come along with the feelings on your body – where does your mind go? Write those thoughts down.

We’re using this process to simply observe our feelings. It’s entirely normal to have these difficult thoughts, and also totally fine and expected that our bodies feel tense and strange. What are these thoughts doing? Are they making you more uncomfortable, or tense or worried?  Thoughts come and go and we have the power to focus on what we want.

Pulling up these feelings and sitting with them isn’t necessarily going to feel comfortable…its ok, Do some deep conscious breathing to help your body regulate. In for four, hold for four, out for four. Once you’ve regulated, and started to feel calmer,  we’ll move on to making some lists.

2) Make some lists

The Shit List

First up, make a list of all the things you’re not looking forward to about going back to the office. What are you worried about? What are you scared to lose? What is frustrating you? What makes you angry? Your commute? Exposure to illness? The expense? Social anxieties? Organising more childcare? Getting this all out into the light of day is a cathartic process, and helps you see the situation more clearly.

The Hit List

Now write down all the positives about going back to the office. What are you looking forward to? Seeing your favourite colleagues? Listening to podcasts on the way in? The little pastries from that place across the road? If you think about it, there are a whole lot of good things about going in to work. Write them down.

Your Great List

If you’re feeling nervous about your performance, we have a Mindshine exercise which is perfect for instilling a sense of confidence. It’s called the Great List. When we’re nervous about something, we often tend to fixate on the potential negative outcomes. What if x,y, or z happens.  What we forget at times like these is how capable we are. How versions of X,Y, and Z have happened to us loads of times before, and we dealt with them just fine. So with the great list, we make a list of all the times we’ve come up against challenges and come through them. A sort of greatest hits from our lives of all the things that show we can do it. Maybe even keep one in your phone’s notes section, and add to it throughout the year. Then when you’re feeling a little nervous, just have a quick read through to remind yourself how capable you are.

3) Affirmations

These really work! It might seem a little bit like magic or wishful thinking, but affirmations have been shown to work in numerous experiments to change how you see yourself. Think of a phrase that talks to you in your situation. Formulate it in the first person, and in the present tense. And keep it positive (no don’ts or can’ts). Something like “I am a valuable member of the team and my presence at work is a huge positive for the company” or “My opinion matters, my work is important” or “I have the skills and experience to do my job well” I deserve to be here” whatever you need to hear. And then repeat it over and over to yourself for at least a minute. In your head is fine, but out loud is even better (just make sure nobody can hear you!)  It might feel strange, but your brain will start to believe it. 

4) Can you find a happy medium? 

If you’re still dreading going back in, or you’ve set your mind on keeping some of the benefits of working from home, can you make moves in that direction? Are you able to have conversations with your teammates or leaders about what worked better being at home and what is better at the office? Your work should at the very least allow you to have this conversation, so prepare for it by visualising what having your needs met in the workplace would look like.  Ask yourself why is that important to you, and then get in there and bring it up. If you don’t ask, you won’t get.

Wellness in the workplace

Over the last few years there has been a great welling up of feeling in society around many areas of unfairness. The world has been forced to stop and listen to the voices of many previously ignored parts of society, and hopeful sproutings of change are starting to show, spurred on by the Black Lives Matter movement, rights for Trans people, and a growing de-stigmatisation around mental health. We don’t live in a utopia, far from it, but there’s a breeze blowing which seems to be offering the hope of change, and employers around the world ignore it at their peril. Most millennials and gen Z employees now expect their workplace to care about their wellbeing. We all can’t just jump back to work without the discussions or efforts to support each other. There’s no “back to normal”. Post pandemic, workplaces need to create a space for wellbeing and  mental health, they simply can’t afford not to, and we all need to be a part of that process.

You can find more articles about how to recognize burnout, how to avoid burnout, or how to transform your negative beliefs for more happiness in our Magazine.

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Download the Mindshine app (iOS or Android) for more mindfulness and happiness exercises that help you find out what you believe and who you are.