We all have good days and bad days, usually determined by what’s happened to us. But what if we flipped the script and started relating to things differently? What if what made a day good or bad wasn’t so much about what happened to us as it was down to how we responded?

FREEDOM IS A STATE OF MIND

Life comes with inevitable difficulties. Often we are not in control of a lot of what happens. We get distracted by someone at the door right before leaving the house and forget our phone. Our car breaks down. The train is delayed and we’re late to a meeting. We have a wardrobe malfunction. We get into a heated disagreement with our boss. Our computer stops working.


All of these things have happened to me. And what has made all the difference between spiraling into painful emotions like frustration, anger, confusion and despair and being able to keep my head above water hasn’t been the amount of catastrophes that life can sometimes pack into a 24 hour period or the severity of the events. What’s mattered has been my state of mind.


The best way to describe how I’ve changed since I took up a mindfulness practice comes down to one word: resilience. Dictionary.com defines resilience as an:

ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy.

Our time on this planet is brief. Resilience is an exceptionally useful skill for anyone interested in living a happy and meaningful life; the less time and effort it takes to bounce back from unpleasant experiences, the more time and energy becomes available to enjoy the good things in life and fulfil our hopes and dreams.

But I’d like to share a word of caution before I go on. I’m not suggesting that when we experience extreme adversity, like the death of a loved one, loss of our home, or a life-threatening illness, that our ability to recover is solely up to us. 

Research suggests that the most important factors in someone’s resilience isn’t just down to a positive outlook. What made the most difference was the resources available to those who were suffering. And not just the kinds of resources, but the time it took to access them (the sooner, the better) and the combination of resources that supported people to return to as normal a life as possible.  

All three of the adverse experiences I mention above have also happened to me. And in addition to my own efforts to take care of myself, I benefited greatly from the love and support of family and friends, physical and mental health services, financial resources and consistent employment. I definitely would not have recovered as quickly (or possibly at all) without these things.

So an effective mindfulness practice also depends on there being some basic resources already in place. We build from that foundation. 

IT’S YOUR CHOICE

Now if you’re as cynical as I was when I started my mindfulness practice, you might be thinking one of a number of things. Well it’s all well and good for some people, but it’s not for me. Is she suggesting we simply take a deep breath and get on with it? What about all the unfair things in life, shouldn’t we try and make the world a better place? What if mindfulness turns me into a zombie?

I’m not suggesting that we simply suck it up and keep on keeping on. What I am suggesting it that there may be an easier way to face uncertainty than raging against reality. Through mindfulness we can learn to respond to our life from a much more creative place than the one we get into when we are habitually reacting to it.

CULTIVATING RESILIENCE AT WORK

For many of us, our work is an important part of our lives and also a place where we experience ups and downs. Our work can be both a source of energy, creativity, and productivity, as well as a drain, where we sometimes lose touch with our own capacities and motivation. 

Here are my top three practices that have helped me bounce back from difficult situations at work, sometimes with even greater energy and enthusiasm than before.

1. ACKNOWLEDGE THE DIFFICULTY

One of my favourite Breathworks aphorisms is “what you resist, persists.” When we try and push away the unpleasant sensations, thoughts or emotions that inevitably arise in difficult situations, we are reinforcing a habit of resistance. This resistance, initially meant to protect us, paradoxically ends up hardening us against other feelings, including the pleasant ones. And those difficult sensations, thoughts and emotions tend to come back, sometimes stronger than before. 

By simply pausing and acknowledging that we are experiencing a difficulty, we learn to “dial down” our habitual resistance and create new habits of acceptance and a capacity to be with our experience, rather than against it. This, in turn, provides space for the unpleasant sensations, thoughts and emotions to simply be there and eventually pass through us. 

This acknowledgement doesn’t have to take that long or require a great deal of energy. It might be as simple as taking a deep breath, placing our hand on our heart, and saying to ourselves something like, “this is hard” or “I’m finding this really difficult.” Find your own words for how to meet the difficulty and notice the relief you might feel through this one simple act. 

2. GIVE YOURSELF A HUG

I know, I know. Did she really just suggest that!? Ok, if it helps you can call it something technical like “arms crossed over the chest and round the back stretch.” Whatever you call it, what is important is how it makes you feel. 

Research has shown that by simply giving ourselves a good squeeze, for about 20 seconds, we can release important hormones like oxytocin that help reduce stress. This is also an especially effective strategy when you’ve physically hurt yourself.

3. LET IN THE GOOD

When all else fails, sometimes the best thing we can do is simply resource ourselves with pleasant experiences. Research suggests that because of neuroplasticity (the brain’s capacity to rewire itself over time) we can actually change our experience in real time by choosing to focus on things that feel good, rather than dwelling on the bad stuff. 

Now, I’m not suggesting we try and replace negative thoughts with positive ones. That may actually end up causing you more stress! This practice is about actually finding something that feels good and dwelling in the experience for a little while (12 seconds to be precise!).

You may enjoy feeling the warmth in your hands, or the softness of clothing against the skin, going for a walk in the park, listening to a favourite piece of music, or drinking a cup of tea. Whatever it is, really take the time to notice how it feels and the effect this has on you. Throughout your working day, build in short breaks for this simple and delightful practice.

JUST DO IT

Resilience is something we can build over time, expanding our bandwidth to be with discomfort and supporting ourselves so we don’t end up in unhelpful, anxious mental states. By practicing these three simple things you may find that the next time life throws something unexpected your way, you bounce back just a little bit quicker and lighter than before. So why not give it a go, what do you have to lose?

Singhashri Gazmuri



To fully establish the many benefits of mindfulness in your workplace, please get in touch about training with Breathworks here.

References

1. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-put-down-the-self-help-books-resilience-is-not-a-diy-endeavour/

2. https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-science-willpower/201105/hugging-yourself-reduces-physical-pain

3. Dr. Rick Hanson, Buddha Brain