I recently attended a workshop at my local branch of MIND. It was entitled ‘Power of Positivity’ and run by a local Tai Chi and mindfulness teacher. Here I want to share what I learnt from the class, mainly for myself so I have a reminder to look back on, but also for anyone else reading who may find it useful.
We first of all had to say what brought us to the class and what we hoped to achieve from it. I still find it quite difficult to talk about my own mental health illness in front of others so I was very proud that I was able to say my name, that I have bipolar disorder and that I was just here to learn some more tools for my recovery toolbox. There were a mixture of people with mental health disorders and people who worked in the mental health sector so I didn’t find it too difficult to talk about my own problems.
We then reflected on a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk:
In our consciousness, there are many negative seeds and also many positive seeds. The practice is to avoid watering the negative seeds and to identify and water the positive seeds every day.
This quote reinforced the idea that no-one is 100% positive. There will always be negative thoughts in your head and there will always be times when you act in a negative way. Part of recovery is accepting that, and accepting and loving yourself despite the negativity. However, it is also important to try and not reinforce the negative ideas and challenge them with positive thoughts.
We then went on to discuss four ways of being positive:
- Love yourself – learn to love yourself as you are right now. Don’t wait until you aren’t depressed to love yourself, love yourself right now even if you can’t get out of bed today. If you love yourself in the bad times as well as good then you will be reaching happiness. For me this is quite difficult as I can be really negative about myself when I am depressed and it seems a huge ambition to be able to love myself in those low times.
- Gratitude and appreciation – daily gratitude and appreciation lists. I have heard about this technique a lot and it really does seem to help. I do try and be grateful for what I have on a daily basis and write lists when I remember but it is something I should try to be a bit more regular about. Appreciation means appreciating the little things as well as the big.
- Happiness Compass – learn what makes you happy. Have a list of things that will point you in the direction of happiness that you can do almost immediately. 10 things that quickly came to my mind were:
- Go for a walk
- Mindfulness meditation
- Phone my partner
- Have a cup of tea
- Read a book
- Listen to some uplifting music
- Clean part of my house
- Cook a healthy meal
- Paint or Draw
- Hot bubbly bath
- Path of Least Resistance – accept things will happen to get in our way. Life will never be perfect but we can make it easier by taking the path of least resistance. For example if we work with people that we don’t get on with try being extra nice to them, make them a cup of tea. I think the British response to any negativity is make a cup of tea!
We also had a brief discussion on the power of visual motor rehearsal. The idea being that you visualise yourself going through the day in a positive way when you first wake up. It is something I have noticed in myself, the mood I am in during the first few minutes of a day does go on to set the tone of the entire day. I am going to try and make those few minutes more positive, perhaps by doing my meditation when I first wake up.
The next exercise was an awareness one. We had to write down 3 things we love about our lives:
- My daughter
- My partner
- My freedom of choice
I found it interesting that my first thoughts were of other people and how they make me feel good. I would like to get to a place where those people remain important but I also have more reasons to love life that come from me.
The next question was what we thought our calling was, what would we like to do with our lives and how we could get there. I wrote down:
- Helping other people with their mental health
- Peer support for people going through rough times
- Working with teenagers and their mental health
- Running a mental health in schools programme
- Online support
- Volunteering with Mind and other MH organisations
- Getting a counselling qualification
I hadn’t thought too much about it until we were asked but it is quite apparent my current job of teaching science isn’t on there. I love teaching but when I think about it deeply it isn’t really the science part I love it is the making a difference in teenagers lives part. It has made me consider changing sectors slightly and working within mental health instead of just teaching. It has definitely given me something to think about and I will look at volunteering and qualification options.
The final awareness question was what positive experience could we bring to our lives today or tomorrow? The idea being that it is the little every day things that really make a big difference to our lives and not just the major life changes. I decided I could go home and cook a healthy meal, do my headspace meditation and go to the meetup drinks. I can report I did all those things and will make a real effort to plan something every day.
After the break we looked at the energy pyramid:
The idea being that you have to deal with the body as a whole to think about positive energy. Physical energy is what props up the whole pyramid and without physical energy it makes dealing with the other areas difficult. This definitely made me think as I have been focusing on purely the mental side of things and making token changes to my physical health by saying I’ll eat less and saying I’ll walk more. I do really need to prioritise the physical side of things in order to move forwards.
We then reflected on another quote:
If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life – Abraham Maslow
I think this is another powerful quote and one I have come across before. Each day in our lives is precious so why do we seem to always settle for just being okay. I don’t want to be just okay anymore, I want to live each day with pure contentment.
Linking to this was the ‘Characteristics of Self-Actualised People‘.
- Self Acceptance – I’m okay and you’re okay. Accepting that people may have problems with you but that’s down to them and not you.
- Realistic – able to view things logically and rationally
- Problem-centred – applying problem solving skills to real world situations and helping other people improve their lives
- Frequent Peak Experiences – feelings of limitless horizons opening up
- Autonomy – conforming to your own idea of happiness
- Solitude and Privacy – value privacy and enjoy your own company.
- Sense of Humour – can laugh at yourself
- Spontaneity – do not feel confined by social situations
- Enjoy the journey – the journey towards a goal is just as important as the actual goal.
Next was another awareness exercise about work life balance. We had to rate work, rest and play out of 10 and say how we could improve each of these figures. I gave work currently a 3 as I’m not working enough and need to get back into more regular employment. In order to achieve this I have a meeting with my workplace next week. I can also look at volunteering and getting a counselling qualification to get into a different area of work. I gave my rest time a 7 as it is probably the most successful of the three areas. One thing I can do is to have more structured rest, I often just waste time and would like my rest to feel more purposeful. I gave my play time a 4 as getting out more socially is something I am working on through my meetup group.
Finally we looked at Tao Te Ching Verse 64. The famous idea of a journey of a thousand miles starts from beneath your feet. What first steps could we take right now today?
On the bus on the way home I did look into counselling qualifications and I think I have found an option that is manageable and affordable so watch this space!