The 11th Commandment

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February 2012

As I have noted previously, the aim of these newsletters is to focus on ways of being in the moment, of actually living your life as it happens rather than letting it slip by often not in a way of your choosing.  All too often we can catch ourselves dismissing hours, days or even whole years - I know I've done it and I suspect you have too. What I mean by that is the habit of humans to look forward to something and to simply overlook everything in between.

Take for example a habit of my own which I'm working on. Because the days when I work for the NHS tend to vary from week to week, I often find myself thinking, the instant I wake up, "What day is it?" If I then realise that it's a day I'm due to go to work, I think to myself, "Never mind only two days to the weekend!" (or words to that effect).  In thinking that, I am effectively throwing the intervening two days down the drain.

Life is precious. When we're young we tend to assume it will go on forever as days seem long, the gap between birthdays huge.  The older we get, the faster the days go by and we start to become aware that life is limited and we can't really afford to waste any more of it.  I'm already becoming increasingly aware that now that I've finally found what I really want to achieve in life, is there enough time left to do it?

The older I get, the less willing I find myself to do anything I don't really want to do. I can't afford to fritter away days on nothing in particular. Whatever I do needs to be taking me at least a little way towards one of my goals - if not, why am I doing it?

But that is precisely what most of us do every day.  How much of your own time do you fritter away whilst waiting for something else to be perfect before you allow yourself to live the life you want?

I'm not saying here that we all become self-centred prima donnas.  Maybe you have to keep doing a job you truly hate in order to earn money. If that's the case, look around for other jobs and in the meantime focus on whatever small details of being in your present job are positive. People often seem almost afraid to do this in case they get to like the job and so wouldn't then want to leave - or some other equally irrational notion.

You can enjoy doing something yet at the same time be plotting to leave it. You don't have to make yourself hate every moment in order to justify going, do you?

dog chasing bubbles

Being in the moment is about living in the here and now.  If what you want is not happening at this moment, then you have two choices, either change the moment in some way OR focus your awareness on some positive aspect of the moment you're in.

I have been working at releasing that instantaneous negative thought I get on waking and it is slowly having an effect. When I catch myself thinking it I simply remind myself that there is much about going to work that I enjoy so I remind myself of all those aspects instead.

The life we experience is controlled by what we think about it.

Picture two women in a spa having a massage. One is luxuriating in the sensations and aware of how pleasurable it is. The other is there under duress and is constantly wondering how much longer it will take and is focusing on every tiny negative sensation.

If the masseuse accidentally bumps the arm of her client as she works, the first client may not even notice as she is totally focused on the pleasurable sensations. The second client, however, will focus on the minor bump and use it in her mind to reinforce her belief that being there is unpleasant and a total waste of time. 

Like attracts Like - this applies to thoughts and feelings as much as to anything else.  If you have positive thoughts you will get positive feelings. If you allow your mind to dwell on negative thoughts you will feel bad.  This simple truth is overlooked by most of the clients I see in the course of my work.  I blame the medical model for this because in medicine the doctor is constantly asking you about your symptoms. For this reason, we all tend to think that these are relevant at all times.  This is where logic fails because anxiety is not a symptom.

Anxiety is a normal reaction of living creatures to a warning from their survival instincts that they may be in danger.  In the Western world, the word 'anxiety' has taken on many negative connotations, it's got a very negative press.  If, on the other hand, we call it 'raised negative arousal' it doesn't seem so bad.  We all know that arousal is transitory.  Arousal moves up and down.  So does anxiety. The problem is that once we tell ourselves we have it, we tend to latch onto it and monitor it - and all that does is increase it.  Once you label yourself as an anxious person you will do your best to live up to that label!

Patients frequently come to see me and when asked how things have been since their last visit, begin listing all the (often minor) episodes which they consider were negative, the times they failed to implement techniques they have been taught etc.  I usually have to ask about the things that went well because these aren't volunteered.  Why not?  

When we are at school we are frequently taught to become very aware of all the bits we get wrong.  We all take that habit into adult life with us.  But it isn't really appropriate there and does more harm than good.  Nobody gets it perfect every time. 

The person who can go from cradle to grave without making a mistake at all has had a wasted life.  The whole point of life is to learn.  We learn most from our mistakes so we need to make them.  On the other hand, it would not be a mistake if we did it deliberately, would it.  

I believe that on any given occasion and under the circumstances prevailing at the time, any person does the best of which they are capable.  What they did may later be judged as incorrect or lacking, but the purpose of hindsight is to learn from it rather than use it as a tool to beat yourself up with.

One of my favourite songs has always been 'The Rose'.

The person who is afraid of making a mistake is afraid of living.  We have each been given the gift of life by whatever we believe is responsible for creating us, surely it is up to us to make the best of whatever we have?  None of us can lose bad habits overnight - and tuning into anxiety symptoms is a really bad habit.  The aim is to improve on them a little bit, day by day and to remind ourselves of our successes as we go. Each time we allow ourselves to again become anxious about our failures we are simply reinforcing what we want to get rid of!

 There is NO eleventh commandment - thou shalt not make a mistake, yet we all behave as if there is!  

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