When we are stressed we are most likely to drop into a default mode of crowded thoughts and frantic rushing. We often let our thoughts and emotions dictate, without stopping to actually assess what’s helpful. The greatest present we can give this Christmas is being present to ourselves and present to others. So here’s how to clear your mental clutter and actualise your mental well-being. 

Actualise –  stop, assess and determine what’s needed. 

The penultimate blog in this CHRISTMAS series by Val Mullally.

Family Busy at Christmas

A is for Actualise

If you’re anything like me you may be asking, “But how do I actualise my mental well-being?”

So often my thoughts race away with me.

My mind chases everywhere but where I want to be – enjoying the moment.

How To Train Your Mind To Be In The Moment

Here’s the SPACE acronym  – the declutter solution from the experts. We can adapt this to clear the stress and clutter from our minds:

Sort

Purge      

Actualise   (assign a home) 

Containerise 

Equalise 

Let’s look at each of these:

SPACE - the acronym to clear the clutter in your head

How to Create Mental SPACE

Sort

Sort your thoughts. Not all thoughts are true. See “Stress Less this Chrismas – Thought Minding” for more on this.  Some thoughts aren’t kind, or helpful. They erode our well-being.

Purge

If you’ve sorted your thoughts, you can purge those that aren’t helping you be the person you want to be. Is what I’m thinking true? Is it kind? Is it helpful? If you can’t say “Yes” to  all three of those questions, purge the thought! Bin the thoughts that aren’t working for you. If you don’t entertain them they won’t hang around!

Actualise

Be aware of what you actually choose. Either you are in control your thoughts or your thoughts are in control of you. Choose thoughts that help you be the person you want to be.

Containerise

One way that our thoughts stress us is through seepage. We let work thoughts drip into our downtime. We let unhappy past memories pollute our present joy. We let future worries ooze into our time of relaxation. These thoughts clutter our minds and cause stress.

Some need purging.

Others need containerising.

Work thoughts need to be containerised for after the holiday. (If it’s important and you’re worried you’ll forget it, note it down, so that your brain knows you have created a reminder, and can let it go).

Haunting past memories and future worries can also be containerised. Maybe you recognise you need to do something about them. In your mind containerise them so you can return to them at a more desirable time.

Sad memories of the loss of a loved one may also seep into your Christmas. Hold your memories gently in the crucible of your mind. What is there to celebrate about this person’s life? What would they want to be telling you now? Rather than letting your grief ooze into the day and pollute the joy, hold your pain carefully in a container where it can over time be transformed into joy and wisdom.

Equalise

Using SPACE to Sort, Purge, Actualise and Containerise our thoughts can help regain a calm equilibrium – to create balance in our lives.

SPACE acronym to clear the mental clutter

Why Create Mental SPACE

Why would we take time to create mental SPACE when life is already so hectic?

It’s like clearing the kitchen clutter before you start the Christmas meal.

It’s easier to get done what needs to be done.

You can focus on what matters.

It avoids unnecessary upsets.

Things go more smoothly.

Things are more enjoyable.

Things usually turn out better.

When we create mental SPACE there is more room for joy.

It opens our minds to what’s needed now, in this moment. So use SPACE to actualise what’s needed and what matters.

So what might it take to actually have a more joyful Christmas?

Join me for the big “S” of Christmas in the next blog!

So it’s over to you:

What thoughts do you choose to Sort, Purge, Containerise and Actualise that will help you to Equalise this festive season? 

Last edited December 22nd 2018

Why Mindfulness Matters

Chrismas and Stress seem to have become synonymous.

Life is frantic. Stress levels scream ever higher with alarming pressure.

Why the madness!

But there’s a swing back to a calmer way of being.

Medical Science and especially Neuroscience are recognising the power of the ancient art of why mindfulness matters to create calmer happier lives.

The sixth blog of this CHRISTMAS series by Val Mullally:

M is for Mindfulness

Imagine doing one thing differently that would open the door to being the person you would love to be.

The hinge that opens that door is mindfulness.

Mindfulness swings open the doorway to enjoying the moment, to greater understanding, to being tuned in to what is there before you. it opens our minds to what’s needed. Another word we could use to describe that mindfulness is awareness.

Choosing Mindfulness in Your Everyday Living

Paying attention in a particular way:

On purpose

In the present moment, and non-judgementally. Kabat-Zinn

Perhaps you’re thinking,

“But I don’t have time to stop and meditate.”

The good news is we can choose mindfulness in the everyday moments of our lives  – it’s about choosing to be conscious, even in the run-of-the-mill events at a busy time like Christmas.

Small hinges swing big doors.

Small hinges swing big doors

We can swing open the habit of mindfulness in the regular moments  –  whether we are peeling the potatoes, changing a nappy, opening a present, or whatever – just becoming more conscious of what we are doing in the moment.

Mindfulness as a Way of Being

 … our life is the path, and we no longer rely merely on the forms of practice.  Thich Nhat Hanh

When we are mindful we become more conscious of what we are doing, what we are feeling, who and what is around us and with us. We notice our intentions. We become more conscious of the thoughts that wind us up and how we can let them go and choose a more helpful response.

Instead of a “knee ‘jerk” reaction that is triggered by feelings of anger, fear or envy, we can respond with compassionate curiosity, that helps to create the quality of relationship we desire.

Why Mindfulness Matters for Parents

Whether the house feels like world war three broke out or a home where you’re all glad to live can depend on whether we, as parents,  choose to react or to respond. And our reactivity or calm response will depend on our mindfulness.

If you’d like the chance to develop key insights and practical skills to mindful parenting click here to discover “Stop Yelling – nine steps to calmer happier parenting” with Val Mullally guiding you through this live online course.

As parents become more aware and emotionally healthy, their children reap the rewards and move toward health as well. That means that integrating and cultivating your own brain is one of the most loving and generous gifts you can give your children.  Daniel J. Siegel 

The Mindfulness Path

Choose to respond rather than react.

Take a few breaths to calm yourself. Focus on choosing connection.

Ask yourself, “What’s really needed here?”

This is the way we can keep our selves well: with regular exercising of our attunement to ourselves through mindfulness practices.  Daniel J. Siegel

In the next blog discover how to clear the mental clutter that adds to our stress and causes us to react, rather than respond in a way that builds healthy relationship.

Small hinges swing big doors

So it’s over to you: 

What small doable step will you take today to become more mindful in your everyday living? 

Last edited December 21st 2018

Escape the Christmas stress by developing the mindful habit of “wait a little”. When we take time to slow down it not only improves our well-being it can also make life more enjoyable for those who are with us. The fifth blog of this CHRISTMAS series by Val Mullally.

S is for Slow Down

When I think back to my childhood in the Africa “bush” so many images come to mind. The huge red sun dipping slowly over the horizon in the evening, swimming in the river with fish nibbling your legs, raucous birdlife of amazing colours, moths and spiders as large as saucers, dry dusty soil – and thorns.

African sun at dusk

Thorns of all shapes and sizes, each inflicting its own type of pain. People who haven’t lived in that climate cannot imagine the variety of thorn:

  • large, spear-like woody acacia thorns that cause your foot to ache for days after an unfortunate encounter
  • the annoying little paper thorns that pepper your bare feet
  • the wicked devil’s thorns, like singular wooden marbles with vicious spikes in every direction, making it impossible not to get spiked
  • And the “wag-n-bietjie” thorns – “wait a little” because when you are caught by a string of these sharp, curved thorns which hook into your flesh and clothing, you have no choice but to “wait a little” and disentangle yourself.

Wait-a-Little As a Daily Habit 

Often it is the unpleasant things like illness or injury that hook into our lives and force us to  “wag-n-bietjie”. What if we choose to slow down and notice where we are in life, rather than waiting till circumstances force us to stop.

When we slow down we become mindful –  we become more aware of new information, we notice how one thing impacts another and we become more sensitive to the intricacies of situations.

Between stimulus and response there is a space… In our response lies our growth and our happiness.” Stephen R. Covey

Within the bustle of Christmas, let’s create pleasant slow-down moments.

Time to stop for a cuddle.  To go for a walk.  To watch children playing. To do nothing. To reflect.

 

Slow down this Christmas and enjoy peace joy love

Make space for the things that breathe life into your being 

Wait a little –  in an inner place of quiet stillness.

Each of us needs periods in which our minds can focus inwardly. Daniel J. Siegel

One simple way is to notice your breath. Stop the rushing. Just notice your breathing – in and out. Take time to notice the beauty around you. Open the door of awareness to experiencing awe.

Awe puts on the brakes, and keeps us still and attentive. Hedy Schleifer

The word “awesome” has become an overused superlative that has lost much of its meaning. Awe is not about “cool” – awe is much deeper. It touches our souls. Awe shows up when we slow down.

Why slowing down matters

Slowing down matters for our own well-being and it matters for those who are with us. We become more aware, more attentive, and we take stock of our lives. When we slow down, we open the door to awe.

Only that day dawns to which we are awake. Henry David Thoreau. Walden 

Paul Piff says awe makes us nicer and happier: “Awe causes a kind of ‘Be Here Now!’ that seems to dissolve the self, and as a result makes us act more fairly, more generously, more ethically.”

escape Christmas stress - slow down

So over to you: 

  • What helps you to slow down? 
  • What do you see are the greatest benefits when you slow down?

Last edited December 19th 2018

What do you do if your child seems to be showing ADHD type behaviours?

How do you cope with the outbursts and the excessive energy?

I felt distress as I watched the Prime Time RTE programme dealing with this heartbreaking subject and saw the despair that some parents are experiencing.  I imagine these parents WISH that they could receive an immediate response from those who could make a difference, instead of horrifically long delays before they receive any support.

Any person with an ounce of compassion would be wondering how these parents cope with the unrelenting energy of their child and the torment of ‘How do we get through today (or even the next ten minutes)?’ I admire the courage of these parents who allowed the television crew to capture some of the frustration and anguish, that I imagine many experience daily.

I’m writing this blog not only to express my concern and appreciation for these parents, but also to encourage parents that things can get smoother. I’m not saying ‘perfect’, I’m not saying there won’t be bumps and sharp turns on the journey but there is hope. The good news is that, as parents, we CAN DO SOMETHING to create calmer homes and more happiness, while we are waiting for the services to respond. We can discover how to support children to behave more cooperatively. I know from my own experience, that parenting isn’t easy. And I imagine that it’s particularly challenging if you have a child who is wound up like a clockwork toy and who seems to push against every boundary.

‘wound up like a clockwork toy’     Clipart by Ron Leishman – http://clipartof.com/435819

As I watched the RTE PrimeTime television documentary, I spotted some simple, subtle ways in which parents can create more harmony and connection.

So here’s TEN PRACTICAL TIPS, based on interactions observed within the film footage of the Prime Time programme, to support you in taking little steps creating smoother relationships and more cooperative behaviour.

1. What I observed when the child is acting out.

Parent: ‘This is not you.’ But this IS part of who the child is, right now, at this moment.  His behaviour does not need to define him. He’s so much MORE than only this behaviour. But when we deny that this is ‘him’, we are, in a sense denying part of who he is.

A response you could find more helpful:

‘You’re angry right now.’ Help him to NAME and CLAIM his strong emotions. As he can CLAIM his feelings, over time he’ll learn also to TAME them – to be in control of his emotions, instead of his emotions being in control of him.

2. What I observed when the child is in tears:

Parent: ‘You don’t have to cry anymore.’

A response you could find more helpful:

Focus on being present to your child, show sympathy and give support. Let the tears flow naturally. Apparently the tears we cry when we are emotionally upset are chemically different to the tears we cry when we peel an onion. The ‘upset’ tears contain stress hormones. So ‘Have a good cry’, ‘Cry it all out’ make sense. The tears will be healing when the child senses our gentle, loving support alongside him, when we’re relaxed with his tears and not trying to stop them.

3. What I observed when the child is distressed, as she remembers the awful thought she had, which were a side effect to the medication she’d been given: Parent: ‘Those thoughts are gone.’ But they’re not gone. She’s still upset about them!

A response you could find more helpful:

Acknowledge the experience. Give her a safe space to talk about them. Then reassure her that the upsetting thoughts were brought on by the medication. In life, it is not so much the bad things that happen to us that are the concern, but rather that we have not yet woven them into the fabric of our lives. Like embroidery that was knotted and tangled at the back, the child needs support to gently untangle these threads and to weave them into her ‘narrative’, her story of her life. Daniel Siegel’s book ‘Parenting From the Inside Out’ is a great resource to understand this more fully. Making sense of our own unique life story is rather like a beautiful Persian carpet – provided it is well woven, the dark patches are an integral part of the beauty of the design. In a similar way the ‘dark patches’ of our lives, when worked through so that we understand this part of who we are, have the potential to become part of the richness and beauty of our personality.

 

4. What I observed when the child is energetically bouncing on the seat, as the parent is trying to interact with someone else:  Parent: ‘Can you stop it please.’

A response you could find more helpful:

Anticipate moments like these and have activities to attract his attention and keep him busy. With younger children, playdough is ideal and tends to have a soothing effect on the child. Crayons and paper are great to have on hand. With older children construction toys like Lego and K’nex can keep their attention. Also keep in mind that still periods probably won’t be long. When you hold an awareness that your child is probably doing the best he can right now, it’ll be easier to adapt to his needs, even if that means inviting the visitor to walk and talk, so that your child can work off some energy.

Also, rather than giving a negative comment say what you do want. Instead of ‘stop it’ give the child a choice, directing his attention to something positive he can do. ‘You can choose to sit next to me and listen or you can choose to play with these toys.’ When the child is given a choice he’s far more likely to cooperate.

 

5. What I observed: television constantly on.

A response you could find more helpful:

Create a family culture where the television is off, unless you’re actually sitting and watching something together, and even then be thoughtful about what programmes you chose.  All children needs calm space, and particularly those with very high energy levels. Exposure to energetic or aggressive action is likely to evoke more of the same. (However, be aware that sudden changes in his routine, like suddenly stopping television viewing, are likely to trigger a strong emotional reaction. You need to discuss and plan other enjoyable activities to replace the television viewing, probably making this a gradual adjustment).

 

6. What I observed was the parent talking about the child’s issues to others in front of him. Children tend to live up to their parent’s expectations. Whilst it makes sense that you really need a space to talk about the challenges you’re facing, if he hears from you that he’s ‘out of control’ /’a challenge’/ ‘wrecking your head’ the message he receives is that this is what you expect from him, and he’s likely to live up to your expectations.

A response you could find more helpful:

You are facing such a huge responsibility it makes sense that you need a safe space to let off steam – but please find it away from the ears of any children. Also notice that talking with some people will increase your sense of frustration and powerlessness, whereas others will encourage you and help you to be the clear-headed, compassionate parent you want to be.  Find the safe, encouraging friends and professionals who will genuinely support you.

 

7. What I observed when the child acted aggressively:

Parent: ‘Upstairs! Don’t kick me.’

A response you could find more helpful:

There’s a fine line between giving him ‘time with himself’ to calm down and reflect on what’s needed and ‘time out’ as a punishment, which isolates him from you. When a child experiences being emotionally abandoned by the parent, he’s likely to protest. All conflict is a protest at the disconnection. This statement might seem strange when he’s acting out when you’re still physically present, but your child senses when you are angry or have emotionally disconnected from him, and he reacts. At other times, your child may have disconnected from himself; then he’s unable to take control of himself. Ironically, these times, when it’s hardest to stay emotionally engaged with him in a supportive way, are the times he most needs connection with you. He needs you to help him regain control of himself.

Also when we give negative commands the child doesn’t hear the ‘don’t’ – he tends to only hear the command, e.g. ‘kick me’. Rather say what you DO want, such as, ‘Peter, calm down.’ (in a calm, connecting voice).  (Using his name at the start of your sentence also helps him to reconnect and to focus on what you are saying).

 

8. What I observed when the parent is discussing the child’s experience of a situation:

Parent: ‘You love your teachers.’ Child: ‘NO!’

A response you could find more helpful:

Create a listening space for him to share his perspective. Hear how it is for her. The child needs to be able to make sense of her experience. If she is being rejected by other children or reprimanded at school it’s likely that she’s feeling frustrated and she needs to be able to process those feelings. She needs home to be a safe space to share how she’s experiencing what’s happening in her world. That doesn’t mean we encourage her take a ‘Poor Me’ attitude, but once she feels heard and connected she’ll be in a better place to reflect on what she could have done differently, that could have been more helpful.

 

9. What I observed was the child cavorting in spiderman clothes.

Over many years in preschool education I saw time and time again that when children are dressed in ‘invincible’ outfits, ‘invincible’ behaviours erupted.  Part of our school policy became ‘No spiderman, batman, etc outfits.’

Think too about the choice of toys. You may notice that when he is playing with certain toys it sparks OTT behaviour. Some toys are far more likely to evoke aggressive or hyper-active behaviours. Discover the alternatives that lead to calmer ways of playing.

 

10. What I observed was the parents’ pain when it is inferred by others that the child is ‘a brat’ or ‘bold’.

A response you could find helpful:

Whether a child is challenged with ADHD or not, labels like ‘bold’ or ‘brat’ are never helpful. Any child is likely to feel attacked when negative labels are used. In our minds, we need to separate out the behaviour from the child him (or her) self.  It ‘s more helpful to say ‘I don’t like it when you …   and I would prefer it if you …’

Likewise we need to beware of labelling ourselves. Self-criticism, like ‘Bad parent’, is only going to make us feel bad. The stress level with dealing with a child with challenging behaviour is already high enough, without the added pressure of self-punishment and self-criticism. It’s easier to be reflective about what’s working if you think in terms of:

‘What am I doing that’s helpful in this situation?’

By noticing what we do that creates more cooperative behaviour, we discover how to create more of the same. Particularly, we can start noticing the ‘good times’ and discover how to create more of this in our lives.

A final note:

The one small step that can make a huge difference is to recognise that we can’t change our children (as much as we might like to, particularly on some days!) but we can change the way we react or respond to them. The secret is to develop our own mindfulness in our parenting, so that we become more aware of what’s working and what’s not.

While you’re waiting for the help you deserve, the help your child needs, I encourage you – don’t just wait.  Use the time to develop your own awareness about WHAT WORKS to create connection, communication and cooperation between family members.

If this article has been helpful for you, make sure you are signed up for the Koemba newsletter. You’ll be just in time to hear about our January special: exciting new material about what to do when children’s difficult behaviour challenges you.

Val Mullally MA

CEO Koemba Parent Coaching

copyright©valmullally2012

 

Last edited November 28th 2012