A Mindful Cup

Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present moment with an attitude of non-judgement. Everyday mindfulness is one way we can exercise our attention on a regular basis without having to change anything in our routine or set aside time for meditation, although this is still highly recommended. We can practice everyday mindfulness by bringing our attention more fully to the present moment and focusing on our senses in the here-and-now. 

One great way to practice incorporating everyday mindfulness into your routine is to find something you do every day. It is also helpful if this is something you enjoy. Drinking a cup of coffee or tea in the morning is a common way to start the day for many people. It also fits well as a daily practice and brings with it an element of enjoyment. Try reviewing the following prompts or questions next time you drink your morning cup of coffee.

Sit or stand in one place. Bring your attention to your cup of coffee and let go of any distracting or rushed thoughts about the day ahead of you. Hold the cup in both hands. Feel the warmth of the cup and smell the coffee inside. Slowly and attentively take a sip. Experience the warmth of the coffee as you drink it into your body. Notice the taste. Notice how you feel as you drink the coffee. If your mind wanders, as it will, simply bring it back to the present moment and to your experience of drinking your coffee. Connect with a sense of appreciation for this brief pause before you set out on your day. Savor each sip as you are warmed and energized.  

When we practice mindfulness, the core practice involves bringing your attention back to the present moment or here-and-now as our mind will naturally wonder. Everyday mindfulness is an excellent way to incorporate this practice into your routine and drinking a cup of coffee or tea might be a great way to get started. Try bringing your mindful awareness to your experience of drinking coffee each morning, even just for a few minutes. Notice if this shifts your mood or your mindset before you rush off to work or join your first zoom meeting. If you notice a greater sense of calm and presence, invite this sensibility into your day and return to it regularly to help yourself stay grounded. Not only will you be practicing mindfulness, but you will probably find yourself enjoying your coffee to a much greater extent!    

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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Coping with Loneliness

Loneliness is a common human experience and a powerful reminder of our need for connection to others. However, it can sometimes lead to feeling empty and unwanted. It is important to notice how we appraise or interpret these feelings and the meaning we assign to feeling lonely. It is not uncommon to experience critical thoughts, such as “nobody likes me,” and self-blame, such as “I’m socially awkward and can’t talk to people,” further causing us to feel alone and diminishing our capacity for connecting with others. Therefore, it is helpful to pay attention to how loneliness plays into your state of mind. What is your self-talk? Do you get stuck in negative thinking? Do you criticize or blame yourself? If the answer is yes, try labeling these thoughts as a negative or unhelpful pattern of thinking, rather than facts. 

You can also practice viewing loneliness as an invitation to connect to others. Most people appreciate the opportunity to be supportive, so it is wise to let go of any worries that you might be a bother if you reach out for support. In fact, other people usually benefit from providing support and connecting with others in this way. Furthermore, everyone experiences difficulties at some point. Therefore, it is also helpful to let go of any thoughts that suggest your concerns are insignificant or unworthy of care and attention from others. Ultimately, reaching out to connect with others benefits everyone in your community and helps us all grow stronger together. 

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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Impermanence

The notion of impermanence can be hugely impactful and even transformative. Buddhism highlights impermanence or change as one of three facts about our existence. In our modern times, people often work hard to maintain the status quo or become overly caught up in pursuing the next big accomplishment. In some ways, such efforts could be seen as working against impermanence.   

In Buddhism, the denial of impermanence is seen as self-deception and a basic cause of suffering. Therefore, it is through acceptance of change and the impermanent nature of all things that freedom is possible.  

Impermanence provides two essential things. First, when we acknowledge impermanence, we are able to recognize and more deeply appreciate our positive experiences, such as happiness and joy, knowing that these will come to an end. Second, we may discover greater resolve knowing that difficult times or difficult emotions will change and eventually pass. Both the good and the bad are impermanent. If you look closely, everything around us is always changing. We are always in a state of arrival as we move into each new moment.     

Everyone experiences difficult periods, such as a loss or major transition. Sometimes daily life can be full of minor frustrations and setbacks. Many of us also struggle when we are alone or feeling bored. The pandemic itself has presented a major challenge for us all. At such times, large or small, it can be useful to remind ourselves that nothing is truly permanent. Whether you are enjoying the sun or waiting out the storm. All things shall pass.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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Mindfulness Myths

Mindfulness is everywhere! We see references to mindfulness in all types of magazines and books, television, and even in the names of businesses. To be sure, mindfulness can be extremely helpful and research regarding the positive role of mindfulness for improving wellbeing is impressive. Nevertheless, mindfulness is not always well understood and a number of myths about mindfulness have come to my attention.  

Mindfulness is meditation. Mindfulness is best defined as a process of focusing awareness in the present moment without judgement. In contrast, meditation is a practice of sustained awareness or attention on a specific experience, most commonly the breath. We can be mindful at any point by bringing awareness to the present moment, even for a brief period. This shifts into meditation when we practice sustained attention over a longer period of time, thereby exercising our attentional capacity. This is helpful to keep in mind as we can practice being more mindful without necessarily practicing meditation, although meditation is highly recommended for cultivating mindfulness. 

Mindfulness is relaxing. Although mindfulness can reduce stress and lead to states of relaxation, mindfulness is actually an active and intentional process of focusing on the present with non-judgement awareness. Therefore, it should not be substituted for rest or sleep. 

Mindfulness is having no thoughts. This is actually not possible. Just as we cannot stop our heart from beating, we cannot stop our brains from thinking. Moreover, having no thoughts has never been a goal of mindfulness. The goal of mindfulness is to become aware of whatever thoughts come to mind, maintain awareness of these thoughts without judgement, and allow the thoughts to pass, rather than dwelling or becoming fixated in our awareness. 

Being mindful all the time is the ultimate goal. This is both impossible and undesirable. If we maintained such a high level of awareness at all times, we would become overwhelmed. The goal is simply to become more mindful, more often, and check-in with our thoughts and experiences as a way to connect with the present moment.

Mindfulness is joy or bliss. Although we can approach an experience of joy or bliss with mindfulness, achieving these states is not the goal. Mindfulness also involves being aware of negative or neutral experiences and does not apply exclusively to positive states. Nevertheless, we can work to be more mindful of our positive emotional states and experiences, which can have a positive impact on our well-being and sense of satisfaction.

Overall, it is helpful to keep in mind that mindfulness or being mindful involves the intentional act of bringing our awareness to the present moment without passing judgement. It is like standing behind a rushing waterfall as you become aware of the water rushing down in front of you. You may notice changes in the water or small objects falling, but you simply observe. The same metaphor can be applied to mindfulness. In mindfulness, we allow ourselves to observe our thoughts without judgement as we watch them pass. In this way, mindfulness can be a great help by allowing us to step outside of the waterfall of our thoughts and the stress of daily life and observe our experiences without judgement.    

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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Grasping a Hot Coal

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”  -The Buddha

Anger is a common emotion that is normal and healthy. Anger itself is not a form of aggression, rather it is a felt emotional state that can be informative and can enhance performance at moderate levels. However, sudden and intense feelings of anger, and the angry outbursts or destructive behaviors that may result, can lead to significant problems in our relationships.

As with all emotions, our ability to step back and observe our emotional state can be very useful. One approach to better understanding your anger involves paying attention to what triggers your anger and how you appraise or interpret the situation at hand. When you break down your experience of anger, you can increase your awareness and change your relationship to your anger, allowing for greater freedom to behave differently.  

Think of a recent time when you became angry and review the following questions to help you better understand your anger:

  • How did the experience of anger start? Can you identify a particular trigger or situation?  Did you experience a conflict, rejection, teasing or disappointment? Was it a particular person? Is there a common trigger or theme that you notice?
  • What was your internal experience? What did you think and feel? How did you appraise or interpret your anger? Did you experience exaggerations, incorrect views, blaming, irrational thoughts, personalization, all-or-nothing thinking or other cognitive distortions or assumptions? Did you assume you were right or that your way was the best?
  • How did you express your anger? Did you raise your voice, yell, pound your fist, glare, speak abruptly, make sarcastic comments, or withdraw and become quiet? Did you turn on yourself with your anger? When did you realize you were behaving this way? 
  • How did other people react to your anger? What might others have been thinking when they noticed you were angry?
  • What was the outcome? In what ways did your behavior impact others? What is your relationship like with the others involved? Do certain people in your life trigger your anger frequently? If so, why might this be the case and how could this knowledge help you navigate these relationships more effectively?  

Answering these questions is a great way of increasing your awareness around anger and the chain of events and reactions that often happen automatically.  

Changing your relationship to anger involves becoming aware of what triggers your anger and increasing your ability to observe how you appraise or interpret such triggers. It is helpful to notice your angry cognitions or what you tell yourself when you are angry, such as “I’m right,” “they are stupid,” or “I’m not good enough.” It is also important to practice noticing and moderating your physical arousal by using emotion regulation skills such as deep breathing or other grounding exercises. Finding ways of expressing your anger by talking with others about what upsets you is also helpful. Lastly, you can work towards reducing your overall stress level by taking care of your basic needs and increasing your capacity to be more flexible and open when managing difficult situations.

Once you have identified the hot coal in your hand, you can begin the work of loosening your grip by learning how it became hot in the first place and discovering new ways of letting it cool down.    

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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Emotional Report Card

What if we were given emotional report cards as children? This would imply many things, including an education grounded in emotional intelligence. As a society we strive to teach around cognitive and intellectual ability. Likewise, the intelligence quotient or IQ is based largely on these abilities. Nevertheless, emotional intelligence is highly correlated with success and is often a quality that exists in the best and most inspiring leaders. Moreover, emotions are involved in every aspect of our experience, yet often dismissed as insignificant or soft in a world filled with distorted notions of strength and an emphasis on intellect and rational thought.    

Emotional intelligence is the capacity to identify and manage or control one’s own emotions, while also being able recognize and respond to the emotions of others. A person with high emotional intelligence is typically able to name the emotion they are experiencing, harness that emotion, and apply emotions to problem-solving. Such a person has a good capacity for emotional regulation and can typically help others to do the same. An emotionally intelligent person often builds and maintains the best possible relationships as they are able to understand and validate how others feel, manage conflict, communicate clearly, and remain present and open to new experiences. 

Good news – the skills of emotional intelligence can be learned and strengthened through practice! 

According to Dr. Marc Brackett, an emotion researcher, author, and director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, the first step is to give yourself, “permission to feel.” Allow yourself to pause and self-reflect. Ask yourself how you are feeling and be curious and open to whatever comes up for you. Can you accurately label how you are feeling? You can practice developing skills in the following five areas of emotional intelligence that form the evidence-based approach to social emotional learning referred to as RULER:  

Recognizing – Recognize emotions in yourself and in others. Notice how emotions are expressed in our faces, voices, and bodies. Acknowledge, rather than dismiss or minimize your feelings.

Understanding – Understand the causes and consequences of emotions. Reflect on your emotional responses or interpretations of challenging situations or interactions. Reflect on how your emotions influence the behaviors of others. Explore the information provided by your emotions. Ask others how they are feeling.     

Labeling – Label emotions accurately. Use a wide range of feeling words and find the best and most nuanced way to describe your feelings. Research a feelings chart on the internet as an aid to provide language in labeling your feelings. 

Expressing – Express emotions appropriately. Consider the best time, place, and ways of expressing your feelings. Talk about how you feel with others. You might also write down how you feel or create art to express your feelings. 

Regulating – Regulate emotions effectively. Practice self-regulation skills such as mindfulness and meditation. Monitor and notice your self-talk and reappraise the things you might be saying to yourself. Eat healthy, exercise, and get enough sleep. Make a list of the things that help you calm down or feel grounded. Practice acceptance and self-compassion.   

Emotional intelligence is underappreciated and often lacking for many people. Many adults and most older adults had little or no instruction or role modeling to follow. However, with practice, anyone can work to improve their emotional intelligence and model the importance of emotional awareness for the next generation. Get started today by giving yourself permission to feel.

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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Wise Mind

Wise mind is a concept and practice that allows for us to acknowledge and sort through challenges and distress with the goal of arriving at a balanced response. It is also the place where our emotional mind and our rational mind overlap. Typically attributed to Dialectical Behavior Therapy, the notion of wise mind has a rich history connected to ideas about moderation, spiritual contemplation, intuition and the middle way.  

In order to practice wise mind, it is important to understand both the emotional and rational sides of our experiences. Emotional or emotion mind is the subjective state when your logical thinking becomes more distant or unclear and your emotions are primary. You are likely experiencing strong emotions and your brain is functioning at a core level of emotion. You might have access to factual information, but it is common to distort or misinterpret facts while you are in this emotional state. Nevertheless, this state of mind is important to acknowledge and embrace as part of our experience as it has something important to tell us. 

Rational or reasonable mind is the subjective state when you feel engaged in a thoughtful or deliberative process, reviewing and planning based on concrete facts. You may feel somewhat detached from the situation as you are engaged in higher levels of cognitive functioning. This state of mind is important to acknowledge and use as we navigate challenges and reason through our options.    

Wise mind is the place of overlap between our emotional and rational states of mind. To arrive at this state of mind, it is helpful to give voice to both you emotional and rational states of mind by reviewing emotion-driven thoughts and rational thoughts.  

Review emotion-driven thoughts by asking yourself, “What is making me feel or react this way? What is the worst thing that could happen?”

Review rational thoughts by asking yourself, “What would be the most reasonable thing to do and what are the facts? Is this as important as it feels?”

Finally, work towards the balance of wise mind by asking yourself, “What is the bigger picture? What will be most helpful right now?”

It can be helpful to write a few answers for each of these questions or incorporate these questions into your day-to-day experience. You can also simply practice asking yourself, “What is the bigger picture?” This can help you access a state of wise mind by gaining distance and putting things into a balanced perspective.

There is a wisdom of the head, and… a wisdom of the heart.” – Charles Dickens

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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Through the Eyes of a Child

Can you remember what it was like to experience the world when you were a child? Maybe you have a young person in your life now or have had the experience of spending time with a child recently. In either case, thinking back and reflecting on how a child experiences the world can be a useful avenue to connect with a greater sense of awe and gratitude.  

At a certain age, many adults stop playing and become more attuned to responsibilities. The focus shifts to what needs to get accomplished and our attention can become scattered as we manage the demands of everyday life. We tend to become more analytical and less vulnerable or risk averse. We may sometimes struggle more with relationships and personal insecurities. Although there are clearly benefits to being responsible and conscientious, it can be argued that something important is at risk of being lost.

If you have the chance, take a moment to watch or spent time with a child. Notice the authenticity, laughter, joy, and vulnerability. Notice how children get excited to the point of shaking with enthusiasm at what might seem like a small thing. Notice how children connect to an innate and pervasive sense of creativity and play with little or no concern for appearance or concern about what others think. Notice how children remain open to the impact of the world on their soft hearts and minds.  

Children are often endlessly fascinated and bring an innocent and loving sensibility that can be helpful to revisit. Do you recall what it was like to get your first bike or go swimming in the deep end of the pool? Do you recall catching bugs or your first fish? Did you have a favorite toy? Do you recall how you may have longed to someday drive a car or cook your own dinner? Did you measure each inch of your growth? Do you remember the excitement you felt when traveling to a new place or returning to school?

Practice seeing through the eyes of a child:

  1. Approach everything as new or experienced for the first time.
  2. View everything, particularly challenges, as learning experiences. 
  3. View everyone you meet as a potential new friend.
  4. Pick up a rock or an acorn and take a closer look.
  5. Listen to music, play instruments and dance.  
  6. Let go of thoughts and worries related to how others might view you.
  7. Pay close attention to little details, wild animals, and helicopters. 
  8. Engage your imagination and creativity through stories and art projects.
  9. Look at the stars and wonder about space.  
  10. Connect with a sense that everything and anything is possible in your life.

Take a few moments to practice some of these suggestions and see through the eyes of a child. Notice the fascination, joy, creativity and presence. Connect with the sense of amazement that children experience and allow yourself to feel intrigued and grateful about life. Everything is new, everything is possible, everything is a learning experience, everyone is a potential new friend, and the world is full of possibilities.

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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Do the Opposite & Act “as if”

The alarm rings again and it’s time to face the day. You may feel tired when you think of handling daily challenges, sad about a range of difficulties in your life, or discouraged by recent setbacks. It is reasonable that you would experience a strong desire to hit snooze and avoid getting out of bed. In this way our feelings lead to an avoidance behavior that can actually make it more difficult to deal with such challenges, while increasing our fears and anxiety. This is not uncommon.    

The following skills from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Adlerian psychotherapy, respectively, can be helpful for moving through difficult emotions by changing our behavior.  

Opposite Action

Use Opposite Action when you know that it is more effective not to give in to the emotional urge, such as hitting the snooze button. This means engaging in the opposite of what our emotion is telling us to do, if it makes sense to do so.  

The first step for Opposite Action is to recognize and identify your emotion. Are you angry, sad, or fearful? Next, identify the urge or desire to behave in a certain way. Do you have an urge to isolate yourself and avoid, hit snooze, or act out by criticizing a loved one?  

After this comes the trickier part of identifying whether or not the urge or behavior fits the situation. If you are angry, does it make sense to raise your concerns with a significant other or would it be better to walk away and take a break? What past experiences can inform this decision? If you feel sad, does it make sense to isolate yourself or would it be better to experience the success of overcoming challenges and the connection of reaching out for support from a friend? Can you think of a time when you successfully overcame a challenge or reached out and felt supported? This is not to say you shouldn’t feel how you feel. The goal is to examine your urge or reaction and determine if it would be more helpful to do the opposite.   

The final step is to do the opposite of what your urge is telling you. Get out of bed, call a friend, or challenge yourself to walk away from a tense situation. You may try something small such as getting up for a drink of water or taking a few deep breathes before you make a phone call. If there is no real threat and you are capable of handing the task at hand, move towards your fears and do things to increase your sense of control and mastery. 

Acting “as if”

Acting “as if” is a useful compliment to Opposite Action. In the case of avoidance, begin by imagining yourself successfully confronting your fears. You can also try imaging someone you think of as confident and connect with the image of that person confronting a similar fear. How would this person act or handle the challenge? How do they walk and talk? What actions or behaviors take place? Do you feel any different as you imagine being successful in this way? 

Once you have thought through and imaged such as scenario, act as if it were true. Act as if you were already successful in facing your fears and act as if you were confident. If it still seems difficult to imagine yourself in this way, try acting as if you were a person in your life you view as confident. You could even pretend you are auditioning for a role in a play. 

As you act in such as a way it is likely that you will begin to feel different. As you do the opposite action of avoidance and move towards your fears while acting confident, you may find yourself beginning to achieve mastery over your emotions as well as the challenges that contribute to your fears.  

Our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors all interact. When we focus on changing a behavior and put this behavior into action, it can have a positive impact on how we think and feel. Next time you find yourself wanting to give in to an urge despite knowing that it is probably not helpful in the long run, such as hitting the snooze button, consider how you might do the opposite. If you find this difficult, try acting as if you were already successfully doing the opposite action. Act as if you were a morning person jumping excitedly out of bed.    

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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Social Media as an Invitation to Mindfulness

Social media has become fairly integrated into most of our lives. In particular, Facebook seems to be used most commonly. Despite the clear benefits for connection, advocacy and education, social media use presents us with numerous challenges. One notable example is the potential to reinforce and perpetuate unrealistic perceptions, which can have an enormously negative impact on our ability to maintain healthy views of self, others, and the world. Likewise, the endless social comparisons that take place both consciously and unconsciously can create many problems related to low self-esteem and negative self-image. However, social media and Facebook posts may present a creative opportunity for practicing mindfulness. 

One of the primary ways that people engage in social media centers around taking pictures of our experiences to post for others. This can become second nature to many of us, including myself. There are many reasons for wanting to share what we are doing or present ourselves in certain ways, all of which would benefit from some self-reflection. Regardless of why, many people post pictures and comments on a regular basis, even posting multiple times throughout the day. There is little doubt this routine can have an impact on the way we attend to the world.  

What is your first thought when you see something interesting or beautiful? What is your initial reaction when you are with others doing something fun or overlooking a beautiful scene? Many people now reach for their phone and take pictures to post on social media. As a result, we may develop a routine around the way we attend to and collect our experiences through our phones. 

Interestingly, this routine can present an opportunity to introduce mindfulness into your daily life. Specifically, the urge to capture an image or experience for social media can be incorporated as a cue to pay closer attention to the present. Next time you find yourself taking a picture for social media or to share with friends and family try the following practice:  

  1. Notice when you are reaching for your phone to capture an image (your cue).
  2. Before or after you take the picture, pause and bring your awareness to your present experience.  
  3. Notice what thoughts come to mind and where your attention goes. If your mind has started to think of a smart caption to post with your image, challenge yourself to let this go as you can return to it at a later time. 
  4. Challenge yourself to bring your awareness more fully to the present moment. 
  5. Take a mental picture using your alert mind and sit attentively in your experience. 
  6. Notice all of the small details around you as you allow yourself to be more mindful of the present.  
  7. When you do post your picture, recall your experience of taking the picture and reconnect more fully with your memory of that experience. Notice how this feels. 

In whatever way you approach this practice, using the urge to post to social media or take a picture with your phone as a cue to practice mindfulness can be an effective way to shift your awareness to the present and experience a deeper connection in your daily life. Allow yourself to come back into the world and engage more fully in your experience before you rush to capture and share it with others. Pause before you post.

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist 

Visit us at lindquistpsych.com

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