It’s a New Year, a fresh start, This time we Will succeed!??
Phew! The new school year has got underway. Fresher’s week is about to begin for many. There are new opportunities and new challenges, fresh hopes and possibly some anxieties. Feeling refreshed or frazzled from the long summer break, we often have hopes for this ‘new year’. Of course there are families and carers behind these young people, and teachers and lecturers working through the same ‘new year’.
Youngsters who came to my Summer Camp spoke of wanting to be able to concentrate and focus, to let go of anxieties, to not react to things with anger and get in trouble. Some families wanted less disruptions and ‘stormy weather’ at home. So we had some fun! Here’s why …
New Year #1
The new school/university year starts with hopes and expectations. As time ticks away we can get lost in busy routines, rushing to get the family organised and out the house in time, organising meals, fitting in homework along with our other evening routines and distractions. There are new timetables to get used to, for some new schools and university life. Issues from the last academic year can begin to surface again … that troublesome subject or student or teacher relationship, anxieties, difficult journeys … we can all think of ‘stuff’.
This is also a particularly busy time of year for seasonal events – while it feels like nature slows down through autumn and into winter, along with longer nights and dropping temperatures, we humans have observances for a number of religions, Halloween, Guy Fawke’s, Remembrance, and before we know it Christmas arrives.
This is not to mention personal issues we may need to address and environmental pressures – what Is going to happen politically and economically, with our schools and NHS and social care, how is our work situation?? So it goes on.
It doesn’t take long before we can feel swamped and our fresh hopes disappear as if we had grasped at mist. We may be critical of ourselves, and/or others, for things just not working out the way we had hoped. The more we feel disappointed or critical, the harder it can seem to ‘get back on track’. We can feel we’re on the same loop of conflict we determined we would not repeat and all we did was reinforce it some more.
Not to worry. We can have another fresh start when the calendar ‘new year’ begins, right?
Yet studies have shown that it is difficult to succeed with ‘new year resolutions’. Like determining to lose weight when surrounded by seasonal foods and with cold weather having us lean towards more carbs. Like determining to change behaviours when the new school year can be frantically busy. We start with fresh hopes and determination, and can end up in the same negative/critical loop – the very loop we were trying to move away from and we just reinforced it some more. Why would This ‘new year’ be any different to That ‘new year’?
New Year #2
If I ever feel I need a ‘new year resolution’ I start about now – or just about any time of year – and work out the small steps, because in reality lasting change comes incrementally. (Ever determined a new healthy eating lifestyle, shopped for a bunch of fresh foods and no alcohol, then come home and ordered a takeaway/got something out the freezer because putting all that fresh food together seems too difficult? And anyways, we’re all out of energy from our busy shop and a quick drink is just fine??)
Key #1: Thrive not Strive
There is nothing wrong with making resolutions when we want to improve something. It’s just the way we go about it. Somehow the trying becomes as big a ‘thing’ as the changes we want to achieve. Just like at Summer Camp – we didn’t ‘work to solve a problem’, we did some fun stuff that gave us a break and taught us some skills that can help us Every day, All day.
Mindfulness teaches us to be accepting, non-judgemental, Patient, to approach life with a ‘beginner’s mind’, to trust in ourselves, to Not strive and essentially to let go – not holding on to all our thoughts and beliefs, not holding on to the stuff from our past (whether positive or negative), not determining our future ‘will be like this’ – as if without all that our very selves will crumble.
What we worked on at Summer Camp is Not ‘I will change this in me’ but simple practices that just help our brains be less frazzled. Simple practices which over time help us appreciate Now and be more at peace with ourselves and the world. Our minds our open, we tune in not out, we are less hassled by whatever [add your favourite irritation here] as we notice positives more. We can focus and achieve. Who noticed at the Olympics how many medal-winners spoke of ‘getting into the moment’? We all know that we are at our ‘best’ when we are at peace, right?
Key #2: Do More of What Works
Mindfulness is an ancient tradition. It is more recently that science has begun to research its benefits – and the evidence is mounting. Mindfulness is becoming more mainstream (seems we can hardly move for someone talking or writing about it). That’s not because a bunch of people are jumping on a bandwagon (and if any are well, so long as it works). It is because the science is backing it up with the modern advantages like brain scanning and hormone testing.
Mindfulness has some great exercises to help us keep on track and thrive … with a little practice it can become part of Your family’s routine and I Promise it’s the gift that keeps giving. We just need to practice – and not make it another ‘destination’ to get to. It’s Not about sitting 3 hours each day in the Lotus position. It’s just about trying a little each day, seeing what works with us and doing a little more of it. Isn’t that how we achieve any lasting change?
3 Top Tips for Thriving:
So here are the first top tips for how we can bring this into our lives. Before we Start anything we have to Stop, right? We do some of this naturally – ever stopped and just looked out the window? – we just have to notice and see how we can do more of it. So a good place to start is to ‘Hit the Pause Button’:
Hit the Pause Button – Be in the moment: Whatever you’re doing, you can take a moment to bring your awareness to your breathing, not trying to breathe particularly deeply or slowly, just noticing as your breathing energises and brings refreshing oxygen into your body. You can extend this to awareness of the sights, sounds, smells, touch (and tastes) of whatever you’re doing – washing up, eating, walking etc. This is a great activity for ‘family time’ and it’s great when we risk getting carried away with our emotions or actions.
Hit the Pause Button – The Power Stand: Try this before you all rush out the house in the morning – seriously. I hear the cries of ‘I don’t Have two minutes’. Yes You Do. It’s a gift. Standing ‘like Wonder Woman’ (hands on hips, feet slightly apart) for two minutes is proven to reduce the stress hormone Cortisol and improve the power hormone Testosterone (girls need it too!). Be aware of your breathing into your body as you do this. You can practice this subtly anywhere (even in supermarket queues!).
Hit the Pause Button – The Gratitude practice: Gratitude is a key component of mindfulness, teaching ourselves and our children to appreciate the abundance in our lives instead of what we don’t have and what we crave. You can do this at dinner time or bed time or whenever, but it’s good to get into a routine. Take a moment each to share three things you are grateful for that day.
Don’t just take my word for it:
I’ve picked a few of the current articles for those who are interested. I post interesting articles on my Facebook page, so don’t forget to hit the link button on this website and like the page if you’d like to see them more often.
How Mindfulness in schools is being discussed in parliament: http://bit.ly/2cr9dxT
Mindfulness instead of the usual Detention: http://u.pw/2cyZPcE
And for parents and teachers who’d like to see some of the research: http://bit.ly/2djQhoo
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