Mindfulness for Loneliness

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, suggests that there are 7 types of loneliness, each potentially serving as a constraint to happiness.   She stresses the importance of strong relationships to ameliorate the damaging mental and physical effects of loneliness, which is a growing problem in today’s society.  While we have never been so connected electronically, we have never been so disconnected on a deep, personal level.

Neuroscience shows that we are very much communal beings – needing social networks and social support.  However, there are real personal barriers to connecting at a deep level that prevent lonely people from engaging in social connection.

Recent research has highlighted the benefit of developing mindfulness to reduce or remove these barriers.  Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that mindful meditation reduced feelings of loneliness and increased immunity.

Mindfulness meditation is helpful for loneliness because it can make you aware of the feelings of isolation that you are developing, help you identify the triggers for these emotions, increase the space between stimulus and the feelings of loneliness (response) and enable you to manage these feelings.  Mindfulness, then, can help to eliminate unhelpful thoughts and actions that have become habituated over time and progressively break the cycle of loneliness.

Sophie Benbow, has found from her own experience that mindfulness reduces feelings of loneliness.  She suggests a number of mindfulness practices for coping with loneliness – these include dismissing negative thoughts, mindful breathing, body scan and  mindful walking.  She provides some guidelines for each of these suggestions.

Dr. Claudia Aguirre, neuroscientist and mind-body expert, maintains that lack of social skills is not the major cause of loneliness.  Reporting on new neuroscience research, she contends that our instinctive fight-flight response is the major cause of feelings of isolation and loneliness:

University of Chicago researchers investigating the neuroscience of loneliness found that a lonely brain is supremely in-tune with social cues, in particular the ones signaling a social threat. From an evolutionary perspective, feeling socially isolated triggers a cascade of neural mechanisms that puts us in a nervous and vigilant mode. People who feel lonely are subconsciously scanning their environment for hostility, which may overshadow the positive situations they encounter. 

She argues that this constant over-stimulation through vigilance is a contributing factor to mental and physical decline in people who experience chronic loneliness.  The recommendation of these researchers for people who experience chronic loneliness is “to get out of their heads”.  This recommendation is consistent with the advice of mindfulness expert, Jon Kabat-Zinn, who argues that many of our emotional problems arise because we live in our minds, not in our bodies and the present moment.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can learn to recognise the triggers of feelings of isolation and loneliness, deal with negative thoughts and use our social skills to make meaningful connections with others.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of Wokandapix on Pixabay

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Payoff from Self-Awareness

Daniel Goleman, in a recent LinkedIn article, discussed How Self-Awareness Pays Off.  In the article, he reiterated the fact that self-awareness underpins the other skills of emotional intelligence, such as self-management.

Self-awareness in this context relates to recognising and understanding your own emotions and what triggers them. The payoff for a developed sense of self-awareness is multi-faceted.  Here are a number of payoffs identified by Goleman and others:

Space to develop creative options

Goleman discussed the situation of a woman working in a high-powered job that was causing her stress. The result of her lack of self-awareness was that she became increasingly unable to cope.  Unfortunately, the effects of stress are cumulative.  Work stress, too, leads to poor relations with colleagues and the effects can invade family life.  The net result was that the woman decided to seek out a less-stressful but lower-paid job, an action which also had the effect of limiting her opportunities for promotion.

If she had worked at developing self-awareness, she would have been able to break the stress cycle, understood what was creating stress for her and been in a position to have sufficient space in her working life to develop some creative solutions such as delegating some work, exploring ways to reduce her reactions to the things that triggered stress for her or negotiating a change in the allocation of duties or responsibilities.

More effective communication of your needs

People who develop their self-awareness are better able to communicate their emotions and their needs to others. They can thus facilitate an accurate exchange of information with others which, in turn, enables better decision making.   Accurate exchange of information, both in terms of content and feelings, is an essential precondition for quality decision making.  If you are unaware of your own emotions and what is contributing to your disappointment, anger or frustration, you are unable to communicate in a way that enables others to assist you to address your problems.

More responsive to the needs of others

Judith Glasser contends, following her research with executives, that we often have “conversational blind spots“.  These arise as a result of our tendency in conversation to assume that others think and feel what we think and feel – we project onto others our own thinking and emotional responses.  This usually arises because we fail to engage in active listening – we end up talking over the other person or interrupting their sentences. We have a strong emotional inducement to prove we are right at the expense of really understanding the other person’s perspective or feelings. These “conversation blind spots” result in parallel conversations and damage, rather than build, relationships.

Glasser suggests that we should get in touch with our own feelings and needs in these conversations and understand what is happening for us – in other words, we need to develop self-awareness to prevent damage to our relationships, both at work and at home. She recommends that once you become aware of your tendency to dominate conversations, you can learn to slow down the process, develop your curiosity about the other person and explore what is the significance, meaning and implication of an issue for them. In this way, you can be more responsive to the needs of others and enrich your relationships.

Goleman suggests that you can build self-awareness by daily meditation practice and/ or by the occasional “personal check-in” (to see how you are faring emotionally). He argues that as we grow in mindfulness, we increase our capacity to see ourselves more clearly and to understand the impact of our words and behaviours on others.

The payoff from self-awareness is a greater capacity to develop creative solutions to our own needs and feelings, improved ability to communicate these needs and feelings to others and an enhanced capacity to be responsive to the needs of others.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of Bess-Hamiti on Pixabay

Mindful Leadership: Self-Management

Self-management relies very heavily on self-awareness. If we are not conscious of what we are thinking, saying and doing – and the impact of our thoughts, words and actions – we are incapable of managing ourselves.

Self-management, according to the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, is “the process of managing one’s internal states, impulses and resources”.

Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, identified the opportunity space for self- management:

Between stimulus and response, there is a space.  In that space lives our freedom and our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our greatest happiness.

There are a number of ways to develop self-management.  I will discuss two approaches in this post:

1. Managing Your Response to Negative Triggers

We all have situations, people or events that “set us off”.  They may stimulate anger, frustration, annoyance or anyone of the multitude of negative emotions.  As Vikto Frankl pointed out, we really have a choice of how to respond.  In a previous post, I discussed the SBNRR process (stop, breathe, notice, reflect and respond) to help you manage your response to your negative triggers.  Reflect is an important stage of the process because it seeks to get us to move beyond the particular negative stimulus and response to gain insight into any observable pattern, e.g. obstinacy when dealing with a person in authority.

2. Mindful Listening

Mindful listening requires us to be fully present to the other person, to understand what they are saying and the significance for that person.  It also means to be able to reflect back their words and feelings, and the depth of those feelings. It requires discipline to stay with the other person’s conversation and to avoid diverting the conversation to yourself and your own experience.  It also means avoiding interrupting the other person mid-sentence.  All of this takes considerable self-management.  Mastering mindful listening is a lifetime pursuit – in the process you will develop self-management and grow in mindfulness.

Self-management contributes to the development of mindfulness; as we grow in mindfulness it becomes easier to manage ourselves and our responses. Both contribute to the development of mindful leadership.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of moulinaem on Pixabay

 

 

Mindfulness – Control, Health and Happiness

One of the benefits of mindfulness is that it develops our sense of control. To use an analogy, we begin to realise that we are the one pushing the buttons – our buttons are not being pushed by others, events or the environment.

As we grow in mindfulness, we begin to experience control over our emotions and our responses. We are less at the mercy of our triggers, panic attacks and other sources of stress.  We develop a growing sense of control over ourselves and our environment.

Mindful breathing, for example, is just one practice that enables us to gain control – control over our breathing which is essential to life.

In her 2017 book, The Influential Mind, neuroscientist Tali Sharot argues that:

The brain has evolved to control our bodies so that our bodies can manipulate our environments…Our biology is set up so that we are driven to be causal agents; we are internally rewarded with a feeling of satisfaction when we are in control, and internally punished with anxiety when we are not. (p.102)

Tali Sharot demonstrates through research findings that we have a very high need for control.  She maintains, for example, that aerophobia – the fear of flying – is essentially about the loss of control, we are in the “hands” of the pilot and the plane.  She suggests that suicide is an extreme response to the sense of being out of control, unable to control anything in one’s internal or external environment.

Tali Sharot draws on further research to argue that “people who feel in control are happier and healthier” (p. 95).  As you practice mindfulness, you increase your sense of control over your internal and external environments and enhance your health and happiness.

The more you practice mindfulness, the more you experience the sense of being in control and realise the positive benefits of mindful practice.

 

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What Sets You Off? – Managing Negative Triggers

There are many things in life that can trigger a negative reaction in us.  What triggers you, may have no effect on me.  A part of mindfulness practice is getting to know our triggers and working out ways to manage our negative responses.

As we learn about our triggers and better understand them, we are able to manage our reponses more effectively.  So one way to grow in mindfulness is to identify your triggers and use a process to help you deal with them mindfully.

The Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI) teaches a way to manage triggers, called SBNRR, as part of their mindful leadership program.  The steps in this process are as follows:

STOP – stop yourself from reacting automatically

BREATHE – take a deep breath to relax yourself and help you to manage your reaction

NOTICE – notice your bodily sensations, see what is going on in your body (e.g. becoming red faced, tightening of your muscles, strong sense of unease and agitation)

REFLECT – think about what is going on for you, what is triggering this reaction in you.  Go beyond the words and think about what you are perceiving (e.g. are you interpreting the words as criticism and do you have a sensitivity to criticism?).

RESPOND – now that you are more aware of what is going on for you, choose an appropriate response that does not aggravate you, your friend/colleague or the situation.

The SBNRR processs is a great way to improve your self-management, a key element in emotional intelligence.  When you first start to use this technique, you might have to rely on reflection after the event – “What could I have done differently?”

However, as you grow in mindfulness, you will be able to reflect-in-action and stop youself from the outset.  In this way, you can better manage your response to the triggers that would normally set off a negative reaction in you.

Image Source: Courtesy of Robin Higgins on Pixabay