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Episode 222: Mindful Moments


And hello to you, and welcome to the Richard Nicholls Podcast, the personal development podcast series that's here to help inspire, educate, and motivate you to be the best you can be. I'm psychotherapist Richard Nicholls, and this episode is titled Mindful Moments. And if you are ready, we'll start the show.

Happy February everybody. Hope you're well. And for those of you in the northern hemisphere, I hope things aren't too cold for you. It's pretty nippy here in the UK where a majority of my listeners are and a lot of us over the last few weeks have spent the evenings under a blanket on the sofa watching Winterwatch on the bbc.

Not sure if my fan base are Winter Watch and Spring Watch folk, but it certainly helps to dilute down a lot of the doom and gloom of both the fictional dramas that humans seem drawn towards. And the genuine dramas that are splattered all over our social media feeds. It's finished now, but spring watch will be back on before we know it.

And one thing that they started doing back in lockdown 2020 was what they called mindfulness moments. Probably cuz they needed an extra feature to pad the program out cuz they were struggling with all the Covid restrictions. But I'm okay with that, just 90 seconds or so of nature footage. It was lovely and they've carried on doing it throughout each series, but even if you aren't that interested in nature footage, it's worth paying attention to what you're experiencing, especially the good stuff.

I think mindfulness, in some respects, is the secret to gratitude. You can't appreciate something if you haven't noticed it. And I hope you know what I mean by mindfulness in that way. Somebody asked me fairly recently what the difference is between meditation, mindfulness, and hypnosis, as you might know, and if you didn't now you do, my very first therapy training was in hypnotherapy, you see. And I still use it with clients today if they ask for it, and I share loads of recordings with my patrons on Patreon, so it's always appealed to me. The idea that you just need to close your eyes, block out the external world for a little bit, and with some magic words you can train your brain to be able to do things that you would never have thought possible.

People can go from smoking 40 a day down to nothing. From biting their nails until they bleed, to letting them grow. And it seems like magic. But it isn't. It's just suggestion. It's mental rehearsal, brain training through guided visualization. There's nothing mystical, supernatural, or even surprising about it.

But when you ask someone who's trained in Buddhist meditation about this they tend to get upset if what, if you call what they do hypnosis because they, like a lot of people often associate hypnosis with the stupid stuff that you'd see on a club 18-30 holiday in Ibiza. Where the hypnotist supposedly convinces people that they're all in love with a broom.

It's all nonsense. It's just mental relaxation exercises, which can reduce adrenaline and if you're on stage in front of an audience, After volunteering to get up there in the first place, I might add, and you're in two minds whether to play along or not with what you've been asked to do. Then being a bit calmer will quite often make it feel okay to play along.

You care a little bit less about what people think of you, and you can always pretend that you don't remember what you did. And people are starting to see through that. We are not as gullible as we used to be. Most people know it's an act and that everyone's just pretending like some improvised amateur dramatics production, which is what those sorts of things are, to be honest.

So I totally get why serious Buddhist practitioners are gonna look down their nose at it. And a lot of mindfulness practitioners don't really like being associated with it either. But in all seriousness, the actual state of mind isn't that different. Not really. Meditation is very formal. You know, you, you, you shut out the external world by closing your eyes and sitting or lying still. You train your mind to be empty and with decades of practice you can become a very peaceful and self-aware person. Hypnosis is very similar, except emptying the mind isn't the goal. It's more about focusing on or just thinking about one thing at a time. An idea. Usually in therapy, it's something therapeutic,

obviously. A real world goal that you want to achieve, or a metaphorical daydream that means something to you indirectly. It's all good stuff, but it's more specific than meditation is. Usually has a particular purpose in mind. The way I see it, what people nowadays call mindfulness is a mixture of the two.

It doesn't have a particular purpose like hypnosis does, but it is about focusing on one thing at a time. Mindfulness is a form of meditation, but it's less formal and more accepting of wandering thoughts. I like mindfulness. But full on meditation, it's a bit hard for me. I have too active an imagination.

That's why I like hypnosis, cuz I can sit still and listen to something or focus my thoughts on something in particular. And in doing that, Preventing it from wandering to all the worries, fears, and what ifs. And I like mindfulness because it's less formal. You can be mindful whilst drinking an espresso martini or staring out of the kitchen window into the distance.

Like I say, with hypnosis, there's usually a purpose. You're activating the neurons of the brain responsible for whatever it is you're listening to for being more confident in social situations. You know, you can be calm from now on. Your mind is clearer. Words come easier, you care less what people think of you, that sort of thing.

It's really helpful, especially when you have a specific purpose. But with mindfulness. It is its own purpose. The point of it is to be more mindful, to be able to drink the espresso martini and not be judging yourself even though it's only 11:00 AM to drink a cup of tea and actually notice the flavours, the texture of the mug and the temperature against your lips.

We teach people who come to us for weight loss about mindful eating. Obviously we deal with all the emotional stuff that led to their weight gain in the first place, but to speed things along a bit, we want them to be more in tune with their body so that they notice when they're no longer hungry.

And that takes mindfulness, mindful eating. Rather than mindless eating, which is where you finish eating everything on your plate, but you don't even remember tasting any of it. We know from studies with dementia patients that if they don't remember having just eaten, they feel hungry even when their belly's full. And the opposite way around.

If they think that they've only just had the breakfast even though it was five hours ago. They're less likely to feel hungry. So doing things mindfully helps lock in the memories, helps to train the brain, which things to remember and what to let go of. And that's a great tool for good mental health because we want our brain to focus on the safe stuff rather than our fears and worries.

I think any version of this process, call it mindful meditation, call it hypnosis, whatever. It's going to dilute down our anxiety. Remember what I was saying in the Emotions and Judgment episode last week. This was on Patreon, so sorry if you missed that. But go along on there and listen if you like, six pounds per month and all very helpful. Well, I was talking about some studies into making someone anxious by surprising them with a speech to do. And then they're in a heightened state of physical stress, not just a subjective, this is how I feel stress, but endocrine stress responses as well, for 30 minutes afterwards. Even though they're told after only three minutes, actually no, you don't have to give that speech now.

So they had three minutes of thinking I've got this stressful thing in my life coming up. Three minutes that's all. We spend that long waiting for a cup of tea to brew or brushing our teeth whilst probably worrying about all the crap we've got coming up in our day or our life, which has an effect for 30 minutes.

So if once per hour we do a three minute thinking about our problems exercise, then for over half of our entire waking life and probably also whilst we're asleep as well, our body and mind is in stress mode. So taking control of those three minutes and being more in the present is really, really important.

And training your brain on how to do that with 20 minute, 30 minutes relaxation exercises will help, even if it's just a couple of times per week. Sorry to mention this again, but that's a big part of what I share on Patreon. So there's a lot of variety. A different one each week for you. The link is in the show notes like it always is to join and, and have a listen.

But Richard, I hear you cry. Thanks for making them available to me as a patron, but I can't go and lie down and do a hypnosis session every hour of every day. That's totally unrealistic. Agreed. Even once per day is a big ask for a busy person, and that's where mindfulness comes in, the less formulaic

exercise where you can still be mindful, but without having to meditate. And even this takes a lot of practice to get good at, but it's well worth it. I'm not gonna bore you with all the studies that have been done over the last decade or more, but believe me they consistently show that the area of the brain that's regulating emotions, it becomes more efficient in people who incorporate mindfulness into their day. And it's a positive cycle. With better emotional regulation, you can think more clearly, which makes you act calmer, which makes you worry less, which makes you feel better, and so on and so on, which is why so many counselors, so many psychotherapists will incorporate mindfulness into their theories, whether they're a C B T therapist, a hypnotherapist, obviously. Even psychodynamic,

everything is rooted in your childhood, therapists. Because it integrates so well, and I urge you to incorporate it into your life as well. In short, mindfulness is about being present. Whether you are sitting in a traffic jam or sitting on the sofa, being in the here and now is the key to this so that you're not dragging yourself down with if onlys about the past and what ifs about the future.

Just be in the here and the now. Like an observer almost, and there are a few ways that you can do that. A lot of people use their breathing to anchor them into the present. It's useful, not just because it's always there, because we're always breathing. But also because breathing is linked to our parasympathetic system, sometimes called the rest and digest response, as opposed to the sympathetic system, which is more often called the fight or flight response.

To use your breathing, simply start by noticing it. Observe your breathing. Did you know we mainly breathe through one nostril at a time? It's called the nasal cycle. It's an evolutionary trick where every two or three hours, one nasal cavity will become slightly more swollen to encourage the other side to take over.

It keeps us healthier apparently. And when you stop what you're doing and pay attention, maybe you can notice which side is dominating right now. Even if you can't, as you breathe, you'll notice the air flowing in. Observe that. Is it cooling your nose as it goes in? Is it warming your body? Notice your body, how your shoulders move as you breathe in, how your chest rises, how your tummy moves.

Just be aware of that right now. The same for as you breathe out. As you exhale, what do you notice? How does your body move as you exhale? Notice that. Observe that. Notice if your mind wanders. Just notice. Observe without judgment. That's the key. Notice that your mind wandered maybe to a concern about something, the past, the future.

Notice that it did, and then pay attention to your body again, your breath. Your nose, your mouth, your chest, your shoulders, and so on. If your mind wanders again, that's okay. Just come back to your breathing. And it gets easier and easier the more you do it. Another add-on to this that a lot of people find useful is to notice as many of your senses that you are using what you can.

What you can hear, what you can smell, maybe even what you can taste if you are mindfully eating or drinking. I remember mindfully eating a grilled tomato once in a restaurant just cuz the meal was really expensive. It was posh nosh, and I was determined not to rush through it, so I ate the meal very mindfully, slowly.

And when I did, I could taste the way the tomato had been cooked. I could taste the smoke from the fire. The slight garlic flavor that had that had been used. It was the best tomato in the world right at that moment. My wife used to laugh at me cuz I, I did the same with chocolate. Four squares of dairy milk could last me an entire TV show.

In the meanwhile, my wife's eaten the rest of this, this chocolate bar. She's eating chocolate more mindfully lately, actually, cuz she's been cutting down on sugar. But, rather than spending less money, she's been, uh, spending the same amount of money on chocolate, but just buying more expensive stuff. And so she's wanted, like I did with that tomato, to savor the chocolate.

And when you spend a lot of money on a bar of chocolate, you do savor it. Believe me, you appreciate it more if you take your time. There's no sense of denial because you only had a tiny bit. Instead, there's a sense of gratitude and appreciation for the work that went into making that chocolate bar. But you haven't gotta spend eight quid in a chocolate bar to do that because she did.

You can always eat a Mars bar mindfully. And I think because I was in a similar position when I was young. I, I learned to do that. I grew up in a working class North Warwickshire mining town. We didn't have a great deal of cash and a Mars Bar was a treat. So I used to put it in the fridge when I was a kid and then once a day I'd cut half an inch off and I'd savor it cuz it was cold and it didn't melt so quickly in the mouth. So I could be more mindful. Flipping Mars Bar would last me a week. I did notice I compensated for this quite unhealthily when I started work and was earning my own money though, and I have reverted back to my more mindful ways, but that's only cause I'm a bit wiser.

People sometimes refer to using your senses in mindfulness as 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, to notice five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can feel, two things you can smell, and then maybe one thing that you can taste. And that works well for a lot of folk, it really does. To zone in on those things that you can see. To notice how the light reflects off things, to see colours in things that could have been easily overlooked.

This isn't necessarily about gratitude and appreciation, although of course it can be, but it's more about capturing your attention. So it doesn't matter what you notice. Just notice those things that you can see. Then the things that you can hear. Something in the distance, something in your home, ticking of a clock somewhere, a hum from a computer, whatever.

Hone in on each one for a few seconds. Train your brain to focus. Then the things you can feel, close your eyes. If you want to notice the temperature of the room against your skin, the clothes you're wearing, the weight of your body on the chair or your your feet on the floor. Notice them. The same for aromas around you.

Smells. There might not be any, but if there are, notice them. And throughout all of this, if your mind wanders off, then notice that. Notice that your mind wandered. And maybe say to yourself, I noticed my mind wandered there. That's okay. Where was I? And you bring yourself back. It's brain training. That's that's all it.

And it will get easier and easier over time. So if you can incorporate mindfulness into your day, you're gonna notice some differences elsewhere in your day too. So do please give it a bash. Right then. I'll be off. As always, there'll be a short bonus episode on Friday and a full episode on Patreon on Monday, all about dealing with other people's anxiety, which I hope will be interesting for you.

Have a good un. I'll speak to you later. Take care.