A Therapy Blog Mini-series
As I work with clients, I often find myself recommending various techniques to help manage our behaviors, emotions, or thoughts. So I’d like to spend some time sharing these tools with you. This is the start of a blog mini-series of things we should all know to improve the quality of our lives and mental health. We live in a fast paced, instant gratification world which often leads to stress in our work and personal lives; so, our first topic will be on a helpful tool to de-stress and bring focus to our lives: mindfulness.
Meditation, or mindfulness, have vast benefits for mental health. While we may not have time to become yoga masters or visit the idyllic mountains of Nepal to meditate, we all have time to practice simple mindfulness techniques. Jeffrey Brantley, the author of Five Good Minutes, reminds us that we do have time because meditation can be done within a few minutes. When used regularly, meditation can be beneficial to our mental health and physical health and can bring the following results:
- Improved attention span
- Help with self-awareness
- Stable emotional health through regulation
- Reduced anxiety
- Better stress management
- Promoted brain growth
There are various ways to meditate, and you will want to try a few to find what works for you. One method that works well for me is from Brantley’s book Five Good Minutes and is called operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is the process by which you can modify behavior through negative or positive reinforcement.
Let me share one of my favorite examples of operant conditioning: During one of the early episodes of the hit television show “The Office,” Jim continually restarts his computer. Every time it reboots, it plays the classic Windows jingle, and each and every time this jingle plays, Jim gives his co-worker Dwight a mint. After a while, Jim restarts his computer and Dwight holds his hand out instantly for a mint and states, “Hmm… I now have a horrible taste in my mouth.” The technique that I am going to discuss avoids sounds and mints, but it does condition your brain to have a positive response when you need it most. This specific technique uses positive reinforcement to train your brain to have a positive emotional response to happy healthy memories through touch. This technique can be done when you are calm or when you are having a stressful time to regain control of your thoughts and relax.
Here’s how to do it:
- First, choose on object to use for this technique. You can also use your fingers, because you always have them with you! As you practice this technique, you will be thinking of pleasant memories. Try to capture the feeling and essence of the memory as you practice, rather than simply running through the memories themselves.
- To begin, touch the object you have chosen. If using your hand, you can touch your index finger to your thumb. While doing this, remembering a time you felt a healthy sense of satisfied exhaustion, such as from physical exercise or work. For me, one memory in particular stands out: After completing a mountain race in which we summitted a tall mountain peak before returning back to the finish line, I was mentally and physically drained. I remember feeling exhausted, but at the same time feeling an incredible sense of accomplishment. When I think back to that sensation, I can almost feel the same as I did that day.
- Second, touch your middle finger to your thumb and remember a time when you felt truly connected with someone important to you. This can be when you felt trust, love, or empathy with that individual. During a difficult time in my life, I connected with a friend. That trust and friendship is something I value to this day as I look back on that experience that helped me to feel connected to him.
- Third, you will touch your ring finger to your thumb. While doing this, think back to a memory when you received a special gift or a kind gesture. For me, there is nothing better than the comfort and feeling of a well-loved pillow case (which, I might add, drives my wife crazy because I won’t let her buy new pillow cases). At one point, my favorite pillow case was torn, and I thought it was done for. While my mom came to visit, she had snuck it away, fixed it, and returned it to me as a gift. This was a kind gesture that I still cherish to this day.
- Last, while touching your thumb to you pinky, recall a time when you witnessed the most beautiful place you have seen or pictured. Remember how breathtaking it was. When I saw the Grand Canyon for the first time, I was in awe. Its majesty and grandeur is not something you can imagine until you see it in person.
- You do not have to perform these steps in order, or do every step. To begin, start with one memory.
As you regularly practice this mindfulness technique your body and mind will become conditioned to relax during this meditation. Doing it consistently can help improve your mental health and help you control your thoughts through meditation.
When this or other meditation is not enough, please come and see me. We can define and work towards goals that you want to accomplish. Please do not hesitate to contact me at Wasatch Family Therapy at 801-944-4555.
Nathan Watkins, AMFT
Brantley, J. (2011). Five good minutes: 100 morning practices to help you stay calm and focused all day long. Readhowyouwant.com.
Seppala, E. (n.d.). 20 Scientific Reasons to Start Meditating Today. Retrieved March 18, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/feeling-it/201309/20-scientific-reasons-start-meditating-today