Make negative thought patterns a thing of the past!

Twenty seconds of negative thinking can ruin your day; but only if you let it. You can change your mindset at anytime. Even if you’ve indulged in a continued inner chimp session, you can switch up out of at any time. And in my Happiness Technology seminar I give you some Instatools to do this.

As you indulge in the negative thought pattern the story builds and your mood can change; all from a single thought. Speed of recovery, speed of noticing and making a conscious choice away from erroneous or negative thinking is the crucial factor. A Buddhist teacher was asked to describe Buddhism in one word and he said 'awareness.' Becoming aware of a negative thought pattern is an immediate way to dispel it.  I call it the Buddhist Bomb. 

INSTATOOL: Buddhist Bomb

This is so effectively simple, and quick. 

‘When a thought moves, simply recognise the thinker. The thought then dissolves. No matter what the thought is about’ Urgyen Rinpoche

So let’s look at this. It’s killer! Neutralize the negative thought, by recognising as the thinker, your inner chimp. It goes away! You’ve replaced it with another thought. It’s like sending in torpedoes. ‘Alert! Negative thought pattern! Neutralize the enemy!’ And it’s gone, just like that. Your chimp might return to the thought pattern and you just sent in the Buddhist Bomb again.

Eckhart Tolle also describes it as the thinker. When you have those negative thoughts or feelings of stress, realise that this is the 'thinker' in your mind, and that you can just observe these thoughts and say to yourself 'ok, I understand that you are thinking that, and I acknowledge it, thank you' but you don't have to act upon it or let it influence your mood.

Instead of watching the 'thinker', you can create a distraction by directing the focus of your attention into the Now. Become intensely conscious of the present moment - your surroundings, the noises, the smells. It sounds so simple, but this is a deeply satisfying thing to do and it distracts you from your mind activity (the thinker) and creates a gap in which you are highly alert and aware but not thinking. This is the essence of meditation. I practice this when walking - tuning into to one particular sound and listening intensely. Hang on, we are back at M again. Well, all aspects of the MENTAL system are connected, just as all humans are connected. 

In your everyday life, you can practice this by taking any routine activity and giving it your fullest attention. This is the Zen way, to turn everything into a meditation. And remember what that means? To get out of your head. To empty your mind of thoughts.

A couple of years ago my Mum was not in a good place. She was losing her temper with my sisters for no reason at all, and I was receiving manic phone calls from her. She needed a break from caring for her unwell husband. It had got too much for her. I arranged to take her to my friend David’s place in Northern Spain, where he runs a retreat. Everyone there is positive and happy and I wanted to show her a place that was like that. How it could be like that. Why does it have to be other? You can stay there as long as you want, as long as you help out. Actually, you don’t even have to do that. But when you get there it’s just natural to help, it wouldn’t feel right otherwise. I wanted to help her, and the trip really did shake her out of her turmoil, rebooted her, but as it turned out that she really taught me something very important on that trip.  

We were working on the land, building a fence from mud and sticks, being shown what to do by another member of the household. I was getting involved with the job in hand, but I was talking to my mum about a writing project I had on, and about London, and about other people in my life. ‘Stop!’ she said, quite sharply. ‘Be present. Focus on what you are doing. Forget about London, your other projects, and focus on this one.’ I bridled a bit. I wanted to talk to my mum about my writing. I was annoyed for a couple of minutes. But then I did as she had suggested. I emptied my mind of thoughts, and focused on gathering the sticks for the fence. For an hour or so I was at one in that field. Of course, my mind drifted back to London and people in my life. But I recognized it and brought my focus back. Acknowledged the thoughts and let them drift away like fluffy white clouds passing through a blue sky. Fluffy white clouds Dan? Yes. Fluffy white clouds. Deal with it.

I learnt something so fundamental that day and I was buzzing afterwards. After three hours of work, with a break in the middle, we headed back up to the house and made lunch. ‘Back to work on the fence now?’ I said, after we’d cleared up. ‘No, we’ve finished for today.’ Now that’s getting the balance right! 

Our minds are so used to following well trodden pre-learned behavioural patterns. Think of them like a computer program that we run automatically. 'Oh here we are again, this is one of those situations where I get stressed/anxious/nervous, I'll run the 'I'm stressed' program. 

BUT you don't have to run the program! You need to write a new program. A program called 'I acknowledge this is a tricky situation, but no one has died, so how bad can it really be, I'm not going to let it affect my mood in any way, and also I realise that if I get stressed then my brain will not function at its best, therefore making it harder for me to get out of the shit i find myself in.' 

...yes, your new program needs a snappier name :)

Re-training the way your mind works is fundamental to your growth. With the new exercises I've created and honed for Happiness Technology V 2.0 you'll be able to learn how to do this quickly and implement them into your everyday life. Book your spot now!

INSTATOOL: The anti-neg

Here is a simple process that helps get you  into a mindful state so can challenge unhelpful thinking. It’s a simple micro-meditation technique.

1. Notice when you are saying negative things to yourself. Become aware.
2. Pause.
3. Change what you are thinking about. I learnt a Tony Robbins mantra which has helped enormously. He said that when he was 20 and living in a shit hole and didn't know what to do with his life, he would go running for an hour and say over and over again 'I'm unstoppable I'm unstoppable I'm unstoppable'. Guess what - he became unstoppable. I use this all the time now whenever a negative story starts creating itself in my mind. Or focus on a sound, or your breathing. Literally change the focus of your thoughts.
4. Allow yourself to notice your thoughts without engaging with them or re-entering a narrative.
5. Let yourself question those thoughts, in an objective, calm manner
6. Are these thoughts helpful to you?

Have an ace day. That's an order.

Dan 

Ps. This weekend I travel to Almeria in Spain to take part in three ayahuasca ceremonies, with a shaman that travels from Ecuador and conducts a European tour over Summer. I'm taking along my lovely Latvian girlfriend, my biodad and a young Buddhist friend. So excited. See you on the flip. Will report back from the front line.  

GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD AND BE PRESENT

Being present is switching off the chatter in your head and experiencing what is happening to you, around you, the sights, the sounds, the smells, your emotions.

Edit 8/12/2016: It's my blog and I can edit it if I want to. Just a note here about those ubiquitous terms such as be at one, be present, be in the moment and mindfulness that for me seem to lose their meaning the more they are trotted out. Maybe you feel the same way too. Being present is simple - emptying your mind of thoughts, that incessant chat you are having with yourself inside your head, or at least being aware of this chatter. Mindfulness? Being aware of your mind and it's devious tricks, and therefore your ego. A Buddhist teacher was asked if he could sum up Buddhism in one word. His answer? 'Awareness'. /end of edit

‘Meditate for twenty minutes a day, unless you are really busy, then meditate for an hour’ Zen teaching

Right let’s go. An exercise. Time to wake up! First Instatool. A little micro-meditation that I do anywhere.

Sit up straight. Hands on your knees facing up. If you’re on the tube, you don’t have to do this bit!  It doesn’t really matter. But I find if I do this it puts the idea in my mind that I’m going to do a little meditation. A bit like how you take off your clothes before getting in the shower. Prep. Change your mindset.

Meditation is so simple. It’s simply stopping your thoughts. That internal chatter. Your chuntering inner monologue. So, close your eyes. (Don’t do this bit if you’re driving!)

We are going to use a little mantra here. Uh-oh - he said mantra! You promised no eastern mysticism! Shut it. ‘A mantra is a sacred utterance, a sound, a syllable, word or group of words in Sanskrit believed by practitioners to have psychological and spiritual powers.’

Ok well, maybe. Right now this doesn’t matter to us. Actually, my buddhist mentor believes that they have a different energy or vibration that can help you in different ways.  There’s one called a Tara, for example, that is a call to help. In Transcendental Meditation, the teacher gives you a word that’s just for you and you’re not allowed to tell anyone it or it will lose its powers. Hmmm. I guess whatever works. For the purposes of the MENTAL operating system, we are going to use a mantra to distract your thoughts. To stop your chattering inner-monologue.

First, let's focus on your breathing. Take deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Become aware of your breath entering and leaving your body. There! You are already meditating, you've given your monkey brain something to think about. You've distracted it from chatting.

Here’s a very basic mantra I use, purely to stop the inner chatter. ‘slow my thoughts down slow my thoughts down slow my thoughts doooowwn' - you realise that you have an empty mind and you are at one with the universe. Even if it’s just a few seconds at a time. If a thought pops up, acknowledge it and let it drift away and use the mantra again if you need to. It doesn’t matter what the mantra or word or sound you use is. Ok, eyes closed, and say this phrase over and over to yourself. We’ll do this for a few minutes. If a sideways thought pops in, then acknowledge it, and let it drift away. You don’t have to engage it in conversation with yourself. You can stop the mantra if you like, if you’ve emptied your mind of thoughts, and restart it when your inner monologue starts chatting again.

Sometimes when I explain what meditation is I get a response along the lines of ‘Oh I can’t do that. My mind is racing off in different directions all the time.’ Well, this what I would call a limiting belief. How do you get better at something? … yes - that’s right - by doing it.

The only limits that exist are those that we set ourselves.

This is not rocket science. No - it’s neuroscience. What we’ve just done is a very basic meditation technique you can use at any time. Remember, I’m giving you a toolset here. There is nothing to stop you developing your own methods from this basic toolset. Not only are you the technician of your own happiness, but you’re the software developer too.

You’ll find, when you allow this space in your brain that answers to problems you have or creative ideas pop in. Make a mental note of them, do a little metaphorical jig if you like, and continue with your meditation.

‘Oh I’m not creative at all.’

The only limits that exist are those that we set ourselves.

If you tell yourself you’re not creative, what’s going to happen? Everyone is endlessly creative, if you allow yourself. Mediate for a few weeks as I’ve described, and see how creative you feel..

WHY PLAYING SNOOKER REAL GOOD IS A MICROCOSMIC METAPHOR FOR LIFE

Snooker. Let’s talk about snooker again. There is a point to this. I’ll keep it brief. For those of you who don’t know, snooker is like pool, only on a much bigger table. It requires a better technique than pool. If I don’t practice regularly, my game falls apart, but with pool I can pick it up and play competently even if I haven’t played for a few weeks. Timing on the stroke is everything, you need to be very still, push the cue through in a straight line and follow through on the shot.

To play snooker real good you have to be truly present. Truly in the moment - you have to empty your mind of thoughts. You can’t think about the bad shot you just played before. How would that help you? In its own microcosmic way, you must drop the baggage of the past. Strike it and move on. How many times have I talked myself out of victory in my head because I’ve played 3 or 4 terrible shots in a row? Or just lost a game I should have won? How can I expect to play a good shot, get my timing right, push the cue through correctly when I’m still ruminating on my poor play before, or that missed black ball that meant I lost the last game? When you are down on the shot, as soon as you start thinking about anything at all - the positional side of the shot, or the next shot after that, or how many points you are gonna get, the position you are in the match - you are sunk. The ball won’t go in, you’ll miss-time your shot. I play weekly, and it’s a wonderful weekly practice session for ego-management, boxing the chimp. I’m literally putting the methods I’ve learnt into use in every session.

Stephen Hendry, the most successful snooker player ever with seven world titles to his name, was once asked what was in his mind when he was playing the shot. Turns out he had a mantra of sorts, not that he called it that. His mantra? Get in the pocket you bastard. Get in the pocket you bastard. Pretty simple. Setting an intention too. The dude knew what he was doing.

The 1980 World Champion Terry Griffiths, who came through qualifying to beat the top players in the world and is now the most sought after coach would sing a song in his head when down on the shot. Exactly the same idea. A barricade to negative thoughts coming in. As a Welshman, the song he chose was Myfanwy. When down on the shot, he would literally be singing this song over and over in his head. If you are singing a song in your head, how can any negative thoughts come in? Pretty useful tool this, to stop negative thoughts getting in the way. He taught this method to fellow Welshman Mark Williams, while coaching him to two World titles, who chose ‘Waltzing Matilda’ as his song of choice.

There’s more to my snooker metaphor. When you play and think positively, and are playing well, the table responds positively to you. Little nudges, canons and kisses go your way. You can make your own luck on a snooker table. It’s a strange phenomenon to observe but it is real. Attack attack! Trust me, I’ve done a lot of on-table research. Hours and hours and hours and hours. Play positively, and good things happen. Exactly like life.

I have a long-standing rivalry with my studio partner Steve. We are pretty evenly matched, which makes for tremendous tussles. We have a shield that passes between us - the erroneously engraved Planck Music Cup - and we play tournaments, first to 9 games, over several sessions. The target provides a storyline and drama in each session. If he gets ahead by a few frames, which can happen, then of course my chimp goes into overdrive. ‘Shit, if he gets this frame, he’s only two away from winning the tournament’ - and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to put into practice the methods I’m sharing with you today. Sometimes I find myself on a five minute long downward negative thought spiral before I catch myself and sort out my thoughts. I sing a song.

‘Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda, you’ll come a waltzing Matilda with me’

Don’t worry I won’t sing again. Those aren't even the right words. I just looked them up.

We call it the cruel game. You can have the most awful luck on a snooker table, no matter how positively you are playing. Sometimes, it just feels like the snooker gods have got it in for you. You might not get a decent chance at a pot in what seems like an age. It can be so frustrating. An entire game can go by without you feeling like you had a sniff of a chance to get a break going. You watch in pain as the ball runs safe again and again after your opponent makes a mess of his pot. Or you keep going in-off - scratching the white. Sometimes you can give your opponent 20 odd penalty points and in an amateur level club game twenty points is a big deal. I can feel the rage inside me come up and internally I’m screaming ‘just give me a shot! One chance and I’ll get some points on the board!’ and I have to take myself to the toilet, look at myself in the mirror and give myself a good talking to.

How does getting angry serve me in this case? How would getting frustrated at my seemingly bad luck help me win the game?

Strike it and move on. Your luck will turn, it always does. Be patient, and wait for your chance, enjoy the ride. And when that chance comes, don’t invest too much in the outcome.  Have a plan in place for your next step, which ball you are playing onto, clear your mind, get down, and be present.

Get in the pocket you bastard.