How to keep calm and make it a habit
The only way to expand any skill set is to build habits, says clinical hypnotherapist and psychotherapist, Fiona Brennan. Her new book, The Positive Habit taps into our six key emotions - love, calmness, confidence, gratitude, hope and happiness. Here are her top tips to creating and maintaining calmness
Which one of these six super positive emotions would you like to wake up feeling every morning? Love? Calmness? Confidence? Gratitude? Hope? or Happiness?
All of them are of course appealing, but which one resonates most with you? If it is calmness, then take solace as you are amongst the majority of people. In a world where anxiety is endemic with the World Health Organisation reporting that one in four of us will experience some form of mental health issue in our lives; we need all the calmness we can muster.
The craving for a calm mind is something I see in my clinic every day and many of my clients are caught up in an unfortunate battle with their own minds. The modern brain, left unattended, can resemble the spin cycle of the washing machine, fast, furious and going round in circles. Many of us are only too aware of the importance of slowing down; we are living through an era when mindfulness and meditation classes are almost ubiquitous and where countless articles extol the virtues and joys of 'living in the moment.' This is of course very helpful, or is it? Many of us simply do not know how to elevate to this higher level of consciousness.
Calmness is a superpower. There is no doubt about it. When you feel calm in any given situation, no matter whether it is a family holiday, a presentation at work or a genuine crisis, calmness is your best friend and your greatest ally. Feeling calm is the ultimate expression of empowerment. Authentic calmness differs from pretending to be calm, when underneath there is a turmoil of emotion. Faking positive emotions like calmness actually does more harm than good.
So, is it really possible to create calmness? Are some people not just born calm and others wound up? Is it realistic to wake up feeling calm and to go to bed feeling serene and looking forward to8 a deep restorative sleep?
Yes, it is. And it all comes down to habit.
The brain is malleable, plastic and capable of change all the way through our lives. This is known as 'neuroplasticity' and, when you know how to train your brain, it can become as flexible as a prima ballerina, twisting and bending in directions you may never have thought possible. Aristotle once said that: "If we are what we repeatedly do, then excellence is not an act, but a habit." In order to achieve excellence, or anything else for that matter, we must first master the calmness habit.
Stress and anxiety are unconscious habits and will govern our lives if we allow them to. This is not our fault but an unfortunate evolutionary inheritance that is consistently triggered by the whirlwind of living in the digital era.
Hypnotherapy is one of the most direct routes for changing these out-of-date, subconscious patterns and has been described as the 'honest placebo' - there is no pretence and it clearly illustrates how powerful your mind is with simple, transparent logic: when you slow down your thoughts there is an identifiable space between each thought and in that space you can listen to empowering audios. A great time do to this is is as you fall asleep at night. You can literally change the neural pathways of your brain while you sleep.
In order to change unconscious, negative, emotional habits, it is important to understand how these habits are formed. The science of habit illustrates that there are three components to any habit, whether it be positive or negative. They are:
In my book, The Positive Habit, it teaches you to understand and transform subconscious, negative, emotional habits into conscious, positive, emotional patterns. You can turn your emotional habits 360 degrees in a constructive direction that best serves you and everyone you love.
But how?The trigger and reward remain the same, but you change the routine.
* The Calmness Quiz
Please take a moment to answer either 'yes' or 'no' to the following questions:
In the last month have you?
1. Worried a lot about something bad happening that in the end turned out just fine?
2. Had trouble sleeping because your mind was too busy with racing thoughts and/or your heart was pounding?
3. Had problems with your digestion after a stressful situation?
4. Worried that others are judging you negatively either at work, socially or within your own family?
5. Beaten yourself up about something that you said or did?
6. Had trouble breathing because of anxious thoughts before an exam, presentation or important meeting at work/awkward social meeting?
7. Lost your train of thought in a conversation and found it hard to focus on what the other person is saying?
8. Avoided social occasions by making up an excuse or white lie or simply not turned up because you couldn't face people?
9. Felt overly concerned if someone was late that something bad had happened to them?
10. Felt intense anxiety or panic?
If you answered 'yes' to three or more of the above questions - and believe me, most of us fall into this category - then you could do with self-generating the calmness habit - here are my top five tips:
* Follow your breath - not your thoughts
The breath is the vehicle to calmness. In order to have a calm mind we need to use the body to help us achieve this. Trying to create calmness by using the mind to control the mind is simply not effective; the mind is full of thoughts that may jump from one catastrophic thought to the next and this only adds to the physical sensations that come with fear.
Breathing deeply and consciously is the best method to generate calmness and by so doing, to create feelings of self-control which counteract racing thoughts.
* Listen to hypnotherapy audios
Included free in The Positive Habit book is access to powerful audios that will programme your subconscious mind. This is where your emotional habits live and which can change with repetitive positive suggestions. The first seven minutes in the morning and the last few minutes at night are when your subconscious mind is most malleable and suggestible. Use this time wisely and programme your subconscious to self-generate the six supreme positive emotions of love, calmness, confidence, gratitude, hope, and happiness.
* Affirmational teeth brushing
Tying an emotional response (feeling calm) to an existing, established habit (brushing teeth) makes it more likely for the emotion to become set in your neural pathways. So ask yourself the following:
"How do I want to feel today?" And as you brush repeat (for example), "I am calm with the kids", or "I am calm in all situations I find myself in." Use this time as an opportunity to take control of any areas of your life you may feel are out of your control.
* Ask the question - "Is this beyond or within my control?"
If you feel stress or anxiety mounting, ask yourself if the situation is within or beyond your control. If it is beyond your control, accept it and focus on calmly responding to it rather than reacting to it. If it is within your control, choose to do something that makes it better for yourself and everyone around you. Move from resistance to acceptance with calmness.
* Transform everyday moments of frustration into 'mindful-me moments'
Take seven deep belly breaths and stop. Use situations that used to cause frustration, for example, being stuck in traffic, as opportunities to close your eyes and breathe deeply, calming your body and mind.
Fiona Brennan is the author of The Positive Habit: 6 Steps for Transforming Negative Thoughts into Positive Emotions - thepositivehabit.com