15 ways to free your mind
We live in a fast-paced consumer-driven world, and it can be difficult to take time out to smell the roses. Mindfulness expert Dr Craig Hassed has some strategies to take back control
Mindfulness expert and author Dr Craig Hassed believes we can all escape the discontent we feel from time to time and find true freedom. Here he lists 15 ways to lead a happier life.
1 Feed the mind a little wisdom every day
Down through the ages wise people have reflected deeply on what it means to be truly free. Take time to read the insights of some of the world's wisest people and explore what the world's great philosophical traditions have to say about the nature of freedom and how to attain it - depending on your cultural background, this could be the concepts of Buddhism, the Vedic tradition from India, the philosophy of Christianity, or the wisdom of acclaimed writers such as Einstein or Shakespeare.
2 Perform random acts of kindness
Feeling stressed and negative is often associated with cutting off from others and the mind turning in on itself by ruminating and becoming self-obsessed. It turns into a self-perpetuating cycle and ignores the fact that we all depend on each other. Performing a random act of kindness - give up your bus seat to an older person or allow somebody who's in a rush to go ahead of you in the queue - can help us to break the inward turning cycle. Observe the effect of acts of kindness on yourself and others.
3 Gently challenge your addictions
There are all kinds of addictions - from drugs to gambling, pornography, coffee, your smart-phone, or feeling compelled to be always right in an argument. Ask yourself whether you are addicted to anything, Dr Hassed suggests. "People don't know how strong their compulsion to do something is until they try not to do it," says Dr Hassed, who asks:
What are the costs associated with that addiction?
Would you be freer, healthier or happier by not feeling compelled to keep doing whatever it happens to be?
Try seeing what happens when you attempt to do without that thing for a day, he suggests.
Then decide: How free are you really?
4 Avoid letting reason be dominated by pleasure
Notice what happens when you make decisions based around pleasure, particularly when it is in conflict with what is reasonable or necessary.
"Examples could be eating and drinking too much, overspending on unnecessary things, sleeping in too late, or doing something you want to do at the expense of something you need to do," explains Dr Hassed.
"When pleasure dominates your life it is a very fragile form of happiness," he says.
Ask yourself, he suggests, what is the effect on you financially, mentally, emotionally or physically?
5 Be less attached to your desire for things
We often assume that feeding desires is the way to freedom and happiness, but many a wisdom tradition has suggested that the way to freedom and happiness is by not being attached to desires at all. "Non-attachment to desires makes it easier to make a more reasonable and discerning choices about whether to follow them or not," advises Dr Hassed - however, he adds that this doesn't mean you can't have an ice-cream or do something enjoyable!
6 Practise Mindfulness
Learn to observe your thoughts and emotions with less attachment to them. "We can't necessarily stop thoughts and feelings arising, but we can learn to step back from them and change our attitude to them," explains Dr Hassed.
"Being reactive and judgmental about the thoughts and feelings we don't like makes them more intrusive and fixates the attention on them. On the other hand, cultivating self-compassion and not being controlled by them through non-attachment helps us to be less dominated by them."
7 Live in the here and now
"Experiment with leaving the past behind, and letting the future come when it will, by giving your attention to what is in front of you here and now, one moment, one job, one step a time," says Dr Hassed. Then assess the effect on how you feel, how you function, how you communicate, and how you enjoy life. Even when planning and preparing for the future, do it grounded in the present, he advises.
8 Follow simple, natural principles for living
There are natural laws governing life, health and society. Ask yourself whether you are conscious of what those laws might be and whether you follow them or not. It's a natural law, for example, that human beings sleep at night - yet many of us stay awake on our phones or laptops until the early hours. "People tend to ignore these natural things, assuming that it makes them free," says Dr Hassed. "We can have what we want but are we conscious of what comes with it?" he asks.
Think, he advises, about the cost of ignoring natural laws where they exist - for example, tiredness and impaired concentration can result from breaking the natural law on getting sufficient sleep at night.
9 Find a good balance between work and home-life by setting reasonable limits
We often feel mentally and emotionally trapped by a constant preoccupation about work, made all the worse by the way that IT intrudes on sleep, leisure and family time, says Dr Hassed. "Work with full engagement when at work, but then leave work behind," he urges. Turn off your email and work phone, he advises, and engage fully with your leisure time, family and friends. And leave your IT outside the bedroom!
10 Unplug from social media for a whole week
"These days we are becoming addicted to social media to the point that most people are its servant rather than its master," warns Dr Hassed. We can easily define ourselves by social media and lose connection with who and where we are.
See what happens when you unplug from social media and technology for a week, or even a day, he suggests.
"What is the effect on how you feel, your attitude to yourself and to others?" he asks. "When you go back to it, make some rules about how you wisely limit its use, such as only using it during certain hours of the day and days of the week."
11 Assess and cultivate your signature strengths
Signature strengths, such as wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance and transcendence, are a key feature of what is called positive psychology. These are the characteristics that make us who we are.
Thriving is associated with understanding our strengths and cultivating them. You might like to assess yours by taking a simple survey - see viacharacter.org/www/Research/What-the-Research-Says-About-Character-Strengths-Signature-Strengths
12 Make decisions based on virtue rather than desire
Virtues such as honesty, truthfulness, compassion or courage are characteristics we all have and often associate with inspiring and admirable people. "Desire often competes with virtue when it comes to making all sorts of decisions in personal and professional life," says Dr Hassed. So, for example, ask yourself have you recently made a decision based on courage and honesty - or from greed or fear?
13 Practice speech that uplifts and abstain from speech that denigrates
Speech, including the things we say silently to ourselves in the mind, has a profound effect on ourselves, the people around us, and society at large. Notice the effect that angry, negative or denigrating speech has on yourself and others. Notice the effect that uplifting speech has on yourself and others. Be honest and by all means speak what you believe to be true, but also have consideration for others in how you say it.
14 Be True to Yourself
Align what you think with what you say, and align what you say with what you do, says Dr Hassed. Practise integrity and authenticity. "Be consistent on the inside and the outside," he says.
"Do not present a false face to the world - for example, by being nice to someone and then undermining them behind your back. There is freedom in being true to yourself and therefore, in being true to others. This is about freedom being an inner state as much as being an outer state.
15 Lead a healthy lifestyle
There are many mental and physical health problems associated with an unhealthy lifestyle such as a poor diet, physical inactivity, smoking, drinking to excess, and sleeping poorly. Learn about and get support on how to foster healthy lifestyle change. In the process you will automatically make an investment in better mental and physical health and a longer, more vital and fulfilling life.
* The Freedom Trap: Reclaiming Liberty and Wellbeing by Dr Craig Hassed, Exisle Publishing, €12
Health & Living