Declutter Your Mind: How to Stop Worrying, Relieve Anxiety, and Eliminate Negative Thinking - S.J. Scott, Barrie Davenport (2016)

Part III. DECLUTTERING YOUR RELATIONSHIPS

Relationship Strategy #1: Be More Present

A University of North Carolina study of “relatively happy, nondistressed couples” revealed that couples who actively practiced mindfulness saw improvements to their relationship happiness. They also enjoyed healthier levels of “relationship stress, stress coping efficacy, and overall stress.” The practice of mindfulness allows us to be present with our partners, to be less emotionally reactive with them, and to more quickly overcome stressful situations in the relationship.

Relationship presence doesn’t just apply to romantic couples. You can practice mindfulness in all of your relationships.

What does it mean to be more present in your relationships?

Here are a few strategies you can practice:

Practice Empathic Listening

Have you ever noticed that some people don’t listen closely during a conversation?

For many folks, it’s hard to pay attention because our minds are full of so many thoughts. Often, when someone is talking, our mind is more focused on the minutia of our lives, our worries, or what we want to say next.

Empathic (or active) listening is a willingness to step outside of your distracted mind and listen to their words in a non-judgmental way. Empathy is the grace note of empathic listening, as it allows the speaker to feel safe, validated, and understood.

Active listening isn’t part of a conversation in the traditional sense. There’s no give and take, sharing dialogue, or competing to talk. With empathic listening, it’s all about the other person and what they are trying to communicate—with their words, with the words left unspoken, and with their emotions.

As an empathic listener, you must be willing to:

·                   Allow the other person to dominate the conversation and determine the topic discussed.

·                   Remain completely attentive to what the other person is saying.

·                   Avoid interrupting, even when you have something important to add.

·                   Ask open-ended questions that invite more from the speaker.

·                   Avoid coming to premature conclusions or offering solutions.

·                   Reflect back to the speaker what you heard them say.

It may seem that empathic listening only provides benefits for the speaker, but as the listener you are in a state of focused awareness. When you listen empathically, it’s impossible to be stuck in looping thoughts or distracted by worry or regret.

You can start practicing empathic listening with your partner, family members, and close friends. In your next interaction, commit to 10 minutes of active listening where you are focused solely on the other person and what they are saying. This will bring you closer to your loved one and also give you a break from your cluttered thoughts.

Mindful Speaking

Negative thinking can have a damaging impact on the quality of your relationships. If your language is filled with fearful comments, self-condemnation, disparaging remarks about others, or self-pity, you do nothing more than convince others that you are a negative person to be around.

On other hand, when you focus on fostering positive interactions, you can strengthen the relationships you do have. For instance, Dr. John Gottman discovered through his research that there should be five times as many positive interactions between partners as there are negative in order for a relationship to be stable and a marriage to last . Gottman’s findings can be applied to other relationships as well. Conflict and negativity tend to push people away.

Awareness is always the first step toward change. We recommend paying close attention to what you say during a conversation, particularly in your love relationship. Place a mental filter between your thoughts and words, recognizing the power your words have on one of the most important people in your life.

Resist the temptation to simply react to someone’s words or actions. Take a moment to choose your words carefully. Speak in ways that are loving, compassionate, and respectful, and try to use a calm, non-threatening voice, even if the other person is agitated or angry.

As you speak more mindfully, those around you will often respond in kind. Even if they don’t, you empower yourself to maintain self-control and inner peace.

Through the practice of mindful speaking, you not only improve the quality of your relationships, but also improve the quality of your inner world.

Loving Kindness Meditation

A loving kindness meditation focuses on developing feelings of warmth towards others. You can use a loving kindness meditation specifically to improve your relationships with specific people in your life in order to reduce negative thinking about them.

This kind of meditation cultivates our awareness of others as human beings deserving of compassion and love—even when they are being difficult—which can decrease relationship conflicts and improve your own well-being. There are three studies that support this claim.

First, scientists from Stanford University found that meditation that focuses on loving kindness increases people’s feelings of social connectedness.

Also, according to a University of Utah study , loving kindness meditation practice “decreased overall levels of perceived hostility, insensitivity, interference, and ridicule from others.” This special meditation practice will not only improve your intimate relationships, but your relationship with you as well.

Finally, in a landmark study , researchers found that practicing seven weeks of loving kindness meditation increased feelings of love, joy, contentment, gratitude, pride, hope, interest, amusement, and awe.

You can practice a loving kindness meditation anywhere, but start with a short 10-minute meditation in a quiet place without distraction.

Here is a simple process for practicing this habit:

·                   Sit in a comfortable position, either on the floor with your legs crossed and your hands sitting loosely in your lap, or sitting up straight in a chair with your legs uncrossed, feet on the floor, and hands resting in your lap.

·                   Close your eyes and take two or three deep cleansing breathes, and then begin counting each breath, going from 1 to 10.

·                   One you are relaxed, bring to mind a person to whom you wish to send loving kindness, and consider their positive qualities—the light of goodness you see in them.

·                   After you focus on their positive qualities for a few minutes, mentally say the following statements directed to your loved one: “May you be happy,” “May you be well,” “May you be loved.”

There is nothing wrong with altering the words slightly to focus on the needs of the individual. There are no hard and fast rules. You might substitute the person’s name rather than saying “you.”

You could also add thoughts like:

May you be free from inner and outer harm and danger.

May you be safe and protected.

May you be free of mental suffering or distress.

May you be free of physical pain and suffering.

May you be healthy and strong.

May you be able to live in this world happily, peacefully, joyfully, with ease.

Not only will this meditation practice improve your relationships, but it also will increase your emotional well-being and peace of mind. How you adapt the practice to your personal circumstances is ultimately up to you, but it remains at its heart a deeply transformative process in your efforts toward mental decluttering and peace of mind.

End the Comparisons to Others

“Let us not look at the talents we wish we had or pine away for the gifts that are not ours, but instead do the best we can with what we have.” – B.J. Richardson

Comparing ourselves unfavorably to other people is one of the major causes of mental turmoil and emotional suffering.

·                   “If only I were as attractive as my friend.”

·                   “Why can’t I be as smart as my brother?”

·                   “They have so much more money than we do.”

·                   “She travels all the time, and I never get to go anywhere.”

These thoughts can spiral out of control, making us feel bad about ourselves while viewing other people as the cause of our unhappiness. By measuring ourselves against the achievements, possessions, or traits of everyone else, we set the stage for the disintegration of potentially fulfilling relationships.

In their work as authors and entrepreneurs, Steve and Barrie have seen how easy it is to make comparisons with those who have achieved more success. “I have fallen into the trap of measuring myself against my peers,” says Barrie. “It undermines my focus on the work I’m doing, making me feel inept and envious until I regain my footing and realize I’m on my own journey, which should be different from those around me.”

Comparison fosters so many negative feelings that it destroys more than just your peace of mind—it damages your relationships. The more you ruminate about how you measure up, the worse you feel about both you and the other person. Feelings of envy, jealously, shame, guilt, embarrassment, self-loathing, resentment, and anger are not qualities that enhance a relationship or make you attractive to others.

Gretchen Rubin, author of the New York Times #1 bestselling book The Happiness Project , says “Negative emotions like loneliness, envy, and guilt have an important role to play in a happy life; they’re big, flashing signs that something needs to change.”

We all compare ourselves from time to time, and sometimes comparing can motivate us to improve ourselves or to achieve something that we observe in others. But when comparison causes those “big, flashing signs” to light up, it’s time to take action.

It does take mental effort to disengage from comparing and the emotions that go along with it. But changing your reactions to those who have “more” will free you up to follow your own path and become the best person YOU are meant to be.

Here are three simple and short practices that can help you end the practice of comparing yourself to others:

Practice #1: Practice radical self-acceptance.

No amount of comparing, fretting, and ruminating will change who you are, how you look, what you’ve achieved, or what you own in this moment. The person you are right now is all you’ve got, at least for today.

Rather than resisting this person, lean into it. Accept it, and acknowledge that you are perfectly okay right now. Simply adopting this moment of radical self-acceptance is liberating and empowering.

Practice #2: Change what you can.

American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr is known for writing The Serenity Prayer , in which he states:

God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

The courage to change the things I can;

And the wisdom to know the difference.

Embracing the serenity, courage, and wisdom Niebuhr prays for will give you practical tools for tempering your longings and frustrations with realism.

Comparing yourself to others you admire can inspire you to change for the better, to step up your game, and to improve your life. But sometimes, no matter how hard you may try, you will never be able to match the accomplishments of a particular person. You may never look like your fashion model friend or become as wealthy as your millionaire cousin.

Rather than blindly longing for something you don’t have, make decisions through the filter of your inner wisdom. What can you change? What do you want to change? Go back to your values and life priorities to help you define your life on your own terms rather than trying to emulate someone else who may have differing values and priorities.

You may still occasionally long for something you can’t have, but do the best you can with what you do have. Focus on your strengths and continue to practice self-acceptance.

Practice #3: Express gratitude constantly.

Comparisons blind us to all that we already have. We become so focused on what someone else has and how we don’t measure up that we neglect to acknowledge all of the blessings around us.

It’s a matter of choosing to see the glass half full rather than half empty—and acknowledging your gratitude for the water in the glass.

When you wake up in the morning, before you get out of bed, make a mental list of everything good in your life and focus on each blessing for a minute or two. Do this before you go to sleep as well.

You can reinforce feelings of gratitude by writing them in a gratitude journal. At the end of the day, mentally review everything positive that occurred and write it down. Take a moment to consider what your life would be like without the people you love, your home, your health, etc. When you consider having your blessings taken away from you, it becomes very clear how blessed you are.