The One Thing That Kept Me Sane Last Year

What is the most useful thing (skill, knowledge, information, tool or resource) that you discovered in 2016?

This was a question that I asked my blog readers in my 2016 survey. The answers are fascinating and varied.

'The phrase, 'How we spend our days is how we spend our lives''

'Moved my social media apps to the 2nd or 3rd screen on my phone. Reduce my need to aimlessly flip through Facebook and waste time'

'Working with a business coach'

'Saying 'no''

I was impressed by the Clever Clogs who, when asked what one question she would ask me, threw it back;

'What's the most useful thing you've discovered in 2016?'

That got me thinking.

2016 was a mixed up, muddled up year. Professionally it was stellar. Personally? A little challenging. I know I'm not alone in this. Life throws us curve balls. Jobs are lost. Finances are strained. Loved ones become ill. Children struggle with school or friendships. Lives are lost. We never know what's in store. We're tested, all of us.

We must develop the skills to weather the storms and keep hearts and minds intact as we face our battles.    

There's a skill I learned a while ago but refined and practised in 2016 to keep me calm and sane through tough moments. It's the skill of placing space between now and what is to come. Space in my mind. Space in my heart. Space in my response.

Kelly Exeter calls this a psychological buffer or whitespace. They're perfect terms. She quotes Victor Frankl:

Between stimulus and response there is a space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

By placing space - a pause or buffer - between what happens to us in any moment and how we respond, we take control. We can choose our response. We are no longer the twig or leaf swept along by the current of life, it's challenges and emotions. We can hold the water still for a moment, long enough to grasp some semblance of control. Long enough to pause, to breathe, to soothe ourselves, to calm the anxiety or anger or stress. We give ourselves the power to make life better. To make it ours, no matter what it throws our way.

You might recognise this skill as mindfulness. Mindfulness is finding that space, that buffer. It's being focused on what we feel, hear, see and experience at any given moment. It's having control of our mind and our emotions; being able to bring our attention to what's in front of us when we're getting carried away with the 'what ifs' and 'when wills' and 'whys' and 'why nots'. 

In 2016 mindfulness was my super power. It quelled the rising anxiety of too many needs and not enough time. It cast a net around worry and frustration and anger and fear and brought it back to the present moment.

What can I do right now? 

'Don't worry about what might be. Just do what you can in this moment,' I  repeated this over and over. 

Sometimes the answer was knuckling down to work to hit the looming deadlines. At others it was taking a walk to distract and soothe. Going to yoga relaxed and reset my body. Meditation and music helped with sleep. Gratitude for my happy, growing children gave me the perspective to know that all was not lost. That life is good. That it will work out okay.

Mindfulness and making space between emotion and response also provided me insight.

What is this emotion I'm feeling right now? Is it anger? Is it frustration? Is it fear? Where is it coming from? Why?

The answers were illuminating and at times surprising. They allowed me to change my thinking and my response. Realising that my anger was driven by fear or my frustration came from my expectations, not the situation itself, empowered me to respond to the problem not the feeling. It allowed me to let stuff go.

Today I want to share four mindfulness resources that have helped me in 2016. Maybe they could help you too?

1. Introduction to Mindfulness Video Series from Monash University. If you're the type who likes to know the how and why, Drs Richard Chambers and Craig Hassed explain what mindfulness is, how and why it works and how to do it, simply.

2. Positive Thinking - Relaxation & Meditation. In 2016 I discovered listening meditation. Not all meditation turns our focus inward. Sometimes it helps to calm body and mind just by listening to the sounds around us, shutting everything else out for a while. This is my current selection of soothing sounds.

3. Yin yoga. I've practised many different types of yoga in the past 15 years - Hatha, Iyengar, Vinyasa and more. Last year I started Yin and fell in love. You can read more about what Yin involves here but suffice to say, it's very mindful, creating space for body and mind.

4. Mindful moments. I'm not very good at formal meditation practice so instead I practice mindful moments throughout my day. Sometimes that's three or four seconds with my eyes closed, a deep breath and an awareness of my body and immediate surrounds. Just enough to bring a moment of calm and readiness for whatever the next moment brings. 

What is the most useful thing you discovered in 2016?