When our biases find the confirmation they are on the look for our worst fears are realised & we start to believe the resultant bad outcomes they have picked up & brought to our attention are inevitable & unavoidable. We then become trapped in a habit loop of almost perpetual scanning & vigilance for these bad outcomes to come around again and again. We unwittingly condition ourselves to prepare for bad outcomes as if they are an inevitable and automatic outcome of “being”.
These are referred to as our “automatic thoughts” or “ANTS” (automatic negative thoughts). And these trigger our flight/fight response which activates our “autonomic nervous system” which puts us on anticipatory alert, which can be very tiring and self defeating and depleting as it uses up nervous energy in order to work.
Rumination is prototypically experienced far more by those with depression or anxiety and serves to fuel the very anxiety or depression they want to leave far, far behind yet inadvertently fuel even more & keep almost permanently welded close to them by almost continuously obsessing about how to avoid the intrusive fears, thoughts, worries and premonitions that overwhelm them so frequently by imagining they’re pushing them out of their minds when actually they’re remaining transfixed upon them. Our unconscious will not register a negative; all it responds to is the object of our thinking. It doesn’t register that we’re saying “just DON’T think about white bears”; it just latches onto “White Bears”. Try it yourself, now…….just close your eyes and just don’t think about White Bears; what happened?
This exercise consists of a series of 39 questions which we put to ourselves regularly in order that we can practice & cultivate the art of journaling & the practice of self enquiry without setting the bar too high. This regular practice will draw our attention to what it is we’re actually doing & raise our awareness so we can actually experience what we’re actually doing as we’re doing it instead of allowing our worry, re-worry and rumination to divert our attention from the present moment by dragging us into the repetitious practice of the revisitation of unpleasant, often terrifying, events that actually happened in our past or didn’t even happen to us but which we worry “might” happen to us. In this way our rumination becomes an habitual practice and it morphs into our “go to coping mechanism” for keeping at bay what in reality we’re merely ensuring remains in our unconscious mind as a terrifying inevitability that we ceaselessly & unsuccessfully fight tooth and nail from ever appearing in our conscious mind. As a result it runs in the background like an ever present foreboding that is bound to appear again almost with a will of its own. As a result we live in anticipation of its reoccurrence at all times preventing us from ever being truly and naturally present in the actual reality of present moment experiencing and being, and leaves us drained and exhausted from all the effort perpetual suppression costs us. Our autonomic nervous system requires a lot of our energy to keep us in almost perpetual sympathetic nervous system fight/flight mode which is exhausting, depleting, shaming, depressing and self perpetuating. We’re focusing continuously, albeit unconsciously a lot of the time, on bad outcomes; and we become what we think about and we receive what we believe. If we believe the world is a bleak and terrible place we will experience bleak and terrible forebodings of what we anticipate is inevitably going to befall us. We can’t change the world but we can change ourselves and our perceptions and expectations.
This exercise can help us to learn, through helpful & therefore healthy repetition, how to reverse the effects of the same process we are inadvertently using, unhelpfully & therefore unhealthily.
The unhelpful & therefore unhealthy pattern is then reversed into a helpful & healthy pattern using the same process of repetition but with a focus on the present reality rather than the feared fantasy. Living in fear of an outcome we have conditioned ourselves to constantly anticipate, reinforces and entrenches our worry and anxiety and depressive thinking and premonitions by locking us into permanent anticipatory anxiety of future orientated outcome that hasn’t actually happened but is felt to be inevitable because it happened in the past.
This exercise guides us in how to take ourselves from the non-present moment of anticipatory anxiety-fuelled fearful trepidatious expectation of disastrous outcomes befalling us, into present moment experiencing, by consciously focusing our attention on what is actually happening rather than what we imagine is happening or is about to happen.
In practicing the noticing of present moment sensations and occurrences we are cultivating and building and strengthening our capacity to be in the present moment. We are teaching ourselves to experience “feeling” what that sensory experience is like to be in; we are transitioning from human doing to human being.
What follows is a list of 39 questions.
This is the start of what will become, with repetitious practice (human beings learn by rote) a transitional process.
A wise man once said that;
“Every journey begins with the first step”
It might be very helpful to consider this to be your first step?
Find a routine that feels most comfortable to you without being too easy – one needs something of a stretch but not too much!!
Repeat the questions and keep a record of the scores you give to each question.
You can look at and monitor your scores each time you do them or you might want to keep them under wraps until the weekend, or the following day, or even the following month? It really is up to you; you are in control and you can tailor this exercise to suit the approach that proves most beneficial and effective.
Score each question using the scale provided.
Write the score in the blank that best describes your own opinion of what is generally true for you.
Never or very rarely true…………….(1)
Very often or always true……..……(5)
———- 1. When I’m walking, I deliberately notice the sensations of my body walking.
———- 2. I’m good at finding words to describe my feelings.
———- 3. I criticise myself for having irrational or inappropriate emotions.
———- 4. I perceive my feelings and emotions without having to react to them.
———- 5. When I do things, my mind wanders off and I’m easily distracted.
———- 6. When I take a shower or bath, I stay alert to the sensations of water on my body.
———- 7. I can easily put my beliefs, opinions, and expectations into words.
———- 8. I don’t pay attention to what I’m doing because I’m daydreaming, worrying, or otherwise distracted.
———- 9. I watch my feelings without getting lost in them.
———- 10. I tell myself I shouldn’t be feeling the way I’m feeling.
———- 11. I notice how foods and drinks affect my thoughts, bodily sensations and emotions.
———- 12. It’s hard for me to find the words to describe what I’m thinking.
———- 13. I am easily distracted.
———- 14. I believe some of my thoughts are abnormal or bad and I shouldn’t hink that way.
———- 15. I pay attention to sensations, such as the wind in my hair or the sun on my face.
———- 16. I have trouble thinking of the right words to express how I feel about things.
———- 17. I make judgements about whether my thoughts are good or bad.
———- 18. I find it difficult to stay focused on what’s happening in the present.
———- 19. When I have distressing thoughts or images, I “step back” and am aware of the thought or image without getting taken over by it.
———- 20. I pay attention to sounds, such as clocks ticking, birds chirping, or cars passing.
———- 21. In difficult situations, I can pause without immediately reacting.
———- 22. When I have a sensation in my body, it’s difficult for me to describe it because I can’t find the right words.
———- 23. It seems I am “running on automatic” without much awareness of what I’m doing.
———- 24. When I have distressing thoughts or images, I feel calm soon after.
———- 25. I tell myself I shouldn’t be thinking the way I’m thinking.
———- 26. I notice the smells and aromas of things.
———- 27. Even when I’m feeling terribly upset, I can find a way of putting it into words.
———- 28. I rush through activities without being really attentive to them.
———- 29. When I have distressing thoughts or images I am able to just notice them without reacting.
———- 30. I think some of my emotions are bad or inappropriate and I shouldn’t feel them.
———- 31. I notice visual elements in art or nature, such as colours, shapes, textures, or patterns of light and shadow.
———- 32. My natural tendency is to put my experiences into words.
———- 33. When I have distressing thoughts or images, I just notice them and let them go.
———- 34. I do jobs or tasks automatically without being aware of what I’m doing.
———- 35. When I have distressing thoughts or images, I judge myself as good or bad, depending on what the thought or image is about.
———- 36. I pay attention to how my emotions affect my thoughts and behaviour.
———- 37. I can usually describe how I feel in the moment in considerable detail.
———- 38. I find myself doing things without paying attention.
———- 39. I disapprove of myself when I have irrational ideas.
What you do with the scores and the frequency that you do the questionnaire is ultimately entirely up to you.
However you may be interested to know that psychological research shows that repetition aids learning, so the more frequent the better, perhaps? But perhaps even more important than frequency is consistency; repeating the practice at a set time each day or night or couple of days etc can make it habitual and plant the seeds in the unconscious with surprisingly rewarding offshoots.
This practice conditions us into the habit of journaling so we observe our experiences replete with the accompanying emotions and thoughts and feelings; it provides us with a more detailed picture of how we actually “are” in the world as opposed to how we perceive or think of ourselves or imagine ourselves to be in the world. This opens the door to altering or modifying that being in the world to more accurately represent us as we want to be seen and received; it gives us back more control for how we actually are and hands us back greater choice.
It can be eye opening to keep a record of our “scores” to provide empirical hard evidence as to changes taking place within us that we might otherwise take for granted or simply just not notice.
I’d be fascinated to hear from you as to the efficacy of this practice.
Email me on firstname.lastname@example.org if you like? I’d be delighted to hear from you……..