Mindfulness has many books written about it and this article isn’t about everything to explain it all. This is an exercise I learned when doing Mindfulness myself.
To be mindful is to be aware of your own experience, moment to moment, without judgement. (1)
Our brains get stuck in ruts of thinking. Sometimes that is a good thing, like driving a car where we no longer have to think about what we do next like change gears. But sometimes we get stuck in ruts which are harmful and pop into our heads regularly with painful results. I used to find the words “I wish I was dead” popping into my head even when I wasn’t suicidal. It was a mode of thinking that was outdated but my mind decided to keep it going.
To change the ruts in our brains we need to practise a new way of thinking. This will take time and effort but is well worth doing. It works by gradually making new pathways in our thinking. The old ways don’t disappear entirely initially, but have less and less effect upon us and might eventually disappear. Intrusive thoughts are a problem for many people with mental health problems and I hope this might help to address them.
I want you to take something you enjoy, for example chocolate, a shower, a good meal, a long walk in the country – or anything else you can think of doing. I will use the chocolate as an example. I want you to smell it, look closely at it, touch it rolling it between your fingers, and eventually taste it. But you are to do each of these things slowly and carefully, really using your 5 senses (Ok you can’t hear chocolate, but you get the picture). When you smell it, really take time and smell it, don’t rush. When you look at it notice all the indentations and smooth appearance. When you touch it, roll it around and notice its texture, its smoothness or its ridges. Then you put it on your tongue and don’t eat it yet. You really taste it, you feel it melting on your tongue, you notice the flavour and the texture, the sensations you get. Then you can eat it. The key is to do everything very, very slowly.
Whilst you do this your mind will wander. That is totally normal. Each time a thought penetrates through, don’t try to stop it. Notice it and accept it. That is fine, but don’t dwell on it either. Notice and then draw your mind slowly back to the thought of the chocolate (or whatever you are doing). Initially, your mind will fight back. It might bombard you with extra thoughts. Don’t worry, that is normal. What you are noticing is also the sounds and sights around you that are distracting you as well. Is the TV on and making a noise, is there something outside which is annoying you, or are you suddenly getting itchy and so forth. It’s all OK and to be noticed and then draw yourself back to what you are doing.
If the thoughts are getting very strong and repetitive, then imagine a piece of paper in your mind. On it write the thought down, scrunch it up and throw it onto an imaginary fire. You might have to do this several times. Another way of doing this is to imagine leaves on a stream and put the thought on one and see it float away. When I first starting doing this I had loads of imaginary things and it became difficult to keep track of the chocolate but over time it became easier and fewer times I had to do it. DON’T GIVE UP!
Keep doing this several times a day. It can be a quick exercise or a longer one, depending on where and when you do it. I doubted it initially but over time it became much more useful and easier to do.
I hope you find this helpful and can manage those thoughts more easily.
This article was written by Calypso, a member of the Mental Health Forum Staff Team and a former Senior Nursing Sister for elderly people with complex needs. Last reviewed by the Mental Health Forum Web Team on September 7, 2019. We welcome your feedback on our information resources.
1. Initial quote from the website of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre 7 September 2019