Mindfulness for Negative Thinking Patterns

In these turbulent times it’s important to take care of ourselves, and in turn one another. Our inner critic sometimes feels overwhelming and more “in control” than we might like, perpetuating a whirlwind of emotions. So how can we manage these negative thought patterns?

At The Kindness Institute – which teaches our youth mindfulness and yoga to support them in dealing with stressful emotions, anxiety and low self-efficacy – they refer to a system very similar to the popular mindfulness technique, the simple acronym R.A.I.N. Originally coined by Michele McDonald around 20 years ago and more recently popularised by Tara Brach, the easy-to-remember process offers a gentle approach to deal with negative or stressful emotions.

This can be carried out in everyday occurrences or as a meditation, so is best thought of as an ongoing practice.

The steps are as follows:

  1. Recognise what is most predominant – e.g. a feeling, an irritation
  2. Allow the experience to be there, just as it is
  3. Investigate it with kindness and compassion
  4. Natural awareness, which comes from not identifying with the experience

R – Recognise what’s going on. If you’re experiencing a negative thought or emotion, one way of connecting to that is through mindfulness, which is paying attention to the present moment without fear or judgement. There are many types of meditation and one method encouraged at The Kindness Institute is to name the emotion or feeling e.g. fear, anger, anxiety, sadness, nervousness. By naming it we find power by not letting it override us, we can identify the feeling and truly recognise what that feeling is. Rather than suppress or ignore it, we recognise and acknowledge it.

A – Allow the experience to be there. Whether it’s unpleasant or otherwise, rather than pushing the feeling away or finding distraction or comparison, we can simply accept the feeling or sensation, as it is, without any desire to change it or any judgement on why we’re feeling that way. This can help us to learn that whatever we’re experiencing is safe.

I – Investigate it with kindness and compassion. The Kindness Institute explores this step by looking at how the feeling affects you, and observing physical sensations is a great way to start. Simple investigations and observations can really help, such as the feeling of numbness, tingling in the hands, clenched teeth, nauseous stomach. These can then be related back to the feeling, connecting the mental experience with a bodily sensation, and deepening the awareness.

New neural pathways can be developed through ongoing practice – by allowing ourselves to embrace what is, how it is, and not necessarily how we want it to be. This over time allows us to tune into our feelings much faster and understand how we might adapt our response to an experience, rather than letting the experience determine our reaction.

N – natural loving awareness. By embracing loving awareness or compassion, we can have a feeling or thought without being it. By not identifying with the experience we start to develop an approach that can be used throughout our life. We cannot control the negative or horrible things that may happen in life but we can control how we respond to them.

Self-compassion can take many shapes, a few deep breaths, a reminder to yourself that you’re doing the best you can, and that’s enough.

Every time we employ this mindfulness technique and are willing to slow down, to recognise our patterns of judgement, to notice the feeling of anxiety or hurt – we are moving towards a more positive presence.

Whether this becomes part of your daily practice or something you try out, R.A.I.N is a practice for meeting our negative thoughts with love and self-compassion.

Have you tried mindfulness? What has your experience been like? Let us know in the comments below!

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