Meditation, mindfulness and my naughty chimp

chimpI am a dreadful procrastinator. By which, I suppose, I should mean I’m a really good procrastinator.

A bad procrastinator, when faced with any given task, would completely fail to get distracted or sidetracked. They wouldn’t put off any difficult tricky jobs in their life, but instead would just get on with them. Completely failing to waste their time – a woeful performance if you want to be a pro level procrastinator.

I, however, am excellent at wasting my time. Before writing this blog, for instance, I have spent at least 30 minutes on Facebook clicking on random links to funny videos, etc. I’ve checked my emails, completed the washing up, lots of things that are not on my ‘to-do’ list.

And I enjoy writing my blogs. The key though, is that it is a task that takes some effort, and my mind is desperate to distract me. It wants to distract me for a number of reasons, one of which is that if I put a piece of creative work out there for people to view, I open myself up to criticism.

A part of my brain is there to try and help me, to protect me from harm. The problem is, it doesn’t know the difference between me publishing a blog and me going up to a Tiger and tapping it on the nose with my wang.

It senses danger and it wants me to flee. Another for part of my brain knows this and is fighting against it. Concepts like this are covered in the book The Chimp Paradox by Prof Steve Peters.

Prof Peters is a consultant psychiatrist whose clients include Ronnie O’Sullivan, Victoria Pendleton and Steven Gerrard. He has helped them understand the relationship between their ‘chimp’ with is the part of you that reacts emotionally, to their ‘human’ part, which is the part that reacts logically.

The sports stars he has seen have stated how much help he has given them. It’s just a shame Prof Peters never suggested to Gerrard that he could do with investing in less slippy boots!

The ideas he puts in the book is that you can’t win by fighting your chimp, you have to learn to manage it. You recognise in what ways you worry or feel bad. You exercise your chimp, listen to it, and only then can you start to reason with it.

Chimp Mangement
When my chimp says “you shouldn’t do a blog. There are professional writers out there blogging who can do it a lot better, you’ll just show yourself up. People won’t like it.” I shouldn’t try to ignore it. It is part of how I feel, of my worries.

What I can do is recognise how I feel in that sense and have space to think. I can respond with “I’ve worried about that in the past, but I have published a number of blog posts and they get hundreds of views, and a number of people share them on social media, so they must enjoy reading them.”

I believe mindfulness and meditation come within that same realm of thinking.

Mindfulness is focussing on how you are in the present moment. It isn’t dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. The part of your brain that works when you worry or are stressed cannot work at the same time as the part of your brain that deals with the senses (sound, touch, smell, etc).

The brain can fluctuate between all those things of course, but if you take is time to focus on the senses, this can help with mindfulness. Taking time to sit and focus on your breathing for instance, or by taking in the sounds around you, this can all help.

Your brain will fight to go back to worry mode, but if you focus on those senses it can help alleviate the sensations of stress. To anchor yourself.

This is essentially what meditation is as well. I don’t want to appear like a preachy expert here, because I’m not. I’ve only recently taken up meditation, but I have found it beneficial.

Most people have a concept of what meditation is, but it’s interesting the view points I’ve found from friends who haven’t experienced it yet themselves. Many have a tendency to think it isn’t for them for a number of reasons.

Something that has come up a number of times is they think that in meditation you have to clear your mind completely, and they cannot imagine doing that. Meditation isn’t about clearing your mind and ‘not thinking’.

There are various methods of doing meditation, but for the most part the main focus is that you spend time with your eyes closed and focus on your breathing. Thoughts will come and go, and if you find yourself distracted, you pull your focus back to your breathing.

It isn’t about denying thinking at all, but it is about focusing on your body, on your senses. I find through doing meditation it helps me reach a clarity in my thought. It helps me strip away some of the worry, and get to the root of what I am actually feeling.

Sometimes I find I’m having thoughts keep coming in to my head that I didn’t even realise were there. Say for instance I had a bad gig during the week (which happens to all comics at times).

I know logically that I should take lessons from such gigs, but that I shouldn’t dwell on the negative. Through meditation I will realise that I am in fact dwelling on one bad gig. Having that at the surface helps me to deal with it better, otherwise it would be left buried, which is never a good thing.

After a while through meditation you get to control your mind and achieve a level of Zen. With dedication you then begin to develop Shaolin Monk level kung-fu skills, and can learn to shoot a fireball from your stomach.

Well… maybe not. It isn’t a magic trick that makes everything right in your life, but it can help you to cope and manage your emotions better.

If you’re interested from in meditation I have used Head Space. It’s a website which provides guided meditations. You pay to subscribe, but you can do 10 free sessions to try it out first. There are also plenty of guided meditations available on YouTube.

If you live in Greater Manchester I have also done group sessions with Sadhana Yoga which have been very good. Having an instructor you can actually talk to about your experiences of meditation can be very helpful.

As I say, meditation can help, but it doesn’t automatically solve everything. Last week I did a guided meditation in the morning before work. I set it to be a 10 minute session, but it ran for 20 minutes without me realising, and that meant I was late for work.

There is nothing more ironic than suffering road rage as you race in to work knowing that it’s meditation that has caused you to be so stressed in the first place!

Of course, I haven’t let that put me off.