Becoming Mindful

  • Introduction
  • Using our imagination
  • Becoming Mindful
  • Motivation and discipline
  • Self-Praise

Introduction

Using reflective techniques helps us to think about and notice what is neurologically broken. 

It is only when we are able to become consciously aware of impairments that we can begin to fix them.

We can use reflective methods to help us think about experiences, actions, and communications in order to begin to re-engage with proactive learning.

We need to become aware of the paradigms that shape and contribute to our thinking and actions so that we can improve insight and self-awareness.

These paradigms create the ‘form’ of our thinking and breaking this down so that we can understand the root of assumptions, judgements, and the basic framework around and under our thoughts can help us make choices that reflect personal preferences and personality.

In effect, we are reintroducing the ‘self’ and reducing the opportunities that the automatic brain has to respond on our behalf.

Reflective techniques can be used to develop mindfulness and cognitive or thinking skills. You want to feel as though you are back in the driving seat with awareness about the choices you are intentionally making. 

Using and practising reflection will also improve social interactions, self-awareness, and self-observation skills.

Using our imagination

Using your imagination stimulates the brain to release chemicals that are rewarding and engaging. 

In other words, daydreaming is good for us!

Also, when we use our imagination in conscious ways, we begin firing electronic signals along axons, dendrites, and synapses, that are seldom used. Doing this is key to growing new neurons. 

The more conscious you are of what is happening, the more your brain will rewire the way you want it to. 

The ultimate aim is to feel like yourself again. 

Think of it this way. There is a very tempting way to view of how we see ourselves. Embedded in our culture, we often have a picture that the self sits inside the head peering out at the world and see ourselves at relatively stable and unchangeable. 

When you shift your focus to looking out of your eyes at the world around you, it can indeed feel as though you, the ‘self’ is sat behind the forehead.

If you focus on your thoughts, this awareness of self shifts and feels as though it is deeper inside the midbrain. 

It is as though, when we try to listen to what we are thinking, the sense of self sinks back into a place of balance rather than being focused on what is external to us. 

This indicates that the self is in fact a perception. Rather than being stuck behind the eyes, if we practice enough, we can become aware of this feeling of where our consciousness is as ‘moving’ depending on the demands we are putting on it.

When we are focused on maintaining attention, it can feel as though we are in the top of the head – much like a watcher or observer would need to be in the highest seat possible to watch everything that is going on. 

As memories accumulate over time we create perceptions and opinions about them, so our memories are really a history of what we have perceived, felt or understood at a time and have compared to our preferences and innate and core beliefs. We update these perceptions as we learn. 

We call these types of memory ‘experiential’ because they reflect everything personal to us. They include perceptions of our innate and core beliefs in relation to changing situations and our preferences. We are perpetually matching our experiences to our past conclusions.

Thoughts about the future are imagined perceptions, so who we are, the sense of self, is really just the totality of all these perceptions together. 

Conversely, when we focus on using out imagination is feels as though we are looking at the world from the back of the head in the occipital lobes.

Our imagination is hugely creative and powerful. In our imagination we try and form pictures or thoughts of what the world will be like ‘if.’ 

We can play with lots of ideas by using our imagination, but what is more, we can set intention by using it. 

Lets’ use an example. If we make our mind up about something, i.e. we make an executive decision in the frontal lobes, this can be disparate from our beliefs and we find we have to execute discipline and will to ‘make’ it happen.

If we use our imagination we can ‘picture’ the outcome we want to achieve we will increase our awareness and incorporate our beliefs into our goal meaning we have a greater chance of success. We can see a ‘bigger picture’ from our imagination.

When we use the ‘Space Probe‘ strategy we are using our imagination in the strongest way possible.

Becoming mindful

Becoming mindful or aware of the cognitive steps in thought helps us to notice what is missing post brain injury. 

An example of this may be consideration of the voids or blanks we experience – especially after being asked a question.

For example, being asked ‘would you like ice cream?’ for the first time after a brain injury might produce a long pause while we consider if we even like ice cream.

Because the brain can’t find an answer we notice a black hole where it should be.

A loss of self-awareness can leave us unable to ‘hear’ the thinking voice in our heads. So, while we experience a void, the brain is actually trying to work out the answer to questions we aren’t conscious of such as, who is paying, what flavours do we like, will it spoil my dinner, and so on.

All of these questions occur because we no longer have the memories that allow us to fire a response automatically. The loss of memories slows down the reaction of the subconscious because it is unable to find the information we need to give a yes or no answer.

If we can make a note of this experience and revisit it later when we have quiet time, we can begin to notice some of the things we need to consider and replace. It can take time for the information to assimilate back into available memory, but, the more we practice, the faster we will create new pathways.

Motivation and discipline

It only takes one small success using reflective techniques to motivate us to create a disciplined schedule

Keeping a reflective journal is a part of this as it helps us keep a record of our feelings, observations, and insights.

Even the act of writing the journal is adding an opportunity to ‘practice’ our brain training as each time we repeat anything, be it a thought or a process, we are adding to the myelin sheath around the neuronal pathway.

Using a reflective journal that is created specifically to record notes to revisit later, and the outcomes of our exercises helps us to develop attention and conceptual skills among many other executive and cognitive competencies.

Self-praise

Self-praise is enormously beneficial when you are trying to increase your understanding of your brains’ impairments.

Tell yourself when you have done well and make a moment of it by reaching your hand over your shoulder and patting yourself on the back. 

Talk to your brain as the captain of your ship. It is best to do this out loud; praise your brain! Say, ‘well done brain, well done, you have noticed that you didn’t know how to answer the question!’ or, ‘well done brain! You got the tea bag in the cup!’

Try and practice giving your brain verbal and physical cues that it has done well until you start to notice that whatever you were praising it about has become habit.

Every tiny accomplishment needs to be congratulated because you are teaching the brain what you are choosing to be good above what it thought you wanted. You are letting it know what you want it to learn and repeat.

The brain itself can feel relieved because it will recognise that you are using the mind to give direction and take back control. Your brain will be very pleased with you!