When Your Mind’s Full of Dad Stuff, You Need Mindfulness
One of the few benefits of having the bloke equivalent of ‘resting bitch-face’ is that you’re often given the chance to do training courses that involve meditation. I clearly look like someone who needs to relax because I’ve been given numerous opportunities to get paid to meditate.
I’ll put this right up front, I believe in the health and well-being benefits of mediation. I think it helps promote clarity of thought and, next to actually expressing your emotions and regular exercise, I think it’s the best method of stress management and reduction.
I most recently had the chance to do a course called ‘Search Inside Yourself ‘. It’s a system developed by Google that helps you build the emotional intelligence skills needed for sustained peak performance at home and at work.
There are a number of really interesting parts to this course: Listening, empathy, self-awareness and SBNRR (A technique for not freaking the hell out).
Why is something like this relevant to dads? Because being better at these things can help us become better dads, better people and better at work. When you work better, you work smarter and faster and you can spend more time with your kids.
We began with some basic meditation and breathing exercises. I won’t go into the details of this, the internet is full of great meditations and there are some good apps including Headspace, Buddhify and Calm. I personally have some guided meditations on my phone created by Kamal Sarma who runs a company called Rezilium. His book Mental Resilience came with a CD of meditations that I’ve used a lot over the years. With meditation I find the simpler the better, if it’s simple you’ll do it more often and get more out of it.
One thing I will say about meditation is that when you’re starting out and trying to focus you’ll notice that your mind will wander. I used to struggle to get refocused, the same thoughts would keep coming back. I eventually realised that if I actually acknowledged them by thinking, “Yes I hear what you’re saying but it’s not a good time. Come back later.” the thought would stop interrupting my meditation (more often than not it never comes back at all). Basically by acknowledging the thought for what it was, a valid concern not an interruption, it seemed to give it the attention it needed to let me get on with it. This leads nicely into the next bit of ‘See Inside Yourself’, listening.
On the day we did a couple of listening exercises.
In the first exercise we broke up into groups of two and your partner spoke for about 3 minutes while the other person had to listen and then repeat back what their partner had said. Not word for word, just the general story. The interesting thing that you notice in this exercise is that listening, really listening, is really hard. We’re taught to be active in conversations, to contribute to the discussion, but this means that when we should be listening we’re actually thinking about what we’re going to say next. We’re not actually listening at all. We’re just pretending.
By practising really listening and focusing on what is actually being said we can become better dads. By giving our kids our full attention, by putting things down and deleting distractions, they’ll be more likely to continue talking to us. This goes for the workplace too, better listening means better communication which means better results.
…being better at these things can help us become better dads, better people and better at work.
In a slightly different version of this exercise one partner spoke for 3 minutes and the other person had to listen and then relate back the emotions they could hear their partner expressing. “I could hear that you were angry, sad, etc.” This is designed to get you thinking about empathy.
Again, another important part of being a dad and partner is empathising with your family. I tried this with my daughter the other night. She’d had a bad dream and rather than just tell her that there was nothing to be scared off I began by saying that I could hear she was scared and upset. It seemed to help validate her feelings and stopped me looking like I was just dismissing her concerns or basically not listening.
Although the guys at SIY refer to it as the Siberian North Rail Road, SBNRR actually stands for Stop, Breathe, Notice, Reflect and Respond. They regard it as a great way to deal with negative emotions, emotional triggers and other emotional hot spots.
From my point of view I’m not sure it’s ‘great’, it’s good but it takes a long time to do the steps and in the heat of the moment I reckon if can you remember the first two (STOP / BREATHE) before you respond you’ve done well. So my version would be SBR or Stupid Bastard Response because it’ll come in handy the next time some stupid bastard at work winds you up.
SBNRR’s five steps:
1) Stop. This is the most important step. Instead of becoming wrapped up in the emotion or making an impulse decision, just stop and take a moment.
2) Breathe. Take a deep breath. This helps clear your mind, as well as helps physiologically calm down your brain.
3) Notice. Notice what you’re experiencing on a moment to moment basis. What are you feeling in your body? What emotions are you experiencing? Is it static or is it changing? Does the emotion seem out of proportion compared to the trigger?
4) Reflect. What’s causing the emotion? Is it the right response? Is a part of you feeling attacked, belittled or threatened?
5) Respond. Think of all the different courses of actions you can take. Consider the kindest, most compassionate way to respond to the situation (even if you don’t take that path.) Finally, make a conscious decision on how to respond.
As I said, much like a trip on the Siberian North Rail Road, it’s a bit long for me. You can’t really keep leaving the room every time one of your triggers gets pulled so you might want to try abbreviating it first. If nothing else you’ll become more aware of the way you react to things, or more likely ‘over-react’, and start being calmer and more considered with your responses.
I enjoyed the course a great deal, if you get the chance to take it I’d encourage you to do it. In the meantime there’s plenty of information on their website.
Becoming more mindful will help you become a better dad and, as life gets busier, it’s a great way to find some focus, clarity and resilience.