principles

Principles of Personal Development for Working with the Mind

There are some basic principles of personal development that can help to get into an optimal state of mind for implementing the various tools in this book. This involves applying or incorporating what you learn in a slow, gradual, gentle, and light manner, while also envisioning this in your mind. Envisioning in your mind activates the prefrontal cortex and mediates the emotional circuits. It is important to do all this in a way that feels comfortable, which is a constant reflection and adjustment process. These processes should be used for implementing any of the principles and techniques because these help to provide the pre-conditions for change in implicit memory, and reduces the generalizing and negative bias tendencies of the mind. It is important to practice these (and all the exercises) in a simulated lived experience and situational context so that the appropriate memory systems are activated. Otherwise, if you do not, what you are trying to learn will remain conceptual and not carry over into real life and situations.

These particular tools also help to activate the prefrontal cortex, which, in turn, helps to mediate the emotional circuits and regions of the brain involved in automatic negative thoughts, beliefs, and moods. Think of the process of implementing these tools as similar to tending a garden by fostering the optimal conditions for growth, rather than mechanically flicking a switch. Test these tools out using the experiential exercises provided so that you can get a sense of the experience and gain procedural familiarity with these.

The goal is for these to become a habit of mind in how you manage and direct your attention and behavior to create change in your mind and brain. Think of this as learning a new way of relating and interacting with your mind. Some of the numerous exercises in this chapter will be similar at a certain level to some exercises in the next chapter on Stress Regulation. The difference between the exercises that are the same in each chapter is the purpose, when and how to use the tool, and the outcome of using the tool. The below exercises are for how to foster the optimal conditions so you can use your mind for implementing all the tools. The next chapter on Stress Regulation is for the purpose of managing stress levels. There are many exercises that differ between the two chapters, and so these chapters have been kept separate for this reason.

Slow

This principle of personal development is about applying the interventions in a slow and comfortable manner. For example, when you are thinking, moving, or shifting your attention, do so slowly and comfortably. Here is an experiential exercise to help you get the idea of this. This technique is simple, but important because when the stress response is reduced, your executive brain functions are more active. If it’s more active then it allows you to impact your automatic thoughts, beliefs, and feelings more effectively.

Exercise:

  1. Slow your breathing down to a pace that is comfortable. Do this for 10 seconds.
  2. Notice if your slower breathing feels good in your body. Adjust the pace so it is and comfortably monitor and adjust the pace and manner of breathing for what feels good moment-to-moment.
  3. Notice any enjoyable sensations in your body as you care breathing slowly and comfortably. Stay with any enjoyable sensations that you notice for 10 seconds.
  4. Slow any movement you do down to a pace that is comfortable and relaxing. Be aware of the movement as it is happening in the fluid present moment. Notice if your slower movement feels good in your body. Notice any enjoyable sensations from this slower movement in your body for 10 seconds.
  5. Take a deep, slow breath and exhale slowly. Be aware of your body for 10 seconds while aware of your tactile senses for 10 seconds..now aware of sounds you hear around you for 10 seconds…and finally open your eyes if not already open and choose something pleasant to softly gaze at for 10 seconds being present in what you are looking at.
  6. Well done. You may wish to pause or take a break before embarking on the next exercise, or you may choose to continue on throughout your day now. Best wishes until the next exercise.

Feeling good

Feeling good involves monitoring what is comfortable and what feels enjoyable to you as you apply the concepts and techniques. This a central tenet because this is your compass as to what and how you need to alter what you learn, and to tailor it so it works for you. You may need to adjust aspects of the principles of personal development and methods so they do fit for you – and that is okay! Experiment with what works for you.

As you are reading this, slow down the pace of reading so that it is more comfortable and feels relatively good to the extent possible. Just like emotions, there are primary and secondary types of comfort though. It may be comfortable to go fast because it distracts you from the emotional turmoil you experience in your implicit memory (this would be secondary comfort). Primary comfort would be if it is enjoyable for the intrinsic qualities of the event, object, person, or behaviour. One way to get at primary enjoyment in order to find what is intrinsically comfortable to you is to use your body’s feedback. That is, to monitor if your muscles are in a relaxed state. Use this feedback you get from your body to help determine and navigate what you need to do to optimize your functioning. Here is an experiential exercise to help grasp this principle:

Exercise:

  1. Get comfortable where you are sitting, standing, or lying down.
  2. Move or shift your body if it feels good to.
  3. For all of this exercise, lightly focus on making it comfortable for your body.
  4. Slow your breathing down a little more than usual 1-2-3-4-5.
  5. Breathe in a little deeper than usual – focus on making it comfortable for you 1-2-3-4-5.
  6. Breathe out a bit longer than you normally do. 1-2-3-4-5. Well done. You may wish to pause or take a break before embarking on the next exercise, or you may choose to continue on throughout your day now. Best wishes until the next exercise.

Linger

The next process tool is about lingering on the thought, feeling or other mental experience that arises in your mind. If you find your mind racing, you can also create one that is comfortable for you.

Exercise:

  1. Gently become aware of your body and stay with this embodied awareness as this helps to make it a visceral experience to impact your implicit memory and change neural structure.
  2. Take a slow, comfortable, and relaxing deep breath. Good. Exhale slowly.
  3. Recall a pleasant scent you may have experienced before (some ideas are: lavender, mint, or jasmine). As you are aware of this scent, lightly be aware of your body and notice the sensations, feelings, and images that arise.
  4. Gently linger with these in the moment they are occurring for at least 10 seconds or more.
  5. Well done. You may wish to pause or take a break before embarking on the next exercise, or you may choose to continue on throughout your day now. Best wishes until the next exercise.

Gradual

As you are applying the interventions and principles of personal development, do so in a gradual manner. Attempting to quickly apply the principles and interventions does not work very well. If we apply them quickly we tense up,and not enough time is given for the intervention to begin sinking into implicit memory. We don’t want to think of it as forcing our mind in a certain way. We want the foster the conditions that lead to change. You must think of it in terms of cultivating growth, rather than mechanically fixing something.

Exercise:

  1. Gently become aware of your body and stay with this embodied awareness.
  2. Move or shift your body to get comfortable.
  3. Slow your breathing down.
  4. Make your breathing smooth, even, and rhythmic. Continue being present in the ever-flowing experiential moment in your body as you observe your breathing.
  5. When you notice your mind wandering, wait a moment or two, and then slowly shift your attention back to the stimuli or focus of contemplation. When it does gradually and comfortably shift your attention back to your breath and body. This is a constant process. If you make it slow, gradual, and leave time for letting thoughts remain (or creating ones that are comfortable to allow you to remain in them) it can be an enjoyable process as well.
  6. If you have difficulty, become aware of the intrinsic enjoyment in breathing. Become aware of the experience of relief and release when exhaling. Savour this enjoyment for 5 seconds. Become aware of the feeling or sensation of replenishment when inhaling. Savour this enjoyment for 5 seconds.
  7. Well done. You may wish to pause or take a break before embarking on the next exercise, or you may choose to continue on throughout your day now. Best wishes until the next exercise.

Breathe Deeper, Slower, and Rhythmically

Try to make your breathing more rhythmic because rhythmicity – if done in a slow, comfortable, and soothing manner – can help to reduce stress and put you in a moderate level of stress that is optimal for neuroplasticity.

Exercise:

  1. Slowly and comfortably breathe in at a pace that is enjoyable for you. Make it rhythmic because this calms the brainstem, which is the first step in therapeutic repair as all else depends on the regulation of this region of the brain.
  2. If it helps to, count out the length of your breaths.
  3. Breathe in one-two-three-four, hold for two seconds. Breathe out, one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight. Continue breathing this way for a couple of minutes.
  4. Notice any enjoyable sensations or effects in your body from doing this. This helps to reinforce the desire for, and habit to, engage in this exercise.
  5. Continue this for however long it is enjoyable. You can start with a few cycles of breaths and work up to 5 minutes or more.
  6. Excellent work. You may wish to pause or take a break before embarking on the next exercise, or you may choose to continue on throughout your day now. Best wishes until the next exercise.

Relax

Enhancing your relaxation assists with working with your mind because it provides greater executive control. The following exercise assists with relaxing your muscles to reduce the tension and stress that you experience to a more optimal level for you and the situation you’re in.

Exercise:

  1. Become aware of the tension in each part of your body one area at a time. Slowly move or shift that part of the body in a comfortable manner.
  2. As you exhale, gently and gradually allow that part of your body to start to release and let go.
  3. Notice any enjoyable sensations when you do this. Allow yourself to experience it as it is happening. Savour it for about 10 seconds or more. This acts as a natural reinforcer to make you want to do it more. And, it helps to create an emotional or implicit memory of it and increase the background mood to be a more enjoyable and positive one.
  4. Well done. You may wish to pause or take a break before embarking on the next exercise, or you may choose to continue on throughout your day now. Best wishes until the next exercise.

Present awareness

Present awareness is important because it can act as a reality check when the external world is, in fact, safe to allow your mind to sink into it. Fantasizing can be adaptive too, so it will be a judgement call for when to be present and when to plan and think conceptually and abstractly.

Present awareness can be a helpful principle of personal development when trying to change implicit beliefs, as it can enhance implicit memory reconsolidation to be aware of the initial memory or belief during an experience while at the same time introducing a new memory that competes with or changes the old one. Being present in your body (even when fantasizing) is important because this helps to make the experience more visceral so that it impacts your emotional and implicit memory processes of mind and brain.

Exercise:

  1. Gently become aware of your body and stay with this embodied awareness.
  2. Move or shift your body to get comfortable.
  3. Slow your breathing down. Make your breathing smooth, even, and rhythmic.
  4. Become aware of your body in the everflowing present moment. This facilitates greater awareness of your experience and change.
  5. Choose something to look at that is enjoyable where you are.
    1. Be aware of what you are looking at for 10 seconds as you are experiencing looking at it in the flowing present moment of experience. Be aware of your body as a whole as you are doing this.
    2. Notice the pleasure that is intrinsic in tapping into direct physical sensorial experience. Stay with and savour this experience for 10 seconds.
  6. Become aware of sounds that you hear around you. Choose one that is relatively calming.
    1. Stay with what you are hearing for 10 seconds as you are experiencing hearing it in the flowing present moment of experience. Be aware of your body as a whole as you are doing this.
    2. Notice the pleasure that is intrinsic in tapping into direct physical sensorial experience. Stay with and savour this experience for 10 seconds.
  7. Become aware of any scents where you are.
    1. Be aware of the scent as you are experiencing it in the everflowing present moment of experience. Be aware of your body as a whole as you do this.
    2. Notice the pleasure that is intrinsic in tapping into this direct physical sensorial experience. Stay with and savour this experience for 10 seconds.
  8. Notice any tactile sensations you are already experiencing or you can pick something up to engage your tactile sense.
    1. Be aware of the tactile sensations as you are experiencing it in the everflowing present moment. Be aware of your body as a whole as you do this.
  9. Notice the pleasure that is intrinsic in tapping into this direct physical sensorial experience. Stay with and savour this experience for 10 seconds.
  10. Gently become aware of your body as a whole again and stay with this embodied awareness for 10 seconds noticing
  11. Move or shift your body to get comfortable.
  12. Take a slow deep breath and exhale slowly.
  13. Well done. You may wish to pause or take a break before embarking on the next exercise, or you may choose to continue on throughout your day now. Best wishes until the next exercise.

Mindseye

Bring your attention to what is coming up in your consciousness. This may involve partial images, a felt sense, or simply a non-verbal understanding of what you’re thinking, feeling, or experiencing. Being aware that you are aware helps you to better mediate (i.e., influence) the thought, feeling, or behaviour.

Exercise:

  1. Gently and lightly become aware of your body.
  2. Breath slowly and relaxingly, taking your time breathing in and out.
  3. Bring your attention to what is coming up in your consciousness. This may involve partial images, a felt sense, or simply a non-verbal understanding of what you’re thinking, feeling, or experiencing.
  4. Become aware that you are aware of what you are experiencing.
  5. As you do, bring your attention to the image or spatial representation of it in your imagination (your mindseye). If you have difficulty doing this, become aware of the felt sense of what is arising and allow any images or impressions to arise with the light attempt to see a visual image or spatial representation of it in your imagination.
  6. Continue breathing and relaxing your muscles as you do. Shift and slowly move your muscles if you have difficulty relaxing them.
  7. Do this for 20 seconds to a minute to start and increase based on what works for you.
  8. Well done. You may wish to pause or take a break before embarking on the next exercise, or you may choose to continue on throughout your day now. Best wishes until the next exercise.