By Guest Contributor on February 2, 2017
Guest contribution: Wendy Quan
No doubt you have heard of ‘mindfulness’, and may know that it’s largely about being present, or ‘being in the now’ to cultivate a more peaceful life. But did you know that a key attitude of a mindfulness practice is non-judgmental awareness? The problem is, what exactly does ‘non-judgmental awareness’ mean in everyday life? And did you know that by practicing this, you can reduce frustration and stress in your life, and cultivate more peace and calm?
First, here’s a quick explanation of non-judgemental awareness:
Our human minds are typically automatically judgmental. For example, we form opinions about others and ourselves and may think “She is selfish”, or “Why do I keep doing that, I’m so stupid”. When we do this, what happens to our experience in this moment? That’s right, it’s negative and stress inducing. A mindful way to deal with such situations is by practicing non-judgmental awareness. This means to take the stance of observing, or witnessing. You become keenly aware that you are judging – you recognize when you are doing this, suspend the judgment and don’t pursue or feed the judgment further. In mindfulness practice, we watch our breath as a way to stay centered and present.
Here is an everyday example from my life that may help you:
A co-worker of mine would come to me daily and complain about how stupid other people are, and how she could do all their jobs better. I didn’t consider her a friend, but I also didn’t want to alienate her since we had to work together. I found her to be cynical and toxic, and didn’t like that I was judging her either. Once I learned how to handle the situation mindfully, here is what I did instead: During the conversations, I keenly observed how I was reacting and any judgments I was making, and I also observed her behaviour – her body language, her emotions, etc. Instead of engaging in and fueling the conversation, I simply observed and acknowledged with a non-judgmental ‘hmm’. It didn’t take long for her to stop dumping her frustrations on to me, and my work life improved for the better!
In this example, I became aware of my judgments, suspended the judgments and didn’t fuel them. I took on an attitude of observation of myself and my co-worker rather than letting myself get wrapped up in the drama and emotion. Often after stressful encounters, I continue the non-judgment practice. For example, if I feel flustered afterwards, I focus on my breath to become centered and present, and notice any emotions that arise. I notice and accept the emotions but do not fuel them.
When I teach mindfulness meditation, I use the phrase ‘If you don’t judge, you can’t get frustrated’. If you think about this, you can see that if you let go of judgment (ie: “that person is stupid”), then you let go of the stress that is caused by judging others and yourself. It isn’t always easy to do, but with practice it gets easier and your life becomes more peaceful. Give it a try!
Wendy Quan, founder of The Calm Monkey, is the industry leader helping organizations implement mindfulness meditation programs and combining change management techniques to create personal and organizational change resiliency. She trains passionate meditators to become workplace facilitators through workshops and online training.
Wendy is a certified organizational change manager who has been recognized as a pioneer by the University of California, Berkeley and the global Association of Change Management Professionals. Her client list includes individuals from around the world and organizations such as Google. Her life’s purpose is to help people create a better experience of life.
Posted in Guest Contributor, Mental Health, Mindful Moments | Tagged awareness, behaviour, emotions, frustration, Meditation, mindful moments, Mindfulness, non-judgement, practice, Support, Wendy Quan | Leave a response
By Guest Contributor on July 6, 2016
Guest contributions by Dr. Thara Vayali
Partners, colleagues, friends and family: the world of other people is a jumble of meaningful connections and challenging dynamics. On a good day, all pieces fit well and we can enjoy our time together. On a bad day, one or all parties involved can be on edge, interact poorly, and create a toxic emotional environment. Unfortunately, a negative interaction can trigger our opinions about one another much quicker than a positive interaction. To build healthy relationships we need to see the good in each other again; we need to “detox” our relationships.
To do that, first let’s uncover what makes a negative interaction. What puts us on alert, what makes a relationship “toxic”?
Generally, negative interactions arise for five reasons:
- Someone is experiencing stress, consciously or unconsciously, and transfers their stress to the current dynamic.
- A misunderstanding escalates or is perceived personally.
- We overextend our time/resources/attention, or cross an unstated boundary.
- Silence becomes a refuge for resentment or to gain power.
- The desire to be seen as ‘right’ overrides the purpose of interacting.
These situations happen every day, not because we intend to hurt one another, but because we are social-emotional beings. We come to interactions from our own perspectives, not noticing that others may have different expectations, desires and information. We can forget to check in with our personal state before engaging with others and the wrong combination can lead to a toxic dynamic. To detox a relationship, instead of calling out or enforcing other people check to themselves, we can lead by example and identify when we fall into one of these five behaviours and use a few tools to start to “detox” ourselves in relationship.
Five ways to build healthy behaviours in relationships
1. Check yourself:
A dysfunctional dynamic occurs when personal stress reactions get transferred onto others. If you feel your “stress thermometer” has been high all day, it is very likely that your “temperature” will influence your interactions, no matter how hard you try to ignore it. Without divulging the details, let people know that you need less pressure right now and more connection and care, or maybe some alone time. Connection to others and to oneself can defuse this pressure.
Recognize that if your thermometer reading is consistently high, you may be building a personal dynamic that takes out internal pressure on others. If this is your situation, your first priority before stepping into conversations with others is to use a mindful breathing pattern to take your temperature from boiling to tepid. Start with six slow five-count inhales and five-count exhales.
Recognize that others might not be working with the same pace or demands as you, and they don’t have to be.
2. Assume you have misunderstood:
When a conversation seems to be going sideways, take a breather and ask yourself – Am I missing something? Have I assumed/interpreted a statement incorrectly? Am I taking this statement as directed at me? Are they using the word “you” when they really mean “I”?
More often than not, interpretation is the culprit. Someone’s statement may seem personally offensive or intended toward criticism, when they have no malicious intent. Learn what language triggers you and let them know. Perhaps others do not notice how their language/tone/comments are affecting the dynamic. If you can listen deeply – pausing your initial reaction – you may find valid points hidden within a poorly communicated but important perspective.
Give your relationships the benefit of the doubt – Pause your response, listen, and ask for clarification of intent before jumping to conclusions.
3. Know your limit and stay within it:
You may be a people pleaser or a boundary crosser, or both. Neither overextending nor over-asking serves a healthy relationship.
When someone asks you for your time/resources/attention, remember that you are not a bottomless cup. Know how much time/energy you have to give, state upfront how much you have to give and stop when you have reached that limit. You are not disappointing anyone when you set expectations beforehand.
If you consistently ask others for their advice/time/energy, you may not notice the boundaries you are crossing. You cannot take responsibility for another person’s unstated boundaries, but you can start your requests by being specific and clear about how much time/energy/attention you would like of them, and allow them to answer honestly.
By taking a moment to start the conversation with boundaries/limits before engaging, we all have an opportunity to take responsibility for what resources we have to share and to be respectful of that boundary.
4. Be heard:
To feel that your voice has space for expression without criticism or judgement is a crucial part of healthy relationships. In a challenging dynamic, this space may not be in the moment of interaction. The time may show up later and the space for expression might be through writing, building, cooking, painting, singing, movement, or communicating directly to the person involved. Whatever it is that your personality/situation needs, ensure that the feelings inside are processed and expressed.
Overthinking/Dwelling/Avoiding magnifies the impact of a situation. Festering or trying to control a situation through quiet contempt slowly destroys “the good” in a relationship.
5. Consider the collateral damage:
When the urge to defend your position arises, ask yourself these questions:
- What is the purpose of this interaction?
- Am I in danger?
- Is being right important?
- Could I allow for the reality of being wrong without being personally offended?
What would it be like to agree to have a differing opinion, without forming a negative opinion of the other person?
Challenging dynamics are inevitable in a social world. Since birth, we have had to navigate our way through expressing ourselves to be understood and balancing that expression with respect, kindness and compassion toward others – and it’s not always easy! Very rarely can we classify a person as a negative force in every interaction – we all have phases along the journey toward healthy communication. Instead of focusing on others, we would be better off if we tried to detox our own communication skills. Begin with these five common communication habits in relationships; then choose healthier ways to interact. To “detox” our relationships takes stepping back from and shifting within ourselves.
Thara Vayali is a Naturopathic Doctor & Yoga Teacher in Vancouver and is also a UBC alumnus. She is obsessed with intestinal and immune health, hormones, and pain-free bodies. She is the creator of Change Natural Medicine: Budget conscious, membership based health consulting.
Posted in A Thoughtful Mind, Guest Contributor, Mental Health | Tagged A Thoughtful mind, behaviour, boundaries, challenges, detox, Dr. Thara Vayali, dynamics, emotions, power, relationships, toxic | 1 Response
By Colin Hearne on June 3, 2015
This month we are featuring Social Psychology PhD candidate Ashley Whillans. Ashley was recently recognized as the lead author of a study focusing on how having a “time is money” attitude can be a barrier to acting in environmentally friendly ways. It struck a cord with us at Healthy UBC, and prompted an invitation to become the first Thriving Graduate Student!
Thriving Faculty exemplify the integration of health and wellbeing into classrooms, research, departments and communities.
What central challenges do you face in your role as a PhD student?
As a PhD student working in two highly productive research labs, the biggest challenges I face are related to deadlines. In research, there are often many speed-bumps. I am constantly trying to balance multiple deadlines, while keeping enough slack in my schedule to deal with delays and (of course!) to make time for friends, family, and fun (I’m getting married in August, so there has been a lot of fun the last few months!). I am always working on time management – i.e., figuring out how to maximize productivity, while minimizing hours spent at my computer.
Based on your experiences, can you describe the relationship between student mental health, and wellbeing and learning?
I am a first-generation university student. When I graduate with my PhD, I will have three more degrees than anyone in my family! In second year of undergrad, I transferred from Douglas College to UBC. I remember feeling overwhelmed: The classes were huge, the coursework was demanding, and I worked part-time to pay rent. I struggled to feel like I fit in. It wasn’t until I became involved outside of the classroom that I started to excel. Extracurricular involvement made me feel part of the university experience and gave me a place to belong. I can say first-hand that social connection can motivate students not only to learn in class, but also to learn from and explore all of the unique and exciting opportunities that university has to offer.
Do you implement any strategies to support student mental health and wellbeing in the classroom/lab?
I work with a lot of undergraduate research assistants: they are our lab superheroes! To support the mental health and well-being of the students that I work with, I try my best to implement two empirically based strategies: (1) Fostering social connection and (2) Discussing challenges.
(1) Social connections are important! Having quality social connections is one of the most important factors in determining well-being. Because lab work can be quite solitary, I try to foster connections by hosting sushi lunches and going out for adventurous meals. These activities help to build a sense of community and friendship. Then, if there is a problem or there is a stressful time of the semester, we all have a “lab family” to turn to. I am a huge fan of the social media site “Humans of New York,” and there was a recent post that very nicely sums up this strategy: “I want [my students] to know that I cared about them before there was a problem.”
(2) We often think that other people are doing better than we are. My own research with UBC Assistant Professor Frances Chen suggests that most students believe that their peers are more socially successful than they are, which negatively impacts belonging and well-being. These beliefs stem in part from the fact that people act happier in public than in private and because people do not readily talk about their negative experiences. In other words, from a distance, everyone’s life seems rosier than it actually is! Many students look up to their graduate student and faculty advisors—it is even easy for me to forget that professors are humans too! Thus, I feel it is my responsibility to let students know I am constantly in a process of trying and failing in all areas of my life— from running studies to trying to fit in a few hours to jog around block. Science and life aren’t always as perfect as they seem from the outside! By being honest, I hope to create an open environment where it is acceptable to talk about both our successes and our failures.
What strategies do you use in your own life, that help you thrive as PhD student?
When I’m stuck and I feel like I’m not making progress, I take a break. I grab a friend and stroll the gardens at UBC, go for coffee, or spend time giggling with colleagues over the latest cute thing on the internet. Small breaks are refreshing, and make “work mountain” easier to climb!
Are they any specific initiatives and/or research you are involved in that promote physical and mental health and wellbeing?
Psychology is a large department and it can sometimes be difficult for students to find their academic home. UBC Professor Michael Souza and I are currently exploring novel ways to increase student engagement among new majors. Specifically, we are assigning new psychology majors to small “cohorts” lead by senior students. These cohorts meet once per month to discuss anything and everything from study habits, to post-grad careers, to managing exam stress. Students also attend events throughout the year, hosted by our department like skill-building workshops, and meet-your-professor events. We are very excited to enroll 200-300 students next year in this program, in hopes of making our large department feel smaller and more connected.
In your role as a PhD Student, please describe your experience balancing work-life commitments. Is there a metaphor that depicts this relationship?
Work-life balance is about being honest with yourself and with those around you. By reaching out, being authentic, building connections and forming learning communities, work becomes less like work, and a lot more like a natural extension of life.
Ashley Whillans completed her BA (Hons.) and her MA at UBC. As a PhD candidate in the Social Psychology program, she works primary with Dr. Elizabeth Dunn & Dr. Frances Chen to study happiness, friendship formation, and health. Read Ashley’s article on UBC News here.
Posted in Colin Hearne, Mental Health, Physical Health, Spot Light, Thriving Faculty | Tagged behaviour, environment, graduate studies, Happiness, money, resilience, skills, Thriving faculty | Leave a response