7 Practices That Changed My Life

Over the past couple of months, I had found myself wanting to focus on my mental and physical health more than ever before. The constant stress of meeting deadlines, poor self-care patterns and negative self-talk had led to my fall semester ending on somewhat of a bitter note. Going into winter break, I realized that my thought patterns and attitudes about life and my own personal journey needed a change. Much like many students, I was feeling a burnt-out, and I needed something to reconnect me to my own emotions and routines.

After I had realized this for myself, it had also occurred to me that I should actively seek out ways to combat these feelings. At first, I was somewhat reluctant. I think in many cases besides my own, it can be hard to accept that it’s okay to not be okay at times, and it’s okay to go out and search for resources that fit our needs. One day while I was sitting at home, I got the urge to follow up on something that had been on my mind for months.

I dug through some photos on my phone, and I pulled up an image of a book cover that I had taken over the summer. The book is called, “Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time. It is written by Dr. Rick Hanson, a psychologist who has spent years gathering research information from several professionals and has combined them with easy routines that can be done from the comfort of your own home, dorm room or even on the go.

The book is separated into five parts, and there are 52 points that Hanson stresses that are important to achieving a “Buddha brain." What is that exactly, you ask? The original meaning of the word "buddha" is "one who knows how to be truly happy and effective." Although I’m still in the process of getting through the book and applying each step to my life, here are the seven points that stuck out to me the most:

1. Be For Yourself

This is actually the first practice that’s emphasized in the book under “Part One: Be Good to Yourself." Often times I feel like as a student, friend, sibling and child, there is a lot of energy that is exerted to meet the needs and energies of everyone in your life. One point that stuck out to me was the line, “Think about what it’s like to be a good friend to someone. Then ask: Am I that kind of friend to myself?

This question is essential to starting on the path of re-connecting with yourself and loving you for who you are. Hanson suggests that we be a friend to ourselves by bringing to mind the feeling of someone in our lives who cares about us. This example should be the basis of our self-worth and love. 

 

 2. Take In the Good 

The next on the list is our ability to take in the good. We as people unintentionally have a “negativity bias," something that has been with us since the days of our ancestors. We usually hold on to negative or painful memories more so than positive ones, which can affect our overall mood about ourselves and life. “By tilting toward the good—toward that which brings more happiness and benefit to oneself and others—you merely level the playing field. Then, instead of positive experiences washing through you like water through a sieve, they’ll collect in implicit memory deep down in your brain.” Hanson mentions that of course, we will have challenges and moments where we see the tougher parts of life, but they should be easier to face if we take in the good in our lives as well. One way we can do this is to “look for good facts, and turn them into good experiences.” Be aware of the good fact, and allow yourself to feel good about it. Sometimes, we guilt trip ourselves into why we may feel happy, but we need to remember that we all have a right to our own happiness, no matter how big or small the event.

 3. Relax

To a college student, this may be a word that isn’t used very often. Stress from school or work, deadlines, group projects and issues from our personal lives seem to always be in the way. Over time, our bodies pay a high price for our stress and tension, which could result in changes in our physical and mental health. Hanson adds that “the number one way to reduce tension is through relaxation.” One of the many ways to achieve this is by doing breathing exercises. One example of this is to inhale for three counts, and exhale for six. 

4. Befriend Your Body

For me, I realized that a lot of my internal struggles were because I was waging a war against my body. I was not taking care of it like I should have, and I was comparing myself to others. The question that I am now learning to ask myself is this: “How has your body taken care of you over the years?” Hanson follows this question with examples like keeping us alive, taking us from one location to the next and allowing us to feel pleasure. This brings the next question, how well do we take care of our bodies in return?  He urges us to “Make a short list of how to care better for your body, such as quitting smoking, or leaving work sooner, or taking more time for simple bodily pleasures. Then commit to treating your body better.” After becoming more aware of my body as a vessel, I started to appreciate all of the things it does to keep me alive and healthy.

5. Say Yes

When we go through our daily lives, it’s easy to get thrown off by unexpected events, and in turn, we may get upset or feel bad because of it. Hanson suggests that we should say yes to those events, and accept them as they come. “Your yes means that you accept the facts as they are, that you are not resisting them emotionally even if you are trying with all your might to change them. This will usually bring some peace—and will help any actions you take be more effective.” So, next time you find yourself caught in a situation, just say yes. Accept it, and open yourself up to it. We learn to do this by saying yes to something that we like, then practice saying yes to something that we may not like. “Say yes to your needs. Yes to the need for more time to yourself, more exercise, more love, fewer sweets, and less anger. Try saying no to these needs in your mind or out loud, and see how that feels. And then say yes to them again.”

6. Find Beauty 

Another realization that I had about my mindset was that I did not stop to observe things. I was always rushing to get something done, or worrying about something I could not control that I never took a minute to appreciate life and what it has to offer me. “The experience of beauty relieves stress, nourishes hope, and reminds us that there’s much more to life than grinding through tasks. The sense of beauty can also be shared—have you ever admired a sunset with a friend?—bringing you closer to others.” It wouldn’t hurt to just stop and observe for a bit. Pay attention to the little things in life and find what’s beautiful to you!

 

7. Be Grateful

This is probably a saying many of us have heard during childhood, but it really is true. Being grateful for life and the experiences that you have gained can make a world of a difference. Hanson contributes to this thought by adding, “…looking for opportunities for gratitude—developing an “attitude of gratitude” is a great way to notice and enjoy some of the gifts you’ve received.

Gratitude does not mean ignoring difficulties, losses or injustice. It just means also paying attention to the offerings that have come your way. Especially the little ones of everyday life.” This is especially true. Don’t be afraid to cherish the small things, for those are what make up the big picture called life. We can be grateful for “the gifts or nurturence, helpfulness, good counsel, and love from other people”. Or, we can just be thankful for the gift of life, the reason that we are all here in this moment. 

 

No one is perfect, and the journey to self-healing isn’t always a straight one. This is why hard work and dedication also play a huge role in our own self improvement. However, don’t feel that it is ever too late for you to start a new journey in your life – there is always time to try a new mindset! Best of luck!

Image credits: Cover, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7