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3 Tips for Calming Your Mind

by Beth on August 18th, 2011

Rick Hanson recently wrote a series of blogs that I found fascinating. In them he explains how we can calm our mind for greater peace and happiness based on an understanding of how our brain developed. Three distinct parts of our brain evolved over time, each of which fulfills a basic function.

The oldest part of our brain, the brain stem, represents the reptile stage. Its function is to avoid harm, so it is constantly on the lookout for potential danger. As a result, we have an underlying feeling of unease and anxiety. In order to alleviate these feelings we need to remind ourselves that we are OK. Several times throughout the day we should stop, breath deep and tell ourselves that we are safe, alive, and well. Because this is the oldest part of our brain, fear is the most primal emotion. This means we have to work especially hard to feel safe and protected.

The second part of our brain to develop was the limbic system. This is the mammal stage because it focuses on approaching rewards. We all want to feel satisfied and fulfilled, to be fed. We want to experience pleasure, contentment, accomplishment, and worth. We can satisfy these needs by taking time to appreciate all that we have received in life. So take pleasure in eating, notice the kindness and joy you receive from people around you, and smile when you accomplish goals, even small ones like making your bed, answering an email, or getting to the gym.

The cerebral cortex represents the primate stage. It focuses on attachment, feelings of being included and loved. In order to satisfy this innate need for connection we need to generate a sense of being cared for. Hanson suggests imagining a “caring committee” of people who have cared for you, like your parents and others who have demonstrated their concern for you throughout your life. Imagine them praising you, reminding you of your good qualities, and hugging you until you feel appreciated, cherished, and loved.

Practice calming your mind by reminding yourself that you are safe, you are fed, and you are loved. If you’d like to know more simple things that you can do to calm your mind, check out Hanson’s book Just One Thing.


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