In my blog post, “Let’s Get Curious,” I talked about how approaching inner experiences, such as depression and anxiety, with curiosity, as opposed to judgement cultivates self-compassion which helps unravel from these difficult emotional states. Here, I will flesh out that idea a bit more.
Being curious is having a desire to learn and letting go of judgement. Approaching the self in this way leads to self-compassion, which is helpful when experiencing anxiety and bouts of depression because the nature of those states perpetuates negative self image. Shifting how we feel about ourselves, is powerful in shifting out of these states.
Because most of us have learned judgement and black and white thinking (this is good, this is bad) approaching ourselves and our experiences with curiosity takes some practice. How do we do this?
First, we notice. When we notice, we become aware. When we are more aware, we are more able to leave judgement behind and by doing this we can separate ourselves from the good/bad label, and witness our experience for what it is. For example, your boss sends an email asking you to connect with her the following day. Your mind goes into panic mode, thinking of every worst case scenario. You can’t sleep that night because your mind and heart are racing. The next day you go in and your boss either gives you praise, or maybe something boring like having to sign a form for the new payroll system. All that worry and a sleepless night for nothing.
So, what would be the first step in this situation to have a different outcome by approaching with curiosity? Notice. Notice the physical sensations that the email sparked. Pause, and tune into the sensation, and then focus on your breath. Focusing on the body interrupts the rumination of those unhelpful thoughts and the anxiety that is on the verge of manifesting.
When leaving judgement behind, more understanding is gained into what will help create our healthiest self. Often times we cannot think our way into feeling not depressed or anxious. Thinking actually often perpetuates these emotional states, because of the habitual and unhelpful thoughts patterns many of us have. Take the above example. We felt 100% certain that our boss was going to reprimand us and that our job was on the line. What unhelpful thought patterns were at play here? I always mess up. I’m not good at my job. I am always disappointing people. I am worthless. Bad things always happen.These thoughts and beliefs are often ingrained, so much so, that it is challenging discerning the truth from these messages.
Getting curious means paying attention to these thoughts, but not being enmeshed in them. Notice them. Here is that thought again. I am noticing that when I have this thought my heart races, my stomach hurts, and I go to unhelpful coping mechanisms (eating too much, picking up the bottle of wine, binge watching netflix, etc). Additionally, pushing the thought away is not helpful either. It will eventually creep itself back in if ignored. Instead, acknowledge the thought, hey, thought, I see you. But I am going to go back to my breath now. Did I mention the breath? It is so simple, but so important. When we focus our attention on the breath we interrupt the rumination of unhelpful thought patterns. Also, focusing on the breath, especially when slightly deepening the breath, both on the inhalation and the exhalation, calms the central nervous system helping reduce stress and anxiety.
Being curious is essentially being mindful throughout our daily lives. It is purposefully paying attention to our inner experiences without judgement (noticing) and this is a first step to self-compassion.