Be water my friend – the lost art of mental flexibility

Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.

Love this quote – and have shown it to many of my clients, both athletes and regular folks seeking coaching or therapy alike. It is, in my opinion, that useful.

While I’m sure it means different things to different people, for me it advocates the idea of being mindful and moving between mental states, or positions, or standpoints, whatever will be most useful give the situation.

Being able to shift between mental positions and emotional positions are extremely effective tools to have in your mental toolbox. Study

Interestingly there’s even some research suggesting that walking backwards can boost your cognitive functioning in dealing with a tough situation: Study

Think about how this idea pervades our language, and points to an existing innate understanding of this:
“I needed to step back from it”
“You need to get some distance from this”
“I had to put it in perspective”
“Backs away slowly”

But this post is not just about getting distance from mental pictures or memories or situations so you feel less bad, it’s also about knowing when to do get this distance and when to do its opposite action, to associate into an experience, to embody it, to ‘own it’.

When to get distance, when to gain ground

Here’s an easy to remember rule of thumb for when to do what.

If it’s something bad, stressful, traumatic or ‘faily’ – GET DISTANCE
If it’s something good, pleasurable or successful – BE IN YOUR BODY

It’s important to remember, we’re not just talking about a mental movie or visual memory, this can be used emotional responses and feelings too.
We do this by not just having the old knee-jerk response to an unsavoury emotion.
So when we have a bad feeling, and using this as an automatic springboard into different elements of the dodgy situation/memory – such as anxiety and stress inducing follow-on responses like negative consequences or unhelpful self-talk we’ll do something else.

Or rather ‘do’ nothing.
When the feelings come on, we’re going to practice not taking the bait, instead we’ll just observe the emotion.
We won’t try to suppress it or engage with it at all, and we’re not even going to try to ignore it.
We’re just going to observe it, the same way you’d see a cloud passing in the sky, or watching a little paper boat floating downstream.

No judgement, no engagement, no reaction to it.

If you manage this first time round, then move over Dalai Lama here I come.

Of course you’re going to screw it up or not make it perfect at first.
That’s why it is called a practice.

And let’s remember that Mr Lama himself will meditate four hours a day to reach such strong levels of loving kindness and all round mental Jiu Jitsu.

Ain’t nobody got time for that!

So we do what we an with the resources that we have, and practice as an when we can.
And that’s ok. (noticed the pattern of non judgement yet?)

This is just one little technique to use – there are a bunch more techniques from Mindfulness, NLP, IEMT and Hypnosis that we’ll get into as time goes by.

As usual, give it a go, see how you get on in the field, and report back if it did or didn’t work for you.

And above all, don’t forget to relive (associating into your body) all those wins and all those pleasant things you get upto. All those good scenarios you’re totally crushing right now.

Why would you not want to wire in those good experiences stronger to maintain them? I can think of no good reason.

Till then…

  1. JohnnyJohnny04-20-2015

    good writing my friend!