Week 01: Gain strength through

Week 04: Master the art of social interactions

Week 05: Hold tight and act with intention

Week 06: Maintain your gains and stay well

Mindfulness ‘How’ Skills

Mindfulness ‘how’ skills teach us how to practice our ‘what’ skills. 

These skills will help you learn how to steer your mind away from judgements, be attentive to what you’re doing in the moment (choose one thing at a time over multitasking) and choose actions that are effective in moving you towards your goals.  

There are three sets of ‘how’ skills:

1. See, but don’t judge

The first ‘how’ skill teaches us to avoid making judgements or assumptions. As we have discussed, our minds are constantly judging situations, thoughts, emotions, and the intentions of others. The problem with this is that our judgements and assumptions are often biased and inaccurate, which can cause us a lot of distress for no good reason! For example, misinterpreting someone’s body language or assuming they don’t like us can lead to unnecessary anxiety and self-criticism.

Often, our judgments are either too positive or too negative. Being non-judgemental does not mean trying to change a negative judgement into a positive one. It also does not mean trying to achieve balance in your judgments, by contemplating or challenging them. Instead, this skill encourages you to try and drop judgements altogether. 

Here are some ideas for how you can practice ‘seeing, but not judging’:

  • As you engage with the ‘what’ skills, stick to the facts and avoid evaluating or assigning meaning to things
  • Acknowledge whatever shows up in the present moment (including anxiety or discomfort), but don’t judge it or label it as ‘bad’
  • Accept each moment as it comes, without trying to change it or escape it. This includes situations that are uncomfortable, difficult, and not how we’d like them to be
  • Describe a situation in detail and write it down on a piece of paper. Next, go through what you’ve described and circle any judgements or non-factual information that you have included. Put a line through these sections, anything that is left should be factual. This exercise will help you become more aware of your own tendency to judge and make assumptions. 

This skill is especially important for people with social anxiety. Take a moment to think about how often you judge yourself (e.g., “I’m a fool”), other people (e.g., “she’s so well presented”), and situations (e.g., “that sounds scary”). Also, consider how often you make assumptions (e.g., “I won’t cope”, “she’ll win”, or “It will be a complete disaster”). Our guess is that you do this quite a bit! Next, take a moment to think about how different life would be if you were no longer tied to these judgements and assumptions.   

Be gentle with yourself as you learn this skill. You will slip up along the way, this is normal and to be expected. Whenever you notice yourself judging something, simply remind yourself to remove these judgements and use it as an opportunity to practice this skill (in other words, avoid judging your own judgements!).

2. Set your focus

The second ‘how’ skill teaches us to set our focus on one thing in the present. The aim here is to do one thing at a time, rather than several tasks at once. You may have heard the term ‘multitasking’ before, which refers to doing multiple tasks or activities at once. The present skill encourages the exact opposite of multitasking. 

The benefit of being able to set your focus on one thing is that you will learn to be less distracted by your emotions, thoughts and worries. As a result, you are likely to perform better, be more productive, and enjoy life more. As we have discussed, social anxiety can seriously interfere with all aspects of life. This skill will help you to separate from your anxious thoughts and feelings so you can focus on other things.

Here are some ideas for how you can practice ‘setting your focus’:

  • Consciously focus your attention on the present moment. Whenever your mind wanders to other things, gently redirect it back to whatever is happening now. Avoid getting carried away by distraction. This is not something you do a couple of times, rather you’ll need to make this choice repeatedly
  • Avoid multitasking and do only one thing at a time. Notice and resist the tendency to want to do several things at once and redirect your attention to the activity you’re doing now. For example, if you’re having a meal, simply focus on eating. If you’re exercising, simply focus on exercising. If you’re having a conversation, simply focus on that conversation. If you’re worrying about something, simply worry
  • If you notice yourself multitasking, reset your focus on one thing only. You might need to prioritise your tasks and do the most important thing first. Although it may feel like you’re not getting enough done, this way of approaching things is often more effective. 

If you struggle with social anxiety, this skill can help you regain parts of your life again. For example, instead of worrying about social situations when you’re watching television or lying in bed trying to sleep, you can learn to set your worry aside. Take a moment to think about how often your anxiety distracts you or pulls you away from a task. Instead of being pushed around by your anxiety, how would it feel to be able to push your anxiety to the side when needed? Many people say this results in a great sense of freedom. 

Once again, be patient as you practice these skills. Society often praises us for multitasking, so it can take a while to unlearn this habit. Remember, you will notice your mind wander. Every time you notice this happen, simply acknowledge it and focus your attention back on the task at hand. Mindfulness is a way of living that must be chosen repeatedly. 

3. Do what works 

The third and final ‘how’ skill teaches us how to act to manage situations effectively. This skill encourages us to let go of what’s ‘right’, and instead focus on what’s needed to achieve our goals. When we get caught up in judgements about what’s ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, we often become paralysed instead of doing what works. Ultimately, this can prevent us from reaching our goals. 

As we saw in week one, social anxiety often leads people to act in unhelpful ways. For example, say you really want to get a university degree, but you’re anxious about meeting new people. As a result, you avoid applying for universities. This just adds to your stress, because you feel stuck and unhappy working in a job you dislike. Instead, doing what works would mean applying for university courses and problem solving any barriers, including how to handle social situations.

Here are some ideas for how you can practice ‘doing what works’:

  • Be aware of what you are trying to achieve. You must know what your values and goals are and let them guide your actions. Let your consciousness and intention be at the forefront of your decision making  
  • Practice accessing your Wise Mind to avoid being pushed around by your emotions. Emotion mind often gets in the way of acting effectively and doing what needs to be done to move forward 
  • As a general rule, follow processes and procedures, even if you don’t agree with them. This goes for things like laws, school/workplace rules, and agreements you have with family and friends
  • Let go of proving your point or needing to be ‘right’ and instead shift your focus to being effective. 

Take a moment to think of some examples of when you pushed yourself to do what was needed. Now, think of some examples where your emotions ruled and you failed to act in line with your goals. In both scenarios, what was the outcome and how did it make you feel? If you’re like most people, you probably felt a sense of achievement after doing what was needed. Perhaps you even got a confidence boost. However, when your emotions ruled, you may have felt powerless and disappointed in yourself. 

We don’t have to tell you how hard it can be to ‘do what works’ when you struggle with anxiety. If we’re not careful, emotion mind can keep us paralysed in fear. Doing what works is an important step in breaking this part of the anxiety cycle. Last week we discussed the role of avoidance in social anxiety. Avoidance is the exact opposite of ‘doing what works’. This skill, along with the rest of the skills you’ll learn in this course, will help you begin to overcome avoidance.