One principle of the Pain Processing Practice is self-observation. It is a skill that becomes easier to do when practiced repeatedly. Through developing a deeper awareness of the effects of our thoughts, feelings, and actions, we can learn a lot about what intensifies our symptoms, but we can also learn what helps us to feel better. By self-observation, we can learn our patterns and cycles, and with this skill, we can gain the ability to lessen specific negative patterns, so that we do less of what makes us feel worse and more of the patterns which are of help… Click To Tweet
Beginning with noticing, we have likely already identified a number of factors which intensify our symptoms of pain. Three factors frequently mentioned by clients are sleep, fatigue, and fear. Other possible stressors included: being overwhelmed at work and at home, life changes, depression, anxiety, travel, stressful relationships, sensory overload, (i.e. vulnerability to light, sound, touch, and/or weather), food, or chemical allergies.
We may also, however, recognize aspects which help us to feel better and give us a greater feeling of choice and free will in life. Some factors often mentioned included: sleeping well, eating well, hydration, pacing, daily resting, being active in the sunlight at least 15 minutes per day, careful use of medications, practicing relaxation and other pain-reducing techniques, and giving and getting support from others.
Self-Observation is Key
“Self-observation brings man to the realization of the necessity of self-change. And in observing himself, a man notices that self-observation itself brings about certain changes in his inner processes. He begins to understand that self-observation is an instrument of self-change, and a means of awakening.” ― George Gurdjieff
Our ability to learn from self-observation is enhanced greatly by the activity of keeping personal records. Maintaining a health diary or checklist can reveal patterns and identify links between actions and symptoms. I’ve utilized several simple checklists, diaries, and logs that aided my recovery. The payoff I received from such a minor daily investment of just a few minutes of my time was huge. Daily records demonstrated the links between factors in my life and my symptoms. The records revealed that my pain was at its peak in the morning, but lessened in the evening. The records uncovered that cumulative results of a particular activity were often delayed during the week. My records established the connection between standing upright and resulting symptoms, documented how much bodily movement was safe, and showed me my vulnerability to various stressors.
In addition, I found that through retaining a record of stressors, activities, and behavior, my written logs sculpted my life for the better. It indicated when my cycles and patterns created or lessened pain. When I wanted to think that all of the increased symptoms were part of my illness or recovery, my chronicles exposed that I had been more active than usual. Seeing evidence in black and white helped me maintain my pacing routines, as the records held me accountable.
My records became a source of motivation. When I saw that some days were better than others, I was motivated to search for what was different between those days so that I could increase the frequency of the better days. I also used my records to chart my progress over time. Recognizing the number of good days gave me an upsurge of hope.
Simplicity was the main criteria I used to choose how to record my daily life. I kept it in mind that the records were not just for one day; they were for life. There was a time in history when people wrote daily diaries or journals, but now, we have an immense number of other ways to record our life. We can speak into our phone, take photos, or use a simple daily checklist.
The recording process must include at least four-steps: daily record, weekly and monthly review, recognizing patterns and cycles and changing what is able to be changed. That equates to writing daily notes; studying records every week to notice patterns through analyzation; and finally, translating those insights into different behavioral patterns and ending biological cycles.
Blank forms will be available for download and printing, free report section of “Empowered Self-Healing.”
Behavioral Changes are Aided by Setting Goals
Another skill is not only the ability to set goals but to actually set them and achieve them. One effective way to do so is to break down an intimidating, big goal into a series of small, realistic steps or targets. The key is to make each step both specific and realistic. By specific, it is meant that each step should be concrete and measurable. For example, instead of saying, “I want to get more rest,” we need to instead say, “I will rest for 15 minutes in the late morning of five days next week.” By realistic, it is meant that each step be possible and doable. To test whether our step, goal, or target is realistic, we should ask ourselves how confident we are (on a scale from zero to 10) that we can complete that step. If the answer is less than eight, restate the target in less overly ambitious terms until there’s a confidence level of at least eight.
Target the Change
We can make a change to target essentially any area of life, such as:
- Laughing daily
- Soaking in a warm bath
- Talking to a spouse for extra support regarding our relationship
- Reading a book for mere pleasure alone
- Relaxing for 20 minutes in the late morning and in the mid-afternoon
- Going to bed by 10:00 p.m.
- Getting off the computer after a period of 30 minutes
- Finding a nanny to help with childcare
It is also a good idea to put our new intentions into written form. Writing helps strengthen our commitments. Two other ways to make it more likely that we will follow through are to tell others about our plan, and to post our goal in a place we are likely to view frequently, such as on our bathroom mirror.
Even if our target result is well-stated and seemingly realistic, we may still experience issues. Perhaps the unpredictability of our condition prevents us from completing our plan as we had hoped—or, we may decide that our target is not realistic at the time. But whatever the results, we can learn and grow from our efforts. Look at the process of goal-setting as a series of experiments. If we achieve our target goal, we have had a successful experiment, and we can gain more choice and control. If the results are different than our expectations, we can still learn something useful about patterns by reflecting on our experience.
When Self-Observation Seems Difficult
As stated above, one vital skill of a pain-free life is self-observation, but it takes practice. The following are some questions to start with if record-keeping seems overwhelming.
- How often do we observe ourselves?
• Do we observe our sensations, emotions, and pain?
• Do we notice what happens around us and to us?
• Or, is our average day so monotonous, we don’t even notice what’s going on at all?
In fact, living in the moment and knowing what we do and why we are doing it takes practice. While we live our lives, we need to keep our inner-observer always active and alert. If our self-observer sleeps, we return to living our lives without any control or choice. We live without understanding our joy as well as our pain. Essentially, we live in a painful stupor. But if our self-observer is alert, we experience our life in a way in which we are aware of each passing moment and its effect on us.
“Awake. Be the witness of your thoughts. You are what observes, not what you observe.” — Buddha
Comparison of self-report, video observation and direct measurement methods for upper extremity musculoskeletal disorder physical risk factors
Peregrin Spielholz , Barbara Silverstein , Michael Morgan , Harvey Checkoway & Joel Kaufman
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