Interview with Nancy Brown - How To Win a Man's Heart

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November 4, 2014

Interview with Nancy Brown

1. What is mindfulness and how can it help us in relationships?

Mindfulness is defined as the non-judgmental focus of attention on the present moment. That includes both the internal and external- your thoughts and feelings as well as external stimuli such as noise, temperature, physical sensations.

As a Cognitve Behavioral Therapist, I would say that focusing mindfully on the now, rather than what’s happened in the past or what may happen in the future, allows you to be present and aware in the moment. Becoming more mindful, you are able to change maladaptive behaviors, thoughts and feelings, and develop more realistic thoughts and beliefs. It allows you to be both more aware and less judgmental about others and yourself.

2. You mentioned that mindfulness helps to focus on the now. But some of our subscribers feel stuck in their love lives because of their past emotional baggage. This affects them in a number of ways- they either tend to compare the next man they are dating with their ex or they have trust issues because they have been cheated on before or they just cannot seem to forget their ex and move on in life etc.

What are some practical ways that can help women release their past emotional baggage so that they can start attracting healthy love into their lives?

Very early in our lives, we develop a picture (schema) in our minds of who we are, who others are and how the world works. From these schemas, we develop beliefs and assumptions about ourselves and others. This allows our brain (specifically the limbic system) to function on automatic. Our brains do not like anything new! Our brains perceive anything new as a threat, because our neurochemistry is the same as our prehistoric ancestors’. And while it might have been appropriate back then to throw a spear or run back to a cave, or freeze to avoid being seen, we need more modern ways of dealing with what our brains perceive of as threat.

CBT’s basic belief is that it’s not a thing/person/event that upsets us, but the meanings we ascribe to them. When our assumptions about others are maladaptive, or not useful, we call them “cognitive distortions.” These distortions drive our automatic thoughts, behavior and emotions. The practice of mindfulness is an intervention that can be used interrupt automatic thoughts, feelings and behaviors. You learn to focus less on reacting to internal and external stimuli and instead observe and accept them without judgment.

For example, here’s an exercise I use to introduce Mindfulness to my clients. It’s my favorite exercise, since it requires us to eat chocolate! Of course, it can be done with other foods as well.

Take one Hershey’s Kiss (preferably dark chocolate!).
Open the wrapping- note the beautiful color, listen to the crinkly sound it makes.
Hold that in one hand while you hold the chocolate in the other.

Take a small bite off the top. Don’t chew!
What did it feel like when you bit it off? What’s the texture now? What does it taste like?
Is it melting? How does the texture change? Does the flavor change?
Pay attention to the taste until it’s all gone from your mouth.

Bite the remaining Kiss in half. Don’t chew!
What did it feel like when you bit it? Is it different from the smaller bite?
What’s the texture now? What does it taste like?
Hold what’s left of the Kiss up to your nose and smell it.
What does it smell like? Does it change the flavor of what’s in your mouth?
Smell it again. Any other changes? Is it melting? How does the texture change?
Pay attention to the taste until it’s all gone from your mouth.

Notice that you’re still holding on to the wrapping paper in your other hand.
Pop what’s left of the Kiss into your mouth. Go ahead and chew.
Does it taste differently when you chew it?
What’s the texture now? What does it taste like?
Is it melting? How does the texture change? Does the flavor change?
Pay attention to the taste until it’s all gone from your mouth.

When it’s all gone, take the wrapping you’re still holding onto and crinkle it up. Notice the sound and the color. Throw it away.

Generally, this process takes about 5 minute- the longest time you’ve ever eaten a Hershey’s Kiss! Usually, we pop these in our mouth, chomp down a couple of times and they’re all gone. This is so much more satisfying!

You can practice mindfulness by paying attention to what you’re doing. You can mindfully brush your teeth. Take a shower. Take your medicine. Drive to work. You can mindfully eat a meal, but you better give yourself at least an hour, since it took 5 whole minutes to eat a piece of candy! 🙂

3. Some of our subscribers haven’t dated for a long time and feel out of touch and lost. They feel stressed out and anxious at the prospect of going out on a date. They also don’t feel confident and have body image issues as they compare themselves with the other women. Can you share your advice on what women can do to overcome this problem?

Cognitive Distortions are those maladaptive thoughts about who you and other people are and the way the world operates. At least two of them come into play when re-entering the dating scene.

These are:

Comparison: You habitually compare yourself to others and feel either inferior or superior. Comparing your inside to another’s outside. You take a distorted photo of another, without knowing their past, present and future and compare this one-dimensional picture to yourself. Comparisons to others are not productive.

Moral Imperatives: Thoughts that things should, must, have to or ought to be a certain way. When you direct should thoughts towards others, the result is often anger. Should thoughts directed towards yourself often result in guilt and shame.

By practicing mindfulness, you become more aware of your thoughts, behaviors and feelings. Becoming aware of your cognitive distortions, you become more able to restructure your thoughts to be more adaptive.

Here is an exercise to help start you on your way:

– Breathe deeply to release physical tension. Concentrate on breathing to reduce your stress momentarily.

– Mindfully observe the situation, your thoughts, and your feelings without judgment of self or others.

– Begin to approach the situation in a new way by changing the way you think about it.

4. Another common problem my subscribers face is that they tend to attract the same kind of men over and over again, some tend to engage in repeated self-sabotaging behaviors that destroy their relationships etc.

Can you share your advice on what women can do to stop old destructive patterns and create and sustain new healthy habits?

Why do we repeat the same self-destructive behaviors? Albert Einstein said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Well, I wouldn’t go quite that far. What we are doing is proving the truth of the normal human behavior called Confirmation Bias. Wikipedia defines Confirmation Bias as the “tendency to search for, interpret, or prioritize information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses… The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs…People also tend to interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing position.”

Based on our schemas, we develop Core Beliefs as ways in which to cope with the world. One of the ways that we cope is to “surrender to” or “maintain” our Core Beliefs. In other words, we selectively interpret events, behaviors, etc. in ways that confirm our Beliefs. And, unfortunately, we ignore those that don’t. For example, if you believe that “all blondes are dumb” or “all men are pigs,” you will notice those instances of behavior in your environment that prove to you that that belief is true, while ignoring events that don’t.

And, unfortunately, if the maladaptive belief is strong enough, if there is nothing in our environment that proves to us that that belief is true, we put it there.

5. During a conflict with a partner, most of what seems to happen is a natural, impulsive and reflexive reaction. Some of our subscribers have the tendency to yell at their partners, some criticize/complain/stonewall, some become silent and keep their feelings to themselves and some tend to bring up past issues that are not related to the current conflict.

Can you explain how mindfulness can help us better resolve conflict?

By practicing mindfulness, you become more aware of your thoughts, behaviors and feelings. Becoming aware of your cognitive distortions, you become more able to restructure your thoughts to be more adaptive.

Becoming more aware and mindful of yourself, you begin to monitor and better regulate the kinds of impulsive and potential destructive behaviors that are your reactive response to stress. Remember, you are trying to learn more modern and useful ways of dealing with perceived threat than attacking or fleeing or freezing.

6. Can meditation help improve mindfulness? I have read that many have preconceived notions about meditation such as meditation being difficult to practice, some feel restless during meditation and think it’s not working for them and some feel it’s a time intensive practice. How do you overcome the objections that your clients may have about meditation?

I would say that the practice of meditation is a subset of the practice of mindfulness. When I teach my clients a mindfulness meditation, we discuss using a focus, rather than trying to eliminate everything from the mind. That focus could be an object, a scene, your breath, a prayer, whatever you’re comfortable with. We start with 30 seconds if that’s what is do-able and work up from there over time.

There are boat-loads of data out there on the effect mediation has on the brain. It will increase attention, concentration and focus. And who couldn’t use that?

7. What are your top relationship tips that you would offer women who are looking for a long term committed relationship?

If I had to boil down relationship advice it would be to emphasize knowing yourself. It’s a two part answer:

1) Know your values, your likes and dislikes, who you are and who you are not. Until someone knows who they are, how can they fully relate to another person? Be fearless!
2) You are made up of light and darkness. Everyone is. You deserve someone in your life who accepts you for all that you are.

8. What books or resources would you recommend for women that are looking to cultivate mindfulness and create long lasting fulfilling relationships?

Recommendations regarding mindfulness would be

1. Anything by Pema Chodron and

2. Herbert Benson’s Relaxation Response and Relaxation Revolution.

About Nancy K Brown

Nancy K Brown

Nancy K Brown, MAHS, LPC-S is a counselor and utilizes mindfulness-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a problem solving, present-centered approach. As an artist, she understands that the inclusion of creative therapies can promote a whole-person approach. With 20+ years experience in Human Resources, she also brings a real-world perspective.

To know more about Nancy, visit her website