The Mind Room opened in December 2012 but the idea for it has been brewing for almost a decade. The central concept is to use evidence based mind science to help people live a meaningful, rewarding and connected life. To empower people with the mental skills to live the life that they choose, rather than feeling trapped by their own mind and emotions. To paraphrase the philosopher Osho – the mind is a beautiful servant and a terrible master.
My business partner, Michael Inglis, and I had both worked in mental health settings which were highly medicalised or clinical. We wanted to create a credible evidence based mental health service that also felt safe, warm, welcoming and a little bit playful and creative. To do this we had to think about infusing every aspect of the business with ideas from wellbeing science – from the physical location, to room design, to the people we recruited, to the content of the work we did with individuals and groups.
It was important for us to look outside of typical mental health approaches and draw on ideas from psychology, philosophy, art, film and design. For example, the Japanese concept of wabi sabi – an appreciation of imperfection and the impermanence of life – is evident both in the physical space and in our small group classes on self-compassion. One of my favourite pieces of furniture is old leather sofa in one of our consulting rooms. The sofa was pre-loved and worn in for 30 years by a suburban Melbourne family and repurposed for life at The Mind Room. It is cracked and worn, imperfect, and also warm and welcoming. It is an antidote to our relentless cultural obsession with perfection and resistance to change.
Despite living in a time of relative material abundance we see a lot of people struggling to deal with modern life. We see more stress, anxiety and depression. Often this is accompanied by feelings of guilt or shame – because our material needs are being met, so why do I feel like this? People are working longer – maybe not always at work, but technology keeps us connected where ever we are. We seem a little obsessed by being productivity, and staying busy.
What we seem to be neglecting is the ability to rejuvenate. We need more sleep, exercise and healthy eating. We also need to teach people how to unhook mentally. How often are you doing your morning routine – shower, dress, eat breakfast – and your mind is already at work? The human minds capacity to travel into the future and the past comes at an emotional cost. It is great that we can reflect and learn from mistakes, and project and plan and prepare for the future, but we also need to know when to simply be present, to be here in this moment. It makes for a healthier brain, lowers stress and enhances immunity.
3000 Acres Launch at Neometro’s 9 Smith Street
Today I went and saw the Pixar movie Inside Out. I would like to say I went with one of my nieces or nephews – but I went alone. Movies like this are so important at building our understanding of the human mind and emotions. They are also a delight to watch – even though I cried at several points. They reflect the change in our society that we want to understand and talk about our thoughts and emotions – and not just joy or happiness, but also sadness, anger and fear. We have come full circle – from the Ancient Greek philosophers like Aristotle and Epicurus, who asked these important questions about happiness, purpose and meaning in life.
One of the influences on our approach at The Mind Room is positive psychology – the science of wellbeing – which often gets misrepresented as “happy-ology”. The central idea here is that we know a lot about human misery, dysfunction and distress, but what do we know about human happiness or flourishing? The more we know about the whole human experience – hope, kindness, giving, fear, deceit, aggression – the more we can help people to manage their internal world and shape life.
I think the biggest challenge to being mindful in an inner city lifestyle is novelty. The brain loves novelty – it is constantly scanning for things that are out of the ordinary as a way of quickly responding to threat or danger e.g., the car not slowing down as you cross at lights. However, in urban life changes in our environment are less about threat or danger and more about sales, marketing or productivity e.g., the latest fashion items or another work email.
The mind struggles to know what to attend to – so rapidly switches between stimuli. The more we allow our attention to pulled away by these distractions the more we train our brain in being un-mindful. The more our mind wanders, the more stress we experience. We are losing our capacity to intentionally choose what we attend to and are suffering the mental and physical health consequences.
Place Holder Pop Up at 9 Smith Street
We run classes in mindfulness to help people re-connect with their capacity to be present, to be the master of their own attention, and to do so with curiosity and acceptance. The ability to discern when and where to place our attention is the key to health, wellbeing and optimal performance.
My recommendation to help people be more mindful? STOP. Slow down. Be the master of your own attention, rather than merely reacting to the stimuli that are put in front of you. Notice your mindful moments and capitalise on them. Everyone is different but we all have an innate capacity to be mindful (present moment attention with an attitude of curiosity and acceptance.) For example, it may be when you cook, garden, surf, play with your kids or pet?
You need to practice being more mindful in order to have it appear more often in your life. As little as 10 minutes a day is enough to have an impact on your stress and wellbeing. You can try formal approaches such as meditation or informal approaches like mindful teeth brushing, coffee drinking or conversations. There are some great apps to get you started such as Smiling Mind (Australian app with a version for kids and adults), Buddhify (UK) or Headspace (UK). You can also try a class at The Mind Room in Collingwood or find a class in your local area.
Most of us have a plan for our physical health – we know how to build our fitness. We need to have a similar plan for our mental and emotional health and fitness. We know that the mind and body are connected and looking after one also helps the other. So make sure you have the basics covered – be more mindful, get enough sleep, move your body, and eat well.
One of the strongest predictors of good mental health is social connectedness. Look after your relationships – say hello to your neighbour, be kind to your colleagues and love your close friends and family. It often feels easier to manage our relationships online but nothing beats face-to-face connections. So for at least one moment every day take off your head phones, disconnect from your mobile device, make eye contact, smile and say hello. It’s good for your mental health and great for others too.
Place Holder Pop Up at 9 Smith Street
Mindfulness may be feeling a little faddish at the moment but it is a life skill that has been present for centuries for good reason. It is central to most faith based practices and is present across cultures. It is a foundation skill or capacity that makes all other human endeavours possible. It is also at the core of any therapeutic process.
The meaning of psychotherapy is a “talking cure” – so essentially we are all psychotherapists. In order to help others we need to connect, and to connect well we need to pay attention with an attitude of curiosity and acceptance. We each approach the helping process with a different framework or skill set – whether you are a manager, doctor, hairdresser or parent. At The Mind Room we approach helping others from the lens of evidence based science, shared humanity, and a belief that all of us have the capacity to live a meaningful, rewarding and connected life.
Words by Dr Jo Mitchell, Clinical Psychologist and Director of The Mind Room.
The Mind Room practice in Collingwood encompasses a diverse array of counseling disciplines and is a frequent collaborator with the likes of Mindful in May and The School of Life.