I’m not religious, so what’s the deal with meditation?

I was born in the Republic of Ireland, which means that I was raised Catholic, like 95% of the population.

I’m extremely lapsed now. Many of us in scientific or technical careers have grappled with the notion of faith or god in our lives. The conclusion is often a very personal decision. The conclusions reached by scientists down through the ages have been fascinating.

I went through a process of rejection of the Catholic faith and church over a period of time in my teenage years. Having studied the hard science of physics, I spent a long time as an avowed rationalist atheist.

My thoughts in this area continue to evolve – the nature and meaning of “god” have been the focus of intense philosophical debate throughout the millennia, and it hasn’t always ended well for the participants.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to get into that in this email J. There’s a great book by the Australian physicist Paul Davies that does so, if that sort of thing floats your boat).

I was introduced to meditation in a very secular manner – I wrote about it here previously. Most meditation practices are rooted in a spiritual traditions – although some have speculated that the ability to fall into meditative states was an evolutionary advantage for hunter-gatherer tribes whilst waiting for prey to wander by.

My first encounters to meditation were through the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn. He redesigned Buddhist meditative practices to remove spiritual and ritualistic trappings in order to fit in better with a secular western audience (i.e. me!). He has a lot of responsibility for the popularity of the word “mindfulness” at this point in time. He’s a good guy, you should check him out.

Since my introduction over a decade ago, I’ve explored meditative practice in secular and more traditional contexts, including studying under Buddhist and yogic traditions, and modern psychological approaches such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

As somebody with a naturally curious and sceptical outlook, it’s been an interesting experience! For the most part, I still have an agnostic outlook – just my personal outlook.

What strikes me is this – regardless of the backdrop – whether I’ve engaged in meditation practice within a traditional spiritual context or not – the practices themselves continue to work.

Research backs this up. Studies have been carried out on traditional spiritual practitioners and secular groups. For example, this study, which shows that an 8 week secular mindfulness program is associated with changes in brain structure. Or this study, on Buddhist monks, which investigates the changes in brain states due to long term compassion practice.

It’s clear to me that mindfulness meditation practice has a positive effect on my life regardless of where my beliefs with respect to spirituality are at any point in my life.

If you’re atheist, meditate. If you’re deeply religious, meditate. Either way you stand to gain.



How your mind evolved to keep you safe (and why you don’t always feel that way)

As I sit here typing this, I’m contemplating my hands.

Human hands are pretty amazing. There are 27 bones in each, connected to one another by a sophisticated set of connective tissue, all operated by a carefully collaborating cohort of muscles. The dexterity of a human hand is unmatched in any other animal – a huge reason for our success as a species.

As much as I make my living with my mind, my hands are equally important. They’re letting me type these words, for example. In the past, they’ve helped me set up technical equipment for experiments or IT projects. I’ve typed a LOT of code with these hands. They also let me do a huge variety of other things that do the general job of keeping me alive (no smirking at the back). Feeding myself. Creating. Crafting tools. Forming the foundation for exercises. Driving. Communicating.

Hands are so perfect at what they do, and allow us to adapt to so many situations, it’s almost as if they were perfectly designed. In fact many people do. But this isn’t that sort of website!

The best scientific evidence of the last few hundred years clearly shows that we evolved from ancestor species. Evolution is a clean and well-tested way to explain the features of organisms found in nature. If you’d like to argue this, feel free to leave this site, or to skip this article, but it’s a viewpoint I’m happy to subscribe to, and have been for a looooooong time.

In evolutionary terms, a feature (or trait) of an organism that is useful to navigating its environment is an adaptation. Hands are an adaptation shared by a number of species because their utility allows them to do things other species can’t.

Human hands, with their incredibly refined range of motion and control, confer huge advantages to us not shared by other species – such as the ability to craft sophisticated tools.

Your thinking mind is an adaptation

Thinking is pretty amazing too. I love being able to think. But it wasn’t until around five years ago that I ever considered just why it is that I think.

That’s when I discovered evolutionary psychology.

According to evolutionary psychology, the mind and its subtleties are adaptations that help us to survive and thrive in our environment. Every feature of your mental world is an adaptation concerned at a basic level with keeping you alive.

The most obvious way that your mind does this is by giving you killer problem solving abilities. You have the superpower to think your way out of (and in to!) tricky situations. You can do this using the power of abstract thought that eludes most other species.

In times gone by, this might have been as simple as figuring out a safe way through a ravine to get to water or food at the other side. In more recent times, we’ve applied our ability to think in ever more sophisticated ways – for example, carrying out calculations that allow planes to fly, or figuring out how best to deploy the resources of a team in a company, or planning major construction projects, or attempting to understand the complexity of nature and the human body, or developing the software that powers our favourite websites. All of which further the existence of individuals and the species.

Thinking. Powerful stuff indeed!

The ability to think, when harnessed correctly, is a source of major benefits to humanity. But sometimes our capacity to plan, predict, calculate and create can work against us. Especially when it feels that that’s all we ever do!

The overthinking mind

Sometimes, traits that have evolved in one environment can become a little less effective when the environment changes. This is known as maladaptation. In certain circumstances, the thinking mind can behave in a maladaptive manner.

There are two features of our current world that make our mind go into overdrive:

  1. The type of threat we’re faced with is, for the most part, imaginary. The majority of us live safe lives, where problems like food, shelter and water are mostly solved. Yet our mind still desires to direct its problem solving capacity at something. It preoccupies itself with our day-to-day difficulties, which are usually not life threatening, and directs the full extent of its abilities at them.
  2. We’re bombarded with way, way more information than in the past, so our thinking, problem solving mind (which LOVES information) is overstimulated. This constant stimulation means we can magnify the severity of our problems, turning everyday situations into sources of stress and anxiety. We become overwhelmed with excessive thinking. Everything becomes a problem to be solved, or goal to be achieved. This can get pretty tiring!


Thinking is just fine. Do lots of it, and do it well.

Overthinking, on the other hand, is often a sign of stress. It’s frequently experienced as racing thoughts, worst-case scenarios, living completely inside your head, or negative self-talk. Frequently, we’re thinking in terms of “should” or “must” or “have to”, putting enormous pressure on ourselves for things to be different from how they are now.

Which is no fun!

Imaginary threats and information overload make us prone to overthinking. Since thinking is designed to solve problems, it can feel like EVERYTHING is a problem!

The mind, which evolved to solve the problem of how to keep us alive – to help us to ensure our safety – is doing anything but! In fact, it can feel like we’re constantly UNSAFE – even when, objectively, we’re perfectly secure!

The antidote to overthinking

Since our mind’s major goal is our survival, it has a tendency to live in the future, scanning for possible threats to our existence; or indeed to dwell in the past, picking apart hurtful memories in order to learn how not to become involved in similar situations again.

The antidote to a mind that is too consumed with thinking – with the past and the future – is to do something that connects us with the present. This gets us “out of the loop”, disengaging the thinking mind and allowing us to get a few moments of respite.

Thankfully, we have a variety of options to do this. Here are a few:

  • Connect with our breathing. A few deep breaths can have a very calming effect.
  • Engage in sensuality (for example, having a bath. Or enjoying the feel of clean sheets. Or the feel of the sun on your skin. Use your imagination).
  • Take the time to really, really listen to a piece of music. Become overwhelmed by it to the point that the mind calms down.
  • Get into nature. Hug a tree, or take a walk in the park, or the wilderness. Gaze at the night sky and ponder the vastness of the universe.
  • Do something creative. Access a different part of your brain.
  • Dance, exercise, yoga – all excellent ways to connect with the body rather than the mind.
  • My favourite way to connect with the present moment! Learning mindfulness meditation is teaching yourself the skill of connecting with the present. Very useful when your mind is feeling unmanageable!

To summarise:

  • Your ability to think evolved to keep you safe and alive;
  • Your mind does this by thinking a lot about the past and the future;
  • It’s possible for the mind to get into a state where it’s thinking TOO MUCH about the past and the future – this can be uncomfortable or downright unpleasant;
  • Choosing to connect with the present moment can act as an antidote to overthinking. This can take practice, but there are a number of options, including meditation.


Why this software developer teaches mindfulness meditation

I was a confused teenager.

Now this is a fairly common state of affairs, especially amongst the technically minded. It’s a turbulent time, what with all the hormones and the forming of our nascent identity and the new ideas and the school and the sports and the zits and the hormones and the parents and the friends and the hormones… there’s a lot going on.

There was plenty to be confused about. The transition between the mind of a child, where the rules appear simple and your expected behavior is reasonably well defined, while you retain a sense of freedom in your actions, to fully fledged, independent adult (or doing an impression of one), with all sorts of new information and responsibilities – well, there’s a lot to take in, so very much to make sense of.

What confused me most, however, was people. It seemed that social interaction was a game that had rules and boundaries and subtleties that were both hidden and ever changing. I had a hard time figuring all of this out.

Ok, I may be making teenage years out to be slightly traumatic above, but one of the fantastic aspects to that time of your life is that you’re exposed to loads of new information. Like history. And literature. And art.

And science.

It was around this time that I realised I was a rationalist.

Now you may disagree, but high school physics makes sense, and my head and heart were taken by it.

I loved the logic of physics at that level. In contrast with the uncertainty of human interaction, here was a way of looking at the world around us that promised a degree of predictability. The simplicity of something like Ohm’s law (which describes the simple relationship between voltage and current in a resistor, fact fans) had a beauty about it that I could understand and take refuge in.

I liked that physics was bold enough to proclaim that if only you thought and observed and analysed things with enough intensity, you could start to make sense of the world.

Of course I went on to study physics at university and learned that there are subtleties and complexities and uncertainties (thanks Heisenberg!) built in to the fabric of the whole framework. Nonetheless I remained glued to the essential elegance and audacity of scientific exploration – even while I developed a much better understanding of how people and relationships worked in the coming years (actually people and relationships have turned into a passion of mine at this stage of my life, but that’s another story…).

Making my living with my mind

When I finished my undergraduate degree in physics I thought long and hard about pursuing it further, but the life of a grad student is difficult and fraught with insecurity (sorry grad students!) and I had a girlfriend and Big Plans for The Future and the need for money and therefore required an actual job.

As it happens, software had been an interest as much as science – I liked the predictability of code in the same way I liked physics (don’t laugh! Oh how I learned…). It was boom time for software engineers when I left university at the turn of the century (there’s gold in them-thar bits!), so I became a programmer – as it happens at the School of Physics at the University of Edinburgh.

My career wove interesting paths through the worlds of investment banking, digital agencies and successful web startups (HotelsCombined.com) and a variety of roles including development and team leading and database stuff and general getter-of-stuff-done. I have been lucky enough to work in some really challenging domains solving hard technical problems – with my mind – a very satisfying way to make a living!

I was using my capacity to think within my career, and I really loved it. When my mind was working well…

The trouble with thinking

I started thinking about the nature of my mind when I was about 27 and it started giving me a few problems. By a stroke of luck, I used to be married to a therapist (a whole other story…).

A couple of issues in my life, including the loss of my father at a horribly early age (him, and me really!), tipped me into uncomfortable mental territory. I was starting to realise that I had issues with anxiety.

At that time, this took the shape of constantly worrying that something bad was going to happen. I was particularly concerned about my health – my dad had passed away of cancer, and every little twinge I felt was bound to be the first sign of that dreadful illness in myself! Hypochondria was a feature of my life…

Later on, my anxiety took other forms – the fear of not being good enough, of being found out as not up to the job – that my bosses, in particular, would recognise me for the imposter that I was… hands up if that sounds familiar! In fact I’ve written a whole article about it that you can read here.

This was the first time I heard of mindfulness. My then-wife had been lucky enough to train with Jon Kabat-Zinn (who is a really badass dude, on a mission to create calm minds throughout the world, big respect, check him out) and she used mindfulness based approaches in her clinical work with clients.

You’ve probably realised by now that I’m a fan of thinking, particularly clear thinking.

The problems start when your thinking is a bit distorted. Anxiety makes you think that things are worse than they actually are. Hence the blowing up of indigestion in your mind to almost certain stomach cancer… when it’s nothing of the sort.

Or the fear that you’re really terrible at your job, when you’re actually doing amazing…

Now it turns out there are some very good reasons for why this happens, and I’ll go into exactly why this is the case in later articles on this very website – you can sign up to my newsletter to stay up-to-date.

My solution to the problem of an overactive mind was mindfulness.

How mindfulness works

Mindfulness basically means paying attention to the present moment without judging it.

You intentionally practice focusing on an aspect of your present moment experience as best you can.

You become aware of your breathing, your bodily sensations, your emotional state and even the content of your mind – but you practice not becoming overwhelmed by any of it, rather allowing it to simply happen, and watching how it unfolds. Which sounds simple, right?

It’s good for anxiety because you learn to distance yourself from your thinking a bit, kind of taking it less seriously.

Now, this can be a bit difficult for a geek like me. We tend to buy into Descartes statement – “I think therefore I am”.

It’s actually more like the other way around – “I am, therefore I think”. Our thoughts play a big part in our identity, particularly when we get paid to, you know, think about things and solve problems.

It can be a little bit hard to let go.

When you think about thinking though, you start to realise that so much of what goes through your head is about the past and the future. And how much of it can be safely let go.

I’ve heard it said that, of the 60,000 or so thoughts that pass through our mind every day, 90% are repeated from the day before (I doubt this is particularly scientific but on inspection of my own thought stream, I can tell that there is some truth in here).

So the practice of letting go of your thinking can be a game-changer, particularly when that thinking is causing you trouble – like it was for me with my anxious tendencies.

Thankfully, there are many techniques – including meditation – that can help you – yes you! – become more mindful.

Meditation is the ultimate experiment, in which you are both the observer and the system under study. As someone grounded in science, I think there is something wonderful in that.

Why I learned – and teach – mindfulness

Mindfulness is an attitude towards life that can be cultivated with practice that has several major benefits. We’ll dig into it in-depth in a series of articles on this blog, but for now I’d just like to introduce you to several of them as I’ve seen them play out for me.

In my personal and professional life, I have benefited in three important ways:

  1. A better relationship with my mind – the tool I use to make my living and interact with the world around me. These days, I’m calmer, much less prone to anxiety and stress, I think more clearly and feel like I can keep on top of the many demands in my life – all through my mindfulness practice. It’s not that I never get into stressful situations, or feel stressful feelings – my life is as busy as ever – it’s just that now I’m very well equipped to deal with them.
  2. An enhanced experience of living. No joke – removing excess stress from your life makes things infinitely better. Once you’ve calmed down the nervous system a bit – a core benefit of mindfulness practice – you can begin noticing how rich life is. Simple things become more pleasurable. You develop the capacity to savour your experience of being alive, working to counter the negativity bias that is built into each of us. If you are a fan of being alive, this is where the real gold of mindfulness practice lies.
  3. Making self-care a priority, and being more effective as a result. At this point in my life, I have quite a few responsibilities – head of software development at a start-up, teaching yoga and meditation, running a couple of online businesses. You’d think that I’d hardly have time to take 20 minutes out of my day to meditate… well you’d be wrong. In fact, it’s only by making self-care the primary focus of my life that I’m able to do all of the above with minimal stress.


I have benefited so much from mindfulness principles and techniques that I started teaching them to colleagues a number of years ago. I’m continuing to take that teaching out into the world through a number of media (including this site!).

I believe that almost anyone can benefit from becoming more mindful through the practice of simple attention regulation exercises (A.K.A. meditation). One intention of thehappytechie.com is to help people like me – you! – learn to take care of your minds in the same way. Meditation and mindfulness are part of the answer.



How I beat impostor syndrome and stopped feeling like a fake

I have a confession to make. I have been an impostor throughout my entire adult life.

When I was studying physics at Ireland’s leading university, graduating near the top of my class, I was no good at any of it. It was a complete fluke, an accident.

When I excelled at my master’s degree in High Performance Computing at the same institution, I was faking it.

When I was offered a consulting dream-job at the School of Physics at another prestigious university, it was obvious that everyone around me was smarter. They were sure to find out that I was incompetent sooner or later, and there was no doubt they would get rid of me. It was just a matter of time.

When I changed industries and became a consultant to a household name investment bank, it was incredible that they didn’t fire me within days. I was surrounded by people who were just so much smarter than me, who were doing better jobs.

When I joined a hugely successful web startup, leading my own team of crack software developers with a budget of millions, I was absolutely winging it. For three years, I did the job of an incompetent. I had no idea what I was doing.

When I became head of software development at a startup in the Australian property market, with free reign to hire my own team and set the technical direction of the company… I was actually mostly fine. The sense of being an impostor, a fake and terrible at my job had almost disappeared.

So what changed?

Feelings versus reality

Let’s start by rewriting the story I just told you.

The facts stay the same, but this time, let’s reframe it in terms of my thoughts and feelings. Here goes!

I have a confession to make. I have been felt like an imposter throughout my entire adult life.

When I was studying physics at Ireland’s leading university, graduating near the top of my class, my mind kept telling me I was no good at any of it. It felt like was a complete fluke, an accident.

When I excelled at my master’s degree in High Performance Computing at the same institution, I constantly told myself I was faking it, despite the evidence to the contrary.

When I was offered a consulting dream-job at the School of Physics at another prestigious university, it was obvious it seemed to me that everyone around me was smarter. They were sure to find out that I felt I was incompetent sooner or later, and there was no doubt in my mind they would get rid of me. The voice in my head kept on telling me it was just a matter of time.

When I changed industries and became a consultant to a household name investment bank, I thought that it was incredible that they didn’t fire me within days. I was surrounded by people who were just appeared to be so much smarter than me, who I perceived were doing better jobs.

When I joined a hugely successful web startup, leading my own team of crack software developers with a budget of millions, I managed to convince myself was absolutely winging it. For three years, my imagination was full of stories that I did the job of an incompetent, even though we were universally praised. It seemed to me that I had no idea what I was doing.

Ways through impostor syndrome

Hands up if the above sounds familiar? The experience of living life with a certain degree of success, yet feeling as if it’s all somehow an accident?

Looked at objectively, it’s clear there was a huge disconnect between the realities of my life and my achievements, and how I thought and felt about them.

This is the essence of impostor syndrome – the feeling that, despite evidence of your basic success in life, you think and feel that your success has nothing to do with your personal qualities or the hard work you’ve put in – that it’s all some kind of accident, and you’re really a fraud.

Impostor syndrome sucks. It affects people who work in science and technology careers in particular for three main reasons.

First, because we have deep knowledge in particular areas, getting things done is easier, so it’s very simple to dismiss achievements as trivial, meaning we build up a flawed picture of our abilities and what we are capable of over time. We undervalue ourselves terribly.

Second, because of the psychological evolution of a typical geek, we tend to wrap up our sense of self-worth in what we know or what we can do, meaning we put ourselves under constant, subtle pressure to know everything – and since this is impossible, we feel bad when we constantly fall short.

Third, the environments in which we find ourselves don’t help much. External pressures to be competitive turn the screw on our tendency to go hard on ourselves. Being surrounded by other smart people, many of whom are in the same psychological situation, amplifies our feelings about our own so-called limitations.

There were a couple of huge things that helped me shift my perspective a number of important ways – I’m thrilled to have the chance to share them with you:

  1. Understanding the roots of the problem
  2. Taking a mental step back by practicing mindfulness

Understanding the roots of the problem

Impostor syndrome is a pattern of thinking and feeling. It’s a habit of the mind – a bad habit, but one that can be managed and, with time, broken.

The mind is a funny thing. Humans are born pretty dumb, with a brain that’s far from fully formed. Infant minds are blank slates: although we’re born with temperaments and dispositions and inclinations, the amount of knowledge we need to survive in the world far exceeds the capacity of our DNA to encode it, so we enter the world with the capacity to learn.

We learn lots through a lifetime – useful skills like how to program a computer, or how to analyse data for example.

We also learn how to respond to various stimuli and situations. Our cognitive (thinking) and emotional (feeling) responses are shaped by our life experiences.

We build up models of how the world works – psychologists call these models “schema” (much like a schema describes the structure and functionality of a database). Schema are generalised models of sets of similar experiences. They dictate how we respond to similar situations in the future, in terms of thoughts, behaviour and feelings.

For example, we’ll build up schema about simple objects, like balls, or cars, or furniture. We know that a ball is round, and that when thrown, it’ll fly through the air, and we can catch it.

That’s a pretty simple example. We’ll also build up more complex schema around our emotional responses. Similar situations evoke similar emotional responses. These responses can be adaptive (useful) or maladaptive (not so useful).

Here’s an example from my own life. As I kid, I often felt there was something wrong with me because I was rejected by other kids socially. Over time, I built up what’s known as a defectiveness schema – a deep seated belief and set of feelings that there was something inherently broken within me.

Nobody wants to feel bad all the time, so we learn ways of dealing with uncomfortable emotions. Sometimes they take over, and we live our lives as if we ARE defective or whatever. Sometimes we ignore or suppress emotions (which is a disaster waiting to happen, but that’s another story).

Sometimes, we find a way to make ourselves feel good by doing something unrelated. We fight back against the feelings.

I found out that I could feel good about myself by working hard and being smart.

The simple act of knowing more than other people gave me the praise and validation that I wasn’t getting in other areas of my life.

This works well, for a while. Feeling like we know more than most people is very soothing when we feel a bit broken on the inside!

Leaving high-school for university made that a bit more difficult – I was surrounded by smart people and it was hard – if not impossible – to be the smartest all the time.

This is when I first had strong feelings of being an impostor. My inherent feelings of defectiveness had a tendency to take over, and my typical “knowing awesome things” band-aid didn’t work as well any more. That feeling of being a fraud was a frequent companion.

(As an aside, I found other ways to compensate, such as working on my social skills and partying ability – not very sustainable, but the sense of popularity also helped with the feelings of defectiveness – but that’s a whole other story!)

Every change in life circumstances – new social groups, and particularly new jobs – activated this schema. I find that my feelings of imposterhood are at their worst when I’m trying something new (for example, writing a lengthy article on impostor syndrome!).

The origins of impostor syndrome will be subtly different for everyone. The particular circumstances of your life, the experiences that you’ve had that trained your brain to feel defective in some way – this will be unique to you.

Most of them will have happened during the formative years of childhood and adolescence. But I guarantee that somehow, somewhere, you’ll be following a pattern of covering up for feelings of worthlessness by trying to continuously overachieve.

Simply knowing that you’re a victim of the natural evolution of your psychological make-up is soothing in itself, as it gives you a platform to work from, to take action to counter these feelings – to rewrite the story in the manner I did above.

Next, I talk about the most powerful tool that I have found that helps me do exactly this – mindfulness.

Taking a mental step back by practicing mindfulness

Geeks are are generally rationalists. We place a lot of faith in our ability to think clearly.

Rational thought is incredibly powerful. We use it to build bridges, keep aeroplanes and satellites from plunging to the ground, design surgical implements and techniques that save many lives, reason about the best moral courses of action and penetrate the mysteries of the universe. The twin disciplines of logic and the scientific method have given so much to humanity when considered in aggregate.

Reason gives us a framework for making sense of the world. Many people are entirely comfortable to assert “I think, therefore I am”, in the words of Descartes. It’s pretty normal for intelligent people to place a LOT of value in the activities of their thinking mind.

Indeed, as we discussed above, the desire for the ability to outthink other people – to be as smart as, or smarter than others – is often at the core of impostor syndrome.

The voice in our head is insistent and loud. Every thought demands that we pay it attention. Every thought insists its own value, its absolute truth.

This would be fine, except for the fact that thoughts are often distorted – sometimes just a bit off, other times patently untrue. Not every thought we experience will be correct!

Often the source of the error is maladaptive learning. Other times, it’s in-built psychological biases. Either way, as rationalists, it can be challenging to our self-belief to realise that we have a mind that produces thoughts that are, at least some of the time, completely wrong!

Impostor syndrome can be considered as a case of distorted thinking. We think that we’re inadequate or defective, and that bad things are going to happen as a result, when the facts and experience of our lives objectively indicate that this is not the case.

We believe that we’re going to be found out, when in actual fact our contributions are valued. Even in cases where there may be a genuine problem with how we are perceived by others, we amplify the magnitude of the problem.

Mindfulness gives us an excellent way out. Mindfulness is generally defined as “paying attention to the present moment in a particular way, on-purpose and without judgement”. Mindfulness practices train us to take a step back from what we are thinking, simply observing it rather than completely buying into it.

With a bit of practice, we get into a habit of choosing when to believe or give value to the contents of our mind. When we’re dealing with distorted thinking, this is incredibly useful!

Now, because we’re smart people and our thinking is really useful to us, it’s often a huge part of our identity. What are we, if we are not our thoughts? When I first considered this possibility, I was terrified. My ability to think was so central to my sense of identity that I found it really hard to consider it might have flaws! Hands up if you feel this way right now?

It’s really easy to completely identify with our thoughts – we become “fused” with them. Psychologists call the process of stepping back from our thoughts and feelings “cognitive defusion” – we de-fuse from thoughts and feelings.

This can be difficult, particularly when you’re used to giving primary value to the contents of your mind. But there are A TON of techniques available that help you to do this. And you’ll learn many of them in a short course in mindfulness meditation.

Mindfulness is about engaging what’s happening in your world right now. It’s about deliberately paying attention to an aspect or your present moment experience. It also has the advantage of some pretty significant scientific support as a way of dealing with a variety of problems, including stress and anxiety (something often associated with impostor syndrome).

Here’s an experiment – if you sit for a few minutes and write down thoughts as they come into your head, you’ll begin to notice a pattern. In general, our thoughts are pre-occupied with the PAST or the FUTURE.

The primary purpose of our mind is to keep us alive. It’s a survival device. It’s constantly doing two things (1) projecting into the future about what MIGHT happen, so that we can be prepared (2) reflecting on what went wrong in the past, so we can avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

This is great, and useful as there are genuine situations when the mind actually keeps us alive. But they are pretty rare. Dealing with a mind full of distorted thinking gets draining fast.

Mindfulness acts as an antidote because it forces us out of this past/future preoccupation. By choosing to focus on what’s happening right now, we break the worry loop, even if it’s just for a few seconds.

The present moment is awesome. Generally, it’s a pretty safe place (don’t believe this? You’ve made it through every single moment today without dying! Unless you’re reading this from beyond the grave – in which case, well done). And it’s full of things we can focus on – they are often called “anchors”, as they anchor us in the present and stop us being dragged into the future or the past.

Some common anchors are:

  • Your breath
  • The sensations in your body
  • The senses (sound, touch, taste, smell, and sight)
  • Your current emotional state
  • The state and contents of your mind

Learning to be mindful is a matter of practicing connecting with any or all of these anchors. These practices include meditation, but there are also a number of other exercises.

When I first learned about mindfulness, it was a revelation. The simple concept that I was not my thoughts was challenging but revolutionised how I related to my own mind. I started out by learning mindfulness of breathing through breath meditations.

I knew it was working when I started to notice myself “catching myself” caught up in worry loops (the impostor loop for example) and, instead of continuing to freak out, choosing to concentrate on my breath instead. An altogether more pleasant experience than the anxiety that I would typically feel on those occasions!

Mindfulness is becoming more and more accepted as an approach for dealing with a wide range of problems. Here are just a few links. I like it so much that I became a meditation teacher – you can read that full story here.

Your mindful way through impostor syndrome

I’ll be honest with you – from time to time, I still feel like an impostor.

But the knowledge that it’s a deep rooted pattern, plus the ability to take a mental step back, and rewrite the story in terms of thoughts and feelings – neither of which are the full truth of the situation – make it a LOT easier for me to deal with it as it arises.

I believe in the power of mindfulness to help with problems like impostor syndrome so much that I retrained as a mindfulness meditation teacher (you can read the full story here).

I’ll be keeping this site updated regularly with science-based tips for managing your mind – written by a geek, for geeks. Sign up to my mailing list to stay up to date!