[Last updated September 2022]

With Christmas and the New Year around the corner, there will be a peak in activities; including end of year work gatherings, family reunions, travelling, and so on. This time of the year usually shakes us out of our comfort zone and our daily routines. For some of us, this could mean facing more intense mood changes; experiencing a mix of fun and anxiety. The fun part is great but what about the worry and anxiety bits? Do you wish to try a very simple practice to help reduce your unnecessary worries and anxieties? Then try this simple yet powerful mindfulness practice of Notice, Assess, Direct (NAD). This is a very helpful skill to learn which you can benefit from in many other occasions whenever you feel under too much bad stress.

More about the NAD further below, but first a quick background as to why this simple practice can be helpful to everyone in any stressful situation, not just end of the year.

The Story of Our Thoughts

We all think, and no one really knows where the thoughts come from. Some thoughts are intentional, focused, constructive and creative, but most other thoughts are really unwanted and of the wandering variety. These wandering thoughts have the tendency to turn into full-blown stories or dramas with some sort of a familiar plot. The actors of the drama are typically the person, along with their family, friends, colleagues and various other heroes and villains. The problem is that once the story gathers momentum, our body and nervous system would not know the difference between reality and our imaginary full-blown drama. Our physiology starts to react to the story, we get worried and feel anxious as if something really bad is about to happen with a clear and present danger! We can go into needless fight-flight mode, or even freeze mode if an old trauma wound is triggered.

MIndfulness: Catch thoughts before turning into a story

This might happen when someone advertently or inadvertently presses your buttons by saying something or ignoring you or rejecting you. Sometimes triggered even with simple incidents like someone cutting you in traffic or taking a contested parking spot in a busy shopping centre car park, and the like. As the chart shows, if we are not mindful, we can quickly go to our autopilot mode and react to the other person or to ourselves. Each one of us may react in different ways in different circumstances; what is common though is that any such reaction is associated with negative feelings such as anger, resentment, powerlessness, sadness, guilt, shame and would most likely lead into worry and anxiety.

Keep calm and respond with NAD

On the other hand, being mindful will help us greatly to notice and catch our thoughts as early as possible before they gather momentum and be able to take charge rather than fall victim to our own thoughts.

Do a quick assessment of whether the thoughts are of service to you right now in this moment and in this specific situation or not. I emphasise “quick assessment” because you don’t want to overanalyse, it is usually a simple yes or no.

Then if the outcome of your quick assessment is “yes”, then direct your attention to work consciously on the issue now.

Otherwise, if the answer is “no”; which is usually the case; then simply let the thoughts be, do not try to control or get rid of them. You simply direct your attention to your breath or your body, or your environment. Using your five senses helps taking you out of your thoughts and into the reality of the moment and what needs to be attended to; even if there is nothing serious or important happening right now. Maybe what is real is that you just need to rest, watch a movie, or have fun.

By trying to control or stop your thoughts you simply give them your valuable energy and they grow and gather even more momentum.

Notice Assess Direct (NAD)
Light of Attention


In a similar way that a flashlight lightens up a limited area of a dark environment, our attention also lights up a limited area of reality in our field of experience. Where we put our attention grows in our field of consciousness; and in fact also affects our brain structure. As Dan Siegel* puts it: “Where attention goes, neural firing flows, and neural connection grows”. With the NAD practice we train our mind to deal mostly with that which matters in reality of our life and less with the speculations and drama that our ego-self likes to create and live through. In other words you can become more real with NAD and similar practices aimed at helping you to be more present and grounded.

(*Dr. Siegel is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and the founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA.)

Let go of the clouds, you are the sky.

Let the clouds go, you are the sky

A helpful metaphor is to visualise your thoughts and emotions as clouds in the sky. They come and go, but the sky remains; and you are the sky.

In this metaphor, letting go means knowing that you are not the clouds, you are not your thoughts or emotions, you are the container and can stay while letting them come and go.

Next time, take a breath, close your eyes and visualise your thoughts and emotions as clouds and practice to remain who you truly are, the sky.

Even if you decide to go with the thoughts in a stressful situation, at least it is a conscious decision and the resulting stress would be “good” stress or what is called eustress. You are really responding to the situation rather than reacting to it like when you were in autopilot mode and not mindful.

Simple but maybe not easy

This practice is simple but not necessarily easy. Meaning that it is not complicated but might be very difficult to do initially. This is a skill and like any other skill requires regular practice for you to become increasingly more effective at it. So, don’t get disappointed if you don’t get quick results; keep going and you will reap the rewards.

Well, why not give it a go and check it out for yourself?