In Part 1 of this series, we established that the purpose of mindfulness is NOT to cause relaxation, thought stopping or to mitigate negative emotions. Instead, the practice of mindfulness retrains the brain to create space, or breathing room, between thoughts and emotions, and the actions we take because of them. Meaning that you can still have negative emotions, be uncomfortable, have racing thoughts and act according to your values and goals, when you’ve practiced mindfulness. And that, my friends, is the key. Mindfulness is a practice, an activity that should be a part of your daily routine. Just like you have to exercise regularly to maintain bodily health, mindfulness is something to be done regularly, whether you’re feeling good or not, in order to strengthen the control you have over your actions.
Why would you want to start a mindfulness practice?
I know that you have long-term goals that you want to accomplish, and values that you want to live by as you make the journey to those goals. Our brains get in the way, though, by the automatic pain avoidance processes we talked about in Part 1. With that pain vs. pleasure principle in mind, if you answer yes to any of the following questions, you may want to begin a daily mindfulness practice.
1. Are there any areas of your life that you’re avoiding because they’re uncomfortable or they bring up negative emotions?
(ex. putting off a conversation that you need to have with a boss/coworker/friend/loved one; not answering the call of a creditor; not attending career based social events with peers)
2. Do you find yourself under the control of your emotions, reacting to situations instead of responding to them in your best interest?
(ex. road rage; lashing out in anger after a perceived hurt or threat; criticizing your loved ones; sending passive/aggressive emails after a misunderstanding)
3. Do you find yourself spending a lot of time thinking about real or hypothetical situations or conversations?
(ex. replaying, real or imagined, conversations over and over; perseverating on past/present hurts or experiences; thinking about unsolvable (by you) social or relational issues)
4. Can you spot areas of your life where you are choosing short-term pleasure in order to avoid perceived emotional discomfort or “pain”?
(ex. excessive/obsessive behaviors – drinking, drugs, eating, sex, exercising; isolating from social situations; being “too busy”)
How to Start Being Mindful
There seems to be a lot of intimidation, or dismissal, when mindfulness is brought up. This is due to a lot of ignorance around what mindfulness really is, being intimidated by how many different practices there are, and an attitude of “I don’t need that”. But, again, these avoidance actions are still based in the pain vs. pleasure principle (see how pervasive it is?) – avoiding a new activity or idea because it causes some sort of emotional discomfort.
Thankfully, being mindful can be very simple, and it doesn’t have to take up a lot of time, but it does need to be practiced consistently to see results. Remember, at its core, mindfulness is when your body and mind are engaged in the same activity.
Here are 3 different ways to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life, pick one to start with today:
1. Mindful Driving
A lot of us drive via muscle memory, and usually aren’t fully engaged in the activity with both our minds and bodies; we spend the majority of our driving time with one eye on the road and our minds thinking about many other things.
Whenever you are driving, practice engaging your mind fully in the task. Intentionally take deep breaths and focus on your senses. What does the steering wheel feel like under your hands? What sounds do you hear? What is in your immediate view?
When thoughts of other things come up gently refocus your mind on your senses and deep breathing.
2. Mindful Eating
How many times have you rushed through a meal without really tasting anything? Or by eating mechanically, maybe vaguely noticing how things taste, but being distracted by thoughts or the external environment? This exercise is very similar to the Washing the Dish exercise in Part 1, again, the focus is on engaging both your mind and body in the activity.
Sit down with your meal, preferably alone, and singularly focus on the task at hand – eating. Intentionally focus on the feeling of the fork in your hand, the sounds it makes on your plate, the texture of the food in your mouth, the differences in taste – sweet, salty, spicy – the different smells you are experiencing, etc. Try to maintain this for the duration of your meal, if you notice your thoughts drifting, gently redirect your mind back to the activity.
3. Body Check In
This is a very quick exercise that you can do multiple times per day. The name says it all. As often as you can, stop what you’re doing and take three or four really deep breaths. While you’re breathing, check in with your senses – Where are you? What do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel? Is there tension in your body? If you’re sitting, focus on how the chair feels against your legs. If you’re walking, notice how your muscles are propelling you forward. If you’re outside, take in the sights and smells in your immediate area.
These are very simple and short exercises that will help bring moments of mindfulness into your day. Don’t be intimidated by adding mindfulness into your life, it doesn’t have to be a 30 minute session of meditation in order to be effective. Pick one of the practices above to start with and tell us about your experiences in the comments.
If you’d like to discuss how mindfulness could work in your life, or improve your overall life performance, contact us!