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mindfulness: the biggest step is the smallest step – a how-to guide

We have knowledge about mindfulness and we know about the benefits of living in the present moment.  Mindfulness is a practice that is backed by science – studies show that practicing it has shown to increase quality of life and decrease depression, anxiety, sensory pain, chronic pain, and fatigue.  The evidence is in neuroimaging assessments taken before and after practicing mindfulness, which show increases in grey matter density in the areas of the brain associated with learning, emotion, memory, and perspective taking, as well as self-reports of happier, calmer, symptom-free people.  It all sounds great.  But will this knowledge move you to take action and make it the central part of your life?   Do you really believe that mindfulness can help you live a happier, more fulfilling life?

 

What does being “mindful” even mean?  It’s a term that means noticing the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that you are experiencing right now, in this moment, without getting judgemental about it. The skills it requires most are willingness and curiousity.  Most of us, instead of being wiling and curious, are in “fix me” mode.  We want to do what is least painful and most quick in order to be happy.  Unfortunately in most cases with this approach, we end up doing more damage than good.

 

Why don’t we take action on practicing mindfulness in our daily lives?  

  1. “I forgot.”  Life gets busy and we live on autopilot, resorting to our default way of responding or reacting to life.
  2.  We read about and hear of many different ways to practice mindfulness and we feel overwhelmed with the information.  Therefore, we end up doing nothing. 
  3. Practicing mindfulness may make us feel like we are not “doing” anything productive. 
  4. Practicing mindfulness more than likely feels uncomfortable or even painful.  We are excellent at fleeing the scene of our present messiness by pushing through, keeping ourselves distracted, and keeping busy with our jobs and other day-to-day stress. 
  5. Mindset: we trick ourselves into thinking that it takes too much time, energy, and hassle. 

 

If you happen to have extra time and energy and want to go all in with a formal mindfulness practice,  I encourage you to take this free 8-week course created by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn.  If you don’t have extra time to spare, you can practice mindfulness for shorter spurts and informally throughout your day with really effective results.

 

If you believe that practicing mindfulness will help you live a more full and vibrant life and want to practice it, here’s a suggestion: pick ONE thing and only ONE thing that you will incorporate into your days.  Start with one small thing.  The only skill needed to implement mindfulness is noticingYes, noticing is a skill.  Do not get sucked into the trap of thinking that you are already an expert at noticing.  You will be surprised.  Pick ONE thing from the following list:

 

  1. Brush your teeth, paying close attention to the task. How do the bristles feel on your teeth?  How about the tingle of the toothpaste?  When you find your mind drifting, bring it back to the sensations of the toothbrush on your teeth. 
  2. Pick ONE body part that you will check in with throughout the day. Is it your hand?  Your foot?  Your leg?  Your stomach?  Your face?  Your shoulders?  You will check in with this body part at regular intervals through the day.  How does it feel?  Move it.  Wiggle it.  Stretch it.  Notice any tension, soreness, or relaxedness.
  3. At any and/or every transition throughout the day (e.g. Bathroom break, lunchtime, on the bus, driving home, stepping inside the house), take a minute to notice your breath. Just notice how it comes and goes, and if it is shallow or deep or somewhere in between.  That’s it.

 

DO NOT try to do all three of these exercises; just pick ONE and do it every day.  See how it goes for seven days.  What do you notice?

 

Until next time,

 

 

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