The Beauty of Mindfulness

What do you think about when you hear the word mindfulness? Not losing your mind, being quiet, being attuned to social cues, or staying in the present?

Mindfulness as defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is the “quality or state of being conscious or aware of something; or the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis”.

Why would someone exercise this practice at all?

In a person’s average day, thoughts and feelings that surface are appraised as either positive or negative. The thoughts and feelings appraised as negative typically are suppressed or avoided, which affirms them as powerful. This affirmation helps the thoughts and feelings develop into a disruptive part of a person’s framework. In the wake, lots of energy is spent on avoiding those negative thoughts and feelings at any cost. That can mean staying home, not engaging in enjoyable activities, or even self-medicating with alcohol or drugs.

This is where mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness does not just help you relax, although that ultimately happens, but it also helps you acknowledge and accept the real time experiences in your mind and body without judging yourself for it. The hope is that as you acknowledge, accept and stop struggling to control every sensation, thought, or feeling, you realize its only a process that will pass on like a leaf floating on a stream. With enough practice, individuals can gain self-compassion and break the cycle of avoiding and self-medicating, which only maintains what could ultimately become anxiety or depression.

If you are calm, mindfulness can be relatively straightforward. And while it can be learned in many different ways, breathing exercises or eating exercises are probably the most common way to start. These exercises help slow down the restless mind and create an opportunity to focus on the simple act itself. During a breathing exercise, for example, individuals may be encouraged to be conscious of how the chest rises at inhale and falls at exhale, the temperature of the breath, the cold air as you breath in, the hot air as you breath out, the feeling of your arms hanging on your shoulders, or your bottom on a chair or on the floor. If thoughts arise during a breathing exercise, individuals are encouraged to look at them as non-judgmental observers, not trying to get rid of them or classifying them as good or bad, but just letting them pass on.

Mindfulness may not be as easy when you are not in a peaceful state of mind. Whether you are dealing with an overall feeling of anxiety, a specific trigger, or a fear of losing control, for example, mindfulness can require a great amount of discipline. And in the same vein, if negative thoughts arise during the actual mindfulness exercise, it’s easy for the person to become defensive and lose the intent of the exercise. However, it is these times that are arguably the most important to stay dedicated and re-center on the exercise itself and be a non-judgmental observer.

 

New Year’s Resolutions

Yes, it’s that time again: the beginning of another year when about half of all Americans decide to embark on making New Year’s resolutions. With the best of intentions we create lofty goals geared toward helping us to become better in some way, shape, or form because our bottom line is that we do not want a repeat of last year. Essentially, we want to realize positive change in our lives, and we believe our proverbial New Year’s resolutions are the catalysts to get us to where we want to be.

Although the number of individuals making New Year’s resolutions is declining, they are still a popular part of our traditions as observed by the media and research organizations which continue to pour resources into providing us with statistics around the very topic. For instance, consider the following “Top American Resolutions” listed in order from most reported to the least:

Most Reported New Year’s Resolutions

21%  Weight loss

14%  Improve finances

14%  Exercise

10%  Get a new job

7%    Healthier eating

5%    Manage stress better

5%    Stop/reduce smoking

5%    Improve a relationship

3%    Stop procrastinating

3%    Set time aside for self

3%    Start a new activity/hobby

2%    Improve my work habits

2%    Stop/reduce drinking alcohol

1%    Assertion/learn to say no

As you can probably agree, these resolutions are all worth striving for because they are intended to help us improve ourselves in some way.  Yet, statistically, only about 8% of people who make resolutions are actually successful in achieving their resolutions. To add insult to injury Time found that many of our most popular resolutions are also the very ones which are broken the most:

Most Commonly Broken New Year’s Resolutions

  1. Lose Weight and Get Fit
  2. Quit Smoking
  3. Learn Something New
  4. Eat Healthier and Diet
  5. Get Out of Debt and Save Money
  6. Spend More Time with Family
  7. Travel to New Places
  8. Be Less Stressed
  9. Volunteer
  10. Drink Less

At this point you may be asking yourselves, “Is this a no-win situation?” Statistically speaking, it seems like we are setting ourselves up for failure. The truth of the matter is that it is just as easy to make a resolution as it is to break it—neither require any real work on the part of the participant. However, realistically speaking, while the resolutions noted above are indeed good and noble pursuits, they are actually difficult to accomplish because they are all major lifestyle changes that involve self-reflection, a reprioritization of priorities, a deep level of commitment, learning, planning and time. Also many of these changes will impact the lives of those closest to us which is another important factor that must be included as a part of the process.

So, what is the solution to our New Year’s resolutions? According to Amazon.com, you could possibly find an answer to that question among the 23,283 books written on the topic, although that seems like quite a lengthy pursuit for one to undertake. An alternative suggestion involves you choosing just one lifestyle change that is most important to you and then begin working toward it, slowly but consistently, keeping in mind that you are not so much focused on achieving a goal that can be accomplished by the end of the year; rather, success rests upon integrating a lifestyle change over time until it becomes a vital part of who you are and a part of your life that you no longer wish to compromise. While this may seem daunting, big changes typically start small, have many steps, and take time, patience, and diligence. Yet it is my wish that by approaching New Year’s resolutions in this way you will be able to realize positive change in a manner that will be both self-fulfilling and sustaining over your lifetime.

Sources:

“New Year’s Resolution Statistics” http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/

“New Year’s Resolutions by the Numbers” http://www.details.com/story/new-years-resolutions-by-the-numbers

“Top 10 Commonly Broken New Year’s Resolutions” http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/completelist/0,29569,2040218,00.html

Amazon.com: 23,283 results for Books: “new year’s resolutions”

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_22?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=new+year%27s+resolutions&sprefix=new+year%27s+resolutions%2Caps%2C168