Imagine if you had a friend who constantly pointed out your flaws, let you know you weren’t good enough and reminded you of every mistake you’ve ever made.
Would you stay friends with them? I hope not!
Unfortunately, many of us live with a mind that’s constantly putting us down or filling us with doubt. And, the worst part is, we can’t just decide not to be friends with our minds anymore!
But, we can stop thinking of our thoughts and feelings as something that we experience and take control of them. Introducing the art of mindfulness.
What is mindfulness?
The average person has between 50,000 and 70,000 separate thoughts per day – that’s around 48 thoughts per minute. It’s just that most of our thoughts pass through our minds without us being aware of them.
Mindfulness is very simply the state of mind where you are aware of and in control of, your thoughts and feelings. It’s also often called meta-thinking or meta-cognition (thinking about thinking). The most common way to enhance mindfulness is through meditation. Unfortunately, many people try meditation and give up on it too quickly because they find it too difficult to “still their minds”.
Shaking Off The Stress
I’m going to introduce you to three simple mindfulness practices that are much easier to master than meditation. You don’t have to “still your mind” as meditation demands. But you do have to be able to catch hold of one thought and take a close look at it. If you’ve got a million things running through your head at the same time, practicing mindfulness will be harder.
In any given moment, most people’s minds look something like this:
Have I turned off the oven?
That presentation tomorrow will be a nightmare.
Who’s picking up the kids?
It’s been too long since I called Mom.
Is my marriage okay?
When will I pay off the credit card?
Did Joe take that thing I said in the lunchroom the wrong way?
I wish there wasn’t so much desperation and pain in the news.
Could I be doing more for the environment?
You need to try and get to a point where you can focus on one thought at a time and choose a reaction to it. There are lots of different ways of doing this. Fresh air and exercise can help. A hot bath works for some. Calming herbs in teas or supplements can help you to relax your thoughts and facilitate mindfulness. Find a relaxation technique that works for you and then try these three modern mindfulness strategies.
Modern Mindfulness Practices Without Meditation
These three practices are simple and can be done anywhere, at any time of day. Each is designed to help busy, modern people increase mindfulness without needing to head for a Buddhist retreat.
Practice 1: Thought Tracking
This one is so simple that it doesn’t really seem like a “practice” at all. But it is at the heart of meta-thinking. As often as you can, stop and think “what am I thinking?”. Identify the thought and carry on. It’s amazing how little most people do this. Mostly we just let our thoughts “happen to us”. By regularly acknowledging our thoughts in a moment, we take control of them.
Practice 2: Automatic Writing
Take out a notebook and pen and try and write down each of your thoughts as they come to you for a period of five minutes. Try not to censor or filter your thoughts at all – just let them flow from your mind to your pen. Ideally, you won’t be thinking about the writing at all which is why I call it automatic writing.
Don’t read your automatic writing straight away. Revisit it later in the day and reflect on what you were thinking and why.
This practice is helpful both in building awareness of your thoughts as they come to you and in keeping track of the things you are thinking and feeling over time. Try and do this practice once a day for a period of two weeks and then look over all of your thoughts. Are there patterns? Is your thinking becoming more positive? Which thoughts are helpful? Which thoughts are harmful?
Practice 3: Aspirational Writing
This exercise is similar to automatic writing but this time you write down what you wish you were thinking. It helps you to train your mind in positive self-talk and thinking. Simply block all of the negative thoughts and write down the healthy, ideal ones.
I am worthy of love in my life.
I am strong and confident in my profession.
I am grateful for my friends and family.
I am working towards positive change.
It might seem a little forced at first but, by writing down your ideal thoughts and feelings, you are reminding your mind of what is possible. A test to see if aspirational writing is working is comparing it to your automatic writing over time – are the two becoming more and more similar?