Mindfulness is really easy to not practice it because at first it can be boring, intimidating and seem pointless.
But – it is a practice, not a solution. It takes time but it pays off. I want to help make it easier for you.
Here are 5 methods you can use to incorporate mindfulness into your everyday life.
Pockets of peace
Meditation for most people can be pretty daunting. It’s tough to just sit in a room for 10 minutes and observe your thoughts if you’ve never done it before.
Instead, try 30s to 2 minutes of paying attention to your breathing or your surroundings. I recommend having nothing in your hands (especially your phone).
You can do this as many times as you want throughout the day. This way it doesn’t feel like an overwhelming obligation you’re tempted to skip.
Treat yourself to “pockets of peace” throughout the day.
Mindful eating is an important technique to keep in your toolbox.
When you’re eating, for the first few spoonfuls (forkfuls… whatever, you get the point), try to appreciate the flavours and textures of the food. If you do this, you can actually appreciate food much more, especially if you made it yourself.
Another technique is… I pretend I’m a chef who’s figuring out what spices are in my food. Even if I know all of them in advance.
It’s silly but it’s fun, and I like to pretend.
Similar to the pockets of peace earlier, when you’re cleaning the house, instead of treating it as something you hate or want to run away from, try this:
Your house, your body, whatever you choose to clean, is important because you spend a lot of time with it.
When you clean it, you’re helping it get back to its best.
You’re making your environment better. Whether it’s one dish, a fluffy afro or folding away one shirt.
The morning can be extremely hectic because
1) Who wants to be awake in the morning
2) It’s time to prepare for work
But, stay with me now, you can do some stretching for 30 seconds, and do them without any distractions.
Not only do you get to treat your body well but you get to practice mindfulness at the same time.
If you’ve been ill for any period of time, you know that it’s more difficult to do things you need to do or even enjoy. Usually, when you get better, your energy and motivation levels improve also.
Chronic illness makes that equation slightly more complex.
Even when the pain leaves, the motivation levels may stay as low as they were when you were ill. If you’ve noticed this phenomenon, you may wonder why, beyond the clearest answer – “depression”.
How chronic illness ruins motivation
Robert Malenka of Stanford University and his colleagues studied chronic pain in mice. They showed that persistent pain resulted in mice being less and less likely to work for food in comparison to their pain-free friends.
Long-term pain (in this case, a week for the mice), resulted in nerve-cell changes in the nucleus accumbens which is important for processing reward and reinforcement.
When the pain was relieved, the mice were still less willing to work for food even if they were hungry.
The researchers asked if they did not work for food because…
their pain was too severe?
they no longer valued food as much?
they lacked motivation?
More tests showed that they could walk fine and still valued food. Their pain was relieved. They lacked motivation.
Although Dr. Malenka’s study was valuable, it may not be best to directly translate these findings to humans. What we can take from this is that long-term pain seems to reduce motivation even after the pain has left.
There seems to be a slight edge taken off life when you’re in pain because you grow to expect the pain to continue. More tasks appear futile because they were difficult or unable to be completed in the past.
Moreover, we must also be aware of the complex intertwining with depression, fatigue and emotional tiredness that comes with living with an illness for a long period of time. Quite literally, it can change you physically and mentally.
What can we do about it?
Now we know that chronic pain can influence motivation even when the pain isn’t there, we can start with the first tip:
There are days when pain isn’t as bad but we still don’t want to do anything. Now we know why.
To stop yourself from falling victim to the useless command of “just snap out of it!”, understand that it’s more important to be on your own team and to forgive yourself if things don’t always go to plan.
2. Start small…
…and stay small.
I’ve long been an advocate of making small, healthier changes that you can do every day. They are more sustainable, more enjoyable, easier to do and easier to fit into the day. Not everything needs to be a 100% effort – and they’re useless if you can rarely put in that effort.
5 minute daily walks
5 minute meditation
20 minutes of reading
The daily actions vary from person to person. Some people can manage 30 minutes of walking a day, other people find it difficult to walk to the kitchen sometimes. No need to feel ashamed or arrogant about whatever stage we’re at.
What does “stay small” mean?
It means, on pain-free days or simply days that you feel good, you may not want to take advantage of that and do everything you’ve hoped for. It feeds into the boom and bust cycle of pain management.
Day 1: 5/10 | Day 2: 6/10 | Day 3: 4/10 | Day 4: 1/10 NOW WE RUN A MARATHON WHILE COOKING FOR 100 PEOPLE
Day 5: 9/10 – We do nothing.
We want to have a reasonable amount of consistency in our days so that we can consistently feel rewarded for our efforts regardless of our pain levels. That is easier said than done but still possible to a degree.
If we feed into the boom and bust cycle, even those days where your body doesn’t feel like it’s on fire can result in us doing very little.
3. Take time to slow down
Some days, all the medication or tips in the world can’t really help us. But we can try our best to take some time to ourselves and slow down just a bit.
Whether that is through:
Taking a few deep breaths
Stroking our hands lightly
Eating and drinking mindfully
Hugging a teddy bear (or person… subject to availability, of course)
We can experiment with healthy ways to stop ourselves from getting lost in the self-hatred or anxiety that comes from a lack of motivation and depression.
Chronic pain often makes us ask ourselves – why bother? We can very easily build resentment towards our condition and ourselves. Who doesn’t want to have more control over their lives?
I won’t tell you that you should feel a certain way after reading this. I certainly won’t say that you should feel motivated. However, do take away that small, sustainable changes can be a healthy way to manage pain and our motivation levels.
To end, I quote Toni Bernhard…
May you make the best use of what is in your power and take the rest as it happens.
It’s that little voice in your head which tells you “I want this and that and everything in between!” or “I don’t want this because it’s horrible!”
It isn’t a kind voice but one of consistent temptation. It’s a quiet and smooth voice which can infiltrate your thoughts without a problem. And when we’re bombarded with advertising and deals designed to make you panic, the voice comes out in full force, puts on its lawyer suit and starts justifying everything it possibly can.
Unfortunately, the Want Monster is also dumb because wanting is all it can do. It doesn’t disappear once we have what we apparently desire. Rather, it presses the snooze button and waits for another opportunity to wake up again.
It’s an unquenchable thirst.
Tanha – the Buddhist idea of the self-focused desire to want more and more. We justify it by thinking that we will have a peace of mind after it appears.
But nah. That doesn’t happen.
I Want What You Have
I was eating lunch with my sister when I was about 7. We were having chicken wings with rice and stew. I finished mine, she hadn’t finished hers. And I sat down and ate the rest of my food in peace.
Ok, of course not. I stared at her plate of food until my gran gave me her wings and replaced my sister’s food with a boney piece of meat.
She held a grudge for years. Hell, I’d be mad too because those wings were magnificent.
This somewhat comical example of just wanting what other people have. Kids do it all the time. Adults do it too but with things more ambitious than chicken wings and toys.
Here is the science.
Lebreton et al in Your Goal Is Mine: Unraveling Mimetic Desires in the Human Brain, explores this in a lot of detail but I want to get to the important part for our purposes.
First, it’s really easy to start mimicking the desires of other people. The authors simply showed the participants pictures of sweets that looked slightly different and had an unseen person pick one. Uniformly, the participants preferred the sweet picked by the unseen person.
Second and most importantly, we don’t want something because someone else has it, we value something because someone else values it. This means that we believe the reward given by the item is greater because other people have it and we value highly valued things (sorry for the mouthful).
What does this mean for us?
The Want Monster will always have something to feast on and desire!
How can we want less?
I’ll say that there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting things. Rather, it’s a source of suffering because our desires are ever changing and we can never seem to satisfy them.
Even if we get what we want.
So clearly, giving into our desires every time they pop up, isn’t a healthy way to address them.
What are your values?
When we notice the Want Monster knocking on our door, we may want to ask if what it is offering matches the values we want to live by and the long-term goals we have for ourselves.
We don’t always need to tell the Want Monster to click its heels three times and disappear. Addressing it with some calm can resolve the conflict the quickest.
If you haven’t thought through your values and long-term desires, you may want to take a few minutes from your day to think about it. Here is the example I wrote at 21.
The “If/Only” test
Another helpful pointer from Toni Bernhard (bloody love every word she puts on paper).
It helps us find out – do we think we’ll be completely satisfied if we got this one thing?
If only I had my sisters chicken wings, I’d be satisfied.
If only I wasn’t ill, I’d be completely happy.
If only I had new shoes, I’d feel better with my shoe collection.
If only I had this new job, I’d feel useful again.
Looking over these things, it seems odd to think that one new thing can put an end to the desires that we have. That isn’t to say they can’t help but I suggest we try moving away from believing that satisfying the Want Monster is the way to get it to leave.
After I had my sister’s chicken wings, I went back to the kitchen to look for more. There weren’t anymore.
Our happiness quickly gives way to new wants and don’t wants.
Focus on the desire rather than the object of the desire
The above test helps gently shift our attention towards mindfully thinking about the fact that we’re desiring something rather than what we are desiring.
It is helpful to realise that satisfying particular desires doesn’t lead to sustained happiness because more appear in its place.
When we notice this desire, we can simply let it be. With time, it’ll pass. That’s why it’s said, “if you want something, wait a week and see if you forget about it”. (OK, it’s probably more elegant than that but I’m an amateur.)
Desires aren’t all bad.
To end, I want to clarify something that could be easily mistaken. Don’t take this as me saying all desires are bad.
I’ve used the term Want Monster because unchecked desires can often lead us down a dangerous path.
We begin to follow our desires blindly rather than let our desires be guided by our values. If we want junk food but we also have a greater aim to feed your body good foods, it is the Want Monster guiding us to make decisions, for example.
Generally, the Want Monster is much more focused on the short term rather than the long term.
Mindfully addressing our desires and remembering the unquenchable thirst will allow us to live closer to our personal values and get things that mean the most to us.
If I could go back in time, I would give my sister’s chicken wings back and enjoy my rice and stew in peace.
As always, thank you for reading!
No question for today. All I ask is that you share your thoughts on this topic!
Engaging life challenges us to be fully present and actively involved in our moment-to-moment experience, without clinging to joy and without resisting sorrow.
~ Toni Bernhard
The act of greeting whatever confronts us with an even temper and steady reaction.
Cultivating this state is how we stay calm regardless of whatever confronts us rather than adding on top of our suffering with the emotions that come from clinging to joy and resisting sorrow.
When we face particularly difficult emotions or situations, without any training, it can be very easy to pile suffering on top of our experiences without realising it.
Toni Bernhard says:
Grasping at what is pleasant sets us up for impermanence dukkha because change is inevitable.
Resisting what is unpleasant serves only to add stress to what is already a difficult situation.
When I was first told by my doctor that there wasn’t much to do about my pain, I came home and was so angry I kicked a hole in my door.
During a summer, I had a few days when I didn’t experience any pain and it was so strange but I became extremely happy thinking that my pain had solved itself.
In both of these situations, I didn’t treat them with an evenness of temper. Rather, I allowed myself to become overly consumed with them which led to suffering later down the road.
Calm in the pleasant
Please don’t mistake what I’m saying to mean “evenness of temper means to kill hope”. It does not. As Martin Luther King Jr says:
We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
Rather, it means that we allow ourselves to fully experience the good times but not to expect it to last forever. When we remember that pleasant moments don’t last forever and they’re simply one of the ten thousand joys we’ll experience, it gives us the opportunity to savour the present more!
If anything, it’s simply a reminder of the truth. However, it’s not a depressing one when we come to understand that when one joy ends, it means another will come again! If I worry that the happiness is leaving, then I’m only adding to the extra sadness that I’m going to experience. It’s a funny little paradox.
“I’ll enjoy this experience while it lasts, knowing that, like all phenomena, it will pass and another experience will take its place”
Calm in the unpleasant
Now, this is more difficult.
Tough emotions tend to bring out sadness, fear or anger. All of these emotions have the uncanny ability to pull us into the darkness they create and keep us there. While we remember that these emotions will change and leave, it still seems hard to keep ourselves out of its gravitational pull.
However, in order to explore your emotions, you will first need to have some kind of calm and the ability to look inwards.
The main thing to realize is that the emotion won’t going to last forever. It never does.
How to stay Calm during pleasant and unpleasant experiences
Sit down with some alertness. If it’s more comfortable, lie down.
Asking yourself “what emotions am I experiencing right now?”
Then describe it neutrally. If you’re angry, try saying “Anger is present”. If you’re sad, try saying “sadness is being experienced”. If you’re happy, try “Happiness is in the air”.
Whatever it is, your aim while meditating isn’t to solve anything.
While we meditate, we want to acknowledge how we’re feeling and simply experience it. If you find your mind running away again (because that’s what minds do), calmly bring yourself back to the moment and see what happens.
If we go in with no expectations, then it’s going to make the entire process smoother. If we go in with expectations that we’re going to screw up or that we’re going to come out an enlightened person, we’ll only be disappointed.
This releases us from the burden of trying to keep sadness from ever infiltrating our lives and from straining our best to keep happiness from leaving. They both leave. They’ll both return at some point.
2. Utilise Positive Self-talk
Meditation is like practising before kick-off. What about when we become angry or sad, what do we do then?
Describe emotions neutrally.
Like mentioned above: Take yourself out of the equation and just describe the emotion. This removes the force that personal attachment has when thinking about how we feel.
“I am sad” -> “sadness is happening”
“I am in pain” -> “pain is present”
“I’m really happy” -> “happiness is in the air”
2. Acknowledge ups and downs come and go.
A common theme recently – emotions come and go. To remind us of this, we can say the following:
“May we accept with grace both our successes and disappointments”
“This is only one of the ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows”
“We can experience things without needing to fix them”
“Let’s not get lost in this moment but engage with it meaningfully”
Talking in terms of “we” rather than “I” helps reinforce the idea that I can talk to myself as though I am my friend. It’s worthwhile.
Equanimity is a small practice on the face of it but also remarkably difficult. It’s not something I have down completely but I can thank myself for the small times when I do manage to get it done because it helps me enjoy happier moments and not add suffering to the times I’m in a lot of pain or remarkably tired.
Some days it’ll go well, some days it’ll suck. Other days we’ll forget about it completely. We don’t hate ourselves for these fluctuations in progress. We treat these realizations with calm then move on. With time and practice, it becomes easier.
We’ll appreciate more that we’re simply a working draft with flaws, mistakes, sorrows, and joys.
2. Start with those we do not have a complicated relationship with
Oddly enough, it’s those closest to us which may cause us the most sadness. The self-comparison is often that bit more intense.
But when we start with people our relationship isn’t too complicated with, we reduce the chances of feeling envious or frustrated because we see less of their lives (and have less to compare ourselves too).
So this can be a distant friend or an acquaintance. We take ourselves out of the equation and simply experience the happiness that comes from someone else’s joy.
When we start practising appreciative joy towards people who are closer to us, that feeling becomes more intense and valuable. We’re likely to understand just how much someone wanted that job or how hard they worked to achieve the results they did.
The extra context, instead of inspiring envy, intensifies the joy.
3. Keep your ego in check
Ego is the Enemysays Ryan Holiday and in many respects, I agree. Especially when it comes to being happy for other people.
When the feelings of jealousy and frustration arise due to someone else’s happiness, much of it can be attributed to our ego being starved for attention and jealousy is its way of taking it back.
It doesn’t care whether it brings sadness or happiness, all it wants is attention.
It’s incredibly difficult to be genuinely happy for another person and at the same time be completely self-absorbed.
So when you notice those feelings arise you can ask yourself: am I simply craving attention? The answer is likely “yes”. If it is, you can gently return you attention to the other person’s happiness.
4. Enjoy being happy
It may be tempting to think something along the lines of “I don’t deserve to be happy because someone else is happy!”
That’s just the comparison monster creeping in again. And it’s speaking complete tosh.
When do you deserve to be happy, then? When you’ve crushed everyone around you with your unwavering financial success? When everyone in the world is happy for you and you’re too cool to smile and say thanks?
Forget about whether you deserve to be happy by rejoicing in someone else’s joy.
What you’re doing is a lovely act of compassion. You’re allowing yourself to calm the feelings of envy and you’re directing even more happiness and pride in someone else’s path.
How wonderful is that?
And that is appreciative joy. A remarkably simple practice but one which brings plenty of happiness to everyone who experiences it.
We’ll experience different emotions all the time. And that’s perfectly fine.
2. Greet your sadness as a friend
I first came across this idea from Toni Bernhard who recommends that we see our emotions as friends that have come to stay – usually uninvited.
Even though we may be annoyed by this in real life, we can still treat them with kindness and in turn we treat ourselves with kindness.
The idea behind this is simple: if we treat our emotions as friends, we treat ourselves with compassion. Sadness feeds off sadness. With compassion, sadness gets bored and leaves. Maybe next time he won’t stay as long!
3. Don’t order yourself around
“I shouldn’t feel sad!”
“I shouldn’t feel angry, it was a meaningless interaction!”
“I shouldn’t feel this or that – I should only feel that!”
Now imagine saying this to a child about happiness … or anything else.
Why should we feel any kind of way? We can literally just experience emotions without trying to invalidate them.
Plus if we order ourselves to stop feeling a particular way, it’s just a first class ticket to feeling sad again!
Try removing the word “should” from your sentences when talking about how you feel. Accept them and with time, it’ll leave.
(That’s why stuff like “just be happy!” is pretty meaningless or worse yet, detrimental to actually feeling happy. Who wants to be under pressure to smile!)
4. Let yourself be vulnerable
Often, a reason why we struggle to accept different emotions is because we’re trying to present ourself in a particular light. Whether that’s to our friends or family. Or towards ourselves.
But with some privacy, we can experience whatever we want.
Dismiss the “I must be strong” mindset because sadness, crying, frustration aren’t signs of weakness!
If you fall, we’ll catch you :)
And with this, we can find some peace in sadness. We don’t exhaust ourselves running away because that just means it’ll keep chasing us. Rather, we accept it’s a normal experience and most importantly:
Sadness, like all moods and emotions, are impermanent.
As always, thank you for reading!
My question for you is:
How do you handle sadness? Do you think it’s healthy?
“If you notice any uncomfortable feelings while you’re trying to meditate, just invite them in”
Now why on earth would I want to do that?! That’s stupid.
“Inviting discomfort is one way to learn how to stop fighting against them and accept them”
Well I don’t want to accept this – that makes me feel like I’m giving up. Plus, it’s just shitty.
That was my thought process while listening to a guided meditation during a group session. Thankfully all of these thoughts stayed in my head – otherwise I would have disturbed a lot of people… and insulted the teacher.
The little dialogue above demonstrated the personal resistance I had towards living in the present when the present becomes difficult. It’s normal to mentally check out of difficulty when we come across it because it’s normal to want to do the easier thing.
However, it isn’t always better for us. It can quickly lead to more stressful thinking patterns that make us feel worse. If I feel sad, it might be easier to start thinking about why I feel sad and what could have caused it and dig our way down that rabbit hole. Or I may try to distract myself and never address the thinking that consistently causes me to feel bad about something.
You may become angry because you feel that you should be able to control something but with a bit more thinking, you’d find that most of it was out of your control.
And it goes on. How do we manage this?
How to stay mindful when the present isn’t pleasant
Acknowledge it’ll feel uncomfortable
You can say this aloud if you want. Negative emotional or physical feelings suck but we often begin our resistance here by refusing to admit that sometimes you’ll just feel uncomfortable.
It’s not always fair nor does it always have a grand lesson at the end. Acknowledging the discomfort is the first step to prevent our mind from running away from the uncomfortable.
This does not mean you’re giving in. It’s like observing a fact that’s simply happening.
“I’m in pain, yes but this does not mean I want to be in pain”
2. Remove yourself from the story and remove judgement – make everything neutral
Toni Bernhard in, How to Live with Chronic Illness, teaches a skill that I’ve found simple but useful.
Stop judging the moment and just describe it.
If you’re in pain try saying “pain is happening” rather than “I am in so much pain”.
If you’re sad, try “Sadness is present” rather than “I am in the darkness again”.
If you’ve experienced disappointment, try “Disappointment is present” rather than “I was really let down by my friend”.
I’ve found this takes away some of the bite from the negative emotions that arise and reduce the suffering that we can easily add-on top of ourselves. It gives us the opportunity to watch the emotion rather than feed it with more negativity.
This isn’t lying to yourself.
3. Ask yourself these four questions (and another one at the end):
To help halt stressful thoughts, it may be worthwhile to asking yourself these questions offered by Byron Katie:
Is the thought true?
Am I absolutely sure it is true?
How do I feel when I think the thought?
Who would I be without the thought?
Then turn it around – what if something else is the case?
This helps us respond skillfully to stressful thoughts that make the pleasant moment uncomfortable. Let’s go through this together with an example:
My thought here is that I am incapable of creating good work so I should never try.
Is the thought true?
Yes, I’m writing this right now and it’s terrible – so many mistakes!
2. Am I absolutely sure it is true?
Perhaps not – I have a bad habit of being a harsh critic who refuses to see the good.
3. How do I feel when I think the thought?
I feel disappointed and angry. I’m trying my best to create high quality work but my efforts don’t pay off. I become angry because I seem to be wasting my time.
4. Who would I be without the thought?
A person who creates without expectation. A person who tries their best because they believe that is the most useful way to stick to their own values.
5. The turnaround – how can the story be changed?
Here, we change the story slightly just to see what other possibilities are out there. Then think of reasons why it might be true.
Now, what if I’m a person who creates helpful work and has the ability to get better if he keeps trying?
My blog posts have improved from a few years ago and I’m more comfortable in my own voice.
If I never try, I’ll never have the opportunity to improve.
My academic writing is better than it was when I started.
Will you always believe this turnaround? No. Sometimes you’ll need someone else to tell you these things. But it’s a start – and a reminder that the negative thought you have now isn’t the only possibility in the world.
4. Remember, it takes practice.
I’ve written these pointers in the hopes that you’ll be able to live in the present even when it’s difficult. With time will come acceptance and a clearer mindset to make useful change happen.
Yet, it doesn’t all come instantly. I try to remind myself of points like this regularly because negative thinking, when times get tough, is a difficult habit to break out of.
We all have positive and negative thinking habits. This does not mean our ways of thinking are permanently broken.
Given the way it’s marketed, mindfulness practice can be seen as a cure.
Meditation, colouring books and the like are no silver bullet. It can be wonderful the first time we make a deliberate effort to calm down but there’s often little use in that if we do it once and move on the exact same why we were before hand.
There are many reasons to be stressed and rarely does it all come down to a lack of mindfulness. Job insecurity, long hours at work, lack of autonomy are all reasons. It’s difficult to say all you need to do is breathe for these problems to have little impact on your well being.
So this is why being mindful and grounding ourselves in the present moment need to be practiced regularly if the stresses of life are also regular. It won’t cure everything but it might make things a bit easier.
It is easy, when faced with a mundane problem, to spend the majority of your time thinking about what to do and all of the possible outcomes in the future.
Of course, there might be tens or hundreds of possible outcomes (if you think for long enough, I suppose) which all seem equally likely and catastrophic. Yes, we need to think about future consequences before acting. Doing otherwise would be foolish.
However, if that’s all we do then our minds become a theatre for worry rather than measured consideration of the future.
When we live in the present with purpose, it’s easier to understand the challenges that we’re impacted by right now. From there, it’s easier to take intentional steps forward to making a solid decision.
We reduce the stress of feeling as though we have control over nothing by realising we can control the something in the present. No matter how small it is.
2. We stop thinking about whether “it’s fair”.
“We aren’t content to deal with things as they happen. We have to dive endlessly into what everything “means”, whether something is “fair” or not, what’s “behind” this or that, and what everyone else is doing.
Then we wonder why we don’t have the energy to actually deal with our problems. Or we get ourselves so worked up and intimidated because of the overthinking, that if we’d just gotten to work we’d probably be done already”.
Maybe I’m hypocritical for talking about this because I have a bad habit of thinking about the fairness of my pain. It took me a year to agree with Nietzsche when he says people hate meaningless suffering more than suffering alone.
However, most problems aren’t existential. Even so, I’ve noticed that in the moments I’ve stopped thinking about whether it’s fair for me to be in pain, I’ve found a bit more peace. Maybe it just doesn’t matter but a problem to be dealt with.
Fairness does matter. However, when that’s all we think about while doing nothing but worrying about it, perhaps we’re causing more suffering than we need to.
So we bring ourselves to the present moment. How can we get past this obstacle and use it to become better?
3. We become better friends with ourselves
Practicing mindfulness and meditation regularly for the past four years or so has taught me a few things. The most important one is that thoughts pass and emotional states leave.
Emotions and thoughts are best thought of as “phases” rather than permanent states of being. Even in the large overall states of being like depression, personally, I’ve noticed that emotions aren’t constant. Even if I’m a bit less sad than a few hours ago – that’s a change. To me, it demonstrates that change is possible.
This is enough to keep slivers of hope around.
Because of this, we can remember that the hatred we have for ourselves based on the past or the future can leave when we return to the present. If the hatred continues in the present, we can try shifting our focus to starve our ego of attention or ride the wave and watch the emotion leave.
4. It teaches acceptance
The present moment is not always pleasant. The present can suck just as much as thinking about the past can – not every moment grounds you in peace or happiness.
What if you’re in pain? What if all you can hear are sirens in the background while you’re stuck in traffic? There are many ways we can simply dislike where we are no matter how present we try to be.
To me, this is where a big mistake comes from in the marketing of mindfulness – the idea that mindfulness solves all stress.
I wish we focused more on acceptance. Plenty of the discomfort that comes from uncomfortable experiences is the mental resistance against it. Nancy Colier writes:
[…] as long as we are “checking out” on the moments that we don’t like, we are an extra step away from being able to change them.
We may not be able to change the sirens disturbing us on the drive home but we can begin to accept that it’s difficult to be there. Acceptance does not mean losing the will to change.
Living in the present helps us accept what is may not always be what we want. That can be painful and disappointing. But it’s a worthwhile realisation that will be forgotten and remembered again and again as we continue the practice.
Living in the present moment can be difficult. Sometimes it’s just better to escape into fantasy or light conversation.
But it’s also remarkably helpful. It can reduce stress and anxiety, help us act on problems rather than think about them endlessly.
Most importantly, it can help us practice acceptance. And with that comes more peace, more compassion and more engagement with our everyday lives.
We all talk to ourselves in some form. It’s less weird than you think.
But I’m not interested in the times that we just recite a shopping list or wonder whether we’ve locked the back door properly.
What about the times you hate yourself?
The times you call yourself stupid, worthless, meaningless. The times when, if you said them to anyone on the street, you’d probably be punched in the face and the aggressor would be cheered on.
When you repeat these things to your friends, you’re probably told that you’re not stupid, worthless or whatever other mean word of choice you pick that day.
The problem is… they are just so believable in the moment.
Whatever caused these thoughts are probably still present. Negative thinking is just continuously being triggered and reinforced.
I didn’t go to the gym so I’m fat and worthless -> I’m still not going to the gym -> I’m even more fat and worthless.
Now, these thoughts are often completely untrue if you give yourself the chance to challenge them in a meaningful way.
Does missing a workout suck? Of course! Does it completely shatter your self-worth? No – the same way one workout probably doesn’t justify your whole existence.
You may be told to challenge these thoughts. It’s a valuable way to tackle negativity and if it works, keep at it. However, I’ve found something else to be useful.
Stay on your own team
Or “talk to yourself as you would a friend”.
If you had a team of people to help you out in life, think of how you’d assemble it.
Would you have a person who you can turn to for advice?
A person who makes you laugh?
A person who makes stellar banana and chocolate chip cake?
Even a person with a voice that’s like audible silk?
Now, what about yourself – where would you stand?
Of course, you’re the person moving forward because you’re not being carried all the time. However, even if you stand still or move backwards, remember that you’re on your own team.
It’s the best thing you can do for yourself. A good teammate wouldn’t tell you that you’re a piece of shit if you missed a basket (and mean it) or conceded a penalty. They’ll help you get back on your feet and move on again. I’m not sure why I mixed up two sports.
They’ll be encouraging rather than demoralising and realistic rather than endlessly pessimistic (there’s a difference).
This is where talking to yourself helps. You can imagine yourself as a separate member of the team you’ve assembled and help yourself with a reminder that the hateful things you’re saying about yourself aren’t true.
Even if you really believe it, you can use that as a way to improve your life regardless. As Ryan Holiday says – The Obstacle is the Way.
When you begin, it won’t be believable. With practise however, you’ll slowly begin to correct your outlook on your own self-worth and reduce the negative self-talk that doesn’t inspire helpful self-improvement.
How stay on your own team
A thought that flies in my head when I think of advice like this is that I don’t deserve to speak to myself so kindly. Because the things I say are true.
Well, that’s not true. They just often feel true. And feelings aren’t facts.
Do you need to deserve a helping hand to have one? Maybe not. If you can offer yourself that helping hand, it may be the most useful thing you do for your own mental health.
I’m not asking you to lie about yourself – that’s simply not believable. I’m not the greatest writer in the world so I won’t tell myself that. However what I can do is tell myself but I can improve. For example:
I’m a terrible swimmer … but I can get better with consistent practice.
I’m not a kind person… but I can do one kind thing a day to learn how to treat others better.
I’m not good at studying… but I can ask for help.
I’m worthless… but I can find or create my self-worth with time and patience.
I try to use the “But I can improve” correction because I find telling myself “no I’m a perfect swimmer!” empty. It doesn’t mean anything to me.
Reminding yourself that you’re a draft in progress is a smaller and more realistic step to take. And it’s possible to prove it to yourself!
Swimming: after not being able to swim a length without getting tired, I practised consistently and now can swim 1.5km without hating myself.
Kindness: years ago, I challenged myself to point out good things about people and now it’s a habit.
Studying: I took the time to ask for help and learn about better studying techniques, now I’ve done well academically throughout university.
Give yourself a chance
Really, this is all about giving yourself a chance. You’re a draft in progress and we all are. Sometimes your brain malfunctions and tells you falsehoods that you want to believe. Like any part of your body, it can just be faulty.
So remember, you’re on your own team. Try not to join the opposition – they aren’t as good-looking as you and don’t have nice cakes.
As always, thank you for reading!
My question for you is:
What stops you from treating yourself with compassion?
You’re not bored, you’re not happy – you’re mindless.
One thing that I’ve said about being addicted to your phone is that it’s just a really bad habit but unfortunately, a really effective one.
A basic model of how habits are formed are the three Rs – Reminder, Routine, Reward. (I didn’t come up with this myself – Charles Duhigg is my best source). The easier these are to come about, the habit is much more likely to stick.
For our phones it’s this:
Reminder(s): notifications, the phone always being in arms reach, needing it for certain tasks (like alarms)
Routine(s): scrolling through social media, texting a friend, watching a video
Reward: The small pleasure centre in our brains reacting to some kind of approval.
The problem is that these rewards you gain from social media and watching videos may not be deeply satisfying. Instead, it’s just enough to stop you from getting extremely bored but not enough to entertain you significantly.
You’re hovering just above boredom but nowhere near happiness.
I fall victim to this all the time. I spend time doing things that don’t really interest me. They entertain me in the short-term but leave me feeling like rubbish quickly afterwards.
Given that I’m in pain a lot of the time and that impacts my concentration, I want to fill the time that I have with more enjoyment than superficial rubbish.
What do you really enjoy?
All of this seems mighty obvious. To be happy, do things that make you happy.
However, it serves us well to actually think about what makes us happy then think about whether we actually follow through with that.
For example, we might want to think more often:
What are the things that make me happy in the short-term but guilty in the long-term?
What leaves me feeling really satisfied with myself?
Do I spend more time on things that are simply easy or do I challenge myself?
Am I doing the same thing over and over again?
How often do I end the day feeling satisfied?
How often do I start the day feeling encouraged by the plan I have set out?
These questions have helped me better understand what I actually enjoy rather than those activities that are simply easy to do. Rather than going to the path of least resistance, you spend more time carving out a life that you really want to live.
As a result, you may find that after answering these questions that finding happiness in your day requires a bit more self-discipline than you may have expected!
Being satisfied and happy isn’t simply a case of doing “whatever you want” because that can be quite difficult to judge. Rather, we need to think more deeply about the things that we enjoy, then experiment with ways to fill our time with more of it.
The benefit of this approach I’ve found is that it stops everything turning into an obligation. Rather, you want to do certain things because you’re confident that they’ll do good things for your mental health. For example, why would you miss a workout if you know you’ll feel good after and during it?
You wouldn’t. Exercising is something that has a much greater potential to make you happy than sitting down and eating Pringles like they’re going out of fashion. (I promise this does not come from personal experience…)
Seneca writes that one of our biggest problems is that we “live as though we’ll live forever”, waste it on meaningless things then complain that life is too short.
Ok, but what if I don’t have the energy?
What do you do when you want to do something you’ll enjoy but simply can’t because of something like chronic pain?
It’s easy to do the easiest thing (like watch videos mindlessly for hours) because you lack energy. So for me, all of these mindless activities tend to come in the evening after a day of being active in some way.
Here are two things I’ve found help:
High energy and Low energy activities
Split the things you enjoy into high energy and low energy activities. For me, it goes like this:
High energy: Writing, reading non-fiction, exercising
Worrying about how you spend your time is likely to tire you out even more and make you feel extremely guilty. Sometimes, you just don’t have a lot of energy and you just want to watch videos for a while.
Set a good intention for yourself and enjoy the time you have.
It’s important but think about it, don’t worry about it.
When I was reminded of this concept, I began to feel guilty about how I spend my time (I’ve been like this for years). It’s because I turned the things I want to do into things I have to do.
If you don’t reach an obligation you feel bad.
If you make everything an obligation, you’re likely to feel bad because you can’t do everything.
Not everything is an obligation. Remind yourself of that when you find yourself saying “I should do this and should do that”.
So set out to fill more of your time with the things you enjoy doing. Be mindful of this intention because it is a helpful reminder that our time is often limited by things out of our control.
It sounds ominous but it’s true. Seneca writes that one of our biggest problems is that we “live as though we’ll live forever”, waste it on meaningless things then complain that life is too short.
Perhaps life isn’t too short. Regardless, let’s take the time to do things we enjoy.
If anything, we deserve it.
As always, thank you for reading!
My question for you is:
What do you enjoy and what do you want to do more of?