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.