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.
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 there’s anything close to a bible in the self-improvement sphere, I’m sure there will be two verses which seem completely contradictory.
1. Accept yourself.
2. Never stop trying to improve.
Acceptance doesn’t seem to mesh well with the desire to improve.
Acceptance gives us the impression that we can be happy with how we are now.
Improvement implies there is something wrong with us and it needs to be bettered. If we accept ourselves and our flaws, then we reduce the motivation to become a better person at the same time.
A large reason why “acceptance” of personal flaws and so on may be taught is because it reduces the amount of needless self-criticism we throw at ourselves. Many efforts to improve ourselves come from a dissatisfaction with how we view ourselves. I’ve tried to show that it’s helpful to practice self-compassion and forgiveness.
But, if we accept ourselves, how do we stop ourselves from becoming complacent?
Are acceptance and complacency the same?
I view it as scale. If you have Dissatisfaction on one end and Complacency on the other, Acceptance is around the middle:
Scott Miker makes the subtle difference clear (he uses content instead of acceptance):
Being content means being happy. Being complacent means refusing to work to improve.
There’s more to this than meets the eye – I believe you can accept your situation without being happy but that’s for another blog post.
However, it is helpful enough for now. With the definition above, complacency implies reaching a comfort zone and taking it for granted. We may even see something that we dislike about ourselves or the external situation, but because we are just comfortable enough, we refuse to do anything about it.
We can liken it to choosing to stay in bed all the time, while disliking the idea that we aren’t being productive.
Acceptance on the other hand is an active emotion. It involves gratitude and honesty. And, quite frankly, it can be incredibly difficult to accept things. It’s normal to resist things that don’t go 100% our way even if all it causes is more mental anguish.
Acceptance is tough because it forces me to see the limits of my days and the limits of my abilities (at the moment).
We don’t always realise it but failure to accept things is often a problem with the ego. “I don’t want to accept that I am finding this more difficult than expected.” Really, there isn’t anything wrong with that and it might help us to address these problems if we accept they exist first.
Returning to the main topic:
Improvement is just what you do.
To understand what it is like to mesh acceptance with self-improvement, imagine yourself as a plant.
Plants just grow. They look at the sun, ask “hey can I have some food”, then stretch as much as they can to get it. The sun says “yeah sure, just give my human friends some oxygen” and bam, the plant grows.
If the sun is taking a day off, the plant chills for a bit. It’s just fine being a plant.
I may be off with a few details. I haven’t taken biology since 2011.
The point is, you can accept yourself at each stage of your development while continuing to grow and better yourself. It’s just what you do.
Self-improvement (and I’d hope, improving the world comes along with it), does not need to stem from negativity or hatred centred around a particular aspect of your life. It often starts that way, but it doesn’t need to continue that way.
Like a plant, you can just enjoy being a plant.
Like a plant, you can also just keep on growing.
I’m going to leaf the plant analogy alone now…
How can I accept myself without becoming complacent?
Now we can appreciate what it means to practice self-acceptance without becoming complacent and never choosing to improve.
What does this look like in practice?
1. Leave the ego at the door
Your ego will tell you, in all sorts of ways, that you’re perfect and shouldn’t find things difficult.
It doesn’t necessarily manifest itself in some kind of narcissism. You can prevent yourself from improving because you refuse to see yourself make mistakes. It’s safer to never try if you never want to make a mistake.
The end goal doesn’t always define you. Sometimes, they’re out of your control. What you can control to the best of your ability is the process you use to reach your goals.
If I’m trying to lose weight, I can set a goal but place all of my attention on ensuring I have a good diet and workout regime.
If I’m trying to become a better writer, I can set a goal of some kind but I can make sure I sit down and write every single day. When I write every day, I can make sure I keep on challenging myself.
3. Take time to be grateful
Intertwined with acceptance comes gratitude.
You can find something, however small, to be thankful for. So despite our challenges and moments of difficulty, we can still find people, events or things we value deeply.
It helps us stop becoming overly disappointed with every tough time we experience and blame everything either on ourselves or something external to us. When we do this, we yearn for our comfort zone because it’s the easiest place to be. It shields us from potential failure and criticism.
Yet, when we take the time to be thankful for something, we open ourselves up for the opportunity to acknowledge something we want to improve and accept ourselves for who we are.
A person who keeps growing.
Acceptance to me is seeing the limits you have at the moment and using them to your advantage.
Complacency is giving up in face of them.
As always, thank you for reading!
My question for you is:
What progress have you made towards accepting your flaws?
At some point, we will all experience one of the ten thousand joys, and ten thousand sorrows.
Hearing of the “ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows” was important to me. It brought me back to one of the biggest aims I have for myself.
To be whole.
To be with emotional experiences rather than avoid them. To appreciate that sometimes, I’ll be sad, other times I’ll be happy. Neither of them will last forever and that’s OK.
We all experience a large variety of emotions. Whether that’s sadness or happiness. Anger or grief. Disappointment or excitement. A lot of the time, we try to resist the negative ones and prolong the positive ones. Underneath these experiences, we might have a small story building in our heads about how “this must end because it’s not fair” or “I wish this will last forever”.
These stories demonstrate a resistance to our emotions rather than an acceptance of them. I’ll demonstrate:
If I’m happy because I’m out with friends, I may begin to think to the future about how this night will have to end or why I don’t do it more often. The effects of this might not be obvious in the moment, but it can easily hit us at the end. We wanted it to last longer.
If I’m sad because I’m in pain, I might begin to grow angry at life. Why must I hurt so much? Why must this happen to me? I want it to hurry up and end. Unfortunately, this eagerness to avoid the emotions I’m currently experiencing prolongs it. I’m adding emotional suffering on top of physical suffering.
I’ve been forced to be a bit more introspective and live with my thoughts a bit more because pain can leave me bed ridden for hours on end. The world is presenting me a great opportunity to be sad. One that is near impossible to refuse. The door is open and I’m already halfway in.
This is the usual part of the story where one might say that you fight against it and become happy again. The constant desire to be happy makes us more likely to resist more negative emotions rather than accept that they are only one of the ten thousand sorrows. Thankfully, we will also have ten thousand joys.
The constant desire to be happy can result in significant disappointment when it doesn’t happen. Sadness becomes an enemy rather than just an emotions that comes and goes with time. Often, I found that I would miss moments of happiness in fear of it being taken away.
When people go on to say that their life goal is to be happy, I’ve realised that it isn’t something I want to aim for.
I want to be emotionally whole.
It means to accept and acknowledge the wide range of emotions that we have. We’re allowed to be sad, angry, happy, loving, all sorts of things. I do not believe that we should think of these emotions in reference to happiness (And how they’re either not happiness or just an extended form of it) but rather, we can just accept them.
Because we’re going to experience them anyway.
Placing yourself in the position of a fighter is a helpful story to tell yourself when you’re in a bad place. You’re fighting against the negativity with positivity and good vibes. But what happens when that fails? Does that mean the sadness is winning and you’re failing?
I’m not sure. So it’s worthwhile to think about the story you tell yourself in a bit more detail. Do you really want to spend your time fighting against negativity with positivity? Is that a positive thing to do?
Rather, we might want to adopt the metaphor that we let the sadness in, warm it up with acceptance then see calm embrace the room.
In some sense, we’re lucky to be able to feel such a large range of emotions. In many ways, it shows us that we’re capable of caring about things instead of feeling complete and utter apathy either towards ourselves or towards the things that we want to care about.
I’ve disliked apathy for a very long time. Primarily because there have been pockets in my life where I’ve experienced it for so long. Accepting the wide range of emotions that we have, helps soothe the negative emotions away and appreciate the positive ones. We give these emotions our attention rather than being passively consumed by it.
If you’re feeling sad, you can simply say “sadness is being experienced by me” or “sadness exists”.
If you’re feeling happy – “happiness exists… and I’m happy that it exists”
Separating yourself from the negative, even in your speech, can be the start no longer being overwhelmed by the emotion.
Separating yourself from the positive helps you acknowledge it and not let it pass without your attention.
Doing this really does help us move closer to the “goal” of appreciating the range of our ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows.
Striving to be happy is noble but I think, if taken too seriously, strips us from the richness other emotions can have. To do this, we need to slow down and live our days with a bit more mindfulness.
So that is the quest for wholeness. It is difficult and does require practice – I’m certainly nowhere close. However simply reminding myself of this desire does have a calming effect on me. I hope it does for you too.
The quest for wholeness. It requires we pay a bit more attention to ourselves and how we’re feeling. We will be happy and we will be sad. We will be angry, and we will be excited. And that’s OK – they all pass and change with time.
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
As always, thank you for reading.
I will add – this certainly isn’t to say all negative emotions are good. Please do not misconstrue my message for that. I have nothing to say about the qualities of depression yet for I haven’t arranged my thoughts on it. I will some day and it’ll be here for you to read.
The silence that lets you think. That lets you create. That lets you enjoy peace.
In the journey of trying to design an enjoyable life, I started thinking back to some of the times that I’ve felt most satisfied or happiest.
I noticed, as did Derek Sivers, that they are the times when I’m not consumed by needless distractions. During these times of peace, I am completely engaged with whatever I’m doing. I allow myself the privilege of not dividing my attention all over the place because I want to focus completely on one task.
You can pick out these moments in your days too.
When your friend tells a joke, do you stop laughing to check your phone? Or when you’re writing an essay and you feel everything just fall into place, do you want to go onto twitter or continue working?
Peace is valuable
The peace found from disconnecting from social media, from people, from mindless consumption simply gives us a mental break and allows us to spend more time focusing on single things.
Given that we have a limited amount of time and energy each day, why not spend that time trying our best to become immersed in things that we truly enjoy. An example of what not to become immersed in is social media.
While Twitter and Facebook can be enjoyable, I’ve found in my own experience, talking to friends, and researching why we should spend less time on things like the news, spending too long on them is rarely satisfying. I see as something that stops us from being bored instead of keeping us engaged.
This is not my crusade against social media (you’ll understand why at the end). What is important here is to understand the problem with living with distractions all throughout the day.
The solution is to disconnect.
How to disconnect
Thankfully this is quite simple. Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy given how tempting distractions are.
Throughout the day, be aware of the times that you’re entering a distraction-rich environment. This can be as simple as sitting down and having all your social media profiles open at the same time to being at work and finding yourself just talking to coworkers and friends throughout the day.
Being aware that you’re simply floating on the surface of something engaging rather than diving in is the first step to removing needless distractions from your day. It’s easy to become consumed by distractions without realising you’re doing so until you’ve already wasted valuable energy and time.
Ask yourself, is what you’re doing actually increasing your well-being? Does it bring you any joy?
Sometimes it’s best to completely cut off from social media, other people and whatever takes you away from what you’re enjoying. This doesn’t mean tell all your friends you’re never talking to them again. Well, if you do, that wasn’t inspired by me.
Set times for when you’re going to enter states of complete focus or for when you will not check distraction heavy places like twitter and emails.
If you want, you can choose to go into complete solace where there is no internet, no other people. There’s just you and your desire to live an engaging day. These “internet-free” retreats have become more popular but you can just design your environment that way by turning off your internet and disabling data on your phone.
Find engaging things to do.
The newfound peace is helpful without anything else added to it. Simply sitting in the park or going for a calm walk has benefits when they’re distraction free. However, it might be difficult to maintain if your free time involves a lot of nothing. That’s why it’s helpful to use this calm to engage your creativity.
Spend time creating. Whether that is through writing, drawing, singing, gaming, whatever. Let go of the useless idea that you’re “not creative”.
You cannot get better at creating without creating. Nor does anyone start their day as the perfect creator. You practice. You suck at first. Then you suck a bit less. Then you start to think “Well, I’m not terrible”. Then you build more confidence and continue.
It’s more difficult to create than it is to consume. Thankfully, creating comes with much more intense benefits than mindless consumption does.
Creating is not the only way to be mindfully engaged with your days. You can watch films, read good books or go for a run. All without distraction. A time when you can enter the flow.
The friendly silence…
… is found through disconnecting from distractions and mindless noise that takes you away from being engaged with your own day. It might expose difficulties you purposefully chose to avoid but at least you can now confront the fear and defeat it.