Saturday, April 4, 2015

A 4 -Week Guide to Developing Mindfulness


If you find yourself constantly feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, anxious, angry, too emotional, constantly belittling yourself and struggling with overcoming negative thoughts, the practice of mindfulness is a proven tool for empowering people to better manage their thoughts and emotions.

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, mindfulness is “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment to moment. The practice of mindfulness reduces stress and enriches our lives by helping us expand our awareness of the aliveness that exists in each moment of our lives. Mindfulness helps you tap into the power of NOW. In the following video, Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness and how this practice increases well-being.



The practice of mindfulness was one of the tools which helped me on my journey of healing my heart wound after the unexpected death of my son, Blease. It encouraged me to be present with my thoughts and feelings while expanding my awareness of the importance of treasuring the moments of my life. In the beginning, it wasn't the easiest practice for me to embrace because I was living much of my life on automatic pilot. However, as I began to complete weekly exercises for coursework in my creative writing and drama classes which I was taking at the time in college, I began to tap into it's power to help me to recognize that in spite of my personal loss, I could move forward and experience new possibilities in my life. 

Today, it is a daily practice.  It helps me to manage stress, and, it inspires me to embrace my routine tasks, such as, my daily morning walks, the writing of articles, my speaking and training engagements, my interactions with others to cleaning my home and washing dishes, wholeheartedly.

By no means do I practice mindfulness perfectly. Just this morning, despite my morning meditation, I allowed myself to get agitated by a conversation that took place between myself and a few of my siblings. 

Although I sensed the shift  in my energy as the conversation continued instead of removing myself from it, I continued to add my two cents on the subject, which didn't serve to represent myself well at all.  

Fortunately, I planned to publish this article today and through reading what I'd written and reviewing a few of the videos that I share  in this post, I was able to return to a state of mindfulness and release the emotions and thoughts related to that conversation.

Living Your Life on Automatic Pilot?

How many times have you driven home from work and realized you were putting the key in the door without much thought to your commute? All of us do this. It's a routine. We travel the same route, we make our customary stops before we arrive at our destination. There's no real harm in this routine, right? Yes and no. Our automatic responses to normal duties help us to be more efficient. However, when we fail to take notice how our customary routines disconnect us from truly embracing life whole-heartedly, it is easy for us to live most of our lives on automatic pilot without considering that we are sort of sleepwalking through life. And the kicker is, no one notices that we are barely there. Perhaps, they are sleepwalking through life as well.

When we feel our lives are in a rut, changing our perspective on the tasks we complete and the interactions we have with others to one of mindfulness greatly enriches these experiences. This challenge will help you tune into yourself, improve your interactions with others and help you tap into the power to enrich your everyday life by becoming more present.


This 4-Week Guide to Developing Mindfulness highlights weekly exercises that help you practice mindfulness. I've included a video before each exercise to help prime you for completing each weekly exercise. I used this guide during my Get Unstuck Now Case Study programs last year and over half of those involved in the three groups found it to be beneficial towards reducing stress and managing negative mental chatter.

Week 1: Tune-Out to Tune-In 


Schedule a five minute date with yourself each day of this week to tune into yourself. Many times when people have difficulty getting clear about what they want in life, how they can live a more meaningful life, or even how to put more passion into their relationships and work, it’s because they've allowed the daily demands of life disconnect them from what matters most to them. Scheduling time to be present with yourself expands your self-awareness. Awareness is the first step to creating change.

This week's challenge is designed to help increase your self-awareness. The time allotted for this daily task is five minutes. Of course, you can expand the length of time. I believe that when you begin to develop a new habit, starting small helps you to achieve the quick wins that are essential to building up your confidence that developing the habit is doable.

Find a quiet space where you will not be disturbed or distracted. Just sit down and be present with yourself. Just breathe and feel. Pay attention to the miracle of your breath. Pay attention to how your body is feeling and the thoughts in your mind. The only expectation for this week's challenge is that you tune into your physical sensations and your thoughts, and accept them without judgment. Just allow them to be. Just allow your awareness to expand on how you can feel your emotions and observe your thoughts without judgment when you allow them to just be, instead of denying them.

Week 2:  Mindful Writing


Schedule a fifteen minute date with yourself each day this week to complete and reap the benefits of the practice of mindful writing. As you did last week, find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed or distracted. You can listen to music that calms you but is not a distraction from completing the exercise. Make sure you have your journal or a blank sheet of paper and ink pen. Center yourself with taking deep breaths inhaling through your nose to a count of eight and exhaling through your mouth to a count of six. Do this three times. As you complete each set, allow your body to relax more and more as you exhale. Set an alarm on your phone or watch to make sure that you don't go beyond the fifteen minutes.

This week's challenge is designed to help you observe your emotions and thoughts without judgment or denying them. Begin to listen to your thoughts and free write. Don't be concerned about punctuation, complete sentences, spelling or editing. Simply write whatever you hear in your mind. Pay attention to the sensations that you feel in your body and write about them as well. At the end of the fifteen minutes, stop writing. After you complete your “mindful write,” read it back to yourself. This is a simple way to witness yourself and hear the story that you are telling yourself. Use this practice to become mindful of your self-talk and how it's helping you to move forward or hindering you from making progress in your life.

Week 3: Be Present in Your Interactions with Others


All of us are guilty of spending time interacting with people while thinking about our response to what is being said, or, thinking about what else we need to get done. This week's challenge is designed to help improve your ability to connect with anyone. During this week, instead of thinking about what to say next, or what else you need to get done, the challenge is for you to FOCUS on being present, listening to conversations with the purpose of paying attention to everything that is being said verbally and non-verbally in the body language of individuals.

Look people in the eye when they are speaking. This affirms that you are interested in what they have to say. Get out of your head and listen attentively with the purpose of being present and validating the people that you interact with. You don't have to agree with someone to acknowledge and respect them. Embrace the interactions that you have this week with mindfulness and wholeheartedness. Maya Angelou stated, “People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Being present with others is a gift that keeps on giving.

Week 4: Slow Down and Savor Life


We live in a time where everyone is always saying, “I'm busy.” When we live our lives constantly juggling one task after another without any space in our schedule to enjoy our day, our days begin to run together, weeks become months and before we know it, it's time to think about what we're going to do for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays and wondering to ourselves, “Where has the time gone?” If we continue like this, as the years pass, we'll regret the opportunities that we didn't seize to savor the moments as they were happening.

This week's challenge is designed to help you better manage the stress that comes with the constant demands to get things done, and, encourage you to view your meals with a different perspective if you have a tendency of rushing through them. In this week's challenge you are being asked to do two things, reduce the time you spend multitasking by focusing on one task at a time and eat slower. I know that this will be difficult for those of you who swear that you get so much more done when you are constantly in a state of busyness. However, research is showing that multitasking actually reduces our brain's effectiveness. And for those who are in the habit of rushing through their meals, savoring each bite of food by slowing down and not rushing your meals helps with the digestion of your food.

Completing one task at a time will help you concentrate your energies towards it, instead of  having your energies diluted by your attempts to complete multiple tasks at the same time. The next time you wash dishes, wash your car, mow the lawn, bath your child, go to the movies with your kids and/or significant other, complete that work assignment that is difficult or you would rather not do, be present and focus on completing that one task.  Do this over and over and you'll begin to reap the benefits of mindfulness. 

Savoring your meals is a demonstration of appreciation and gratitude for the effort that was made by yourself or others in preparing it. As you eat slower, you are more apt to experience better conversations with others at meal times, and enjoy the sensory sensations that people who truly enjoy food are accustomed to because they've developed the habit of savoring their meals instead of rushing through them.

Living slowly and savoring the moments of your life can challenge those who are driven to pack their schedules full with no wiggle room. It's difficult to develop the habit of mindfulness without creating space for doing nothing. You don't have to live your life wondering where the time went. You can start to embrace life wholeheartedly with the practice of mindfulness and awaken to all that you have, as you pursue manifesting new possibilities in your life.

At the end of this Mindfulness Challenge, I recommend that you continue to expand your knowledge of the practice of mindfulness which includes mindful meditation. This practice will help ensure that you don't sleepwalk through your life. In many of our daily routines, being on automatic pilot increases our productivity. The danger that comes with living of our life in this mode most of the time is, it can prevent us from being fully present and embracing all the goodness that is happening and will continue to occur in our lives.

A byproduct of the practice of mindfulness is a greater sense of appreciation for the life you are living and the people in your life. A heart attitude of appreciation and gratitude fuels a sense of contentment. Feelings of contentment by no means should dissuade you from pursuing more meaningful experiences.

The practice of mindfulness helps you to manage the constant chatter happening in your mind. This can bring a welcome relief to many people who find it difficult to quiet their mind.  As you manage your thoughts with the practice of mindfulness, you will experience less confusion and anxiety. As a result, you will have the clarity to see how to best integrate the information in this program into your daily life, so you can move forward in life.

Now if you are one of the people reading this article thinking that you don't have time for developing the practice of mindfulness, you are exactly someone who needs to develop the practice. Why? Because living your life on automatic pilot may help you be more efficient, but it's not the best way to develop caring and nurturing relationships. And you can be sure as you age and at the end of your life, the meaning of your life is going to be defined by the health of your relationships. 

Life is calling you at this moment through this article to...be present. Savor NOW as if it was your favorite meal. And enjoy it with great joy!

Let me know your thoughts about this guide and how it benefits you in the comments below. You can download a copy of this article here.

Did you like this article? Share it with your friends.

In gratitude,

Jackie


Sources: 
Practicing Mindfulness. Michael Baime, MD. www.pbs.org.
 Guidelines for Mindful Writing. Patricia A. Burke, MSW. www.patriciaburke.com
The Mindfulness Guide for the Super Busy: How to Live Life to the Fullest.
Leo Babauta. www.zenhabits.net.