Over the last few weeks I have had a lot if time to reflect on my mental health and well-being. I have taken time to relax and recharge and become firmer in my belief that practicing mindfulness is changing my life for the positive.
During this time, I have realised that we have to make a concerted effort to bring happiness, joy and positivity into our lives. Mindfulness takes an effort and commitment. It is medicine for the soul.
On many occasions I have had people say they have tried mindfulness a time or two and they just can’t do it, particularly formal or guided meditation. They say that they can’t stop themselves from thinking. Thoughts keep flooding the silence , they get frustrated with themselves and they give up.
Well, of course your mind will flood with thoughts. That is what brains do, they think! On top of this, we have formed habits of always thinking. We multitask because that has been seen in modern society as a sign of a successful person. We worry that if we don’t deal wth the thoughts immediately we will lose something important. We think about the past, replaying conversations we have had or things we have done. We plan for the future; racing ahead to what we will do tomorrow, next week, next year. It is a habit; a well worn path we default to at any extra moment we have. It literally takes up hours of our day and is like a comfort blanket; predictable and comfortable.
If, for a moment, you allow yourself to have a thought during meditation, you tell yourself off; punishing yourself! You get frustrated and give up. That is the opposite of mindfulness!
So, how can you break those bad habits and create new neurological pathways that allow you to develop your own mindfulness and reap the benefits?
You don’t get better at anything unless you practice and exercise. So, here is an exercise to do to start building new neuropathways and creating a new habit- mindfulness.
1- Find a quiet place to sit comfortably and set the timer or stop watch on your phone for two minutes.
2- Start the timer, close your eyes and take 15 deep breaths- breathe in deeply, hold for a second and then exhale completely. (This will take about a minute.)
3- Then, breathe normally. At this point count your thoughts. As a thought comes to mind, count it, accept it and then let it float away on a cloud knowing that if it is important, it will come again at a more acceptable time to deal with it appropriately.
4- When the alarm rings, stop and make a note of how many thoughts you have had. It really does not matter how many thoughts you have. You are mindfully recognising you are having the thought. The key is that you accept you have thoughts and that they are just that, thoughts.
5- Do this a few times each day for a week. You should start to notice fewer thoughts over time.
This, in itself, is mindfulness. Accepting you have thoughts and that it is OK starts you on the road of being mindful of the moment and give yourself permission to relax. New pathways in your brain begin to form and a breaking of a habit starts to take place.
Once you notice a reduction in thoughts, start to try short guided meditations that can be found for free on YouTube. Slowly increase the length of time over the weeks. In time you will realise you are having a thought, but it quickly disappears and you won’t remember them for the most part. (Don’t worry. If it is an important thought, you will have it again later!)
Some recommendations for guided meditations can be found in the post: Mindfulness in the Classroom- A Teacher’s Mindfulness.
Remember, you are not your thoughts.
Your thoughts are not reality.
You, here and now, are reality.
Take some time today to start creating more positive habits. It is worth the effort to a more relaxed and happier you.