The Mechanics of Mindfulness
I always cringe when I first introduce the concept of mindfulness to a client.
Why? It's become so trendy and popular, delivered in convenient apps and thrown about casually in wellness-related conversations that we often miss the finer points of *how* to use it.
Clients will frequently tell me that they have tried meditation or deep-breathing exercises, but nothing seems to resonate. (Also- mindfulness can be so much more than meditation and breathing, but that's for another article!)
Jamie Gruman, PhD, recently wrote a fantastic Psychology Today article about how people misunderstand mindfulness. In it, he wrote,
"Mindfulness is often thought of as a form of consciousness that allows people to become aware of the contents of their minds and accept those contents non-judgmentally. This psychological openness allows people to respond less impulsively to situations, to act instead of reacting, and to conduct themselves in a way that better helps them engage with life’s challenges."
So basically, the idea is to soothe your nervous system so that it stops thinking for you in a fight, flight, or freeze mode. You can observe what you are doing without judgment - the actions that we take are based on how we learned to behave in the past in order to get our needs met. They are also based on the way we have learned to view the world. In other words, your behavior has an explanation and you're not "abnormal," you can just keep tweaking yourself to take actions that are more beneficial for yourself and those around you.
Here's an example: It's pretty common for children in abusive or neglectful situations to learn how to lie as a means to survive. Maybe they'll lie so they can get something they need or want, or maybe they'll lie in order to evade a parent's wrath. While we see lying as generally immoral, here's a case where someone learned to lie because that's what allowed them to get through some very painful and difficult circumstances.
So when you find yourself experiencing something, you can use mindfulness to soothe yourself so that you may come to the point of looking inside yourself without judgment. "What am I doing? What has caused me to think, feel, and act this way?"
No need to beat yourself up - that makes it harder to change!
When you can mindfully accept what you are doing without judgment, you can work on changing it.
You can be compassionate with yourself for your current state of being while still holding yourself personally responsible to grow and change for the better. And hey, it takes time and everyone has setbacks and bad days! Compare yourself now to who you used to be - and not to anyone else.