Mindfulness, being mindful, or being present, are quite the catch words today, but what does that really mean? How do you know if you're doing it?
Has something ever "stopped you on a dime"? Has something struck you so strongly that you could not think about or experience anything else? You ignore your phone. You don't care what has to be done tomorrow.
You are not multitasking. You can only hear, feel, and think about that one thing. That is being present and mindful.
Yes, you say; you have experienced that. Mostly during a time of a tragedy or when something shocks you. But sometimes we have to multitask, right? Sometimes there is no time to see how you feel about something; there is only time to "get it done", right? And yet, research shows us that our anxiety increases as we "plow through" life, not having time to feel or experience it.
We breath in a shallow way, our blood pressure increases, we have a short fuse on our temper, and we reach for comfort food or an alcoholic drink as soon as we can. There is evidence that there is a link between this high level of anxiety and health problems. One thing being mindful does is it helps us relax, so we can experience life (vs plowing through). It also helps us think before we act. Below are three steps to help you practice being mindful, so you can be more conscious of who you are and how you behave.
1) Notice when you are becoming irritable, frustrated, or in fight-or-flight mode. (see this blogif you want to learn more about this arousal state or anxiety)
Noticing our patterns is the first step to making a change. Noticing a behavior after or while you are doing it, say biting your finger nails, is awareness. Good for you. Noticing that you are feeling "eh" or fidgety or uncomfortable, before you start biting your nails, is backing things up and noticing before you engage in a behavior. It is noticing your feelings. Even if you are not used to naming and noticing feelings, that is what to achieve in your noticing - before you do something you no longer want to do. However, either way, once you notice, you want to go to step #2.
2) Make a decision to STOP when you notice.
Stopping either before or during a behavior that you want to change, like biting your nails, or saying something mean to your spouse - even stopping once you notice you feel like "getting out of here" - is critical in making a change.
Let me give you a visual. Say, you are driving down the road, and then turn onto a dirt road to get to where you are going. There are tire tracks in the road, as the dirt road has been muddy in the past. It is easiest to drive down the embedded tracks, especially if they are deep tracks, because the pattern is already set up. In fact, turning your tires and driving alongside the tracks can be difficult on the dirt road if it is narrow or if you cannot get both sets of tires out of the old tracks. You often end up back on the old tire tracks, because it is easiest. However, if enough cars (or you enough times) drive on a different path, not on those imbedded tracks, eventually you have made another comfortable way to drive; maybe that is not as bumpy or takes you to your destination more quickly. The old tracks are still there, and once in a while you fall back on them when you are not mindful (due to the path of least resistance), but as soon as you are mindful again, you can choose the newer path you made, because it actually feels better.
That is how making a change works, and that is why being mindful is necessary - so you can make a conscious choice and not just "go down the path of least resistance". Or, if you do go down the old path, you are doing so, because you choose to do so, not just because it is there and you never thought about it before.
3) Do something to bring you back to yourself as soon as you STOP
Back to the steps now. First, you notice you are about to bite your nails (or you are already doing it). Next, you stop and pay more attention and realize you are bored, not stimulated, fidgety. Do you just go ahead and bite your nails, doing so consciously, or do you do something different? Either choice you make, do so mindfully. If you don't want to do something to "bring yourself back to your you", go ahead and bite your nails. But do so, smelling, tasting, and breathing fully. Stay conscious of what you are doing. Pay attention to what feels good about biting your nails. Pay attention to how it comforts you. Pay attention to your nails and tongue and stomach and breath. That's doing something mindfully, fully aware, and conscious.
Let me suggest, however, that you do something to "bring yourself to your center" before you make a decision to bite your nails, or leave the room you are in, or whatever. Once you notice and STOP before you do anything, pay attention to your breath. Breath in three times, filling up your stomach, heart, pelvis, chest. Feel how that feels. Pay attention to anywhere your body feels stress or tension or discomfort. Notice what smells are in the room, feel your feet on the ground, touch your hands and look at them. Remember what your hands do for you every day (or anything that brings you back to this present moment). Also important: do this in a non-judgmental way. Do not judge yourself, your feelings, your behaviors. Then, after those 3 breaths, and fully coming back to feeling (and this only takes seconds and can be done anywhere), and you are fully aware and mindful, then make a decision on what to do next. If you choose to bite your nails, again, do so with the continued presence and mindfulness; don't close off your awareness. Or, you have the presence now to do something different, like go get a drink of water, or stand up, or not yell at anyone. This takes practice, like deciding to drive outside the pre-made tracks that have been there for years. Whatever you choose to do, however, do it MINDFULLY, without judgement, and with your full awareness.
This is a peaceful and mindful way to live. This helps you reclaim power over your life and your behavior. This brings comfort, even in the midst of change.