Mindfulness can be a tricky business. You may be finding yourself facing challenges when trying to instill mindfulness into your life. Mindfulness is simple in theory but can be challenging in practice.
Here are some of the challenges that have come up for me and my past students:
Finding time to practice
Remembering to practice
Let’s start with ways of overcoming resistance.
We all resist doing things we’re "supposed to" do. And mindfulness can be like that too. It happens to me sometimes. I know I need to practice mindfulness because I’m highly aware of all the benefits, and yet I sometimes feel a certain resistance. You may feel this resistance from time to time too. When that happens to me, it’s a warning sign that I need to go easy on myself.
My overall advice is to focus on making mindfulness a joy rather than a chore. If mindfulness feels like a chore, you’re trying too hard, or trying to force a positive experience. Take it easy. Sit on your favorite chair. If your mind keeps wandering, let it be and smile. Remember - mindfulness isn’t about trying to get somewhere - it’s about being right where you are - making peace with the present moment.
Try these steps to overcoming your inner resistance to mindfulness:
1. Recognize that you feel a resistance to do the mindfulness practice. Say the word "resistance" in your mind. This process of labeling helps to engage the more intelligent, wiser part of your brain.
2. Identify what form that resistance takes. Is it a thought, like "I can’t be bothered to meditate!" or "I don’t have time!" or "I don’t feel like meditating!"? Or is it a feeling, such as a sensation in the pit of your stomach, a furrowing of your brow, or tightness in your chest? Where in your body do you feel the emotion?
3. Now recognize that you’re already practicing mindfulness! By being aware of the resistance to practice, you’re being mindful. You’re noticing and acknowledging an experience in the present moment with a sense of curiosity.
4. You can develop this by seeing if you can accept that resistance just as it is. Be with the feeling or thought rather than fighting it. Be nice to yourself using words like "It’s okay and natural to feel like this." Try to use a comforting tone of voice within your thoughts. Speak softly within your own mind, as if you’re talking to someone you care about.
5. Add to this experience a few deep breaths. Feel your in- and out-breath, no matter what you're doing, such as washing the dishes, reading yet another email, or watching TV. As you feel your breaths, put a slight smile on your face, recognizing and smiling at that familiar inner resistance and how you’re being mindful of it.
Try this exercise when you feel some resistance to practicing mindfulness meditation. Or whenever you feel resistance to do anything. Then write down in a journal what you noticed. What did you learn from this process?
“Think of mindfulness as underlying all your life experience, rather than another thing to do. See mindfulness as the soil from which you grow your life. Or as an anchor that you drop when it’s time to stop the ship of your life. Just as your body needs air to breathe and food to eat, so your heart and mind needs mindfulness and self-compassion to work harmoniously. This leads not only to a life with less stress but to a life with greater joy.”
Finding Time to Practice
Everyone’s busy these days.
Finding time to be mindful seems like an impossible task. But if you understand mindfulness properly, you’ll find it’ll save you time through your greater focus and productivity.
There are two main ways to apply mindfulness that you need to remember to practice every day:
Mindfulness meditations--the daily meditation itself, which you make time to practice, often for anything from around 10 minutes to 45 minutes a day.
Everyday mindfulness--being mindful in your routine activities such as brushing your teeth or walking to work, which encourages you to do one thing at a time and with full mindful attention.
Everyday mindfulness is a matter of remembering, rather than having the time. I'll say more about this later on.
The mindfulness meditations are demanding of your time. As with anything worthwhile, you do need to find some time, even just a few minutes to reap the benefits of mindfulness. Here are some ways you could do this.
Schedule your mindfulness practice first thing in the morning.
I like to practice mindfulness as soon as I wake up. It helps set the tone for the day. Many of my students prefer to meditate first thing too.
If your morning is already full of activity, you could wake up earlier to carve out time to practice. This may seem like a drag, but the meditation could prove more deeply restful than your sleep.
Practice mindfulness when unoccupied during the day.
You probably have lots of short moments during the day when you’re not fully engaged in a task--waiting for a train, sitting on a bus, waiting for a colleague to arrive at a meeting or for your child to finish playing in the park. These moments can easily be wasted, lost in thought. Instead, use them to practice a short mindfulness exercise.
For example, if you commute to work on a train, you may be able to do some of your meditations on that journey. One of my clients continues to practice all his meditations on his train ride to work and arrives fresh and energized.
Focus on your high-priority task.
Make a list of your daily activities. Label the activities as high, medium, and low priority. Just a few minutes away from any low-priority task can be used to practice mindfulness.
Make finding time a game.
Instead of thinking of meditation as a chore, see it as a game! Take a few minutes to meditate while your computer starts up. Catch a mindful minute as you walk down the stairs. Be proud of yourself when you find 5 unexpected minutes to meditate--and tell others about it too. That will help remind you to keep an eye out for a few mindful minutes.
What are you going to do to ensure you find time to practice your mindfulness? Jot down some possibilities in a journal as a reminder.
Remembering to Practice
One of the biggest challenges that my clients (and I) face is remembering to practice. They want to be aware, focused, and in the moment but just keep forgetting! This is quite normal and very much part of the experience of learning mindfulness. In truth, no one is perfectly mindful--everyone forgets to be mindful and gets lost in daydreams, worries, and concerns at some point.
The best way to remember to be mindful in your everyday life is to practice the mindfulness meditations. If you’re willing to carve out some time to meditate every day, your brain will change and make you more likely to be present in your everyday life.
But how do you remember to practice your mindfulness meditation? Planning ahead is often the best way to remember to practice. Consider deciding where and when you are going to practice beforehand. If you plan each week of mindfulness meditation practice and make a commitment in your mind, you’re more likely to be mindful. To increase the chances of sticking to the daily meditation even further, consider all the different things that could happen to prevent you from doing the practice and consider some ways of overcoming them.
You can choose to draw out your own schedule to help you decide when and where you could do your daily meditations. These are the times of day you wish to do your meditation – it could be right after waking up every morning, just before breakfast, during your mid morning break, just before or after lunch, while you sit on the train to work or once you arrive home from work. You can choose whatever fits best in your schedule. Just don’t pick a time when you feel sleepy.
This extract was edited from my book ‘The Mindful Way Through Stress’. If you’d like to practice mindfulness (and kindness), check out my 7 day free meditation course - visit KindfulnessOnline.com - get a daily 10 minute video and guided meditation to try out for free. You’ll feel more focused, relaxed, calm and peaceful.