In yesterday’s post we discussed how living at the mercy of our thoughts, emotions, and impulses is a major reason we don’t reach our health and fitness goals.
We jump from one program or plan to another, we procrastinate, we give into cravings, we choose the easy way out, and we generally don’t consistently take actions for the long haul.
The concept of mindfulness – or “calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations” – was introduced as our most effect means of breaking such patterns.
What we didn’t discuss, though, was how to develop mindfulness.
The thing is, mindfulness isn’t necessarily something you’ll be able to switch off and on. It’s also not something you’ll be able to develop over night. It’s a skill that must be learned and practiced over and over again until it become second nature.
The goal is for mindfulness to become like a trait or characteristic – something that is a part of who you are. The goal is to develop a keen awareness of your thoughts, emotions, and impulses, as well as the ability to acknowledge those thoughts, emotions, and impulses and respond – rather than react – to them.
So how do you actually go about making this happen?
Warning… I’m about to drop another “M” word on you that you might not really like – meditation.
Meditation is NOT climbing up to the top of a mountain to swing incense and hum. It’s also not something that you use solely for the purpose of managing acute stress (although some forms of it may be useful for that).
Rather, it’s practicing the ability to recognize when your mind is starting to run away with thought patterns, emotions, and impulses (particularly those that don’t serve your best interest) and shift your attention back towards something you can control.
What does this look like?
Here is a general outline of one of the most popular ways to meditate:
- Find (make) 2-5 minutes to dedicatee solely to meditation
- Create a silent environment
- Get comfortable
- Close your eyes
- Inhale deeply through the nose, filling the belly and lower back (not the chest and shoulders), counting throughout the inhalation
- Exhale fully, as slowly as possible, through the mouth, counting throughout the exhalation (might try aiming for the exhalation count to be double the inhalation count)
Different breathing and counting methods work for different people, so I’ll provide some links (I am not affiliate and do not get compensated at all for linking) at the bottom of the page for apps that might help you get started.
Here are a few notes to clear up some common meditation questions and concerns:
You absolutely WILL have thoughts race through your head. This is totally normal. The point of meditation is not to silence the mind. Rather, the point of meditation is to let these thoughts happen, recognize them, and then shift your focus back to your breath.
Remember, this isn’t about what happens in the moment of meditation, but about practicing a new skill – the skill of recognizing thoughts, emotions, and impulses (particularly those that don’t serve your best interest), and then choosing whether (and how) to entertain them or not.
The thoughts will still come, but you’ll be better in control of how they affect you.
Meditation is not about meditating as long as possible so much as it’s about meditating as frequently as possible. The more often you meditate, the more habitual and automatic the skill of managing your thoughts, emotions, and impulses will become.
You’ll be better equipped at all times, even when not sitting silence with your eyes closed, to not let your impulses dictate your actions (yesterday’s post provided many examples of these situations).
If you’d like additional help getting started meditating, here are two of my favorite apps:
I currently use Calm, but I’ve also used headspace and recommend you try them both out (or just go about things on your own).
That ought to do it for today!
Where will you make the 2-5 minutes to meditate?
If you don’t see anywhere to make that time, doesn’t that mean you need to make it even more?
Go forth, kick ass, make it an awesome day!