I cringed when I saw a mindfulness workshop that was “guaranteed to make you feel happier and more relaxed.” Mindfulness is about awareness. It's not about being in a particular mood all the time.
In fact, something unexpected happened a few weeks after I started practicing mindfulness. I’d been feeling like, “This is great! Everybody should do this! I feel so much better!” Until suddenly it didn’t feel so good anymore.
- When I started paying more attention to my thoughts, I realized how much time I spent ruminating. I was always stressed out about what was happening, anxious about what was going to happen, or worrying about something that already happened.
When I started paying more attention to my feelings, I realized there were a lot of emotions I was trying to avoid, like anger, frustration, sadness, and embarrassment.
And when I started paying more attention to my interactions with other people, I realized that I wasn’t always using mindful speech. I had a tendency start talking before thinking through what I really wanted to say. I frequently embarrassed myself by doing that. Other times, I really hurt someone’s feelings.
You Are Not Your Thoughts
Practice 1: Labeling Thoughts and Feelings
Close your eyes if that’s comfortable for you.
You don’t have to focus on anything in particular right now, just notice your thoughts and feelings as they happen.
Give your thought or feeling a name or label, like “worried thought,” “pleasant memory,” “angry feeling,” or simply “thought” or “feeling.”
Let go of that thought or feeling. When a new thought or feeling comes along, give it a name, like “hungry feeling” or “memory.”
You can try labeling your thoughts and feelings as a type of meditation, or you can do this as an informal practice throughout the day. I find it particularly helpful when I'm feeling anxious.
For example, when I was working on a big project, I kept having thoughts like “Oh, no. I’m gonna mess this up!” I was so focused on my negative thoughts that it was hard to focus on the project.
Because I couldn’t concentrate, I felt even more anxious because I was afraid that I wouldn’t finish on time. That made it even harder to concentrate, which made me even more anxious. What finally helped was simply reminding myself “I’m feeling anxious.” Then I started thinking about why I was feeling anxious: I wanted to do a good job.
After that, whenever I caught myself feeling anxious about the project, I’d remind myself, “I want to do a good job.” That motivated me to get back to work, and once I was actually working on the project, I felt a lot better. That made me feel less anxious, which made it easier to concentrate.
Practice 2: Pause Before Reacting
Practice 3: “Next Time, I’ll Do Better”
“Oh, what's it about?” he asked.
I felt pretty embarrassed when I told him, “Mindful listening.”
This kind of thing happens so often that I joke about starting a Mindless Moments podcast. Sometimes you've just gotta laugh at yourself, right?
On the other hand, sometimes we all do things that aren't a laughing matter. Maybe we hurt someone's feelings or we make a big mistake.
It’s uncomfortable to feel guilt or shame over something we’ve done. But instead of trying to push away these negative feelings, we can use them to avoid making the same kind of mistake again.
Think about something that you feel bad about doing or saying, and what you wish you’d done differently. Then answer the following questions.
What specifically do I regret doing or saying?
Why do I regret it?
What led up to this incident?
What did I learn from this situation?
How I could have handled it differently?
What I can do to avoid this type of problem in the future?
Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash.
About the Author