How to do Mindfulness if you suck at it

We love a good fad don’t we, whether its Zumba, the 5:2 diet, or Yoga in a sauna. Mindfulness is something that many will probably put in the same category as these, something that was once trendy but has now gone slightly out of vogue.

100% low-fad

But I don’t put Mindfulness in the same category as these other guys. Its one of the approaches that helped me completely transform my mind, and continues to do so until this very day. You see, I used to be a chronic worrier, or generalised anxiety-disorder if you want the technical term.

This basically meant I had a mind like a washing machine that’s permanently on fast spin, and full of unpleasant mental laundry (the shellsuits of the mind if you like) and had no idea how to switch it off, or at least turn it down to the economy setting, and rinse out a bit of the negativity.

Stop going Back to the future

Worry by its very nature is a future-based state of mind. We don’t worry about stuff that’s already happened do we? No, that’s called rumination. Worry is all about what’s to come. So how can Mindfulness step in and protect us from the mental bullying we impose on ourselves?

A secret of mind management

First of all, your mind can only be in one place at a time. It can’t be in the present moment and the future at the same time, or be in the past and present at the same time. So the golden nugget here is that if you can train your mind to stay more present you can choose to have times when you can’t be worrying or ruminating. How cool is that? But don’t thank me, thank the ancient Buddhists who came up with this stuff.

Would I lie to you?

Before we continue, I don’t want you to take my word for it on the whole thing about you only being able to think about one thing at a time. Lets do a little thought experiment… For sixty seconds I want you to think in some depth about what you’re going to have for lunch today, at the same time as thinking in depth about what you did last weekend. And I don’t mean just oscillating between images of your sandwich and a glass of wine in the pub, I mean actually thinking about them.

So go on, look away from the screen for a minute and see if you can do it…

Told you so

…Welcome back. See what I mean? Even Einstein couldn’t think about more than one thing at a time. So now that I’ve hopefully got you on board with that idea, I want to answer the question that I know is burning into your brain at the moment, which is…

“It’s all well and good escaping from my problems, but they’ll still be waiting for me when I come out of the present moment, won’t they?”

And yes, of course you’re absolutely right. Mindfulness isn’t a magic wand, you have to sort your own problems out. That’s part of the challenge of life surely. It’d get boring if someone else sorted all of our troubles out for us all the time, like a fairy godmother.

A soothing rest for your brain

But Mindfulness can help first of all by giving you a break from your constant thinking which is surely a welcome breather . Secondly, when your attention is in the present moment the lack of thinking will help to reduce your stress levels which in turn enables you to think more clearly and therefore approach your problems from a more constructive perspective. Think how hard it is to remember an answer in an exam when you’re under pressure, compared to how freely the answers come flooding in once the exams over and the pressure’s off.

I’ve got two Mindfulness hacks for ya

So now I’m going to give you two tricks to help you get Mindful if you think you’re somebody who can’t do it…

  1. Firstly, for a whole day, I want you to slow down the speed of all of your movements by 50%.

Now if you’re a busy body this is going to be super tough, but in doing this you naturally become more aware of all of your movements and start to notice things that you don’t normally when on autopilot (as most of us are all day)

Remember, being aware of what you’re doing means your mind automatically comes into the present moment. You might even be surprised to see that you actually get more done by moving more slowly and deliberately. Rushing is rarely useful.

2. Next, once you’ve mastered no.1, for a whole day, aim to reduce the amount of force you apply to everything you do by 50%.

Whether it be how hard you hit the keys on your laptop, or the force you apply to your steering wheel when driving, opening a door, stirring your coffee, or brushing your mullet. Just aim to do everything 50% more gently. Again, this will also make you more aware of what you’re doing, and create instant Mindfulness.

Because to slow down you have to pay attention to what you’re doing. Like slowing down, exerting less pressure also paradoxically means you’ll probably get more done. Ask any tradesman about sawing, and they’ll tell you that you cut through the wood much faster if you exert less pressure.

Go on off you go

So there you have it, two tips to try over the next two days to allow you to dip your toes into the land of the Mindful and get some of those handy benefits, such as a clearer mind, better concentration, stronger immune system, improved mood, relaxation, and general all round awesomeness (Well I can’t guarantee that last one)

You gotta be in it for the long game

But before you begin salivating at the prospect, I have to warn you, Mindfulness isn’t a quick fix and has to become a part of your daily life if you want the real lasting benefits.  Think of Mindfulness as the polar opposite of being on autopilot all day. I’m pretty sure most of us are already masters of being on autopilot (ie: Driving to work, then not remembering how we got there!) so now maybe its time to spend some time with Mindfulness its distant cousin, and keep dropping in as often as possible

Jonathan Pittam

Mental health & resilience trainer

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