Developing Habits through Mindfulness

In his presentation for the Mindfulness & Meditation Summit, Leo Babauta discussed the topic, Mindfulness: The Key to Habit Change.  He is the author of the e-book, The Habit Guidebook: My Most Effective Habit Methods & Solutions and the creator of the Zen Habits blog.

Leo spoke about how to develop habits through mindfulness and ways to deal with the obstacles that you will invariably encounter.  He had to overcome multiple bad habits – addiction to smoking, eating unhealthy foods and leading a sedentary life.  The costs for him were not only bad health but also lack of time for his wife and children and serious debt – all affecting his quality of life.

However, Leo overcame all these bad habits through mindfulness and now has a blog about developing habits, which he updates regularly for his two million readers.  Suffice it to say, he no longer has a debt problem, is healthy, has lost a lot of weight and has been able to run a marathon and spend quality time with his family.

Developing a single habit

When we are confronted with a whole host of things that we need to change in our lives, as Leo was, we tend to think that one small change is insufficient to make a difference.  However, Leo’s advice echoes that of Seth Godin and others who have achieved great things in their lives – start small, start now, be consistent and be accountable to yourself and others.

When we first start on a new habit, we are enthusiastic about the possibilities for how it could turn our life around. It is important not to get carried away by this early enthusiasm and try to do too much too soon.  Otherwise, you will not be able to sustain the effort with the result that the habit will not last and you will not experience the desired benefits.

Again, the advice is to start small, but with one habit.  Leo argues that focusing on a single habit that will potentially lead to your end goal, e.g. giving up smoking, is more sustainable than focusing on a goal that is too far into the future and more uncertain of attainment – which can result in deferral of happiness until the end goal is achieved.  When you focus on a small, achievable habit, you can experience happiness each time with the achievement of that one small step.  This, in turn, provides positive reinforcement for the new habit.

He suggests linking the new habit to something you already do daily, e.g. making a cup of tea/coffee.  This then becomes a trigger or reminder to undertake the new habit.  You can also strengthen your resolve through building in accountability – telling someone else what you intend to do, having an accountability buddy or someone who undertakes the habit/practice with you , e.g. a running partner.

Developing a habit through mindfulness

Leo suggests supporting this one, new habit with mindfulness practice.  The new habit may be to start walking, running or writing or doing yoga.    The mindfulness practice can itself be small, e.g. a short mindful breathing meditation.  The meditation, itself, may be the initial habit you are trying to develop, or it can be used to support the development of another habit.

Leo’s own experience demonstrates the power of mindfulness to overcome obstacles to forming a new habit.  You can stop yourself, tune into your breath and observe what is happening for you.  You can deal with obstacles as they arise.

For example, if you tend to put things off, rationalise why you are re-engaging in the bad habit or expressing negative thoughts about your ability to perform, then these thoughts can be observed through your mindful breathing practice.  You can see these things happening while meditating and treat them as obstacles that are trying to get in the road of your achieving your goal.  You can stand back from them and reduce their power by treating them as passing thoughts.  You can then resume your practice of your new habit.

If you feel the pull of an urge – to sleep in, to smoke or to eat unhealthy food – you can work with that urge through mindful breathing.  You can observe the urge, its strengthening power, it’s rationalisation – and gradually reduce the pull of this urge by viewing it while meditating.  As you breathe mindfully, focus on the urge until it subsides.

Mindfulness not only helps you overcome obstacles to forming a new habit, it increases your self-awareness and builds your capacity for self-management.

As we grow in mindfulness, through meditation practice, we can progressively develop new positive habits and regain control over our lives.  The secret is to start small with one habit, be consistent in practising the habit and support the development of the habit with mindfulness that can address the obstacles as they arise – and they do arise for everyone.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of geralt on Pixabay

Goldie Hawn on Meditation

In an interview with Tami Simon, Goldie Hawn explained why she has developed a 10-year habit of meditation and the benefits she gains from this practice.  The interview is one of a series of podcasts, titled Weekly Wisdom, available free from Sounds True.

Goldie was introduced to meditation when she was challenged by her quick success – in a direction she had not planned to go career-wise, as she had intended to be a dancer and ended up as a famous actress.

This new-found and unexpected fame put a lot of pressure on her and resulted in continuous anxiety.  Her initial challenge was to live up to the expectations of her fans and the carping criticisms of her critics.

Expectations of others can create enormous pressure on anyone who is highly visible in any sphere of life.  Yesterday, for example, I watched live a soccer match between AC Milan and a lesser ranked team at the former team’s home ground.  The expectations of the thousands of AC Milan’s fans were very loud and clear.  They clapped any show of skill of their own team, but were hyper-critical of any mistake particularly where a player lost possession of the football to the opposition.  Their critique was vocal and expressive and left no doubt as to their displeasure.

Others’ expectations can be a very real stressor in the life of a famous person as it was in Goldie’s early career.  It can also be a stressor in our own lives – the unrealistic expectations can come from parents, in-laws, children or peers.

People think they know you and project onto you capabilities they think you have, along with the expectations that go with their assumptions.  It is not only the adoring fans who create this expectation stress, but critics who can often revert to cruel, unkind and unfounded criticisms.  So it is easy to lose your way and  to lose who you really are.

For Goldie, a key benefit of meditation was to achieve separation by finding her true self, not an image projected by others.  She was able to know herself deeply through meditation so she was not caught up in the never-ending trap of trying to live up to others’ expectations.  She not only realised what Meng had explained – that you are not your thoughts or emotions – but also that you are not the projection of others’ thoughts and, sometimes, needy emotions.

in finding out who you really are at a deep level, you achieve a groundedness and a strong sense of self-worth that is not captive to the expectations or opinions of others, whether fans or critics. Achievement of this inner calm and solidity is a lifetime pursuit through meditation and mindful practice.

However, as Goldie explains, the starting point is to overcome the fear of exploring your inner self – of gaining insight into you own inner landscape and who you really are.  This can be really scary but the benefits are enormously rich and empowering.  The  challenge, in her terms, is to explore “the Univerity of You”.

As Goldie explains, the benefits of meditation are deep, profound and life-changing because you are able to experience inner calm and clarity when you begin to realise that you exist independent of other peoples’ expectations of you:

…what I was experiencing then was obviously peace, a sense of calm, and an amazing ability to become more of a witness, rather than engage in things that actually I could not change.  That  was one of the, I would say, very positive effects of meditation for me.

… Beginning to separate that is really important, I think, in terms of where we go in life and how we help ourselves become more clear and more able to make much, much better decisions, when we take ourselves out of the centre of it.

As we grow in mindfulness through mindful practice, we gain a deep insight into our real selves and are able to achieve this separation of our self-identity from the perceptions and expectations of others – and, in the process, experience inner peace and calm.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Mindfulness – Start Small, Start Right Now

The benefits of mindfulness seem enticing – not the least of which are improved mental health, clarity of mind and calmness.

Yet the change from the habit of busyness seems such a big step.  How do you go from filling every moment with activity – designed to keep up with a racing mind – to the ability to stop and “be in the moment”, fully present to  what is happening around you?

The first step is to change your underlying assumption that busyness will get you what you want – achievement, happiness and success.  Unless you change your underlying assumption, you will not be able to sustain a change in your habituated behaviour – you will keep returning to old habits when under stress.

The second step is to “start small, start now”. These are the words of wisdom from entrepreneur and marketing guru, Seth Godin who writes a daily blog.  Seth’s advice is:

Start small, start now.

This is better than “start big, start later”.

One advantage is that you don’t have to start perfect.

You can merely start.

While Seth is writing in the context of internet marketing, the above advice has application to many facets of life, not the least of which is how to grow in mindfulness.

In an earlier post, I suggested that to sustain mindfulness practice, you can begin with “one breath at a time” – practising mindful breathing.  To start small, is better than not to start at all.  If you begin with one simple mindful practice that breaks your current routine, you will be able to persist and progressively grow in mindfulness.  Persistence then brings its own reward – increasing benefits and reinforcement of your new habits.

The secret is to find a mindful practice, and timing for that practice, that suits you.  Everyone is different, you need to find your own starting point – your next step.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of geralt on Pixabay

Building Mindfulness through Open Awareness

Open awareness is something that you can practice anywhere.  It is basically being fully present through your senses.

From my lounge room and deck I can see Moreton Bay with Stradbroke Island in the background.  I used to wake up of a morning and note the sunrise across the bay on my way to making a cup of tea in the kitchen.  I would walk past what is an ever-changing  view.

Now I am developing the habit of standing still and taking in the view for the few minutes while the water in the jug is boiling.

In this way I can practice open awareness – listening to the sounds of birds waking, watching the changing hues as the sun comes up, observing the breeze in the trees and sensing the weather.

I find that my body immediately relaxes and I am able to quickly drop into mindful breathing as a matter of course.  So one mindfulness practice leads onto the next.

What you can do to develop open awareness is to link it to something that you do on a daily basis – a morning walk, the morning cuppa or coffee, the early morning bike ride.  If you structure open awareness into your day, you will be more likely to persist with the habit and progressively build mindfulness.  You will also find that you will more frequently stop what you are doing and become openly aware of your surroundings.

Image source:  Copyright R. Passfield