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

The Power of Awareness

In an interview with Tami Simon, Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach share their insights on The Power of Awareness to Change Your Life.   In exploring these ideas, I will be building on my previous post based on Albert Flynn DeSilver’s ideas about developing mindfulness and awakening through writing.

Jack & Tara have developed together an online course on The Power of Awareness Mindfulness Training.   They each bring to the training discussion and resources, more than 40 years of experience in mindfulness and awareness practice and training .

The first question that exercises your mind when you hear about what Jack and Tara offer is, “What is awareness?”  It is not something that can be accessed by definition or thought alone, because it is an experience of a stillness within, a quiet place that precedes thought and sensation.  It’s that realisation that you, the whole person – not a part of you – is aware of your thoughts and sensations as you are experiencing them.  As Tara explains:

Awareness is the silence that’s listening to the thoughts or listening to the sound; it’s more prior to any of the felt experience through our senses…And you can begin to intuit that there is a space of knowing that is always here and that we are not always aware of it, but it’s here.

That is why The Awareness Training is highly experiential with guided exercises and personal journaling to make explicit the learning and develop deeper insights.

In summarising the ideas presented in this interview, I have identified two key areas that manifest the power of awareness.

Sense of self – changing the narrative

Both Jack and Tara shared what was happening for them prior to awareness training.  They discussed their negative thoughts and the stories they told themselves which served to diminish who they actually were and what they were capable of.   They spoke of the constraints of their own narrative and the expectation entrapment that locked them into particular patterns of thinking and behaviour.

They see awareness as creating freedom from habituated denigration of self and the realisation of a real sense of self and creative capacity.   They maintain that through developing awareness, we can change our self-deprecating narrative, as we step back from our thoughts and perceptions and allow our true selves to emerge.

Relationship building

As we grow in mindfulness and awareness, we are better able to identify and manage the space between stimulus and response.  We gain a deep insight into what we bring to a relationship and the associated conflicts – we become more aware of our habituated responses in a conflict situation.  We gain a clearer realisation of our self-talk, our tendency to defensiveness, our self-protection born of childhood experiences and our inattentiveness when experiencing conflicted emotions.

Added to this self-awareness, is a clarity about our projections and assumptions about the other person and their behaviour, increased capacity to pay attention to the other person and an openness to their needs and perceptions.

Awareness enables us to deepen our relationships, as it frees us from habituated thoughts and responses and opens up the capacity to listen empathetically and respond creatively.

So, as we grow in mindfulness and awareness, we discover our true self and its potentiality and are able to deepen our relationships through a stronger sense of self and a heightened sensitivity towards the other person in the relationship.

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

Image source: courtesy of  johnhain on Pixabay

Mindfulness: Realise Your Potential

This post comes to you from Venice, the city of inspiration, a few days before New Year’s Eve and the beginning of 2018.

The closeness to the end of the year and the beginning of the next, prompted Seth Godin recently to write about the power of the possible in these words:

Next year is almost here.

And doing what you did this year probably isn’t going to be sufficient.

That’s because you have more to contribute than you did this year. You have important work worth sharing.

While Seth was writing in the context of marketing, his words are particularly apt in the context of mindfulness at this time of the year as we approach the beginning of 2018.  Here we want to explore the power of mindfulness and what is possible through mindfulness practice.

As we grow in mindfulness, we enhance our potential.  We break free from the shell of negative thoughts that constrain us and learn the power of the present moment.  We develop greater insight into ourselves, those around us and our environment. With mindfulness, we gain clarity to see our potential and the calmness to make the possible a reality.

As Google has found over a decade with their own staff, mindfulness training releases creativity and the capacity for innovation.  There is something about having clarity and calmness in tandem that opens our eyes and minds to what is possible.

What are you going to do with this new found potential?

It is interesting that at one of the largest technology conferences ever held, the organisers set aside a full day to explore “Mindfulness practices that activate your full potential“.  The YouTube video of this last day, provides the contribution of some of the world’s leading mindfulness experts such as Tara Branch, Chade-Meng Tan, Jack Kornfield and Goldie Hawn.

In her presentation on the last day of the conference, Goldie Hawn spoke of how mindfulness had released her joy and potential from the constraints of panic, fear, anger and other negative attitudes and thoughts.

She studied herself and her own brain and the research on neuroscience and came to the conclusion that she had so much experience and knowledge to share.

Goldie recalled that following the trauma of 9/11, she was panicked and paralysed and unable to function.  On remembering, after a week of inertia, how mindfulness had helped her previously, she resolved that she had to do something with the innate potential mindfulness had given her.  She asked herself:

How old are you now?

How long have you been an actress?

How long have you been working as an actress?

How many years do you want to sit in front of a makeup chair?

Because there’s work to be done.  And I want to help. I know too much now!

Goldie went on to establish The Hawn Foundation that brings mindfulness training to thousands of children in schools through a program called MindUP.  What motivated Goldie was the level of depression, fear and suicide in children

So we need to ask ourselves, “How long do you want to sit in front of the makeup chair, living a life of unrealised potential?”

Goldie encourages us to realise our potential through mindfulness:

And if there is any challenge, it is to remember that the one person you need to challenge – to become better in life for you, and for your loved ones and for  your children and your job – is to go to the University of You and become the best human being you can possibly become.

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

Image source: courtesy of congerdesign on Pixabay

Defuse Negative Thoughts and Stories

Negative thoughts are a part of living – we all tend to have them. However, if we entertain them, they undermine our self-belief and self-confidence.  They can be persistent and destructive.

Jon Kabat-Zinn reminds us, “We are not our thoughts”.  Our minds make up negative stories all the time and we come to believe that these stories identify who we are – they are just fabrications, not reality.

One of the key contributions of The Happiness Trap Pocketbook by Russ Harris and Bev Aisbett is the range of defusion strategies they offer to disarm negative thinking and reduce its hold and power over us.

They suggest one simple defusion strategy that we can apply to any negative thought:

Pick an upsetting thought, and silently repeat it, putting these words in front of it: ‘I’m having the thought that…’

Now try it again with this phrase: ‘I notice I’m having the thought that …’

Can you feel the thought lose some of its impact? (p.54)

This defusion strategy can be used for any unhelpful thought at any time, no matter where you are.  You can progressively learn to dissociate yourself from negative thoughts and recognise that they do not represent who you are.  You are better than your negative thoughts which tend to put you in the worst possible light.  Such thoughts result from the brain’s bias towards the negative as a self-preservation mechanism.

As you grow in mindfulness through regular mindful practice you will become more aware of these negative thoughts and have the presence of mind to use the suggested defusion strategy.  You will become increasingly conscious of the hold these thoughts have on you and how they impact negatively on your self-confidence and willingness to extend yourself and take on new challenges.

Negative thoughts hold us back, diminish our sense of accomplishment and reduce our effectiveness and capacity to make a difference in our own lives and that of others.  The suggested defusion strategy is your weapon against this erosion of who you are.

 

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

Image source: Courtesy of johnhain on Pixabay