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Last Updated on April 25, 2018

A Simple Guide to Mindfulness for Beginners

A Simple Guide to Mindfulness for Beginners

“The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Does your mind ever feel like it just won’t switch off? Thoughts are spinning around and around inside your head like a carousel out of control. And the more you try to stop them, the faster they seem to go. All you want is some peace within.

Our hearts have a tendency to lead us toward things we need. So you may have already read about mindfulness and its ability to reduce stress and create more peace. Or perhaps a friend has been singing its praises. You may even have seen a poster in the doctor’s office. It sounds like something you might want. No, it feels like something you need. But, the usual suggestion to “just sit, observing your breath for 30 minutes” is confusing at best. And so you toy with the idea for a while, not sure where to begin. Or maybe you’ve even tried it once or twice, only to give up in frustration, as your monkey mind chatters louder than ever.

If you think you aren’t the “mindfulness type,” you are giving up too soon. There is a much simpler, easier way to be mindful. And I promise you, it will work just as well.

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I know because I’ve been there.

A few years ago, I was going through a particularly difficult and sad time. I was spending a lot of time inside my own head, and even when I wanted to switch off, I couldn’t. At the end of the day, my body would be exhausted but my brain kept whirring. Sometimes I felt like I was going crazy. I was desperate to find a way, and I started reading a lot about meditation. I even took a few classes. But for some reason, I couldn’t make it work. It was too hard. It took too much time. So I gave up.

Then in 2009, I took a course called “Mindfulness: A Simpler Form of Meditation” as part of my psychiatry training, where I was introduced to a new way of living mindfully — an easier way, a way that actually worked for me. And will work for you, too. To be able to use this new method well, we need to first understand what mindfulness actually is.

So what is mindfulness?

Jon Kabt-Zinn, a world renowned expert in this subject, defines it as, “Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally.”

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I love this definition, because it helps us understand that your attention, or awareness, is the crucial ingredient in Mindfulness. It has to be intentional, meaning you don’t leave it up to chance; you consciously bring your awareness to rest on something. Whatever you choose to be aware of is okay, as long as it is happening in the present moment. When the mind wanders (as it invariably will, because that’s what minds do), you just bring it gently back to your current focus of awareness.

Jon Kabt Zinn also reminds us to be non-judgmental with our awareness, meaning there is no perfect way to do this, no “standard” to judge yourself against. So, don’t get upset or disappointed when your mind wanders. All you need to do is bring it back gently and repeatedly. In traditional mindfulness, we are taught to do all this while sitting with eyes closed, observing the breath. This is hard to do, especially as beginners, because as you sit observing your breath, the thoughts often seem to get louder. Plus, you still have to go back to real life once it’s done.

So here’s the easier, simpler way: instead of sitting quietly observing your breath with your eyes closed, simply learn how to do your daily routine activities mindfully.

Let me explain. Despite our misleading Facebook updates, most of us have normal, somewhat boring daily lives filled with mundane activities such as driving, doing the dishes, cooking a meal, or taking a shower, right? Well, how about learning to do these daily activities in a mindful way?

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Some benefits of this method:

Let’s think about why this might be better than the usual way, especially for beginners.

• Since these activities are already an essential part of your day, you don’t need to find a separate time for practicing mindfulness.
• You can start with small three- to five-minute activities, such as brushing your teeth.
• You can do this even if the environment around you is loud or busy.
• You can change your awareness for any urgent interruptions, and return to mindfulness mode easily.
• You can do this at work.
• It can be used a quick stress management strategy, because you will see your anxiety reduce almost immediately.
• And so many more.

So, how can you train your monkey mind in this new way of relating to every day tasks?

Practicing in real life:

Imagine you are washing the dishes. You might begin with trying to do it mindfully for just 5 minutes. Here’s how:

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• Start by bringing awareness to your senses: how does the soap feel against your skin, what does it smell like (rather than describe or think about it, just enjoy actually smelling it), what shape is the dish you are holding, how does the wash cloth feel as it moves over the dish, what sound is the water making in this moment, and so on.
• Notice how we use our senses to help keep us aware of this moment.
• You can also use your own body in this way: bringing your awareness to rest on the sensation of your hands moving as you wash, the feel of the floor against your feet, the sensation of your joints moving, etc.
• Whenever your mind wanders, just notice it and gently, with no judgment, bring it back to your senses.
• Do it for just a few minutes at a time but in those few minutes, try to get completely absorbed in your awareness of that moment.

Whatever the activity may be, and however “boring” it may seem, when you fill your awareness in this way, your mind will have no room for rumination. Rather, you will feel fully alive and present. I’m certainly not a yogi, but with constant practice, I have found it easier to include this kind of mindfulness in more and more daily activities.

Some other possible activities to combine this method with:

Use it to help you feel calm, even in the midst of a traffic jam. Use it at work, when you need a break or feel stressed out. Use it when you are eating, when you are showering, or to connect better with the person you are with in each moment. Your daily life is filled with possibilities.

Finding peace, joy, and connection doesn’t have to be just a lofty goal. And you don’t have to be Buddha. Just simply do whatever you are already doing in this very moment — in full awareness, mindfully.
Because, this moment IS your life.

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A Simple Guide to Mindfulness for Beginners

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Last Updated on November 20, 2018

10 Reasons Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

10 Reasons Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

A new year beautifully symbolizes a new chapter opening in the book that is your life. But while so many people like you aspire to achieve ambitious goals, only 12% of you will ever experience the taste of victory. Sound bad? It is. 156 million people (that’s 156,000,000) will probably give up on their resolution before you can say “confetti.” Keep on reading to learn why New Year’s resolutions fail (and how to succeed).

Note: Since losing weight is the most common New Year’s resolution, I chose to focus on weight loss (but these principles can be applied to just about any goal you think of — make it work for you!).

1. You’re treating a marathon like a sprint.

Slow and steady habit change might not be sexy, but it’s a lot more effective than the “I want it ALL and I want it NOW!” mentality. Small changes stick better because they aren’t intimidating (if you do it right, you’ll barely even notice them!).

If you have a lot of bad habits today, the last thing you need to do is remodel your entire life overnight. Want to lose weight? Stop it with the crash diets and excessive exercise plans. Instead of following a super restrictive plan that bans anything fun, add one positive habit per week. For example, you could start with something easy like drinking more water during your first week. The following week, you could move on to eating 3 fruits and veggies every day. And the next week, you could aim to eat a fistful of protein at every meal.

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2. You put the cart before the horse.

“Supplementing” a crappy diet is stupid, so don’t even think about it. Focus on the actions that produce the overwhelming amount of results. If it’s not important, don’t worry about it.

3. You don’t believe in yourself.

A failure to act can cripple you before you leave the starting line. If you’ve tried (and failed) to set a New Year’s resolution (or several) in the past, I know it might be hard to believe in yourself. Doubt is a nagging voice in your head that will resist personal growth with every ounce of its being. The only way to defeat doubt is to believe in yourself. Who cares if you’ve failed a time or two? This year, you can try again (but better this time).

4. Too much thinking, not enough doing.

The best self-help book in the world can’t save you if you fail to take action. Yes, seek inspiration and knowledge, but only as much as you can realistically apply to your life. If you can put just one thing you learn from every book or article you read into practice, you’ll be on the fast track to success.

5. You’re in too much of a hurry.

If it was quick-and-easy, everybody would do it, so it’s in your best interest to exercise your patience muscles.

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6. You don’t enjoy the process.

Is it any wonder people struggle with their weight when they see eating as a chore and exercise as a dreadful bore? The best fitness plan is one that causes the least interruption to your daily life. The goal isn’t to add stress to your life, but rather to remove it.

The best of us couldn’t bring ourselves to do something we hate consistently, so make getting in shape fun, however you’ve gotta do it. That could be participating in a sport you love, exercising with a good friend or two, joining a group exercise class so you can meet new people, or giving yourself one “free day” per week where you forget about your training plan and exercise in any way you please.

7. You’re trying too hard.

Unless you want to experience some nasty cravings, don’t deprive your body of pleasure. The more you tell yourself you can’t have a food, the more you’re going to want it. As long as you’re making positive choices 80-90% of the time, don’t sweat the occasional indulgence.

8. You don’t track your progress.

Keeping a written record of your training progress will help you sustain an “I CAN do this” attitude. All you need is a notebook and a pen. For every workout, record what exercises you do, the number of repetitions performed, and how much weight you used if applicable. Your goal? Do better next time. Improving your best performance on a regular basis offers positive feedback that will encourage you to keep going.

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9. You have no social support.

It can be hard to stay motivated when you feel alone. The good news? You’re not alone: far from it. Post a status on Facebook asking your friends if anybody would like to be your gym or accountability buddy. If you know a co-worker who shares your goal, try to coordinate your lunch time and go out together so you’ll be more likely to make positive decisions. Join a support group of like-minded folks on Facebook, LinkedIn, or elsewhere on the internet. Strength in numbers is powerful, so use it to your advantage.

10. You know your what but not your why.

The biggest reason why most New Year’s resolutions fail: you know what you want but you not why you want it.

Yes: you want to get fit, lose weight, or be healthy… but why is your goal important to you? For example:

Do you want to be fit so you can be a positive example that your children can admire and look up to?

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Do you want to lose fat so you’ll feel more confident and sexy in your body than ever before?

Do you want to be healthy so you’ll have increased clarity, energy, and focus that would carry over into every single aspect of your life?

Whether you’re getting in shape because you want to live longer, be a good example, boost your energy, feel confident, have an excuse to buy hot new clothes, or increase your likelihood of getting laid (hey, I’m not here to judge) is up to you. Forget about any preconceived notions and be true to yourself.

  • The more specific you can make your goal,
  • The more vivid it will be in your imagination,
  • The more encouraged you’ll be,
  • The more likely it is you will succeed (because yes, you CAN do this!).

I hope this guide to why New Year’s resolutions fail helps you achieve your goals this year. If you found this helpful, please pass it along to some friends so they can be successful just like you. What do you hope to accomplish next year?

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