Making mindfulness personal
You don’t have to force yourself to develop mindful habits based on approaches that aren’t a good fit for your interests and needs.
Focusing on the breath makes some people more anxious. Savoring relaxation isn’t a realistic option during many work and social situations. Trying to stop thinking sends us down rabbit holes of thinking about not thinking.
It’s better to discover a number of strategies you can adapt to fit you and your life.
Here are four ways to make your exploration of mindfulness more personal and sustainable.
Test drive a variety of exercises
It’s okay to go beyond breath awareness. Invite all of your senses to the party. See what’s right in front of your eyes once in a while. Listen to cars drive by, people laughing, and dogs barking. Notice what hunger feels like. Taste a bite or two of your sandwich. Smell the seasons changing. Live a little. Notice you’re alive.
Develop your own signature blend
Most meditation apps emphasize formal meditation, but formal practice (deciding what perceptions to track, how long to track them, and what you’ll do when your attention inevitably wanders) is really intended to support your informal efforts.
Informal practice can be spontaneous or associated with specific activities. Watch the road while you’re driving. Tune into the sound of a podcast advertisement break as if it were a natural part of life rather than a problem to solve (so difficult). Notice when your bladder feels full, and then enjoy noticing the palpable relief as it becomes empty again (so delicious).
Define consistency for yourself
Trying to maintain a daily streak of formal practice is a great goal for some people at certain times in their lives. Too often, I’m afraid, it leads people to miss the real point of mindfulness and to abandon it in frustration. The point is to discover for yourself what helps you remember—more often than never—to notice you’re alive.
It’s important to clearly decide how you’re defining consistency before you start to evaluate your progress. Shoot for a few minutes a week or a few seconds a day. Aim low. You can revise your definition as you go. This seems like it should be easier than it is. It’s not. Try to stay on your own side. Set yourself up to exceed your expectations instead of falling short of unrealistic ones. You have the rest of your life to challenge yourself in this area. Pace yourself to stay in the game.
Consult with an experienced coach
Mindful awareness is so deeply human that you really don’t need anyone to teach you how to do it. You could probably use someone to convince you it’s worth doing habitually, though, and that you’re not doing it wrong when you try.
My Attentional Fitness approach to mindfulness is an invitation to discover what works for you rather than an attempt to persuade you to do what works for me.
I focus on encouraging you to discover your own unique ways into this generous, invigorating, and liberating practice. Sometimes this involves sharing formal meditation exercises. Sometimes the emphasis is on sneaking mindful awareness into the messiness of real life.
When you’re ready, let’s scheme together on how you might become a little more present in the midst of life’s predictable unpredictability instead of just waiting for it to pass away.