The phrase mindful living immediately creates a vivid picture of a meditating yak: maybe it’s the association of mindfulness, meditation, and the Himalayas. Or that yaks are slow-moving. But, more likely, it’s because I’ve recently watched Zootopia.
This final installation of my Nostalgia, Hope, and Mindfulness series will address the benefits and steps to mindful living. Mindfulness rounds out what I see as a pyramid of mental balance with the past (nostalgia), present(mindfulness), and future (hope).
Mindfulness has exploded on the mental health scene in recent years. However, while mindfulness can help with a person’s quality of life in several areas, there has been an overwhelming focus on being present in gratitude-practicing moments rather than in moments of hardship or overcoming challenges.
Being present is also about sitting with discomfort and accepting it while keeping the perspective that it will end, as most moments are temporary or transitional. Disclaimer on this, sitting with discomfort is not sitting through external situations that compromise our safety.
So what is all the hype around mindfulness anyway? And how can it benefit all of us?
Mindful Living Benefits
This list, put together by the American Psychological Association (APA), provides excellent detail on the benefits of mindfulness. Here are some benefits of mindfulness:
-Improves working memory (immediate perception and processing)
-Responding instead of reacting
-Increased cognitive flexibility such as self-awareness, adaptability, and faster recovery to baseline after negative events
-More relationship satisfaction
The benefits of mindfulness usually center around practicing gratitude for what a person is experiencing in the present moment. I can’t count the number of meditation and mindfulness exercises focused on gratitude practice. So many narrations around savoring the food you’re eating, the feel of the sun on your skin, etc.
These practices fail to embrace the idea of sitting with undesirable feelings.
Participating in these exercises can be incredibly disheartening for those with chronic conditions. Leaving the individual wondering what’s wrong with me that I can’t feel better now.
During the postpartum recovery period, I felt physically awful. Wearing Depends for two weeks while an infant wreaks havoc on your nips for the first time can do that. So while gratitude made me thankful for a relatively easy delivery, it didn’t make me grateful for how terrible I felt.
That made me think of a few steps that could help others to practice mindfulness in a way that wouldn’t push unpleasant feelings under the rug–as there isn’t as much focus on that part of mindfulness practice.
While I’m no expert in mindfulness specifically, these are the sequential steps I’ve taken to build resiliency and create change in my life. So without further adieu, here are seven steps for mindful living for all life’s great and not-so-great moments.
7 Steps to Mindful Living
1. Align with your values and purpose
Living in a manner that goes against your values and purpose can wreak havoc on the ability to be mindful. We’ve all been there when sticking out jobs or other situations due to the need for survival. But we can’t exist in those spaces forever without compromising pieces or all of who we are. For example, I am a person highly sensitive to others’ energies. Working in a high-volume customer service setting would significantly affect my well-being. My mind would purposely drift off because that is how my mind would attempt to protect me. Living out of alignment and not playing to your strengths is a one-way ticket to burnout. Your mind will wander as a means of escapism.
Breathing in mindfulness gets more focus than if it were Lamaze. There are so many breathing exercises in existence that I would be shocked if you couldn’t google twenty of them in the next five seconds. Filling the lungs with air and focusing on that sensation is a great practice in self-awareness (at least of the physical variety). However, they can distract from and mask unpleasant feelings or lead to avoidance of the negative thing altogether. Only you will know when and how breathing exercises may work best for you.
3. Bring Purposeful Awareness to the Moment
And here it is! Being present is the central theme of mindfulness that pops up everywhere. I’m not knocking it, though, because it can be powerfully transformative when utilized appropriately. This concept may be challenging to practice for anyone struggling with rumination or racing thoughts. Bringing purposeful awareness to a moment increases self-awareness; ultimately, the only control we ever really have is over ourselves anyway.
4. Accept the Moment
Accepting the moment is especially helpful for those more unpleasant moments. For example, a stranger slams a door in your face, you hand in an assignment late, or you miss the last acceptable window of time to consume caffeine before bed. Whatever it is, acceptance has a calming effect, which in turn helps transform reactivity into thoughtful response.
5. Accept Yourself
Acceptance of self includes our initial thoughts, feelings, and limitations. This acceptance increases self-awareness, which prepares us to bring purposeful awareness into our lives. This concept can also be tricky when grappling with self-worth issues. Self-love exercises can help build confidence, making acceptance much easier.
6. Be Curious
Approaching life from a place of curiosity can work wonders. From a survival standpoint, people want to be confident in their position. It protects our egos and enforces that we’re on the right track. The problem is that egos are fragile and tell us to act as judge, jury, and executioner. It enforces our way of doing things is not merely correct but the only acceptable method of doing anything. I won’t slander the ego too much. It keeps us alive. But what it doesn’t do is promote mental flexibility.
This is where acting as a student in your life can help. Taking on the role of a learner removes assumptions, leaving the present moment before us without our inner critic voicing its opinions.
7. Listen to Your Intuition
Mindfulness provides mental clarity. Racing thoughts can take a turn down a cyclical rabbit hole, leaving uncertainty and inaction. I’ve spoken at length about this in other posts, but our fast-paced world is not conducive to our mental health. Even my intellectualizing and writing about being in the present moment is not something that would have been of concern to most of our ancestors as it is something they would’ve needed to do for survival in a natural environment.
While returning to living a more naturally aligned way may not be feasible for many, these steps can provide clear enough thinking to improve decision-making and mental clarity. Finding your inner decision-maker through the din of jumbled thoughts can prompt needed action and provide mental balance.
Conclusion of the Nostalgia, Hope & Mindfulness Series
While Yax from Zootopia was under the influence of a little something more than mindfulness…I can’t help but admire his live and let live attitude! Sustainable self-care routines are achievable and essential to mental health balance.
Thus concludes the Nostalgia, Hope & Mindfulness series! Hopefully, you’ve gained some ideas to incorporate into your self-care routine. Let me know what mindfulness exercises you use in your self-care routines in the comments below!
And if you take anything away from this post. Remember:
Your Intuition 😉