Mind your mind: How to conquer the challenge of mindfulness

Nearly every situation we face in our lives can become an opportunity to practice mindfulness. The challenge is that our automatic thoughts, ingrained beliefs and life-long habits usually militate against such practice.

In Scott E. Spradlin’s — a respected author as well as a therapist — behavioural therapy workbook, Don’t Let Your Emotions Run Your Life, he admits that mindfulness is somewhat of a paradox being “both easy and difficult.”

After all, mindfulness is about being present and engaged instead of numb and detached. It’s about experiencing our emotions to the fullest, including both the painful and joyful ones. It’s about participating in your life instead of watching from the sidelines. And much like practicing gratitude, mindfulness helps with feeling alive in each passing moment.

Contrary to what I used to believe, mindfulness is not about relaxing and shouldn’t make you fall asleep. Mindfulness is also not about withdrawing, disengaging or being passive and non-emotional. In fact, I’d argue it’s the exact opposite. The best way to perceive mindfulness is as acceptance or seeing things as they really are instead of how you want them to be.

Observing, describing and participating in every moment as well as training your mind to stay in the “here and now” is challenging. Paying attention to your five senses and cultivating an alertness to your experience is not easy, but the list of advantages is long. It includes improved physical and mental health, better concentration at work and focus at school, reduced stress, blood pressure as well as chronic pain and finally increased resiliency in the face of adversity.

I believe that the most important component of practicing mindfulness is understanding that those skills can be incorporated in your daily life, while you’re busy doing all sorts of activities. For instance, being mindful to your body can help you understand when you’re in pain or need to seek medical care. When exercising, it can help you avoid injury and overtime, you learn to respect your limits and recognize when it is time to rest. And when it comes to meals, you can learn to recognize when you eat too much or too little, instead of impulsively stuffing down a banana chocolate muffin every time you feel stressed out.

Perhaps the one thing I value most about mindfulness is that it teaches you self-compassion, empathy and acceptance. Instead of reacting in a negative way to external circumstances, you have the opportunity to pause for a moment and do things differently. Although it does require time and effort, I wholeheartedly agree with the idea that becoming aware of your own surroundings, thoughts and feelings can indeed become a helpful tool in navigating the ups and down of everyday life and ultimately promoting meaningful, lasting and positive change.