It didn’t take me long to realize that I was getting myself in trouble by numbering days in the titles of these posts. From this realization, and my focus on mindfulness over the past few weeks, I have learned some important concepts.
1. Even when committed to necessary change, it shouldn’t become an obsession.
While it would be easy to become obsessed with weight, image, and achieving the proper degree of self-esteem, by the simple act of numbering the days, an unhelpful degree of pressure began to set in. I would either become self-righteous because I did manage to come up with pithy and fascinating advice every day, or seen as a slacker if I didn’t. How would I make up the days when I missed? Write two the next day? Number the days incorrectly, or skip one day? You can see the ridiculous lines of thought that began bogging me down on this unimportant diversion from the important goal: develop more mindfulness in all aspects of my life.
2. Consider whether how you name your desired goal is helpful.
Changing any long-term and established patterns is daunting. Sometimes just the very name itself can cause anxiety. Mindfulness? For years, there has been a nagging voice in the back of my head telling me this would be a good way to live. But the mental images and my emotional response held me back. My image was of spiritually advanced, cosmically tuned-in, physical fit yoga masters who spent the majority of their lives sitting on an uncomfortable cushion in a monastery somewhere in the mountains of Nepal. No way would I ever achieve that, so why try?
When it was prescribed by my PCP, somehow I was able to look at it differently, as more simple. Mindfulness became something that could fit easily into my life. Certainly, a regular routine of meditation would be wonderful and helpful, but I don’t need to become a master in the art, or give up any of the things that make my life enjoyable. I can call it “awareness,” or “being here,” or any other name that is more comfortable.
I now express my goal as this: Know that you are doing what you are doing.
3. Come up with some creative ways to be attentive to your actions.
On the first day or two of this journey, I started to narrate my daily life. It’s no secret that a great deal of what got me in trouble in the first place is my ability to move like a sleepwalker into the kitchen and, hungry or not, eat whatever is easy to grab. Like a movie director reading from a script, I started to describe what I am doing.
Martha is walking into the kitchen, quietly so as not to draw attention. She briefly glances toward the living room, as if hoping that no one has noticed. Quickly she is grabbing the bag of cookies, and pulling out a handful. Now she is placing the bag back into the cupboard, quietly because she doesn’t want anyone to notice.
Or, I tell myself what I am doing.
This is you, standing in the kitchen, thinking you need to eat a cookie. You really don’t want one. So you can just walk away.
This seems pretty weird, doesn’t it? And I highly recommend that if there are other people in the house, it is not done out loud for obvious reasons! I am hoping that this internal narration won’t be necessary forever. For now, though, it has proven to be a very useful tool.
©Martha Hurwitz, 9/4/17