How mindfulness can help you create the habits you deeply desire
Mindfulness in its most simplistic essence is defined as a process and state of continually coming back to the present moment with non-judgmental awareness. The practice of mindfulness teaches us tools to bare witness to our thoughts, feelings, actions and reactions, and see them as a passing waves in the ocean of our lives; rather than ways of being that define us or are permanent.
So how can mindfulness help us create the habits we want and let go of the habits we don't? The first thing is that mindfulness teaches us tools to tune-in to what is happening in the present moment with deeper attention; helping us catch ourselves when we fall into mindless behaviors (like going for that extra piece of chocolate, potato chip or glass of wine).
We learn to turn toward these behaviors with compassion and dive into the feelings and thoughts that may have triggered our mindless behaviors or old patterns. Rather than engaging in self-flogging for having fallen off the wagon, we learn to embrace these moments of imperfection as opportunities to learn more about ourselves. To dust ourselves off and hop back on the wagon with greater conviction to make the changes we desire, a deeper understanding of ourselves and patters, and most important, a lighter heart.
We also learn tools to help us reinforce the changes we want to make by paying greater attention to the baby steps along the way and progress we make towards our goals. We learn to use our breath and body sensations to tune-in to how great we feel when we are consistent with the exercise regime we have followed for a whole week – or even 10 minutes! This helps to build new neural pathways in our brain to connect the thought and action of doing these activities with positive feelings so that eventually the desire to engage in these new behaviors is transferred to the automatic part of our brains and the battle of finding the will, time, energy to get to the gym is partially won.
So to help you on your journey toward using mindfulness to create the habits you deeply desire, here are a few tips:
1. Get clear with yourself about the real reason why you want to create the new habit or let go of the old one. Visualize yourself having been successful for a whole month. How does it feel in your body when you imagine this state of being? Do this everyday, first thing in the morning, for at least 30 days.
2. When you fall off the wagon, rather than letting your inner critic take over, let your inner best friend take the lead. Remind yourself of the progress you have made, that you are in fact doing the best you can. Ask yourself why you may have been triggered into the old habit or away from the new habit. Remind yourself that this is the normal process of learning something new and remind yourself of why you want to make the change and how great it feels in your body when you do.
3. Celebrate your successes along the way. Identify some specific ways you can reward yourself for milestones achieved and take the time to share these moments of success with the people you love. In the wise words of one of my mindfulness mentors, Thich Nhat Hanh “ Every time you recognize a moment of happiness, happiness comes.”
Sari Labelle is a yoga teacher and
owner of Shanti Yogi