Daily Living

Mindfulness – It’s Not What You Think

Mindfulness isn't about what you think. It's about noticing what you think. Then moving yourself away from it.

Natalie Howard Natalie Howard
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In this month’s Group Coaching Call we explored what Mindfulness means for the different HealthTypes and ways to bring it into your daily life. If you missed the call, you can watch the replay here or in the Coaching section of your profile. I wanted to explore the idea further for you here, and offer some more tips to help you become more aware of your mind, and be able to “get away from it” when you need to.

Mindfulness is about awareness. The key is not, as the name suggests, having a full mind, or even being in your mind. It is not about what you think. It’s about noticing what you think. Not judging or feeling ashamed of it – just noticing. The objective is to step away from the mind, rather than go further in to it. To distance yourself from the chatter, the worry, the self doubt, the stories about what people must think, the judgement and criticisms of yourself and others…and all the other hundreds of thoughts that take up our attention and energy every day.

The mind is not meant to make us stressed – but it can do that if we are not aware of what it is doing. Our mind exists to solve problems, plan, create, interact and connect. If we don’t take time to separate away from our minds though, they can go into overdrive with trying to endlessly do what it can’t – like trying to change the past, the future, other people, or conditions beyond our control.

What do we actually want to achieve when we say we want to be “mindful”?

We want to feel calm. Relaxed. Clear. We want to be able to “think straight” so we can use our minds to do what we want. We want to be in flow.

In order to get our minds back to balance, we usually have to get out of them for a bit. If we keep pushing ourselves to “stick at it” when we’re getting foggy, irritable, stressed or negative, we’re not getting any closer to achieving whatever it is we’re trying to do. We’re really just making it harder.

It is often our body that signals to us that we’ve been in our mind too long. It gets tired. Stiff or sore. Hungry. Restless. And our emotions tell us too. We get cranky. Anxious. Volatile. Negative.

How do we become more “mindful”?

There’s really just three basic steps to follow…

1. Notice how you are feeling.

Are you getting cranky and irritable? Overwhelmed and confused? Anxious and upset? Instead of trying to ignore it, or forcing yourself to pretend you’re feeling fine when you’re not, stop and notice it. All of our negative and uncomfortable emotions come for a reason. It’s when we start feeling pressured – and our bodies are telling us it’s getting to be too much. (Pressure doesn’t have to always make us feel bad – if you’re feeling good you’re handling the pressure well, so keep on doing what you’re doing!)

2. Notice your thoughts.

What have you been thinking about? While there could well be an external circumstance that’s tough, feeling the pressure of it comes from our minds worrying about it, telling us to hurry up, wondering what people think of us, replaying things that happened…spinning on the hamster wheel. When we notice our thoughts we can more easily realise that they are what have made us feel bad. We don’t need to beat ourselves up, (or anyone else), over this. We just need to notice.

It can be helpful to get the thoughts out at this point too, if you feel like you can’t even move on to step 3 yet. You can come back to the thoughts if you have to .. even if it’s in five minutes…and it might not feel like such a big issue when you do. But you don’t want your mind just hanging on to the thoughts while you’re trying to detach from them.

This is especially important for Crusaders and Sensors as these minds need order and organisation – leaving something unfinished stresses them – even scribbling out a ‘to do’ for later helps them ‘put a pin in it’.

Guardians and Diplomats benefit from journalling out the thoughts, or making memos too, as this helps the mind start to let go of the intensity around them.

Activators and Connectors are more likely to feel better, and then be able to think clearly again, if they don’t dwell on the thoughts or feelings and just get into step 3 – move.

3. Do something that gets you out of your mind for a bit.

This can be as simple as taking some deep breaths. It works, if only for a time, because it shifts your focus away from your thoughts and onto your breath. Breathing doesn’t get your report finished or the house cleaned or the disagreement resolved. But that is not the purpose. You’re not trying to solve the problems right now. You’re shifting your focus away from the problems and onto recharging yourself. Then when you return to the issue your mind is better able to navigate and solve it.

If that’s all a bit too philosophical for you, don’t worry. Really, just do something. Do something that’s not the thing you’re stressed about.

What you do, and when you do it, will depend on your Health Type and what works best for you. The common theme though is movement. Move your body, move to a different environment, move on to a different activity.

Activators and Connectors will need the most immediate, intense and dynamic movement to quiet their minds – slow or dull movement will just rev those minds up.

Guardians and Diplomats will need steady and strong movements that take time to go deep enough to clear away the mind chatter. (Like a long walk.) Doing something too briefly or lightly won’t give the mind enough of a chance to shift its focus away from the thoughts that were making you feel bad. You don’t want to stress yourself with intensity though – just as you don’t want to rush your thoughts, you don’t want to rush yourself in trying to distance yourself from them.

Sensors and Crusaders need repetitive and precise movements so the mind remains focused, but not on the unwanted or tense thoughts. You want the mind to shift into an autopilot mode so it’s busy, but you’re relaxed.

Moving yourself gets you away from the mind that is getting stuck.

Ideally, we should try to include mindfulness, or “mind-free”, time each day at the time that is optimum for our personal chronobiology. This could be your fitness time, meditation time, relaxation time. Your chronobiology wheel probably won’t actually say “mindfulness” on it. You will have windows that are not about planning, productivity or problem solving, but are much free-er activities like: exercise, play, imagination, meditation.

You’re still using your mind for these activities, but you’re using it in a much more relaxed way. It is functioning in more of a support role – counting your reps or breaths, tracking your route and surrounds while you walk, putting colours together while you paint, following the steps in a recipe.

This is the key that a lot of “mindfulness” suggestions miss – your mind still needs to be doing something. If it hasn’t got anything to do, or focus on, it will find something. And it will usually just find the thing that it was fixating on before you started taking your “time out.” That’s why many people get frustrated when they try the “empty your mind” or “quiet your mind” idea – it’s like you’re telling an energetic and chatty child to sit still, be quiet and not do anything. You need to give them something interesting to do.

So find the thing that interests your mind enough that it is occupied and satisfied while you do your “mindfulness” activities. You’ll find lots of useful tips in the Mind and Genius sections of your profile.

And when things catch up with you and you find you haven’t scheduled, let alone remembered or had time for your “mindfulness break”…don’t worry. Just take ten deep breaths…and you’ve done it. Now you might feel like moving on to another “mindfulness break.”

To work 1:1 with Nat, Personalised Communication, Behaviour & Relationships coach, click here.

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