Mindfulness by the Minute

Let’s face it. The challenge of establishing a regular mindfulness routine takes effort, and not everybody is up for it just now. That’s where Mindfulness-by-the-Minute comes in. It’s the baby-step, kaizen, successive approximation, little-by-little method. . .

Mindfulness is, in essence, a matter of waking up and noticing, without judgment, what’s going on.  It’s paying attention to the incredible richness of the here and now.

The ideal, of course, is to be mindful every waking moment.  But for most of us, that goal is a long way off.  In the meantime, we can practice, setting aside a regular time for watching our breathing, or for paying close attention to our actions as we go about our daily routines.

But let’s face it.  The challenge of establishing a regular mindfulness routine takes effort, and not everybody is up for it just now.

Toddling Toward Mindfulness

That’s where Mindfulness-by-the-Minute comes in.  It’s the baby-step, kaizen, successive approximation, little-by-little method.  Call it whatever you like.   It’s the practice of sneaking little bits of mindfulness into your day whenever you happen to remember:

  • Whenever you think of it, pause and take time to watch your breath for a few cycles.
  • Take time just to look around your immediate environment for a minute or two with the goal of really seeing it.  Pretend you never saw it before.  Let yourself notice the way the light falls, the shades of color, the textures, the reflections and shadows, the contours and corners.
  • For a few minutes, just listen.  Listen to the sound of your breath, to the sounds in your immediate environment—the humming of your computer, the purr of the refrigerator or of your car’s engine, to footfalls in the hall, the sounds coming through the window.  See how many you can detect and how, together, they create their own kind of song.
  • Go for a brief walk (even a walk down the hall and back), noticing how your feet connect with the surface below you, how the muscles and joints in your feet, ankles and legs feel, what’s happening in the rest of your body.
  • Do a full body scan, noticing your posture, what part of you is tense or relaxed.  Feel your scalp, your eyelids blinking, the surfaces that your body is contacting: clothing, chair, floor.

Teasing Yourself to Play

String Around FingerJust as setting up a regular time for a mindfulness practice takes effort, remembering to take minutes for mindfulness doesn’t come naturally at first.

You can increase the number of times you remember to practice by setting up triggers for yourself in your environment.

  • Jot reminders on post it notes that you scatter around;
  • Add the word “remember” to your do list; set it up to scroll as a screen saver across your monitor;
  • Slip a loose rubber band on your wrist and when you notice it, let it remind you to take a minute for mindfulness.  Then put the band on the opposite wrist;
  • Associate mindfulness breaks with a number, say 9, and when you run across the number in the course of your day, take a few minutes for mindfulness;
  • Link mindfulness to an act you perform several times in the course of your day, such as washing your hands, standing in a line; looking at your watch, or opening a door;

Trance Busters

One of the reasons that we sink so easily into non-mindful trance states is because, for efficiency’s sake, we do so many things on auto-pilot.  And while our habits and routines do serve us in some ways, they also become like little prisons of the mind, locking us into patterns of sleep-walking behaviors.

Intentionally altering an unconscious routine puts you on instant alert.  All of a sudden, you have to pay attention.   Just for the fun of it, let some of these routine-breakers serve as awareness triggers for you:

  • In the shower, start washing on the side opposite the one you usually choose;
  • Same with dressing: put the other arm in the sleeve, the other leg in the pants first, start with the opposite sock;
  • Park in a different section of frequently used parking lots than you normally do (and make sure to pay attention to where so you can find your car when you want to return to it!);
  • When you grocery shop, start at the far aisle of the store;
  • Sit on a different side of the table when you eat;
  • Take a different route home from work;
  • Try walking backward to and from your kitchen;
  • Walk with slightly larger or smaller steps.

This is a very freeing exercise.  Once you begin to play with it, you quickly begin to discover how many unconscious habits fill your day.  And the simple act of noticing them is, in itself, another way of generating more awareness.

Savor the Mindful Minutes

Creating more positivity in our lives is a skill that grows from a foundation of noticing.  The more mindful minutes you build into your day, the more aware you become.  It’s all a matter of paying attention.

But in addition to building your self-awareness, mindfulness carries its own rewards.  It opens you to the freshness of every passing moment, to the rich array of data every moment holds.  It connects you to yourself and to the world around you.  It anchors you in the center of yourself and in the center of the ever-changing present.

As your day comes to a close, take time to review the moments of mindfulness you experienced throughout the day and savor them.   If you journal, jot them down.  If you don’t already journal, jotting down your mindful moments is a great way to start.

In any case, treat yourself to some brief reflection over your mindful experiences.  The more you reinforce them, the more of them you’ll find tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, and the longer they will linger each time.

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Keeping on Track: Tools for the Road

Three cool tools for expanding your positivity . . . Free for the taking.

Where’s Your Positivity Ratio Today?

The magic number is 3:1 – three positive experiences for every negative one. Achieve that and you pass the tipping point where you begin to move in a continuous upward spiral toward ever more positive living. Surpass it and you’re begin to soar.

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, whose research uncovered the positivity ratio, has a 2-minute online test you can take that will give you your score for the day.

If you use it consistently for awhile, you will not only get a sense of your level of positivity, but increase your awareness of the kinds of emotions you’re feeling throughout the day and gently incline your mind toward those activities that bring you more joyous living.

For a wealth of insight into the benefits of positivity and solid, scientific methods for achieving it, I whole heartedly recommend Dr. Fredrickson’s vibrant, joyfully written book,  Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive

You can listen to Dr. Fredrickson talk about her book here:

Are You Staying on Course?

How strong is your commitment to positivity? Did you intentionally use a positivity practice today?  Did you:

  • Remember to smile?
  • Extend kindness?
  • Take time to notice the goodness in your life?
  • Get in touch with your gratitude?
  • Engage in interesting work, or an absorbing hobby, sport or creative activity?
  • Practice mindfulness?
  • Work toward doing more of a beneficial activity, or less of a detrimental one?

Keep track of how many days in a row you practiced by using this free online tracker: Don’t Break the Chain. Or, for a free tracker that will also send you email and Twitter reminders, enroll at Create New Habits.

Need a Mindfulness Nudge?

Hop on over to Wayne C. Allen’s blog, The Pathless Path,  and pick up a free online timer that will remind you at random intervals to pause and center yourself in the here and now.

Wayne describes himself as “a simple Zen guy [who] writes about living and relating elegantly.” In 2007, as he was writing about paying attention, he remembered that a bell is rung at random intervals in zen monasteries. When they hear its sound, the monks pause to evaluate their level of presence. He had the timer created so that all of us could participate in remembering to be present as well.

Just go to the link above to download the small program and easy installation instructions.  And while you’re there, treat yourself to some of Wayne’s lively, heartfelt, and thought-provoking posts.

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Mindfulness as a Political Act: The Wisdom of Willie Horton

“You gotta see this guy, Willie Horton. What a hard-hitting, tell-it-like-it-is approach!” my friend said. And he sent me a link to one of Willie’s videos.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend told me, “You gotta see this guy, Willie Horton.  What a hard-hitting, tell-it-like-it-is approach!”  And he sent me a link to one of Willie’s videos.

According to his website, “Willie Horton works with Fortune 500 companies – including Pfizer, Deloitte, Merrill Lynch, KPMG, Wyeth, PwC, Nestlé and Allergan – enabling their top people to become super-effective, super-successful. Author, world-class speaker and mentor to leading figures, Willie’s Irish charm and wit masks a deep and encyclopaedic mind that can impart life-changing wisdom in the space of five minutes.”

I signed up for his mailing list and last week, synchronistically enough, his mid-week article was about mindfulness – just as I was writing about it – and how it relates to success in our economically challenging times.

Willie urges people to stop being “normal.”  The norm is mad, mediocre and mindless, he says.  To give you a taste of Willie’s style, here are some excerpts from his June 9 article, “Forget the Recession – Here’s How to Succeed:”

“If you want to see things change, you can’t expect other normal people to effect that change, it has to start with you and me.  It has to start within, with a change of heart.   Hard factual evidence from the US Federal Government proves that the state of mind of a small group has a ripple effect.   Hard evidence from the world of quantum physics proves conclusively that energy – yours and mine – has an effect on the energy of the universe.  In other words, it is up to you and me to change the world – a change that cannot and never will take place until we change ourselves. . .

“The cards are stacked against you – not only is your default state of mind negative, but you are surrounded by people who share the same default settings.   It’s up to you to change, to pull yourself together and call a halt to the nonsense of so-called normal living.  You need to rise above all that and become abnormal.   Unlike normal people, you need to develop your innate ability to be mindful, to pay full attention to what is actually possible – you have to stop feeding the negative frenzy.

“Mindfulness is simply about paying attention – not to what you think is going on, but to what is actually happening in the present moment.   We are alive, we are living and breathing.  And each breath that we take we are presented with a once in a lifetime opportunity to behave outside the sad norm of the negative.   Each moment provides us with a unique opportunity to take control of our state of mind and do the right thing – because perpetuating the negative is clearly the wrong thing.

“You develop mindfulness by clearing your mind, by taking one step back from the negative circus in which so many people seem to be taking a perverse pleasure.   You need to start each day by ensuring that your mind is within your own control.  This is done by taking a few minutes – only five or ten minutes will do – to pay attention before the challenges of the day or cares of the world come seeking your acquiescence.  So, tomorrow morning, slow down.  Take time to experience shaving, showering, brushing your teeth, chatting with your family – before the day starts.  It is in these few moments that we can change our minds – and change our lives.”

The same ezine issue features a wonderful video on “How to be Inspired – and Inspirational,” that’s well-worth the investment of five minutes of your time.  In addition to his insights, you get the added treat of hearing his delightful Irish brogue.

Mr. Horton’s website is chockfull of free articles and videos on a wide range of self-development topics.  Sign up for his free ezine and you’ll receive one of his inspiring, no-nonsense videos each Monday and an article on Wednesdays.  Take some time to explore it and you’re guaranteed to find more than a few things that will be of personal value to you.

 

 

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Making Ants Dance, Part II: Breathe Your Troubles Away

The one aim of mindfulness is to center your attention in the immediate present. But because countless things are happening in every single moment, even within the boundaries of our personal selves, we need a way to narrow our attention to just one slice of what’s going on.

Making Ants DanceIn Making Ants Dance, Part I, we talked about two practices for dealing with our Automatic Negative Thoughts.  First, in the Interrogation Method, we looked at disputing them by looking at them impartially and questioning their validity.  Then we looked at Diversions as a means of setting them aside when they swarmed us.

Today we’ll look at a way that both dispels and prevents ANTS using the practice of Mindfulness.

The Power of Mindfulness

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the first Western scientist to adapt the ancient Buddhist practice of mindfulness for use by medical patients, defines the technique this way:

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

In other words, it means you focus your attention on what is going on inside and around you from an impartial vantage point.  Without wanting it to be any different than it is, you simply observe whatever is happening.

Its power lies in its immediate short-circuiting of the downward spiral where negative thoughts feed negative feelings that feed negative thoughts, and so on.  In a way, it incorporates both the Interrogation and Diversion practices.  On the one hand, you look squarely at your negative thoughts from an impartial perspective.  And on the other, you distance yourself from them by focusing your attention on other things that are happening along with the negative thoughts.

One Aim, Countless Paths

The one aim of mindfulness is to center your attention in the immediate present.  But because countless things are happening in every single moment, even within the boundaries of our personal selves, we need a way to narrow our attention to just one slice of what’s going on.

What Am I Doing?

One of the simplest ways is simply to begin noticing what you are doing in any given moment and to describe it to yourself in detail, paying attention to what your senses are telling you:  I am sitting at my desk, reading an article.  I see my monitor, and with my peripheral vision I notice my book shelf, the artwork on the wall, the scene out the window.  I hear the hum of the computer and the sounds drifting up from the street.  The room is warm and I am sitting up straight and comfortably.  I can feel the chair beneath me.  And so on.  It takes only seconds; it’s just a quick check-in that you do from time to time to practice pulling yourself back to your immediate reality.

My friend Cristina Diaz, at The Benefits of Positive Thinking, suggests maintaining a self-observing dialogue as you go through your day, saying, “This is me, getting out of bed.”  “This is me, walking to the bathroom.”  “This is me, brushing my teeth.”  And so on.  It’s fun to see how long you can keep your attention on what you often do on automatic pilot.  Read Cristina’s article, and give it a try!

Coming to Your Senses

Droplet on a Small BranchA favorite mindfulness practice for many is stopping now and then to pay attention to what your senses are telling you.  Again, you simply observe, without judgment.

Sight: What are you seeing?  What can you notice in a familiar setting that you haven’t paid attention to before?  Look for patterns of light and shadow, at reflections, at textures and varying shades of color.

Sound: Listen to all the sounds a moment holds.  How many can you hear? Each passing moment has its own music, and beneath the sounds, and between them, hear the silence.

Feeling: What is your skin feeling?  How balanced is your posture?  How tense or relaxed are your muscles?  What parts of your body are warm or cool?  Relaxed or contracted?  What textures are your fingertips detecting?  In what part of your body are you feeling an emotion?  Your stomach?  Your chest?  Your throat?

Taste and Smell: Especially use these senses when you are eating.  Pay attention to the tastes, textures, and fragrances of food.  Notice the smell as you bring food to your mouth.  Notice how the taste of something changes as you chew it.

The Ultimate Mindfulness Practice

Mindful BreathingBut beyond all others, the central and ultimate mindfulness practice involves becoming aware of your breathing.   Master this, and your awareness of the details of every action you perform will come alive and astonish you with their richness and beauty.  Even long before your get anywhere near mastery—for mastery takes a long while—you will see how attention to your breathing makes everything else clearer, sharper, brighter, more exquisite.

How to Practice

In the beginning, you simply pay attention as your lungs move the air in and out of your body:

  • Sit in a comfortable position.
  • Inhale easily and deeply, feeling the air entering your body, expanding your lungs, raising your abdomen.
  • When your lungs are comfortably full, pause for a slight bit, then exhale, feeling the air moving out of your body as your lungs contract and your abdomen lowers.
  • If thoughts enter your mind, simply notice them and turn your attention back to your breathing.

Continue the practice for five minutes in the morning and it will help you stay centered all day.  Use it throughout the day whenever you want a little vacation from the day’s stress.

I found a beautiful video that will take you through this process as a kind of guided meditation, allowing you to taste the fullness of peace and relaxation it can bring you.  I highly recommend that you allow yourself the pleasure of experiencing it.  It will root the practice in you so you can call on it in times of stress, or when you simply want to experience the delicious sensations it creates.

Advancing Your Practice

After you have practiced paying attention to your breathing for awhile, you can advance your practice by taking it into your daily activities.  Begin practicing mindful breathing as you do routine tasks, paying attention to the details of how you do them and what your senses are telling you while you continue to breathe.

In his awesomely beautiful classic, The Miracle of Mindfulness,  Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, suggests learning to count your breaths, even as you are performing your normal activities.  Each cycle of in-breath and out-breath counts as one.  You count to ten, then begin over again.  I have been practicing this on my daily commute and am surprised at how aware and relaxed I am behind the wheel.

The Benefits of Mindfulness

As you practice mindfulness, you learn to look at your thoughts as simply thoughts, to watch them rise, just as does your breath, and to let them pass, as easily as you exhale.  You do not need to cling to them or follow them down the road.  You simply watch them, mere thoughts, without judgment, rise and pass, rise and pass.  They lose their power to stir or excite you.  You see them as mere thoughts and nothing more.

But beyond that, as remarkable as it is, increasing mindfulness has been shown to:

  • Reduce stress;
  • Lessen pain;
  • Reduce anxiety;
  • Produce clearer skin;
  • Improve immune functioning;
  • Lessen the stress of your own or a loved one’s chronic disability;
  • Prevent depression relapse, and more.

The Power of Now

Now, of course, is the only time that actually exists.  The past is memory; the future is imagination.  Now is your point of power, the only time in which you really exist.  When you bring your attention to it, to now, you inhabit your actual life.  Otherwise, you’re just dreaming.

The more mindful you are in the moment, the more fully alive you are, the more you experience the richness and fullness and beauty of life, the more clearly and compassionately you see its opportunities and challenges.  Mindfulness gives your life depth and zest; it enriches your senses of wonder, purpose and meaning.   It’s one of the great keys to building genuine positivity, and for making the best in you even better.

Play with some of the practices here.  Put them to work for you and watch how they impact your awareness.

And, as always, I invite you to leave your comments and let the other members of the Positive-Living-Now family know how these practices are working for you.

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What's It All About, Alfie?

We want to be sensual and responsive, aware, bringing our presence to the game, experiencing every facet of life with as much openness as we can muster. . .

So what’s the goal, really?  What is this “positivity” stuff really all about?  Does it mean I want to be happier?  Well, yes.  Who could not want more happiness!  But there’s more to it than that.

Happiness is sort of like life’s candy.  It’s a sweet treat, and sometimes a whole bowl of ice cream.  But it’s not the only taste we ever want to have.  We want it all.  All the good stuff, and if we’re honest, some of the bad, too, to make it all real.  We want it all.  That’s the bottom line: we want it all.

Fully Awake, Fully Alive

We want to be alive in our lives, feeling the exquisite, raw, unfiltered reality of every single moment, sucking the juice of it, letting it trickle stickily down our chins.  We want to be sensual and responsive, aware, bringing our presence to the game, experiencing every facet of life with as much openness as we can muster.  We want to be awake, awed, connected, fluid and flowing.

And for me, that’s what positive living is truly all about: being fully awake, fully alive, and fully open; being alert to new possibilities for expansion and expression, and possessed of a spirit that propels you fearlessly into the heights and depths and breadth of it all.    It’s about immersing yourself in what I call the Grand Yes to life, and letting it become your signature song.

“Awake.  Alert.  Alive.  Enthusiastic.”  That’s my motto and mantra.  It’s what’s driving things here at PLN.  Everything else is just a description of paths for getting there, for being there more deeply, for staying there most of the time.  And I’m delighted to have you as a companion on the journey.  It wouldn’t be nearly as juicy without you.

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