In the course of my teaching Mindfulness over the last ten years, I have found a number of common errors when establishing mindfulness in our daily lives. The following describes the errors and how to correct them.
Error 1. Not Understanding the Necessity of Repetition
Mastery of any skill requires repetition. If you are wanting to learn to live mindfully, you must first commit yourself to practicing mindfulness daily. Mindfulness is something you practice until it’s something you are. There are no short-cuts or quick fixes. It’s more than an intellectual understanding it’s experiential. The saying goes, “The practice is the teacher.”
In the same way you would master a physical skill, such as riding a bike or playing an instrument, you wouldn’t expect to become proficient in the skill by attending a seminar or reading a book about it. In fact, it has been said that the magic number for mastery of a new skill is set at 10,000 hours.
Consider this: How many hours have you spent in your lifetime repeating detrimental and irrational thoughts about yourself? This has been practiced by repetition to the point you probably believe those thoughts at an emotional level where belief turns into a knowing. Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy teaches you to step back from patterns of thought so you can look AT them from a point of non-identification rather than FROM them in a fused way.
Breaking old habits or patterns of thought will take you committing yourself to the practice both formally through meditation practice where you learn to watch your thinking and use the breath and the body as an anchor and in more informal settings when the mind is apt to wander such as brushing your teeth, taking a shower or whenever we find ourself in situations or circumstances where we are tempted to react based on habit or compulsion.
The more you practice and commit yourself to learning the skills by reading books, watching videos and dedicating yourself to mindfulness, all the better to master this practice and let it teach you to live in the present moment with the empowerment of choice.
Error 2. Expecting to Fix Yourself
Participants come to the course looking to “fix” something about themselves. Perhaps they have suffered from anxiety, depression or feel the strain of stress in their lives. They see themselves as a problem to solve and mindfulness becomes the antidote to cure their problem.
In mindfulness we learn that the present moment is the only moment that is real and when you really begin to experience this truth you recognize that all the stories you’ve told yourself and the concept of who you think you are stems from having your mind in the former present moments of your personal history. This doesn’t mean that what happened to you is trivial or unimportant or that you are ‘nothing’ and that your concerns are not real. What it does mean is that you learn to see the concept of yourself as just that; an accumulation of experiences to which you have applied meaning, implication and consequence. You are the author and editor of your life. This takes skill and deep understanding that thoughts are not facts, just your verbal relationship with reality.
Consider this: By considering yourself a problem that needs to be fixed, you create a pattern of thought that keeps the problem in place. It’s the thoughts themselves that are the source of your concern, so by learning to change your relationship to your thinking – the concept of yourself changes. You recognize that you are not a problem to solve and there is nothing to fix. You can just BE who you are really which has little to do with your verbal relationship with the external world.
I recognize that this may cause you some confusion – let it be okay that it does. Whenever we challenge old, limiting patterns of thought, a feeling of confusion may happen – this is a good thing! This means that the old patterns can fall away and what comes forth is a clearer understanding of what it means to be who you really are.
Error 3: Overthinking
I have worked with clients who are very insightful about their concern, but still cannot seemingly learn to defuse from patterns of thought, problem solve everything and analyze every feeling they have. Thinking is the cornerstone to how we relate to life, however, relying too much on our thinking actually becomes part of why we feel stuck. Our thoughts are compelling and they help us to make sense of things and through your mindfulness practice, you learn to change your relationship to thinking and let go of the need to make sense of everything and analyze it.
I often say to clients that, “Some things are not meant to be understood, they are just meant to be felt.” This may seem easy to understand but by the very need to understand it we begin to trap ourselves into the mental gymnastics of making sense of everything, especially our feelings.
Consider this: Thoughts are thoughts. They are images, pictures, dialogue all woven together that tells you a story of what happened to you before now, what is happening now and what may happen in the future. Our minds think thoughts, that’s it’s job and it does it very well, but it largely happens automatically without inquiry as to whether these thoughts are true or false, real or imagined… and the need to make sense of everything becomes necessity and contaminates your present moment awareness to the point you are living in your thoughts instead of the realness of the moment.
Through practice you create a different relationship to your thoughts and the need to think your way out of everything is diminished and replaced with the contentment which comes from getting out of your head and into the present moment with mindfulness.
Error 4: Lacking Self Compassion
We are hard on ourselves. We’ve learned to strive for certain ideal of who we want to be and we compare this to the who we were before in the past and the who we are now and the who we want to be in the future and this form of striving means we always make the present moment not good enough. By cultivating mindfulness and self awareness we can open ourselves up to a more gentle, kind and compassionate way of being – letting go of comparison, striving mentality.
Consider this: Compassion is the clear seeing of suffering and meeting the suffering with kindness. Instead of ruminating, intellectualizing, striving or rejecting the present moment as not being up to par, we embrace it, even if it’s hard and we learn to open ourselves to be gentle. Suffering is an indication that more kindness is needed instead of layering the problem, avoiding or distracting ourselves, we turn towards and acknowledge it fully with kindness towards ourselves and others. Science is learning how compassion is good for us. This is the a new pathway to our ever evolving minds.
Error 5: Withholding Acceptance
Acceptance in a foundational attitude in mindfulness and it underpins everything mindfulness is. Acceptance is in essences the non-judgemental part of the definition of mindfulness (mindfulness is non-judgemental present moment awareness). In order to be non-judgemental we cultivate the attitude of acceptance. It’s simple really, but not easy. Acceptance is less an intellectual understanding and more an heart education – it’s a feeling more than a thought. I always teach that mindfulness is about uniting the mind and the heart – our intellectual and emotional states of being into balance. When we do so we are able to bring acceptance to things which we want to change.
In actuality, nothing can change until it is accepted. This is because it cannot truly be seen as it is without it. We must be clear in what how things affect us in order to be fully present with it. This takes a radical honesty that acceptance bring us. Clients / participants do not fully understand acceptance and believe it means you resign or submit to tolerate things you don’t like. This is not true. If there was something you didn’t like, you’d acknowledge it fully – you’d see it for what it is, how it is, right now and accept the impact it has on you, even if it’s uncomfortable. The key is to do so, without using acceptance as a way to change it. Acceptance is non-conditional and means you fully accept it, even if it’s uncomfortable, painful and you acknowledge that. This is not approval, it’s not say you are enjoying the painful experience, it means you accept the truth of it and see / feel it clearly.
Consider this: Acceptance is practiced and cultivated. It’s an education and unification of the emotional and intellectual. Acceptance is transformative because it’s about letting go of the struggle you are having with things. When you do so, you release the energy that was captured by holding on to the struggle which frees it up to be used for creative and meaningful changes.