Mindfulness and me: How I incorporate it into my everyday life
I’m not very good with rules.
I like routine and structure – to a certain extent (blog brewing on the tricky balance between routine and flexibility!) – but I abhor rules.
I’ve always been a very stubborn person (thanks Dad) and I think rules make me feel like the world / the man / someone else is telling me what I have to do, how I have to do it and that makes me want to do the opposite.
So, for me, ‘traditional’ approaches to mindfulness – sitting quietly, listening to a guided meditation – just don’t work.
When I was signed off for three months last year, mindfulness and meditation was high on my list of things to try.
But I massively struggled to quieten my brain enough to do the meditation ‘properly.’ I would find minutes had gone by and I hadn’t been paying attention to the guided meditation, because I was too caught up in my churning thoughts.
One of the techniques that the Headspace app suggests is to imagine your thoughts like cars – traffic – and you’re standing on the pavement. The idea behind mindfulness is to stand on the pavement and let the cars go by, instead of stepping out into the traffic.
I’ve always found that visualisation difficult, because all I can see is me in the middle of the road, surrounded by cars swerving around me! A metaphor for my mind at the time, for sure.
I spent some time beating myself up for being unable to do meditation properly – of course I did – and then I gave up.
Stopped doing the daily few minute meditations, stopped listening to the Headspace app. Wrote it off as a technique that just didn’t work for me.
In hindsight, I think what I was experiencing was that my anxiety levels were too high for ‘traditional’ mindfulness or meditation techniques to work for me.
I need some level of equilibrium in my brain to be able to concentrate on the meditation, otherwise I just beat myself up for being crap at it.
But now I know that mindfulness isn’t just meditating, it’s simply focusing on one thing at a time – preferably the present moment.
So, what does mindfulness look like for me and how do I incorporate it into my daily life in a way that works and benefits me?
- Audiobooks – Listening to a story (like a child – genuinely – it’s generally Harry Potter, but I do have Elton John’s autobiography cued up!) stops me listening to the constant brain churn. It also makes it easier for me to pull myself back to the present as it’s something concrete to pull myself back to
- Walking – When I’m walking to a meeting, or even to the Co-op, I’ll try and notice what’s around me – the plants outside the garden shop; the turning of the leaves; the feel of the cold air on my face; my feet on the pavement. It’s so so so easy to get caught up in rumination during this sort of time, that I actively try and focus on the world instead
- Shower time – In the shower is prime time for my brain to go into overdrive and catastrophise. Classic me – most people get their best ideas in the shower, I get my most negative thoughts! I know this now, so I listen to a podcast – it helps quieten my mind and allow me to enjoy the delicious smell of my shampoo and the heat of the water soothing my tense muscles (I’m always tense – I hold a lot of anxiety in my body!)
- Planning – I use my Ponderlily Planner to set out the three main things I want to focus on that week and plan when I’m going to do tasks around what I’ve already got in the diary. It massively helps me to stop my mind flitting off to another task. For example, while writing this blog post, my brain has wanted me to: make a cup of tea, check my emails, check Instagram, design a promo image for an event I’m speaking at….I could go on!
- Using my phone – I find that technology and digital noise (as well as real noise!) can be a big anxiety trigger for me, so I’ve taken steps to minimise that noise. I have turned off all notifications on my phone, so I’m not nudged to use apps when I don’t want to; I regularly delete apps I’m not using or enjoying; I’ve moved all of my ‘work’ apps to three screen swipes across from my everyday apps – so I’m less motivated to go find them. And I don’t look at the news apps – while this might fill you with horror, it’s been a game changer for me
All this is to say that mindfulness, meditation, ANYTHING that helps you manage your mind – these things are only as useful as you can make them.
Understand them, adapt them, take what works for you and leave the rest – you’re in charge of the treatment plan for your life, so take control!
I am working with the wonderful Jonny Say to run Mad and Mindful workshops for businesses – to help people understand how to use tools and techniques to look after their minds at work, all wrapped up in my trademark brutal honesty about how your mental health can affect you at work.
If you think this would be useful in your organisation, please do get in touch – I’d love to support you.