Mindfulness For Dummies book cover

Mindfulness For Dummies

By: Shamash Alidina Published: 02-05-2020

Breathe deep, declutter your mind, and start leading a healthier, happier life 

The worry won’t stop. You’re feeling stressed out, the day-to-day seems overwhelming, and it seems difficult to do the simplest things. How can you escape this continual negative feedback loop? Mindfulness is the answer. 

Practiced by millions of people worldwide, mindfulness puts you back in a healthy relationship with yourself by teaching techniques that allow you to maintain a moment-by-moment awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and environment.

  • Clear your mind of distracting thoughts
  • Focus on breathing and other self-control techniques
  • Change the wiring and makeup of your brain
  • Free yourself from the stress

With this expert, easy-to-follow guide, there's never been a better time to get to grips with mindfulness and the many ways it can help you lead a happier, healthier life.

Articles From Mindfulness For Dummies

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10 Top Tips for Mindful Living

Article / Updated 12-29-2021

Mindfulness is simple in essence — it’s about cultivating present-moment awareness more than anything else — but the difficulty is in practicing mindfulness consistently. This article gives you a series of short, easy ways of integrating the principles of mindfulness into your everyday life. Don’t underestimate their value – they may take relatively little time and seem overly simplistic, but many of these tips have been proven to be effective. Try them out for yourself and hold back your judgment until you’ve given the tools a try for at least a few weeks. Spend some quiet time every day for more mindful living Having some quiet time every day is the most important tip for mindful living. The importance of connecting with some form of mindfulness practice on a daily basis can’t be emphasized enough, preferably for ten minutes or more. By deliberately practicing mindfulness every day, you strengthen your mind’s ability to be more aware and awake. If you want to be more mindful, you need daily training, just as when if you want to become more physically fit, you need to exercise your body on a daily basis. If you only exercised once a week, you wouldn’t benefit as much. Your mind goes back to its original state even more quickly than the body does. To practice mindfulness on a daily basis can involve sitting still and feeling the sensation of your breathing, or doing some yoga, or simply sitting in your garden and looking at the trees and birds with a warm drink before starting work. Here are some ways to ensure that you remember to be mindful every day: Use the principle of habit stacking. Practice at the same time and in the same place every day, following from an existing habit in your routine. This way, mindfulness becomes part of your routine like brushing your teeth, and you’re much more likely to remember. Don’t push yourself too much. If ten minutes seems too long, just do whatever you can manage. You can gradually build up the time for which you practice. Put reminders on your mirror, refrigerator, computer or phone. When you see the reminder, do a little meditation. Connect with people to be more mindful In the first instant that you meet someone, within a split second, you judge them. You may think they're too fat or too thin, you don’t like their hairstyle, they remind you of someone you don’t like. Your mind instantly tries to categorize, which is why first impressions are so important in interviews. The moment you make an initial judgment of a person, you begin to look for evidence to support your theory. If they don't look you in the eye properly, or fail to say thanks, you take these moments as evidence about them, and your opinion becomes more fixed. Then, you create an image in your mind. You think that you know this other person, when all you know are your own judgments of them. When you meet someone, connect with your senses rather than your ideas. Look the person in the eye in a natural way. Listen to what they have to say, rather than thinking about what you’re about to say. Be curious and ask questions rather than imposing your own perceptions so much. See things from the other person’s point of view — what would you be like in that person’s situation? How would you feel, and what would you want? By being less judgmental of others, you’ll also become less judgmental of yourself, and vice versa. Mindfulness is about paying attention with a sense of warmth and kindness, as well as a sense of curiosity and openness. Bring these attitudes to the relationship and see what happens. Enjoy the beauty of nature to be more mindful The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness. John Muir Nature has a way of drawing a mindful awareness from you, rather than you forcing yourself to be mindful. Walking among old trees with their branches overhanging the path you’re treading, smelling the scent of freshly cut grass, or listening to the birds sing and the twigs crunching under your feet, you can’t help but be aware in the moment. Gardening is also a wonderful way of connecting with nature and experiencing “flow." Absorb yourself in tasks, such as weeding and planting, and enjoy the fruits of your labors as you see tiny shoots grow into beautiful plants and flowers. If you have a garden or live near a park or a bit of greenery, realize how fortunate you are. Take time to reconnect with mother nature — make time for doing so. Nature is a miraculous living being, and you’re part of that life. As a child you may have loved to play in natural surroundings, jumping in puddles and sliding in mud. With your acute senses, perhaps you were quite happy to explore and observe all day long if permitted. Try reconnecting with a childlike innocence and visit a natural environment, whatever that means to you. In a famous study in a care home, half the elderly folk were given a plant to look after themselves, and the other half were given a plant but told that the nurses would look after it. Those who had responsibility to water and nurture the plants lived significantly longer than the others. The study concluded that responsibility gave the elderly a sense of control, leading to longer life. The study also suggests that not only looking at nature in a passive way, but also growing plants and ensuring that they thrive as best you can, is a healthy and life-enhancing activity to engage in on a regular basis. Change your daily routine for more mindful living Humans are creatures of habit. If you think about the things you’ve done today, they’re probably the same things you’ve done many times before. One way of being more mindful is to change your routine. Yes, you have to get up, get dressed, go to work and so on, but you don’t have to do all that in exactly the same way. And what about the way you spend your free time (if you’re lucky enough to have free time)? Do you always do the same hobbies, watch the same kind of movies, read the same type of books, meet the same sort of people, think the same sort of thoughts? The answer is probably yes. Try changing your routine to boost your mindful awareness. When you’re in your routine lifestyle, your mind goes into a sleep state. You’re less likely to notice the good things happening around you. You’re unable to think creatively. By making just small changes in your routine, your brain wakes up. You gently nudge yourself out of your comfort zone. And in that more awakened state, you’re immediately more mindful. Choose one of these options to help shift out of your automatic-pilot living: Meet up with a friend you haven’t seen for ages. Drive to work without switching on the radio. Pick up a random book next time you’re in a bookshop or library and read a chapter. Try signing up to an evening class to learn a new skill such as painting, photography, or pottery — ideally something that may push you out of your comfort zone a little. Switch around your daily morning routine — maybe have breakfast before having a shower, or vice versa Do a random act of kindness today. Make tea for a coworker. Pick up some litter from the ground. Or even just take extra care of some plants or your pet today. See the wonder of the present moment Yesterday is history, tomorrow a mystery, today is a gift: that’s why it’s called the present. This moment is the only moment you have, and you have it right now. Memories of the past come up in the present moment. Ideas of the future are shaped by past experience and projected into an imagined tomorrow. In reality, this present moment is all that’s available. If you’re currently going through a difficult time, you probably don’t think that the present moment is wonderful at all. That’s okay. You can remember that you don’t have to worry too much about the future and only need to cope with whatever you’re facing here and now. In this sense, being in the present moment is helpful — you don’t need to worry about the future. To really appreciate the present moment, feel your senses. Connect with your sense of sight. Notice the range of different colors in front of you. Reflect on the fact that this experience of color is partly due to a large amount of biochemical reactions rapidly turning into electrical impulses going into your brain, leading to this incredible experience called color. What would it be like to see color for the first time? How would you describe the experience to someone who’d never seen color before? Try looking without naming objects or people – just connect with the bare awareness of light itself. Be grateful you have eyes that are able to see in the first place. Look with the effortless gaze of a child. Another way to really connect with the present is to focus on your breathing. Think these words while breathing in and out, if you find them helpful: Breathing in: "I am in the present moment." Breathing out: "This is a wonderful moment." If you don’t like feeling your breathing, you could try feeling your feet on the floor, listening to the sounds around you or simply gazing at the sky curiously for a few moments. Experiment! Find what you find most enjoyable or engaging. Listen to unpleasant emotions with mindfulness How do you see the wonder of the present moment if you feel down, upset or annoyed? In these situations, don’t try to impose a different emotion on what you’re experiencing. Be in the present moment and open up the emotion as best you can. Give yourself time to feel it rather than immediately running from it. Remember that all emotions have a beginning and an end — try to see the feeling as a temporary visitor. Additionally, see yourself as separate from the emotion. The emotion rises and falls, but you maintain a sense of stability and greater emotional balance. Imagine that someone turns up at your front door and rings the doorbell. You decide to ignore the sound. The bell rings again and again. You get frustrated and try all sorts of ways of distracting yourself from the sound of the doorbell, but you can’t. And all that work distracting yourself means you can’t get on with your day. By simply opening the door and allowing the person ringing the bell to come in, you can stop all your avoidance strategies and do what matters. You’re facing your fears. You’re looking toward the unpleasant emotions rather than running away (which is an understandable response). Moving toward the emotion, without forcing it to go away, often has the effect of dissipating the emotion. The emotion comes in, has a cup of tea or whatever, and off it goes. The emotion just wanted some mindful awareness. The idea is to offer just that — becoming aware of the emotions you spend so much time running away from with a kind, curious, open, non-judgmental awareness, as best you can. Explore and discover what effect this has on negative emotions in the long run, not to get rid of them, but to learn from them. If you practice mindfulness to try to get rid of an emotion, that’s not mindfulness. That’s avoidance, which is the opposite of what we’re trying to cultivate. Avoidance is like putting fuel in the fire of your emotions: They’ll just get stronger. The idea is to allow the emotion space to be in your awareness, acknowledge and learn from it, and then to continue on with whatever matters to you. You are above your emotions as you’re aware of them. You don’t need to let the emotion rule your life. Remember that thoughts are just thoughts If you had the thought, “I’m a flying, pink chimpanzee,” you obviously wouldn’t believe it. That’s a crazy idea. Then why do you believe thoughts like “I’m useless” or “I’ll never get better” or “I can’t go on”? They’re thoughts too, that have just popped into your head. Don’t believe everything you think. Your mind often makes assumptions and inferences that simply aren’t true. “I’m feeling low at the moment” may be true, but “I’ll always be depressed” is not. “I find it annoying when she doesn’t do her chores” may be true, but “She never helps me” is unlikely to be true. Thoughts are just words, images and sounds that pop up in your mind. But most of the time, you get hooked to your thoughts and believe them to be true. But you don’t have to. As you discover how to observe the nature of your mind in mindfulness, you realize from experience that thoughts are always arising in your mind, no matter how much mindful practice you do. Even people who’ve been practicing mindfulness for years have plenty of thoughts. The thoughts aren’t going to stop. You simply need to change your relationship to thoughts. Seeing thoughts as just thoughts rather than facts makes a world of difference. If the thought “I’m pathetic” comes up and you believe whatever arises in your mind, you’re bound to feel low and uneasy. However, if exactly the same thought comes up and you’re mindful of it, you see it as just a thought and not a fact. This takes much of the sting out of the thought, and you’re free to dismiss it and carry on with whatever you’re doing, relatively untouched. This is freedom. Freedom, or peace of mind, isn’t about stopping your thoughts, but seeing thoughts as just thoughts and not giving them too much attention, and not believing them as reality. I believe that reality is contained in the here and now, beyond ideas and concepts. This implies that you’re not your mind — you’re the observer, the silent witness, always complete, whole, and free. If you practice meditation regularly, you begin naturally to take a step back from your thinking. Normally, if you have a thought, you act on it, especially if you aren’t fully conscious of the thought. In meditation, you observe the thought without acting on it. You see your thoughts as a pattern, as energy moving through your mind. Be grateful every day Gratitude is the best attitude! Gratitude is when you discover how to want what you have and not want what you don’t have. Usually, people want what they don’t have and don’t want what they do have. This is bound to lead to a sense of dissatisfaction. You can practice gratitude right now. Millions of people in the world don’t have a single book. Think about the fact that you can read — another skill inaccessible to millions. Gratitude requires mindfulness. Let's say you're cooking. To be grateful of how fortunate you are to have food available to you requires you to be mindful, and that brings you into the present moment. Here are some ways to nurture feelings of gratitude: Sleep with gratitude. Before going to sleep, spend a minute or two thinking about five things you’re grateful for. They can be very simple things, and you don’t have to feel hugely grateful for them. Just go through each one and see what effect that has on your sleep. To enhance the experience, consider why you’re grateful for them too. Say thank you. This is a simple act but very powerful. Saying thank you is both an act of gratitude and kindness — you’re making clear to the other person that you’ve recognized their generosity. Carry out an action to say thanks. Send a thank-you card or a small gift, or do something like making coffee or helping someone with her work. As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Try being grateful for things you wouldn’t normally be. For example, when things are difficult, you can be grateful for the challenge the difficulty offers. Be grateful for access to running water or for your ability to hear. Or try being grateful for being alive in the first place — perhaps this is the greatest miracle. Here’s an extract from a wonderful poem by an unknown author, on thanks and gratitude: Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you desire. If you did, what would there be to look forward to? Be thankful when you don’t know something, for it gives you the opportunity to learn. Be thankful for the difficult times. During those times you grow. Be thankful for your limitations, because they give you opportunities for improvement. Be thankful for your mistakes. They will teach you valuable lessons. Be thankful when you’re tired and weary, because it means you’ve made a difference. It’s easy to be thankful for the good things. A life of rich fulfilment comes to those who are also thankful for the setbacks. Find a way to be thankful for your troubles, and they can become your blessings. Use technology mindfully Just as plants and animals evolve to better survive and thrive in their environment, technology has also evolved over time. And part of technology’s evolution has been to become both faster and more addictive. With the advent of smart phones, you can use technology from the very moment you wake up until you drift off to sleep. And even if you wake up in the middle of the night, you can find yourself checking social media or surfing the web before you know it. Video games are another form of technology that’s highly addictive. Some people spend so long playing games, it affects their work and home lives and has even lead to marriage breakups. I’m not dismissing the huge benefits of technology, but you need to manage your use of digital devices. Here are some tips: Have a digital detox day or half day once a week. Give your brain a break. Charge your phone in your kitchen at night. This is a clever way of keeping your phone away from the side of your bed each night. This way you can start your mornings mindfully and tech-free. Be courteous. Switch off your phone at mealtimes or when out with friends and family. Challenge yourself and see whether you can resist the temptation to check your phone at the table, even if your friend does. Go for a walk without your phone. If you’re not used to this, you’ll probably find the experience strange at first and then tremendously refreshing. I love doing this regularly. Make a note of how many times you check your phone in a day. That’s an experience of mindfulness in itself. Average users check their phones over 100 times a day! Switch off your phone for chunks of the day and find something more enjoyable to do with your time. Surf the urge to use technology. When you feel the desire to use technology but don’t really have to, notice the feeling in your body. See whether you can ride that urge, just feeling it and relaxing into it. Each time you do that, your addiction will lessen until eventually the urge will disappear completely. Breathe and smile! You’ll find that life is still worthwhile, if you just smile. Charles Chaplin The muscles in your face link with your feeling of happiness. When you’re happy, you smile — you know that of course. But did you know that smiling can make you feel better? Try the process right now, no matter how you feel. Simply hold a subtle, gentle smile as you read these sentences. Continue for a few minutes and note what effect the smiling has. Combine this with feeling your own breathing. You can apply this technique of feeling your breathing and smiling gently in a systematic way every day for ten minutes, or while you’re going about your daily activities. Think of it as yoga for your mouth! In this way you can be mindful doing whatever you’re doing, whether washing the dishes, writing a report or waiting in a queue. Each moment is an opportunity to come back to the here and now, the present moment. You don’t need anything extra — your breath and smile are both highly portable! You may feel reluctant to smile right now, because you don’t think that the smile is genuine. You’ll smile when you’re happy, not now. Just try it out. Yes, you’re bound to feel unnatural at the beginning but that soon goes. Just give it a try, even though it feels strange, and see what happens after a time. As is often said: "Fake it till you make it!" Mindfulness is not about forcing your yourself to feel better — it’s more about bringing a sense of curiosity to your feelings and thoughts and gaining information from them, whatever you’re experiencing. Being aware of thoughts or feelings and accepting them as they are is far more important than trying to change your thoughts or feelings.

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Mindfulness For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 12-13-2021

Whether you’re suffering from stress, fatigue, or illness or simply want to regain some balance in your life, mindfulness can help. These bite-sized chunks of hands-on advice will help increase your understanding of mindfulness, outline some short meditations, and provide enough information to enable you to inject mindfulness into your life.

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How to Practice Acceptance for Mindfulness

Article / Updated 06-27-2021

Acceptance turns out to be one of the most helpful attitudes to bring to mindfulness. Acceptance means perceiving your experience and simply acknowledging it rather than judging it as good or bad. For some people, the word "acceptance" is off-putting — replace it with the word acknowledgement, if you prefer. For example, when you feel pain, whether it’s physical, such as a painful shoulder, or mental, such as depression or anxiety, the natural reaction is to try to avoid feeling the pain. This seems very sensible because the sensation of physical or mental pain is unpleasant. You ignore it, distract yourself, or perhaps even go so far as turning to recreational drugs or alcohol to numb the discomfort. Dealing with 'the second arrow' This avoidance may work in the immediate short term, but before long, avoidance fails in the mental and emotional realm. You still feel the pain, but on top of that, you feel the emotional hurt and struggle with the pain itself. Buddha called this the "second arrow." For example, if a warrior is injured by an arrow and unleashes a thought like "why did this happen to me?" that’s a second arrow. You may inflict this on yourself each time you feel some form of pain or even just a bit of discomfort, rather than accepting what has happened and taking the next step. Avoidance — running away — is an aspect of the second arrow and compounds the suffering. Acceptance means stopping fighting with your moment-to-moment experience. Acceptance removes that second arrow of blame, criticism, or denial. Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation. This doesn’t mean, "If you think you can’t do something, accept it" — that would be giving up rather than accepting. Acceptance refers to your experience from moment to moment. Perhaps you sit down to meditate and feel bombarded by thoughts dragging you away again and again. If you don’t accept the fact that your mind likes thinking, you become more and more frustrated, upset and annoyed with yourself. You want to focus on the meditation but just can’t. In the above example: First arrow — lots of thoughts entering your mind during meditation. Second arrow — not accepting that thoughts are bound to come up in meditation. Criticizing yourself for having too many thoughts. Solution — to acknowledge and accept that thoughts are part and parcel of meditation. You can do this by gently saying to yourself "thinking is happening," or "it’s natural to think," or simply labeling it as "thinking . . . thinking." By acknowledging the feeling, thought or sensation and going into it, the experience changes. Even with physical pain, try experimenting by actually feeling it. Research has found that the pain reduces. But remember, you’re not acknowledging it to get rid of the feeling. That’s not acceptance. You need to acknowledge the sensation, feeling, or thought without trying to change it at all. Pure acceptance of what is upsetting you, just as it is. Easing into discomfort One way to relax into the discomfort is by courageously turning to the sensation of discomfort, and simultaneously feeling the sensation of your own breath. With each out-breath, allow yourself to move closer and soften the tension around the discomfort. If all of this acceptance or acknowledgement of your pain seems impossible, just try getting a sense of it and make the tiniest step toward it. The smallest step toward acceptance can set up a chain of events ultimately leading towards transformation. Any tiny amount of acceptance is better than none at all. Another aspect of acceptance is to come to terms with your current situation. If you’re lost, even if you have a map of where you want to get to, you have no hope of getting there if you don’t know where you are to begin with. You need to know and accept where you are before you can begin working out how to get to where you want to be. Paradoxically, acceptance is the first step for any radical change. If you don’t acknowledge where you are and what’s currently happening, you can’t move on appropriately from that point. Here are some ways you can try to cultivate acceptance: Gently state the label of the experience you aren’t accepting. For example, if you’re not accepting that you’re angry, state in your mind, to yourself, "I’m feeling angry at the moment . . . I’m feeling angry." In this way, you begin to acknowledge your feeling. Notice which part of your body feels tense and imagine your breath going into and out of the area of tightness. As you breathe in and out, say to yourself, "It’s okay. It’s already here . . . It’s already here." Consider how much you accept or acknowledge your current thoughts/feelings/sensation on a scale of 1 to 10. Ask yourself what you need to do to increase your acceptance by 1, and then do it as best you can. Become really curious about your experience. Consider: "Where did this feeling come from? Where do I feel it? What’s interesting about it?" In this way, the curiosity leads you to a little more acceptance. In the realm of emotions, the quickest way to get from A to B isn’t to try and force yourself to get to B, but to accept A. Wholehearted acceptance leads to change automatically.

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3 Ways to Focus on Self-Improvement with Mindfulness

Article / Updated 01-24-2021

Mindfulness is a practice that encourages you to modify your perspective and focus on positive thinking. In doing so, you gain the ability to focus on self improvement, but in doing so, to be of greater service to those around you. Have you ever heard the safety announcements on a plane? In the event of an emergency, cabin crew advise you to put your own oxygen mask on first, before you help put one on anyone else, even your own child. The reason is obvious. If you can’t breathe yourself, how can you possibly help anyone else? Looking after yourself isn’t just necessary in emergencies. In normal everyday life, you need to look after your own needs. If you don’t, not only do you suffer, but so do all the people who interact or depend on you. Taking care of yourself isn’t selfish: it’s the best way to be of optimal service to others. Eating, sleeping, exercising, and meditating regularly are all ways of looking after yourself and hence others. Exercise mindfully You can practice mindfulness and do physical exercise at the same time. In fact, Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the key founders of mindfulness in the West, trained the USA men’s Olympic rowing team in 1984. A couple of the men won gold – not bad for a bunch of meditators! And in the more recent Olympics, several athletes claimed that mindfulness helped them to reach peak performance and achieve their gold medals. Regular exercise is beneficial for both body and mind, as confirmed by thousands of research studies. If you already exercise on a regular basis, you know the advantages. If not, and your doctor is happy with you exercising, you can begin by simply walking. Walking is an aerobic exercise and a great way to practice mindfulness. Then, if you want to, you can build up to whatever type of more strenuous exercise you fancy. Approach each new exercise with a mindful attitude: be curious of what will happen, stay with uncomfortable sensations for a while, explore the edge between comfort and discomfort, and look around you. Whatever exercise you choose, allow yourself to enjoy the experience. Find simple physical activities that make you smile rather than frown, and you’re much more likely to stick with the mindful practices. And if you find the word ‘exercise’ a turn off, called it ‘physical activity’ or simply ‘moving your body’ everyday. Use words that are appealing to you. To start you off, here are a few typical physical exercises and ideas for how to suffuse them with mindfulness. Mindful running Leave your music and phone at home. Try running outside rather than at the gym – your senses have more to connect with outside. Begin by taking ten mindful breaths as you walk along. Become aware of your body as a whole. Build up from normal walking to walking fast to running. Notice how quickly your breathing rate changes, and focus on your breathing whenever your mind wanders away from the present moment. Feel your heart beating and the rhythm of your feet bouncing on the ground. Notice whether you’re tensing up any parts of your body unnecessarily. Enjoy the wind against your face and the warmth of your body. Observe what sort of thoughts pop up when you’re running, without being judgmental of them. If running begins to be painful, explore whether you need to keep going or slow down. If you’re a regular runner, you may want to stay on the edge a little bit longer; if you’re new to it, slow down and build up more gradually. At the end of your run, notice how you feel. Try doing a mini meditation and notice its effect. Keep observing the effects of your run over the next few hours. Mindful swimming Mindful swimming can be very meditative. Begin with some mindful breathing as you approach the pool. Notice the effect of the water on your body as you enter. What sort of thoughts arise? As you begin to swim, feel the contact between your arms and legs and the water. What does the water feel like? Be grateful that you can swim and have access to the water. Allow yourself to get into the rhythm of swimming. Become aware of your heartbeat, breath rate, and the muscles in your body. At times, you may even feel at one with the water – enjoy that experience. When you’ve finished, observe how your body and mind feel. Mindful cycling Begin with some mindful breathing as you sit on your bike. Feel the weight of your body, the contact between your hands and the handlebars, and your foot on the pedal. As you begin cycling, listen to the sound of the wind. Notice how your leg muscles work together rapidly as you move. Switch between focusing on a specific part of your body like the hands or face to a wide and spacious awareness of your body as a whole. Let go of wherever you’re heading and come back to the here and now. As you get off your bike, perceive the sensations in your body. Scan through your body and detect how you feel after that exercise. Prepare for sleep with mindfulness Sleep, essential to your wellbeing, is one of the first things to improve when people do a course in mindfulness. People sleep better, and their sleep is deeper. Studies found similar results from people who suffered from insomnia who did an eight-week course in MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction). Sleep is about completely letting go of the world. Falling asleep isn’t something you do – it’s about non-doing. In that sense sleep is similar to mindfulness. If you’re trying to sleep, you’re putting in a certain effort, which is the opposite of letting go. Here are some tips for preparing to sleep using mindfulness: Stick to a regular time to go to bed and to wake up. Waking up very early one day and very late the next confuses your body clock and may cause difficulties in sleeping. Avoid over-stimulating yourself by watching television or being on the computer before bed. The light from the screen tricks your brain into believing it’s still daytime, and then it takes longer for you to fall asleep. Try doing some formal mindfulness practice like a sitting meditation or the body scan before going to bed. Try doing some yoga or gentle stretching before going to bed. I’ve noticed cats naturally stretch before curling up on the sofa for a snooze. This may help you to relax and your muscles unwind. Try purring while you’re stretching, too – maybe that’s the secret to their relaxed way of life! Do some mindful walking indoors before bed. Take five or ten minutes to walk a few steps and feel all the sensations in your body as you do so. The slower, the better. When you lie in bed, feel your in-breath and out-breath. Rather than trying to sleep, just be with your breathing. Count your out-breaths from one to ten. Each time you breathe out, say the number to yourself. Every time your mind wanders off, begin again at one. If you’re lying in bed worrying, perhaps even about getting to sleep, accept your worries. Challenging or fighting thoughts just makes them more powerful. Note them, and gently come back to the feeling of the breath. If you seem to be sleeping less than usual, try not to worry about it too much. In fact, worrying about how little sleep you’re getting becomes a vicious circle. Many people sleep far less than eight hours a day, and most people have bad nights once in a while. Not being able to sleep doesn’t mean something is wrong with you. A regular mindfulness practice will probably help you in the long run. Look at a mindful work–life balance Work–life balance means balancing work and career ambitions on the one side, and home, family, leisure and spiritual pursuits on the other. Working too much can have a negative impact on other important areas. By keeping things in balance, you’re able to get your work done quicker and your relationship quality tends to improve. With the advent of mobile technology, or a demanding career, work may be taking over your free time. And sometimes you may struggle to see how you can re-dress this imbalance. The mindful reflection below may help. Try this little reflection to help reflect on and improve your work–life balance: Sit in a comfortable upright posture, with a sense of dignity and stability. Become aware of your body as a whole, with all its various changing sensations. Guide your attention to the ebb and flow of your breath. Allow your mind to settle on the feeling of the breath. Observe the balance of the breath. Notice how your in-breath naturally stops when it needs to, as does the out-breath. You don’t need to do anything – it just happens. Enjoy the flow of the breath. When you’re ready, reflect on this question for a few minutes:What can I do to find a wiser and healthier balance in my life? Go back to the sensations of the breathing. See what ideas arise. No need to force any ideas. Just reflect on the question gently, and see what happens. You may get a new thought, image or perhaps a feeling. When you’re ready, bring the meditation to a close and jot down any ideas that may have arisen. Regardless of how you apply mindfulness in your own life, focusing on self-improvement can help you reach your personal growth goals to embrace a better you.

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Modern Mindfulness: Tips for Living Mindfully in the Digital Age

Article / Updated 02-25-2020

The digital age has brought huge benefits: from saving lives in emergencies, to sharing information with the world, the advantages are countless. But without mindfulness, living in the digital age can drive you crazy! If you don’t turn your phone or computer off from time to time, your attention can be completely hijacked by websites, incoming messages, social media, games and more. Gadgets are so compelling. If you think that the digital age is getting too much, check out the suggestions supplied here to get yourself back in control. Assess your level of technology and internet addiction Nowadays, people seem to use their phones a lot. A recent survey of over 4,000 users found that . . . Average smartphone users check their phones 47 times a day. 85 percent of smartphone users will check their phone when speaking with friends and family. 80 percent of smartphone users check their phone within an hour of waking up or going to sleep. Almost half of all smartphone users have tried to limit their usage in the past. When you find you’re spending more time on your phone than interacting with real people, it may be time to reassess your phone usage. Smartphone addiction is often fueled by Internet overuse, as it’s often the games, apps and online worlds that are most compelling. Here’s a quiz you can use to get an idea of just how addicted you are to your phone: You’re doing some work and a phone rings in another room. Do you: Take no notice: it must be someone else’s; your phone is normally off. Ignore it and check it later. Walk casually to pick it up. Run to pick up the phone, sometimes tripping over or stubbing your toe in the process, and getting annoyed by anyone in the way. You’re planning a holiday, but the hotel has no Wi-Fi and no phone signal. Will you go? Yes, why not? Oh, I’d love the chance to get a break from my devices. Heaven! Probably wouldn’t go there. No way! How can I have a vacation without my phone and/or laptop – that doesn’t make sense. I need a good phone signal and superfast Internet 24/7. Where’s your phone right now? My what? Oh, phone . . . Err, no idea. I’m not sure if I have a phone actually. Somewhere around here. In this room. It’s right here – my beautiful, precious phone. What do you use your phone for? Phone calls, of course. What else is it for? Calls and texts from time to time. Mainly emergencies. Call and texts. And picking up emails sometimes too. A few pictures. Everything. It’s my life! Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, email, texting, photos, video, playing games, fitness, Skype. Oh yes, and ocassionally phone calls too. Do you keep your phone nearby as you sleep? No way! Sometimes. Or just for my alarm clock. Don’t really check last thing at night or first thing in the morning. Quite often. Send the odd text and maybe have a peek at my messages first thing in the morning too. Every night. I sleep with my phone. It’s the last thing I look at before falling asleep and the first thing I see when I wake up. It’s a compulsion. Add up your score: Each number is assigned that same point value. For example, if your answer was #2, then you award yourself two points. 5–10 points: you’re not really addicted to your phone at all – you’re probably too busy meditating. 11–15 points: you like your phone, but not that much. You’re still in control and can live comfortably without it. 16–18 points: you’re pretty dependent on your phone for many things. You might like to take a little break from your phone from time to time. 19–20 points: you love your phone. What if you lose your phone? Or it gets stolen? Make sure you have some moments in the day where you take a break from your device and do some mindful walking or stretching, or sit and meditate away from your phone. If you feel that your phone usage is out of control, try some of the tips in the section below to help, or consider getting professional help if you feel overwhelmed. Use mindfulness to get back in control of yourself in the digital age If you’ve discovered that you’re using digital devices to the point that they’re having a negative impact on your work or social life, it’s time to get back in control. You can manage overuse of digital devices in many ways. It’s not as hard as you may think. In fact, once you start using some of these strategies, you may find that you don’t even want to look at your mobile devices. Here are some techniques that you can try: Engage in other activities. You can participate in a new hobby regularly, such as knitting, gardening or playing an instrument. By paying mindful attention to your hobby and keeping your phones and computers out of the way, you’ll develop greater mindfulness. And you can also get on with a few household chores – you’ll feel good once they’re done. Again, keep your devices switched off and try focusing on the chore – it can be soothing and enjoyable to polish the dining table or clear your desk with full attention and a little smile. Make good use of flight mode, or switch your phone off. When you have an important task to do, try to keep your phone off or in flight mode. That way, you can’t be disturbed. The iPhone even has a new mode called ‘do not disturb’. This prevents calls and alerts from coming through. Set boundaries. Just before you go to bed, it’s important not to look at screens too much. Television, laptops and phones emit a light which signals to your body that it’s still daytime. Then you may have trouble falling asleep and may wake up tired. Also, you may not want to be disturbed at other specific times in the day. For example, when walking through the park keep your phone off and enjoy nature and the people around you. And obviously, when you’re with friends or family or eating a meal, switch your phone off or leave it out of the way. If distancing yourself from your phone sounds like a challenge, just try it once and see how that goes. Eventually, it can feel freeing to leave your gadgets behind. Switch off notifications. Does your computer beep each time an email comes through? Does your phone make a noise each time someone chats to you on social media or sends you a message? If so, you can end up with perpetual distraction. Every time you’re doing one task, you’re distracted by another. The more you keep switching your attention, the less your mindful awareness develops. Turn off as many notifications as you can. This way, you can focus on doing whatever you need to do with awareness. Be kind to yourself when you slip up. Ever had that feeling of frustration when you’ve spent the last hour or so just surfing the Internet rather than finishing your work? I have. But when you do eventually catch yourself doing this, don’t beat yourself up too much. It’s okay. Everyone has their downtime and gets distracted. Say to yourself, “It’s okay. Let me take a break from my computer and phone and have a little mindful walk. I’ll then come back with a smile and get on with my Everyone gets too caught up with the barrage of technology nowadays.” If you feel you need more help to reduce your Internet usage, consider an evidence-based therapy like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to ease your compulsive behavior and change your perception about internet usage. Professional help can offer alternative ways of dealing with the underlying emotions and thoughts that may be fueling your smartphone use. Use technology to enhance mindful awareness If you’re looking for a way to enhance your mindfulness, you may want to avoid technology altogether – and that’s understandable. Use of technology can distract your mind. But for you, using digital devices may be part of your everyday life. Switching them off for an extended period may seem impossible to achieve. In such a case, you can make good use of mindfulness apps, websites and more. You can download and use apps for mobile devices like phones and tablets. Simply search for mindfulness or meditation in the app stores and you’ll find lots of resources – take your pick. New apps come out every week! Popular ones at the moment are Insight Timer, Calm or Headspace. But there are many more. If you use social media a lot, following people or organizations, such as Shamash Alidina, that offer mindful images, tweets and resources may help you. You can also use software to help you focus mindfully on your work. One free piece of software that is helpful is called Self Control. It’s available free for Apple Mac computers, and there are equivalent software products for Windows PCs. Don’t be discouraged. Even seasoned mindfulness practitioners need technology tools to help manage technology usage.

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How to Apply Mindfulness with Positive Psychology

Article / Updated 02-25-2020

Positive psychology is the scientific study of strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The field is based on the belief that people want to lead meaningful lives, cultivate what is best from within themselves and to enhance their experience of work, love and play. Mindfulness is one of the powerful tools in the positive psychology toolkit, because evidence demonstrates a link between mindfulness practice and levels of deeper wellbeing. Psychology traditionally studied people’s problems. Psychologists were interested in reducing human misery. This is certainly not a bad thing and has resulted in a number of mental illnesses now being treatable. Through evidence-based talking therapies and sometimes drugs, psychology has helped people to reduce their suffering. The problem is that in their rush to help suffering people, psychologists forgot about how to help human beings have flourishing lives. So psychologists can try to help move people from unhappy to neutral, but they haven’t considered how to go from neutral to flourishing. If you drive a car, you know that you can’t get very far in neutral! Positive psychologists focus on helping people thrive. The 3 ways to happiness Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions. Dalai Lama Positive psychology describes three different ways to happiness. You can try use all three interchangeably and consider what approaches are likely to work best for you in the long-term. Pleasure Maximizing the amount of pleasure you experience leads to some feelings of happiness. Eating your favorite chocolate, going out to watch a film, or going shopping are all examples of seeking pleasure. Being grateful for the experiences you’re having or have had can help to enhance the happy experience and make it more long lasting. Pleasant experiences make you feel happy temporarily, but if you keep repeating them they become unpleasant. For example, eating one bar of chocolate is delicious, but not 100 bars of chocolate! Engagement or flow With flow, you give 100 per cent of your attention to and are at one with whatever you’re doing, whether pleasurable or not. Flow usually requires some effort on your part. The activity involved is just challenging enough to hold your relaxed attention. You can develop a state of flow in anything you do, if you give it your full attention. This is where mindfulness comes in: developing a relaxed, calm, focused awareness from moment to moment. Even washing the dishes or walking the dog is an opportunity to live in this state of flow, a condition of happiness. Give full attention to whatever you’re doing, whenever you remember. Meaning Living a meaningful life involves knowing your values and using them in the service of something larger than yourself. We live in an individualistic society, and the word “service” isn’t often thought to be attractive. However, helping others is often found to be the core ingredient for a happy, fulfilling life. Don’t worry: you don’t necessarily have to change your job or lifestyle to lead a meaningful life. If you’re a lawyer who wants to make as much money as possible, that severely limits your overall sense of happiness. The same work can offer more meaning, with the right motivation. Justice, equality, the inner desire to help others – all give you a much greater sense of meaning and purpose in such a career. Other ways of creating greater meaning include volunteer work or joining a religious or spiritual group. Simply performing acts of kindness wherever you can gives life greater meaning. You don’t have to make a massive world-changing difference: cracking jokes with friends, making tea for everyone at the office or organizing a group holiday all count, if they are important values to you. Take a few moments to reflect on what your core values are. Values are the direction you wish your life to go. For example, some of core values of mindfulness practitioners are courageous compassion, creativity, fun and truth. Then consider an area in your life where you wish to achieve a goal, like, for example, going on a date. Then take some time to consider which value you’d like to apply to your goal. So let’s say it’s creativity and fun. So you could ask someone if they’d like to go on a date to somewhere fun. In that way, you’ll be motivated to achieve your goal and more likely to have a nice time, because it truly likes up with fun, something you value. Chose a domain of your life and have a go. This is a mindful and reflective way to take action to move towards a more fulfilling life. Use your personal strengths mindfully Positive psychologists carefully analyzed a range of strengths and virtues, and found 24 of them to be universally significant across cultures. By discovering and using your strengths in your work and home life you achieve a greater sense of wellbeing because you’re doing something you’re good at and that you love doing. The table below shows the 24 key signature strengths under six key categories. Scan through the list and reflect on what you think are your five main strengths or virtues. 24 Signature Strengths Wisdom Courage Love Justice Temperance Transcendence Creativity Bravery Intimacy Responsibility Forgiveness Appreciation Judgement Perseverance Kindness Fairness Self-control Gratitude Curiosity Integrity Sociability Leadership Humility Optimism Love of learning Enthusiasm Caution Humor Perspective Spirituality The great thing about discovering your signature strengths is finding a strength you never knew you had. Link your strengths with your mindfulness practice by becoming more aware of when you do and don’t use your strengths. Also, notice what effect mindfulness meditation has on your signature strengths – for example, you may find that you become better at leadership as your confidence grows, or that your general level of curiosity increases. For example, say one of your undiscovered strengths is a love of learning, but your job is boring and seems to involve repeating the same thing every day. How can you use your love of learning? Well, you do an evening course, start a master’s degree or make time to read more. Or you can integrate your strength into your work in a mindful way. Become aware of each of the tasks you do and think about what makes that task boring. Look at co-workers and discover what attitudes others have that make them feel differently about the job. Discover something new about the work every day, or research ways of moving on to a more suitable career. By doing so, you use your strength and feel a bit better every day. To increase your day-to-day feelings of happiness, try this: Discover your signature strengths. You can discover your own strengths for free at Authentic Happiness. Use your signature strengths in your daily life wherever you can and with a mindful awareness. Enjoy focusing more on the process and less on the outcome. Savor the moment Savoring the moment means becoming aware of the pleasure in the present time by deliberately focusing attention on it. The process of savoring includes mindfulness but includes some practices that are different too. Here are some ways of developing this skill: Being aware of what you’re doing in the moment is the only way of ultimately savoring the moment. If your mind and heart are in two different places, you miss the joy of the moment – the breeze that passes through the trees or the flower on the side of the pavement. Most of the exercises in this book help you to grow your inner muscle of mindfulness. In savoring, the idea is to be mindful of the pleasant aspects of the experience in particular. Sharing with others. Expressing your pleasure to those around you turns out to be a powerful way of savoring the moment. If you notice a sunset or beautiful sky, share your pleasure with others. Letting someone know about the pleasure it gave you helps to raise the positive feeling for both of you. However, don’t forget to look carefully at the beautiful thing first – sometimes it’s easy to get carried away talking and miss the beauty of the moment itself. Seeking new experiences. Vary your pleasurable experiences rather than repeating the same ones over and over again – it’s a happier experience. And if you like ice cream, eat it once in a while and with full mindful awareness rather than feeling guilty about it. That’s practicing savoring! Help others mindfully Of the three ways of achieving satisfaction in life (pleasure, engagement, and meaning), engagement and meaning are by far the most effective, and of the two, meaning has been found to have the most positive effect. To achieve deeper meaning, you work towards something that’s greater than yourself. This involves doing something for others – or, in other words, helping others. A meaningful life is about meeting a need in the world through your unique strengths and virtues. By serving a greater need, you create a win–win situation: the people you help feel better, and you feel better for helping them. Compassion motivates us to relieve others of suffering. Research shows that compassion has deep evolutionary benefits. Your heart rate slows down, and you release the social bonding hormone called oxytocin and experience feelings of pleasure. Research on even short courses in cultivating compassion has found that people report long-term feelings of happiness. Going back to the Dalai Lama, he states: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” The Dalai Lama almost radiates warmth and compassion in the way he speaks to and interacts with others. Recently, he spoke with a bishop on stage in Italy. As the Dalai Lama spoke to the bishop, he held his hand as if the two were good friends. The Dalai Lama stated that he’d love to attend one of the bishop’s religious ceremonies. And he shared the importance for us all to respect each other’s religion to create greater harmony in the world. These are all acts of compassion. Here are the Dalai Lama’s suggestions to develop greater compassion and therefore happiness in your life: Understand what true compassion is. Compassion isn’t desire or attachment. When you’re genuinely compassionate for your partner, you wish for him to be happy. The ultimate form of compassion for your partner means that even if he behaves negatively or leaves you, you’re happy for him if he’s happy. That’s not easy! Just start by imagining yourself in his shoes when he goes through a tough time, and wish for his difficulties to end soon. Realize that, like you, everyone wants to be happy and not suffer. Once you begin to see how we’re all the same underneath our thin layer of skin, you feel greater compassion for others. Compassion grows when you see how everyone’s essentially the same, with the same desires and the same essential needs. Let go of anger and hatred. You can do this by investigating your feelings of anger and hatred for others. Do they serve you? Do they make you feel happier? Even when you think that your anger gives you the energy to act on injustices, look more closely: anger shuts down your rational brain and can make your actions destructive and unkind. Investigate and observe mindfully for yourself. Notice the difference between acting as if you’re angry and actually being angry. The former is less destructive. See compassion as strong, not weak. Compassion and patience are mistakenly thought of as weak. Actually they offer great strength. People who react quickly with anger are not in control of themselves. Whereas someone who listens, is patient and compassionate is tremendously resilience and strong. Think of people like Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr. They are considered incredibly compassionate, wise and courageous, not weak at all. Be grateful for your enemies. If you want to learn tolerance and patience – qualities of compassion – you can’t learn from your friends. You need a challenge. So when someone annoying comes into your life, be thankful for the opportunity to cultivate compassion! Understand that this person has a deep desire for happiness, just like you do. He may be looking for happiness in the wrong way. Wish that he finds a better path to happiness and therefore doesn’t suffer so much. If he suffers more, he may just cause more pain for others. Treat whoever you meet as an old friend, or as a brother or sister. That makes you feel happier straight away! See beyond people’s outer appearances. They may look different, dress differently, or act differently. But remember that underneath we’re all the same. We’re all part of the same human community. By cultivating compassion, you make a positive contribution to the world. When you feel a little happier, you make the world a happier and more peaceful place to live. The planet is our home, and the best way to protect it is through compassion – positive relations with others. Ultimately, it’s vital for the survival of our species. Doing things just for your own happiness doesn’t really work. Imagine cooking a meal for the whole family and then just eating it yourself and watching the rest of the family go hungry. Where’s the fun in that? The food may taste good, but without sharing you miss something really important. Happiness is the same. If you practice mindfulness just for your own happiness and for no one else, the mindfulness has a limited effect. Expand your vision and allow your mindfulness to expand to benefit all, and you’ll find it far more fulfilling. Each time before you practice, recall the positive effect mindfulness has on both yourself and those around you, ultimately making the world a better place.

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How to Overcome Addiction with Mindfulness

Article / Updated 02-25-2020

An addiction is a seemingly uncontrollable need to abuse a substance like drink or drugs or to carry out an activity like gambling. Addictions interfere with your life at home, work or school, where they cause problems. Finding successful treatment for addiction can be difficult and a constant battle, but mindfulness can help overcome the substance abuse struggle. If you’re suffering from addiction, remember that you’re not alone. In the USA, for example, 23 million are addicted to alcohol or other drugs. And over two-thirds of people who suffer from addiction abuse alcohol. The good news is, help is available. If you’ve tried and failed at overcoming your addiction, don’t give up. There’s hope, with all the support out there. Mindfulness is one of many ways to overcome addiction. Not sure whether you’re suffering from addiction? It can be hard to admit if you’re addicted to something. But recognizing and accepting your addiction is the first step in change. Ask yourself the following questions: Do you use more of the substance or participate in the activity more now than in the past? Do you experience urges or withdrawal symptoms when you don’t have the substance or activity? Do you ever lie to others about your use of the substance or your behavior? If the answer is yes, consider consulting a health professional for a more accurate evaluation and appropriate advice. A health professional can refer you to all sorts of support – many organizations can help in treating addiction. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational enhancement therapy (MET) have been found to be very effective treatments. Mindfulness itself is an ancient practice, going back at least 2,500 years. But, clinically speaking, mindfulness is a new approach for overcoming addiction, and the evidence for the approach is at the very early stages of being gathered, although it’s positive so far. A mindful approach to addiction Once you’re addicted, your actions are the opposite of mindful: they’re automatic. This example describes a process that happens almost unconsciously each time you smoke a cigarette: You’re sitting at work on your desk and you feel a bit lethargic and tired. You feel the urge to smoke a cigarette. It’s actually a physical sensation in your body, but usually you don’t know where the sensation is in your body. You immediately think: "I need to smoke." (You don’t often consciously register this thought – it just happens in your brain.) You very quickly find yourself standing up and walking out of the building with the packet of cigarettes and a lighter in your hands (usually without awareness – a conscious choice is rarely made). The act of taking a cigarette out, lighting it and drawing in the smoke happens quickly and automatically (you may be lost in other thoughts). The urge is satisfied for now and the lethargy gone. You’re rewarded with a feeling of pleasure (dopamine is released in your brain). The cycle repeats again in a few hours. Mindfulness offers you a way to identify the thoughts and emotions that are driving your addiction, and gives you a choice rather than just the automatic compulsion and action of depending on the addictive behavior. You discover that just because you have an urge to do something doesn’t mean you have to do it. You can just experience the urge until it passes. Addiction and the brain Most scientists now consider addiction a long-term disease. This is because addiction changes the structure and function of the brain. Just as a piece of clay changes when you squeeze it, so the brain’s internal structure changes with addiction. Changes happen in the brain due to the experience of pleasure and consequent action. When you experience anything pleasurable, the brain releases dopamine. A delicious meal, receiving money or taking a drug all result in a dopamine release. The greater the intensity, speed and reliability of dopamine release, the greater the chance of addiction. Drugs cause a massive surge of dopamine in your brain. This begins to make changes in the way the memory, motivation and survival system areas of your brain work. This is how just wanting the substance turns into a compulsion. Addiction is much more than just a desire. The huge surge of dopamine creates the experience of pleasure and overwhelms your brain. Your brain isn’t designed to deal with so much dopamine. The ability to experience pleasure diminishes as your pleasure system gets overloaded and, to some extent, damaged. You need more of the substance or activity to get the same experience of pleasure. At this point, compulsion takes over. Your memory reminds you of the past pleasure you experienced, and you are compelled to recreate that experience by taking more of the substance or further engaging in the behavior. This is why addiction is so powerful and how everyday willpower doesn’t seem to help. Urge surfing: The mindful key to unlocking addiction One brilliant way of managing the urges that arise in addiction is called urge surfing. It’s a different way of meeting the reactive behavior of addiction. Acting on strong cravings, when in an automatic pilot mode, doesn’t help you in the long term. By urge surfing, you don’t have to act on the urge or craving that you experience. The steps when you have an urge are: Find a comfortable posture. You can sit, lie down, or even walk slowly – whatever you prefer. See whether you can relax your body a little and let go of any areas of tension. Begin by taking a deep breath and slowly breathing out. Notice that you have an urge to smoke, drink, gamble or whatever else it is for you. Be mindful of your body. Turn your attention to your physical bodily sensations. Where do you feel this urge in your body? Is it in one particular place or is it all over your body? What’s does the urge actually feel like? Be mindful of your thoughts. Notice and acknowledge the thoughts that are arising for you right now. Is it a familiar pattern of thoughts? Are they negative or judgemental thoughts? See whether you can step back from those thoughts, as if you’re an observer of the experience, rather than getting too caught up in the thoughts, if you can. Watch the thoughts like bubbles floating away. Be mindful of your feelings. Notice the feeling of the urge. The feeling may be very uncomfortable. That doesn’t make it bad or good – it’s just the nature of the feeling. Notice your judgement of ‘I like this experience’ or ‘I don’t like this experience’. Remember that the feeling isn’t dangerous or threatening in itself. Allow the experience to be as it is. See whether you can be with the experience without a need to get rid of it or to react to it by engaging in the behavior that’s not helpful for you. Just practise being with the experience, the urge, the craving, the compulsion, in the present moment. Notice how the urge is changing. Perhaps the urge is increasing or decreasing for you. Maybe it’s staying just the same. If the urge is increasing, imagine a wave in the ocean approaching a beach. The waves rises higher and higher. But once it reaches its peak, it begins to come down again. Imagine your urge is like the wave. It’ll continue to grow in intensity but will then naturally go down again. It won’t keep growing forever. See whether you can just be present with the urge as it rises and falls. Ride the wave. You may even like to imagine yourself surfing the wave, the urge. Make use of your breathing. Keep ‘surfing that urge’. Perhaps see your breath like a surf board that supports you as you surf the wave of your urge. Notice how you’ve managed to surf this urge for all this time. This tool is always available for you, no matter how strong your urge or however intense your emotion or whatever thoughts arise for you. Try reflecting on what you really want when you’re in the midst of your craving. Usually it’s not the substance or behavior you’re craving. Maybe you’re feeling lonely or stressed? Or maybe you want freedom from circumstances or emotions at this time? Think of your urge like a tantrum that a child has. If you give the child a sweet, they’ll quieten down. But they’ve learned to be rewarded for screaming. So before long they’ll have another tantrum. So what’s the solution? Just to be nice to them, but don’t to give them any sweets. Eventually the tantrum will stop. The next time they start screaming, if , again, you just hold them or hug them but don’t give them any sweets, the tantrum will end sooner. Eventually they’ll stop having tantrums altogether. Being kind to the child without giving them sweets is like being mindful of your urge without satisfying your urge. Each time you ride out your urge, your craving gets weaker. Each time you satisfy that urge with a smoke or a drink, for example, you strengthen your craving. Every small effort you make counts. If you want to boost your willpower, try one of the following ideas suggested by Kelly McGonigal, author of a fabulous book called The Willpower Instinct, Avery Publishing Group, 2013: Get enough sleep. Aim for around eight hours if possible. Mediate daily. Even a few minutes of walking is a great idea. You don’t have to be too intensive. Make it mindful walking to make it even more powerful. Slow down your breathing to four to six full breaths a minute – that can boost your willpower when you need it. How to manage relapse: The surprising secret for success As someone once told me: ‘I’ve been a smoker for 20 years. I’ve given up hundreds of times.’ Most people who want to give up an addiction are able to stop for a short period, but in a moment of difficulty or mindlessness they begin using the object of their addiction again. This is to be expected. Everyone’s human and will mistakenly go back to the drug, drink or whatever. How do you treat yourself when you have a relapse? Most people think that if they’re hard on themselves when they accidentally relapse, they’ll get better. In fact, amazingly, the opposite has been found to be true in research. Studies have found one of secrets of those that manage to give up long term: self-compassion. For example, people addicted to alcohol were less likely to have a major relapse if they were more forgiving of themselves when they had a drink. The more kind and forgiving you can be with yourself when you relapse, the more likely it is that the relapse be a one-off. But if you beat yourself up, thinking, “Oh, I’m such an idiot. I can’t even give up drinking. I’ll never do it,” the worse you feel. And the worse you feel, the more you feel the need to find some false comfort in your addiction. This is a powerful approach if you’re dealing with an addiction. When you do manage to give up, let’s say a drug, for a few days, congratulate yourself each day. And when you end up relapsing on a bad day, tell yourself that you’ve made a one-off mistake and can go back to being drug-free again. Remind yourself that you’ve had four days of no drugs and one day having taken the drug. That’s four out of five – pretty good! See whether you can manage a few more days without the substance – see whether you can sit with that urge a bit longer. See whether you can take the time to meditate, perhaps simply feeling your breathing, for a couple more minutes today. Be extra nice to yourself. Improving yourself is a constant process. Be kind to yourself as you grow.

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