11 Tips for Developing Mindful Attitudes - dummies

By Patrizia Collard

Mindfulness can sometimes appear relatively simple (as in ‘just be’), but in fact it’s not so easy. Creating a mindful practice that leads to a mindful life requires you to change certain attitudes and behaviour patterns that otherwise get in the way of you living mindfully.

To help, here are 11 tips to make you aware of these necessary mindful mindsets and to help support you in acquiring them.

Tiny baby-steps are better than leaping forwards and then straining yourself to the extent that you may give up mindfulness altogether.

Mindfulness: Being non-judgemental

From the word go people are judged and evaluated: good boy, good girl, and so on are the responses adults utter when children manage a new skill. Judging is deeply engrained into your psyche and so you may find that letting go of judgement does not come naturally at first.

Equally you may become aware, when you look out for it, that like most people you have likes and dislikes and that these preferences are almost etched onto your subconscious.

The good news is that your brain has the capacity to expand and create new neuro pathways as you start to think and experience things differently.

The initial step is to pay attention fully when your mind is judging something. You may be surprised how often you judge something as pleasant or unpleasant throughout the day. Your mind is so overactive judging everything that it can make you dizzy when you become really aware of it. Every sense checks and labels experiences: seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching and thinking. What an exhausting effort!

Use a mindfulness diary and write down all the judging, evaluating, appraising and so on that goes on in your mind during the course of half an hour. Don’t be shocked if you find hundreds of judgements going on. Afterwards, note down your any patterns in your likes or dislikes. For example, do you mainly judge yourself, other people, life, the government or activities you engage with, or just everything?

Judgement can and will happen while you’re practising meditation. You may have thoughts along the lines of: ‘Is this ever going to end?’ or ‘How can this stupid watching of my breath help my marriage?’ Simply notice that all thoughts of this nature are fruitless judgements and evaluations. Just observe them for what they are and, as best as you can, let them pass by before returning to your practice. If you don’t feed these thoughts, they’re most likely to reduce over time.

Plus, don’t think that you need certain conditions to be right so that you can practise successfully. Just accept, without judgement, however an exercise turns out. Even if you have to bring your attention back hundreds of times, congratulate yourself for noticing it and don’t hold on to judgements about good or bad meditations.

Having patience in your mindfulness

Patience is a gift that some people are bestowed with, but most people have to develop it slowly. And today’s quick-fix society doesn’t help, with takeaway meals, movies on demand, one-hour home deliveries. This convenience is all very well, but it doesn’t help you to develop patience.

The attitude to aim for is to allow mindful awareness to unfold moment by moment. Give yourself time and be assured that practising mindfulness in itself is practising kindness and patience. It’s a wonderful tool to have when you’re frightened, unwell or down in the dumps. In these difficult times, patience whispers into your ear that ‘this too will pass’.

Plus, if you develop patience and allow life to present itself to you as it is, you start to observe the little miracles that life presents: a flower growing out of a small crack in the wall, a smile from an unknown passerby, a beautiful scent in the air, the wind gently caressing your face and many, many more.

Mindfully cultivating childlike curiosity

Consider choosing an afternoon at the weekend and noticing all the little wonders and surprises occurring, as if you’re a child. If you have a child in your family, spend time with them and let them remind you: the miraculous taste of ice-cream or cake, the fun of blowing a dandelion and seeing all the tiny grey ‘umbrellas’ set off on their own, the joy of splashing yourself with water or licking out the chocolate residue from a bowl (using your fingers, of course!).

Think about what else makes you intensely curious. Perhaps try to listen to your favourite songs and see whether you notice something new about them: an instrument, a word you never noticed before, a change in rhythm.

Listen to Sir David Attenborough. Whenever he talks about an animal, he sounds as if he’s the first person who’s ever seen it. He’s an excellent example of living with childlike curiosity.

This attitude of curiosity is essential when you practise the formal mindfulness meditations. An open (beginner’s) mind helps you to notice that each meditation differs, that each moment is unique, and it helps to imprint this awareness onto your everyday thinking, too.

Trusting yourself and the science of mindfulness

‘There’s no right or wrong way of practising mindfulness, there’s only your way.’ This saying doesn’t mean that you don’t need good guidance and continuing development in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), but it does mean that ultimately you know best when to practise and how to arrange your practice room, for example. You intuitively feel when you need more time to engage with formal meditation or when you want a free-flowing day where you’re mindful from dawn to dusk. In particular, trust in yourself that sooner or later you’ll start noticing the benefits that MBCT brings to your life.

Respect what your body tells you, because this communication is ultimately of utmost importance when it comes to choosing the right posture of sitting or kneeling, for example. Don’t be a martyr to your pain. Experiment with postures, mindful movement, time of the day, and so on, and see what serves you best.

The other aspect of trust refers to the teachings of mindfulness itself. Modern-day scientific research proves that mindfulness works, revealing how it changes your brain structurally and alters your biochemistry. Therefore, you can read scientific evidence to support your mindfulness journey. At its roots, however, is an ancient wisdom that has continued over several thousand years, teaching awareness, kindness and compassion to help you feel more truly alive.

Working on personal growth and non-striving

Since childhood you may well have learned to strive, to become educated and, if at all possible, be successful. Success is usually seen in monetary rewards or status. While you strive and think that this success is what’s expected of you, you’re also told to be better than others. Schools and universities offer scholarships to the best students, not to the ones who may need or deserve them most.

Now, within the context of mindful living and practice, let go of these goals and to not strive. Mindfulness promotes the idea of non-doing (of just being). Isn’t that doing something? These requests can all seem rather confusing if not contradictory.

The most important aspect of non-striving is the awareness that you’re already perfect and that some areas of your life just need a little polishing, that’s all. Think of yourself as a diamond. Before it’s polished it looks like ordinary stone, but afterwards it radiates in all the colours of the rainbow and is beautiful.

Accepting things just as they are

Acceptance indicates that you’re prepared to do a reality check. Acknowledging that, for example, you drink too much, sleep too little, feel down in the dumps or bad about choices you’ve made, or are frightened by the noise of the wind, isn’t an easy step to take. You can feel that if you accept things as they are, at least for now, you may never be able to change them, but as the song says, this ‘ain’t necessarily so’. In fact, the exact opposite may be the outcome when you’ve faced your demons.

If you look the pain, fear, sadness, disease or whatever directly in the eye, you may be able to find or see a way through it. You need to know what you’re trying to cure or change before you can go about altering it. Sometimes, of course, acceptance means that a situation ‘is what it is’ and that you need to find out how to live around it, instead of letting it wear away the quality of your life completely.

Think about how much time you invest regularly in resisting what you don’t like, at least mentally. It takes up a great deal of strength to continue to resist or experience aversion towards things that are what they are. You can use up all your energy in resistance, leaving nothing left to produce change.

Thus, accepting your situation just as it is (for now) can be the starting point for living your life truly and engaging in it with a sense of adventure.

Letting go of negative thoughts

When you start engaging with regular meditation you soon find that a number of thoughts keep coming back, and a number of discomforts arise.

As best as you can, simply take each moment as it comes, neither attaching to it too strongly nor pushing it away. You can always say to yourself: ‘It’s okay; I want to feel it, just as it is, knowing all the while that soon everything passes.’

Think of letting go as being like closing your mind when you’re ready to fall asleep. You trust that you’re going to wake up in the morning, that the world will still exist and that you can experience another day. To find peace and sleep, you need to let go of worries and ruminations; the same is true for meditation.

Committing to commitment and self-discipline

In some ways, developing mindfulness skills is like learning any other ability. Unless you practise regularly you won’t achieve your goals or, for example, you won’t have access to the emergency breathing space meditation when you really need it.

So, do mindfulness exercises and meditations, rain or shine; put a date and time for your practice in your diary. Perhaps practise with a buddy and join a group nearby, if at all possible. Explore all the other activities that you can reduce to give you time and space for MBCT.

Mindfulness: Maintaining compassion

You need deep compassion for your mindfulness experience ‒ first of all for others, who’re most probably still doing their own thing even though you’re becoming more astutely aware of flaws and selfish actions. If you notice other people being in a ‘me, me, me’ state, remember that they may not know any better.

You also require self-compassion, which means observing your own flaws and suffering. The more mindful you become, the more delicate your sensors are in picking up when hurt is in the air. Sometimes this pain is caused by your own self-critical attitude, and if you do something wrong or lose your temper, only the attitude of self-compassion can give you the humility to own the mistake and say sorry.

Try not to have double standards and be stricter with yourself than you are with a friend. All humans make mistakes.

Being in the now with your mindfulness

Every practice, formal meditation or everyday mindfulness experience reminds you over and over to connect to one thing: the present moment. Now, at this moment, your life is happening.

The past is no longer accessible by you and the future isn’t here yet. Unless you focus on the here and now, you may miss out the miracle of life.

Observing a wider perspective

You’re important and so is everybody else, including all beings and the planet. Mindfulness invites you to see that you’re part of this bigger picture.

Mindful living in its larger perspective means bringing awareness to each moment and all that this moment encompasses: so if you see somebody who’s hungry in this moment, you may respond to hunger (maybe buy a sandwich); if you see somebody hurt, you may call the ambulance; if you see an elderly or frail person on the bus or train, you may mindfully offer your seat.

Mindful living changes your life, and the lives of the people around you as well.