When embarking on a therapy like Mindfullness for the first time it’s important to be prepared for the work its going to take and how to face those feelings of apprehension going in. So here are 7 tips for attitude adjustment when practicing mindfullness.
- Reduce Judgments of self and others Judgments are assumptions and are not real. When you learn to catch your judgments and let them go you can have a more authentic experience and be able to see things as they really are, as opposed to what you think they should be.
- Develop patience Nothing in DBT is a fast fix. Mindfullness may be the poster-child of the whole therapy and it’s pretty darn cool, but it’s not going to start working for you overnight. This is all a process and it’s going to take time.
- Beginners mind Approach the material as if you’ve never seen anything like it before. Pretend this is your first day of school and look at these words and ideas like they are fresh and novel. You can’t learn something new if you think you already have the answers.
- Trust The people who develop and teach mindfullness know what they’re doing. It’s been tested and practiced by people from all levels of society and all ages and backgrounds. It works. Trust the treatment, its here to help you get better.
- Non-striving Unlike learning a new sport or musical instrument, you can’t really push yourself further or reach towards one goal to the next. It’s not like that. You’re not moving towards something, you’re just being. What happens now is all that matters.
- Acceptance When you start using the word “should” a lot, you tend to get stuck in a downward spiral of blame and guilt. Try to eliminate “should” from your vocabulary by practicing being present with things as they are and accepting reality as it is. “Should” never got anyone anywhere.
- Non-Attachment The present is always in motion. You will notice thoughts and feelings coming into your field of vision and the trick is not to get attached to them. Notice them, acknowledge them and then let them go. If you attach to a thought of feeling while trying to practice mindfullness you could get pulled away from the present. So gently ease yourself away from getting stuck and return to the present.
In my personal experience I struggled a lot with things like Beginners mind, trust, and patience. When I first came into DBT I thought it was going to be easy. Learn some terms, talk about feelings, yadda, yadda, yadda… I was resistant. When facing a new skill I always approached with an arrogant sense that I would pick it up right away without much learning curve. (And it is true, I learn new skills very quickly, I always have) So beginners mind seemed almost insulting to me. But I had to let go of my assumptions and judgments and just do the bloody work. I had to learn to rest in the awareness of not knowing. Not an easy ask for an academic. I get it now, but it took a while. This is why the individual therapist is there to help you, so you don’t get stuck in the hang-ups and baggage we bring with us.
Here are some common barriers to mindfullness practice, and some tips on getting past them:
- Thinking, “Am I doing it right?” Probably yes. I know there are plenty of ways to get distracted and let your mind wander, but it’s like flexing a muscle; your mind may drift off and so you gently pull it back in. It drifts away again so you pull it back in again. It gets easier.
- Physical Pain is distracting Yes, you may be uncomfortable, tense, or if you have chronic pain it will be distracting. But the pain you feel can become part of the practice, acknowledge it, then let it pass.
- Thinking “The conditions weren’t right”As I mentioned before, mindfullness can be practised in any place at any time. Expecting conditions to be just right is only going to lead to disappointment. Notice the distraction, maybe pause a moment to make sure its not going to continue to be a problem, then let it go.
- Mind Wandering Our minds wander. It’s normal and natural so the best way to deal is again to gently guide our mind back to the meditation. Imagine your wandering thoughts drifting above you like clouds in the sky. We may pause to admire one for a while but the trick is not to follow the cloud past the horizon.
- Thinking “I couldn’t do the homework” Finding time to do the homework is part of the homework, and you may have to get creative about how to organize your time. Instead of trying to block out a half-hour for mindfullness, try five minutes here, ten minutes there, a little at a time and eventually you’ll get into a steady habit and good practice.
- Thinking “I got bored,” or “I was totally irritated by the recording” Yup, boredom. This is why beginners mind is a key to starting mindfullness. If I don’t feel challenged, I get bored, and when I get bored I get distracted and irritated. I start looking for other ways to amuse myself, and not always in a healthy way. If you find the same trouble, again, notice these feelings, become curious about them. why are you feeling irritated or bored? Then, let the feelings pass and return to the meditation.
- Thinking “It was great, I fell asleep I was so relaxed,” or “It didn’t do anything for me, I just fell asleep.” This is a common complaint for first time meditation. The body is relaxed so that it doesn’t become a distraction to the mind. The danger here is that if you let yourself become too relaxed and fall asleep, you’ve missed the meditation altogether. The mind must remain active. Find ways to keep yourself present and alert in the moment, experiment with different times of day, or different environments and try again.
- Thinking “I am trying my best and I still don’t get it. I need to work harder at it.” The purpose of mindfullness is not to fix something or to cure something. Its a practice that is always ongoing. If you find it doesn’t seem to be helping in the way you think it should, try another way to practice. Its not that you’re doing it wrong or not trying hard enough, its perhaps that you havn’t found the right balance for yourself. Keep trying, don’t give up!
- Reconnecting with Avoided Emotion. Thinking, “I just got too upset.” Another danger with mindfullness meditation is that sometimes uncomfortable emotions, memories or thoughts can trigger a painful response. If this happens its important to remember that the emotions need to be felt so they can be processed. If this happens during a meditation practice, don’t try to suppress the emotion, first, make sure you are steady and safe in your body, then allow the emotion to wash over you. Observe it, feel it, be curious about it, explore it, and then let it go. It may take several tries to get past the worst of it but this is a safe and healthy way to process pent-up emotions that need to be released.
There’s no doubt about it, Mindfullness is not easy. It takes time and practice and patience with yourself. But you are not alone. There are plenty of resources out there, you can find dozens of guided meditations on youtube. Find one that works best for you and then experiment with ways to bring mindfullness into your everyday life. I recommend practising mindfullness when doing a mundane job like cooking or making the bed. Turn something you do mindlessly into something you can practise mindfully.