People sometimes ask me how to know whether they are being mindful or not. Good question! It might sound as easy as saying “if you are, you’ll know it” or “if you aren’t, you’ll know it” but I don’t think that’s always the case. Here’s my quick checklist to help you decide.
Do you often find yourself:
- Thinking “I wish . . . ”, meaning you wish things were different than they are
- “I wish I could lose 10 pounds.” or “I wish my life wasn’t so hard.” or “I wish I had a better job.”
- Thinking about the past and what you might’ve done differently
- “I should have studied something different in college.” or “I shouldn’t have wasted so much time on that project.”
- Thinking about the future, with some degree of anxiety
- “I have so much I need to do!” or “I’m worried this won’t turn out ok.”
- Thinking judgmental thoughts of yourself and others
- “Nothing looks good on me!” or “I can’t believe she wore that.”
- On auto-pilot, going through the motions with reduced awareness of your experience
- “I don’t even remember driving home.” or “I do that with my eyes closed!”
- Characterizing life/your day in an “either-or” way, i.e.: all good or all bad.
- “I had a horrible day!” or “My life is a hard one.”
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you’re in good company! We live hectic lives in an increasingly complex world where information comes at us from more sources than ever before, all vying for our attention. It’s no surprise we’re not more present, more fully aware.
Remember the line in the Beatles song, Eleanor Rigby, “wearing the face that she keeps in the jar by the door”? I don’t know what Paul had in mind when he wrote that but it makes me think of the different faces we wear depending on the time of day, the people we’re with, and the environment we’re in.
Here’s a mindfulness exercise to help us notice what face we wear when, where and with whom. Pay attention to the face you present in the following situations. Make a mental note or jot down a note about each. You can even use emojis to help capture your face, For example, for those who aren’t early birds, your waking up face might be a grumpy face. If you feel stressed driving to work, a tense face might fit.
Waking up face:
Arriving at work face:
Arriving home face:
Greeting partner face:
Greeting kids face:
Going to bed face:
Now review your faces and decide if there are any that you want to change, particularly if you often wear that face and it reflects a not-so-happy you. We’re often unaware of the face we present to others. Here’s a chance to notice.
Scientists tell us that our genes play a big role in our temperament – whether we are naturally positive or negative, high-strung or low-key. Does that mean, however, that we have no control over how we feel or on our outlook on life?
We all know people who seem to enjoy being miserable. They find fault with everything and everyone, feel victimized by life, and seem to not experience any happiness. We also know people who seem to bounce from one happy moment to the next, always looking at the bright side, and spreading joy wherever they go. Most of us are somewhere in the middle as we navigate life’s ups and downs. Is it possible to shift the scale to more happiness and less dissatisfaction? YES! As with anything, it takes practice. What could be easier though, then practicing being happy?
Practice Being Happy
- Hang out with happy people. We may not get to choose our family but we can choose our friends and acquaintances. If a relationship is not mutual, if it is dragging you down, consider pruning your friendship tree.
- Show thanks. This is one of the easiest things to do and the return on investment is incalculable.
- Look for purpose. Ask yourself, “what is my purpose in life?” and you’re likely to find reason to be happy. Perhaps it is to be the best mom you can be or to serve others or make lives easier/better in some small but significant ways.
- Look for meaning. When things go wrong, as they do, find meaning. Don’t dig too deep! It may be as simple as a lesson learned or another step in resilience.
- Live in the moment. Make an effort to let go of yesterday and not worry about tomorrow. All that you have any control over is what is right in front of you today.
If you found your Thanksgiving holiday to be more doing (shopping, cleaning, prepping, cooking, serving, hosting, cleaning again) than being (listening, breathing, walking, seeing things and people in a simpler light, enjoying special moments), there’s still hope for you!
The next round of holidays is just around the corner and now is the time to set an intention to s-l-o-w down! Many people have come to realize how stressful this time of year can be and with a child with ASD, even more so. While some things are not within your control to change, some are. Here are some tips:
- Think about your traditions and appraise them in the here and now. For example, if you have always sent out holiday cards, ask if this is still meaningful for you and the recipients. Can you update your list of recipients and shorten it? If this year is particularly stressful, consider not sending cards this year and revisiting the issue next year. If you are nagged by “I should” and “I always”, ask yourself what the worst- case scenario would be if you skip this year. Will anyone disown you?
- Decide more is not better. Too often we spend extra time and money on “filler” such as what goes into a child’s stocking. I realized one year that I spent almost as much on the little stuff as I did on the “main present”. My answer was to stuff the lower half of the stocking with new socks and then add a few items on top. If you have many people on your list for gifts, just give one. Radical idea for the kids, I know! But as kids get older, the things they want are smaller and more expensive. There’s no need to buy more just so they have a lot to open. Last year I bombed on a number of items I bought for my family – things they didn’t really need or want. I vowed to recall this next time. It was one gift that made their day.
- Call to mind the small yet meaningful aspects of the holiday. We tend to get caught up in the gift-giving part and breeze past the moments that truly count. It could be the smell of fresh pine or a song that brings back childhood memories. This year decide to pay attention, to notice the small things. Make a mental note of them.
- Set your own pace. Television and the internet will convince you that time and gifts are running out and that you better hurry or else you’ll miss out. Turn it off. Tune it out. Recognize that the purpose of this is to sell something. Slow down and think through your list.
- Refrain from comparing. Expectations tend to be our downfall when it comes to the holidays. We compare ourselves with our own parents, other families, fictitious families on TV, Face Book families (they seem fictitious sometimes too!) and storybook families of holidays long, long ago. Instead of comparisons, think of possibilities. Leave some room for being adaptable to whatever may come your way.
Wishing you love, peace, and quiet this holiday season!
Halloween is just a soggy sweet memory and you know what that means, don’t you? It means that we’ll soon be hearing holiday music in the aisles as we sip our gingerbread lattes.
It’s so easy this time of year to get swept up in the mad rush to THE HOLIDAYS. Or if you’re like me, you get a little irritated and decide to try and ignore it all. What’s the big hurry?
Now is a good time to set some mindful intentions about what’s to come. Here are some tips for mindful holidays. Stay tuned for more the next couple months.
- Set an intention (or two) for the upcoming holidays. It might sound something like this: “This year I’m going to focus on the meaning of the holiday instead of the marketing of it.” Or “This year I’ll practice self-compassion when things don’t go as planned.” Or “Knowing there will likely be both stress and joy, I’ll expect some of each and be ok with it.”
- Make a list of things that have caused you stress in past years. It might be last-minute shopping or accepting too many party invitations or eating too many holiday goodies. Decide which ones you might be able to address ahead of time in order to lessen the stress.
- Enlist the help and support of friends and loved ones by agreeing to slow down and simplify. This might mean agreeing to a potluck meal instead of doing it all by yourself or the adults agreeing to give to a favorite charity instead of buying gifts for each other.
- Remember that mindfulness means being aware in the present moment. It’s impossible to do this if we’re racing ahead in mind and body.
I love this definition of mindfulness from James Baraz:
“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant, without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant, without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).”