This week I mislaid my bank card, burned the dinner and forgot a promise to a friend. But I just can't help it. I’m busy. The phone rang. I was running late. The kids were playing up. I’m a bad cook. I’m a rotten friend. I .… STOP!
Have you had days, weeks or even years that look like this? Constantly running from one emergency to the next with voices in your head telling you you’re not good enough and you’ve got to try harder? You’re not alone. Most of us are constantly bombarded by feelings of inadequacy that propel us into a frenzy of activity. Secretly feel your mothering skills aren’t up to the job? Smother those thoughts with a flurry of craft projects, baking healthy snacks and online shopping for educational toys. Feel like a fraud in your job? Stay back late, get in early, check your phone in the toilet and take work home at the weekend.
Eventually you wake up one morning wondering why you are always exhausted and anxious. Keep going long enough and you could even make yourself depressed. And the really annoying thing is, it doesn’t matter how delicious your home made sugar-free treats are or how much money you earn, it’s still never good enough.
There is a solution. But you won’t find it in self-help books that tell you how to juggle your life or make better to–do lists. The answer is Mindfulness. I know it’s the answer because it works for me (when I do it – see the opening paragraph for what happens when I don’t) and because a mountain of research shows how and why it can work for you too.
A study by the University of Massachusetts showed that 90% of people who took an 8 week mindfulness course reported significant reductions in anxiety, while a study at Wake Forest University showed that 4 x 20 minute mindfulness sessions improved cognitive abilities, especially when performing stressful tasks under time pressure. Other studies have shown mindfulness to be effective in reducing symptoms OCD, ADHD and depression while enhancing cognitive ability, resilience and optimism.
Mindfulness is effective, liberating and easy to practice. It can even be tasty - try this exercise:
Mindfulness with Chocolate
Slowly put a square of chocolate on your tongue. Be aware of the texture, weight, flavour and sensations. Now notice when your mind wanders off to think about something else. When it does that, bring it back to the chocolate. How does it taste? What are the sensations in your mouth as you chew and swallow it? Keep noticing each time your mind leaves the immediate experience of eating the chocolate and thinks of something else. Bring it back to awareness of eating the chocolate.
How often have you put food in your mouth and eaten it while your mind was somewhere else? This simple exercise is a first step in training your mind to focus on the present moment, participating consciously in every detail of your life. With a bit of practice, you will be able to focus your mind more easily on the things that really matter and turn down the volume on the voices that compel you to do more ‘stuff’. You will short circuit the behaviour that makes you feel like the star of Groundhog Day, each day a repetition of the last.
Mindfulness is not about emptying your mind – you can never do that. Neither is it critically analyzing your own mind - we do more than enough of that already. Mindfulness means paying attention to the here and now in a non-judgmental way. Not criticizing, praising or trying to change things. Simply observing and being aware of whatever’s there.
If you’d like to get off the treadmill, let go of your anxiety and start to enjoy life again, a mindfulness practice is simple way to move from overwhelm to clarity.
Dive deeper into meditation with this amazing list of free resources: