In my last two posts, I explained the "what" of mindfulness. If you read those posts, you know what mindfulness is. Today, I'm going to tell you about my favorite "why" of mindfulness - why I practice. Next week, I'll conclude this series by showing you "how" to practice.
Are You Skeptical About Mindfulness?
When you’re beginning a mindfulness practice or even considering committing to one, it’s normal to be a little skeptical about all of the advertised rewards.
Mindfulness has been the self-help media darling of the last decade and because of that, I think sometimes it gets over-hyped.
It’s probably wise to be wary of fantastic promises, but don’t throw the baby away with the bathwater. Mindfulness practice does offer some very real and potentially transformational benefits.
For example, mindfulness practice has been associated with improved health and well-being, reduced stress, increased willpower, and improvements in pain tolerance. You can check out this article from 2017’s Annual Review of Psychology to learn more.
Those are all great benefits of mindfulness, but today I want to highlight the main reason I practice.
Mindfulness Gives You Control Over Yourself
We spend so much time trying to control all kinds of things that are out of our control, most frequently, other people's behavior, when the only thing we really have any control over is ourselves. Mindfulness is the key to that control.
That's because from the moment you begin practicing mindfulness, you’re observing.
You’re observing your breath, your body, your sensations, your thoughts, or your emotions. And by observing these internal events rather than just experiencing them, you’re putting some metaphorical space between yourself and your experience.
In that space, you have freedom, choice, and control.
When you practice mindfulness, you give yourself an opportunity to notice your experience rather than being enslaved by your automatic reactions. And once you notice what's going on, you can choose to do something different!
Over time, you can cultivate the freedom to create better habits, make better choices, and be with difficult thoughts or emotions without being overwhelmed by them.
You discover that you don’t have to get swept away by every emotion, and don’t have to believe every thought that pops into your mind.
To give you some concrete examples, mindfulness can give you the freedom to eat something different, or to say something different, to ride out cravings, to face your fears, or to choose long-term values over short-term desires.
In this way, mindfulness can help you build willpower, perspective and equanimity. All of these capacities lie in that space between experiencing and observing.
And as a control enthusiast, this is why I choose to spend some time each day doing something that seems like a whole lotta nothing.
Practice, Practice, Practice
It doesn’t happen overnight. Just like you don’t go from a sedentary lifestyle to running a marathon overnight, you can’t expect to experience profound benefits from mindfulness overnight. You're developing a potential and if it hasn’t been exercised, it may take some time before you experience noticeable changes.
As I mentioned earlier, stay tuned for my next post, where I finally show you how to practice mindfulness.
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