In the article that I posted last week, I indicated that I had intended to write an article about the importance of practicing mindfulness and meditation as a way of improving one’s resilience. For reasons that will become clear in this article, I probably should have made it the first one in my resilience series. You know what they say – better late than never!
I am guessing that plenty of people reading this article will have already heard the term “mindfulness” and might even associate the practice of mindfulness with Buddhism. Personally, I don’t consider it to be a religious practice. Rather, I consider it to be a practice in self-awareness. In fact, Mindful.org describes mindfulness as “…the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us” and that it’s goal “…is to wake up the inner workings of our mental, emotional, and physical processes.”
Given that I learn more from examples than by theory, let me give you an example of how mindfulness has worked in my life. My wife often gives me ideas on things that I should do to develop more business. Unfortunately, however, I haven’t always been receptive to her ideas and in the past would often respond with impatience – allowing myself to feel pressured by her suggestions rather than supported. Then, one day she had enough of my negative reactions and told me that she felt that I did not value her opinions. I can’t tell you how much it hurt me to know that my wife did not feel respected by me because nothing could be further from the truth. This of course led to the usual husband-to-wife apology and I vowed to myself not to react that way again.
The next time my wife gave me an idea on developing my business, rather than responding immediately (which I knew, by habit, would have been with resistance), I took a moment to be aware of what I was feeling when she told me her idea. In that moment, I noticed the tension rise in my shoulders, and the negative reaction to her idea starting to form in my mind. I continued my mindful moment by asking myself why I was reacting that way. The conversation in my head went something like this: “That is a really good idea. Why have I not been doing that already? I know why – I’m not smart enough to have thought of it on my own.” Following that thought, I became aware that my usual knee-jerk reaction was to hide my feelings of inadequacy by finding fault with her idea. If my ego could just demonstrate that the idea wasn’t that great, then it would be less bruised about the fact that the idea hadn’t been mine.
As a result of being mindful (or aware) of what I was truly thinking in that moment, I was able to have a positive reaction to my wife’s idea. This resulted not only in my gaining a possible new source of business, but also in sparing me from having to apologize again for reacting poorly. More importantly to me, however, is that my wife felt valued and I felt great because I showed up in the moment how I truly wanted to show up – as someone who is open to new ideas, and is actually able to hear them when they are shared.
So, what does being mindful have to do with our resilience? In a 2017 article entitled: “Your Body Benefits – Embrace mindful behaviors and you’ll not only feel calmer, you’ll also help keep your body a whole lot stronger and healthier,” by Katherine Schreiber, she states that:
“…the single biggest immediate benefit of mindful behavior is that it can lower levels of stress hormones. By training your body and brain not to flip into fight-or-flight mode…mindfulness helps you to remain calm under pressure, be less self-critical, refrain from overreacting and…see the world through the lens of someone who is far less keyed up.”
A pretty good benefit in my book. Here are some of the other benefits of mindfulness that Schreiber lists in her article: it focuses your attention; it fights disease; it makes you feel better if you are already sick; it can help you break a habit; and, my own example personally speaks to this one, it can improve your relationships.
At the beginning of this article, I stated that this one should have been the first in my resilience series. Why? Because mindfulness (or awareness) of our thoughts and feelings allows us to recognize when we are need of a little self-care. That one moment of awareness that day in my car over two years ago now, started me on my journey to self-care that I so desperately needed.
There is too much to cover about the practice of mindfulness in this short article, so I leave you with this last thought. Just as physical fitness does not happen without working out, mindfulness does not happen without regular practice. One of the ways of practicing being mindful, and a way that has worked for me, is through meditation. Once I added a 15-minute mediation to my daily routine, I started seeing the benefits to my mental health right away.