Your job is a dead end, your relationship with your significant other is on the rocks, you’re constantly exhausted, and on top of it all, you can’t even squeeze into your Spanx anymore. I can hear you (and a ton of other people like you) sincerely and quizzically asking, “Tell me again why I want to be more mindful of the present?”
Mindfulness is a tough sell for this very reason. Why would anyone in their right mind want to be reminded of the fact that they aren’t happy with how things are?
This is the mindfulness barrier that no one talks about. The #1 reason people avoid mindfulness is that they don’t want to be more mindful, present and aware when it could make them feel disappointed, frustrated or not good enough. I totally get it.
The problem is that being more present and mindful is part of the antidote, the fix to feeling fed up and not good enough!
Let me explain because I’m not talking about pretending everything is good so you don’t feel like crap. And I’m not talking about lowering your standards and letting everything go to pot.
BECAUSE THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN WITH MINDFULNESS!
Sorry to yell, but I get pretty excited about letting people know this. It is one of the biggest misconceptions about mindfulness.
Most people glom on to the first component of mindfulness and totally miss the second one. And the second one is critical!
The first one is an increased awareness of the here and now, as it is happening. It’s being more present or aware of what you are doing, feeling or thinking in real time, not just after the fact. The second is to be aware of your tendency to automatically classify everything as either good or bad. Everyone does it. You mentally judge everything that comes across your mind as good or bad and it puts you on an emotional roller coaster. And without being aware you’re doing it, it robs you of your ability to control your own contentment and happiness.
Now, certainly, I’m not suggesting that some things aren’t bad and should be labeled bad and avoided, and good and labeled good and encouraged. That’s part of our innate protection system for self-survival. It’s not going away.
The problem arises because we judge everything! And we get conditioned into using this judgment of everything being good or bad as a way to inform what we should do or how we should feel. It is exhausting! It doesn’t help us and it can even be argued that our judgments aren’t accurate (I’ll tackle that one in a later post).
So of course, when we are conditioned to judge everything we aren’t happy with as bad, the idea of being more mindful of that does seem like a buzz kill.
But, here’s the thing, we can learn to ditch our habit of classifying everything.
We can learn to view most things as what they are…neutral.
And by doing so, we regain control of our emotions so that we can be in the present. Even when we don’t like certain things.
We ditch the habit of classifying everything by (1) being aware that we do that, (2) noticing the main things we think of as “bad”, (3) consciously start replacing those with a label “neutral”.
Labeling things as “neutral” doesn’t mean we are pleased with them. It serves a more powerful purpose of neutralizing the physiological response that occurs when we feel like crap because we hate something about our life. Most people think hating things or accepting things we don’t like will motivate us to change those things.
For example, when you hate how you look because of your weight, you think that hatred is going to motivate you to lose weight. But it doesn’t work that way, and if you are in this category you know this by now. Labeling things as bad and being upset about them, fires up our fight or flight response system and diminishes our ability to think clearly about solutions and take the very actions needed to change those things.
The way we make long term, sustainable changes to live a life that we love is by neutralizing the way we classify things and by being more aware of the present, as it is happening.