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? I saw this comic the other day and thought it was perfect!
The mindfulness barrier that no one talks about and probably the #1 reason people avoid mindfulness is that they don’t want to be more mindful and aware of the present when it could make them feel disappointed, frustrated or not good enough. I totally get it.
However, being more present and mindful is part of the antidote to fixing life when it stinks, not part of the problem.
Let me lay out the two major components of mindfulness.
Warning, most people glom on to the first component of mindfulness and totally miss the second one. And the second one is critical! Don’t let that happen to you.
The first one is 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!
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 as just good or bad. Let me introduce the magic of “neutral”!
We can learn to view most things as what they are…neutral. By doing so, we regain control of our emotions and we stay in the present. Even when we don’t like certain things!
Wait. We’re just supposed to start thinking of things as “neutral” that we formerly thought of as bad?
Labeling things as “neutral” doesn’t mean we are pleased with them, it just reduces their hook on us. When we are hooked by negative things we are less likely to make effective changes on them. Most people think the opposite. They think that hating things 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. By labeling that same thing as “neutral” we are much better off.
The way we make long term, sustainable changes when life starts to stink is by neutralizing the way we classify the majority of things and by being more aware of the present, as it is happening.
Seriously, give it a try. I’d love to know how it works for you!