Mindfulness

3 Common Mindfulness Pitfalls When Life Get's Stressful and How to Avoid Them

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Your job is at a dead end, your relationship with your significant other is on the rocks, you’re constantly exhausted, and on top of all that, you’re at the end of your favorite Netflix binge.

I hear you — and a ton of other people like you — sincerely and quizzically asking, “Why would I want to become more mindful of the present moment?”

Mindfulness is a tough sell for this very reason. When we need it most, we are most likely to say “No thanks.” After all, why would anyone in their right mind want to be reminded of how unhappy they are? Who could possibly be enthusiastic about contemplating how much their life stinks?

I totally get it. I used to think this way too.

In the past, when bad or stressful times hit, I would instantly forget key pieces of being mindful. As it turns out, many people I’ve talked to about mindfulness over the years tend to get derailed by forgetting some of these same aspects.

Let’s take a look at three common places people get off track and what you can do to avoid them or get back on track.

1. Judging: 

When things get hard, or when we’re particularly stressed out, it’s very easy to slide into old habits and ways of thinking. One of the most tried-and-true ways of derailing mindful awareness is by judging our thoughts, feelings and experiences as good or bad.

It isn’t surprising that we do this. There’s a human survival mechanism inherent in this mental habit of judging things as good or bad. It keeps us safe and alerts us to our boundaries. The problem is that it also robs us of our objectivity and our ability to respond in the best way possible. To a large degree, our mental judging chooses our responses for us.

This is okay in an actual survival situation, but the fact that it happens in our day-to-day lives (i.e. when we hate our job or hate our thighs) that it becomes a problem. This kind of thinking automatically kicks us into that “good equals do more of/want more of” and “bad equals avoid or feel bad about” mode. That is exhausting.

When we aren’t happy with how things are going in our lives, it is common to get automatically pulled back to this habit. If you’re resisting the idea of mindfulness right about now, check in with your thoughts and see if you’ve slipped back into judging. Awareness, and a gentle nudge, is the antidote to this one.

2. Falling into the Gap: 

The second place people get tripped up when life stinks is by getting triggered by the gap. By this I mean focusing on what seems to be a deep chasm between what we feel now about our life and what we wish we were feeling about our life. Or the distance between life as it is currently and our prized destination.

The gap is a powerful force when our reserves are low. That gap consists of all the conditions we’ve consciously or subconsciously set up for ourselves in order to be happy. For example, “If I find my soul mate, I will be happy,” or “I won’t be happy until I’m skinny.” When we get pulled into the gap, we often feel dissatisfied. That sense of lack looms large, making us feel inferior and weak.

Mindfulness in these situations is when we recognize that we’re being pulled toward the gap. A good guideline for noticing this dynamic is that often, when you’re unhappy or feeling like you’re missing something, you’re being pulled. You’re wrestling against a condition you’ve set up for yourself, consciously or subconsciously.

When you realize this, bring the condition out into the light by identifying it. Once you do, turn it into a preference instead of a need. For example, turn it into, “I prefer to lose weight” or “I prefer to be in relationship with my soul mate.” Notice how breaking the chains of this need helps you become more present to your current situation in the here and now.

3. Acceptance: 

This last one is so much easier to do in good times than in bad. We often imagine we’ll be able to accept disappointment in times of challenge or crisis only to find out that, well, it’s much more challenging than we thought it would be.

A common scenario in which people get derailed when faced with hard times is thinking that acceptance seems too risky. You worry about surprising yourself if you dare to think, “What if accepting means I’m admitting that I’m okay with what’s happening?” It might look like you lack initiative or have no motivation to change. Often this pushback surfaces when we haven’t had opportunities to practice acceptance in real life. As an intellectual exercise, we thought it made sense. In real time? Not as much.

If you find yourself resisting acceptance, try to approach it as an experiment. Try accepting whatever you’re unhappy with as simply what is. Then see what happens. For example, if you’re in a dead end job and you accept that, see if you decide to look for another job, see if you decide that this job is good enough for now, or another option. There’s no right answer. What you will most likely find is that acceptance gives you the distance you need to best create and evaluate your options in the here and now, without the drawbacks you were fearing.

When life is challenging we often surprise ourselves with how we react. As a longtime practitioner of mindfulness, I’m humbled by the power of old habits. They never fail to provide new opportunities for me to practice and grow. Throw in some self-compassion, and I have all the ingredients for a rich and evolving practice.

And as we all know, life is always ready to give us plenty of material to work with.

5 Types of Meditators. Which Are You?

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Here are five highly unscientific types of meditators: The Executive, The Rebel, The Caregiver, The Early Adopter, and The Questioner. Which one describes you?

  1. The Executive

You are a take-charge kind of person and deal with things head on, rationally and logically. You like to get things done right the first time and often do that. You are competent and good at decision-making. You are long-range thinker who can translate your ideas into solid plans of action.

You come to meditation to help you be the best you can be. You believe your success is a result largely of your ability to think about things 24/7. So, although you understand the touted benefits of meditation, you don’t particularly want to mess with your thoughts. You are a bit cautious to interfere with what you have going on and are super close to dismissing the whole thing as a waste of time, but do it anyway because you are the driven type. And to not be able to succeed in something as basic as meditate would be, well, insulting.

2. The Rebel

You like to determine your own course of action and don’t really like being told what to do. You are motivated by a sense of freedom and self-determination. When you think about what everyone else is doing, you usually choose something else, and aren’t afraid to go it alone.

You come to meditation because you realize in order to truly be free and self-determined; you have to be more aware of how your thoughts influence you. And to do this you have to have more awareness of your thoughts in general. So, although you understand meditation is an excellent way to increase awareness, you are a bit put off by someone telling you how to meditate or doing something that seems so trendy now. But you do it anyway because no one expects you to do it.

3. The Caregiver

You are kind, conscientious, and can be depended on in a pinch. You follow through on commitments. You usually put the needs of others above your own and are extremely perceptive of other’s feelings. You are good at creating harmony and use your skills to avoid conflict. You are generally traditional and prefer to do things the established way.

You come to meditation because, truth be told, your caregiver tendencies are wearing you out. You need to find a way to recharge your own batteries in order to continuing doing the things you enjoy doing. So, although you are eager to have a meditation practice, you’re a bit unsure how you are going to fit it in because you don’t want it to come at the expense of not being there for others. But you do it anyway because you know it will help you help others better.

4. The Early Adopter

You are a risk taker, optimist and like to try new things. You thrive on information and regularly share your knowledge with other people. You are assertive and ambitious. Your opinion is respected and valued in matters when making decisions. You are able to deal with abstractness and have a favorable attitude toward change.

You come to meditation because you know it is the enlightened thing to do. Although it is 5000 years old, it is still a pretty new practice around these parts and you want to be in on it. So, although you are on board with starting a meditation practice, you are a bit worried it is going to make you soft or take away your assertive and ambitious edge. But you do it anyway because just because you weren’t the first, you don’t want to be the last one getting on the meditation train.

5. The Questioner

You are curious and enjoy a more introspective approach to things. You like to learn about “why” things are the way they are and are always looking for the deeper meaning of things. You have an enviable ability to hold a lot of complex and sometime competing concepts in your head.

You come to meditation looking for answers. You see meditation as a vehicle to deepening your understanding the metaphysical nature of life. So, although meditation is right up your alley, you’re a bit skeptical to do the same thing as people who are doing it to up their creativity quotient or calm themselves down. But you do it anyway because you just can’t help yourself.

Mindfulness When Your Life Stinks Part 3: Maybe You're Doing It Wrong

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Mindfulness and Feelings

When you think of mindfulness what do you think of? It’s a trendy word these days and I find there are a lot of misconceptions regarding how it actually looks in real life. Most people misunderstand the concept of mindfulness and how to do it. Most think to be mindful is to dwell on, wallow in, and be absorbed by how you feel in a particular moment.

But it doesn’t and that’s where you may be going wrong.

The purpose of being mindful is to touch on the moment you’re experiencing, in the here and now, and do so as a neutral observer, without wallowing in feelings of good or bad.

This means you recognize what’s going on, you acknowledge what you’re feeling about it and then you disengage from judging it good or bad.

Easier said than done? Definitely. But mindful people do it all the time! And you can too.

Would some examples on what it does and doesn’t look like help? Let me elaborate with some situations you may (or may not) think make your life stink. If they don’t particularly fit, and I’m not saying the examples I’ve chosen automatically equate to a stinky life btw, then just insert your own example.

Awareness vs Dwelling

-If you’re overweight, mindfulness isn’t using every reflection you walk by to remind you that you’re fat in order for you to feel gross, ashamed and bad. But it is being aware that you are doing that and feeling that way when you do that.

-If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, mindfulness isn’t holding your dwindling bank statement in your hands as you allow the defining words, “You suck!” to circulate over and over again in your head. But it is recognizing when you are doing this and saying this to yourself.

-If you’re single, mindfulness isn’t slouching on your couch allowing the fact that you are still single to wrap you up in feelings of being unlovable. But it is knowing you are slouching and feeling unlovable in this moment.

-If you’re swamped at work, mindfulness isn’t focusing on the enormous amount of work you need to do in an unreasonably short period of time, all the while feeling overwhelmed and inadequate. But it is realizing that you’re swamped at work and feeling overwhelmed.

Dwelling on or being totally absorbed by how you feel in these moments, in addition to NOT being mindful, is a total set up and based on shaky ground.

Let me explain the two major reasons for this because maybe our feelings can’t even be trusted.

Reason #1 is, hmmm how do I say this? I’ll just go for it. There is a good chance that your feelings aren’t even real. Okay, that wasn’t so bad was it? What I mean by your feelings aren’t even real is that, like everything else about us, we are more creatures of habit than we give credit to, feelings included.

Our feelings are actually deeply constructed habits of association that get programmed into us from an early age. The programming comes from those people closest to us but we also pick up and take on social and cultural emotion norms too.

I know, this is a totally radical notion. We grow up, at least in the U.S., assigning sooooo much importance and validity to our feelings, as something to be counted on. We are encouraged to identify and “feel” our feelings. Which don’t get me wrong, all of this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

But we also need to learn that it is okay to question our feelings. That our feelings are subject to error too and not beyond reproach.

All of this gives us good reason for pause when reflecting on our feelings when we are being mindful.

We need to remind ourselves that we are actually being aware of how we have habitually interpreted and felt about this certain collection of data points in the past. We then remind ourselves that it may not still be the same with our current experience.

So for example, if you’re being mindful and recognize that you are feeling lonely, it’s important to realize that you’ve been socially and culturally trained to associate your current state with a non-pleasant feeling of lack or loneliness. This most likely has it’s roots in the past whenever a similar state was present, you associated it with this particular feeling. Now you still call it loneliness. And it still sucks.

But the mindful point is, you need to check in and see if it’s accurate. There’s a chance that you feel differently or could feel differently if you allow yourself to question your feelings as old habits.

Reason #2. We lack specificity so we often don’t even know what we’re feeling. We tend to cluster things so broadly, like either I feel good or I feel bad. It’s as if as children we stopped seeing the value in emotional details, so we kept it simple.

There are hundreds of words differentiating and fine-tuning an enormous range of feelings, yet most of us stick to just a few. And this isn’t just a Scrabble underdog issue here, this affects how we view our day to day experiences and even how we actually feel!

For example if we don’t get a job we want and feel bad, it would be easy to fall into a lengthy “woe is me” mode because our feeling “bad” is so broad. However, if we have more discerning feelings at our emotional disposal and recognize that what we feel is frustrated because we haven’t cracked the code of getting that job, we will fare differently. And better I’d argue. When we’re specific we can target a better plan than trying to target this broad, vague “bad”.

Here’s another example. Let’s take when we’re feeling sad. That’s actually quite a broad brush stroke of a feeling. We can get more specific by narrowing it down with any of these more particular words: depressed, dejected, despair, despondent, disappointed. discouraged, disheartened, forlorn, gloomy, heavy hearted, hopeless, melancholy, unhappy, or wretched.

Each of these words helps us identify more accurately what we are feeling. Labeling our feelings with broad adjectives is not helpful as it could be. Additionally, it keeps us stuck because it robs us from being able to attend to a specific feeling that we could actually do something about.

So if you think your life stinks and you are trying to cultivate mindfulness, this should really come to your rescue! You might be going at the whole mindfulness thing based on bad intel. Try questioning those feelings of yours the next time the bad ones come up. For now, I’d leave the good ones alone…we need all help we can get sometimes :-)