Tag Archives: mindfulness

Making time for what really matters

Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day. Yet some people are more productive than others. They have a high capacity to produce extraordinary work with focus and without burning out. They attend to what brings meaningful impact – whether it’s pursuing a cherished hobby, nurturing fulfilling friendships, creating a happy home, delivering a high-quality work product, or building a better clientele for their business.

Having a joyful life starts with consciously choosing how to use the limited time you have in a day, week, month, and year. If you’re too busy to meet up with a friend, take the pottery class, write your novel, or turn your passion into a profession, they might not be priorities after all; they simply take more effort than you care to invest.

Own your choices, turn down invitations respectfully, and release the fear of missing out or losing what was. But if a relationship, activity, project or long-term goal really matters to you, you can make time for it in the following ways:

Assess how you spend your time

Do an honest assessment of your daily life to determine whether you’ve been neglecting your truly top priorities. They usually fall into one of five categories: work (e.g. profession, career, business); relationships (e.g. spouse, life partner, children, friends, community); health (e.g. rest, exercise, nutrition); spirituality (e.g. meditation, religion, mission); and personal pursuits (e.g. creative hobbies, fun projects, volunteerism).

Keep a time log, maintain a calendar, or take notes documenting how you spend your time, by the hour, each day. Do this for at least three months. Tracking your time raises awareness of how much is spent on the meaningful versus the meaningless. It gives you a visual cue of important areas that need your attention. It motivates you to drop time wasters and energy drainers that steer you away from your preferred path.

There’s no need to strive for a perfectly balanced life. It’s okay for things to get out of whack when you have deadlines, demands and desires pulling you in a certain direction. The more crucial questions are whether your actions are aligned with your priorities, and whether you’re spinning your wheels instead of making real progress.

Stop killing time

During a recent telephone conversation with a friend (I have not seen in several months), we talked about the challenges of maintaining friendships once you enter parenthood. As parents of young children, we agreed there’s a definite shift in priorities and interests. My friend said she had little time for get-togethers with friends, but quickly confessed she spent much of it watching trash tv.

Watching the boob dude is an easy way to unwind. It’s a habit-forming activity that requires little thought or engagement. It’s the most common form of leisure, even though taking a nap, experimenting with a new recipe, making a social call, and playing bongo drums are much more satisfying.

Reduce your screen time to create more time for purposeful things. Here are some examples: Reserve at least one day when there’s no screen time. Limit your leisure screen time to one to two hours a day. And make deliberate choices about the tv shows, movies and other stuff you watch.

Why watch shows that lower your consciousness?  Why sit through a bad movie just because it was on your DVD queue, someone else recommended it, or you paid for the ticket? With no trash tv or bad movies to kill time, you get to read a good book, go for a mindful walk, compose music, or plan out a long-term project.

You can certainly choose to indulge in screen time to relax and destress. But if you want to engage in more productive activities, start with re-allocating your screen time to those things.

Give undivided attention to what is before you

Carve out non-negotiable time for the person, thing or activity that is most important to you. Schedule the date and place on your calendar. When your mind wanders to what you think you should be doing instead, bring your attention back to the present. If you get bored or restless, come back to your breath and notice what is before you.

Minimize interruptions and distractions, like checking social media, reading emails or allowing drop-in visits throughout the day. Set aside time slots for when you will engage in these activities.

Attempting to juggle more than one activity when each requires singular focus lowers your productivity, reduces efficiency, and heightens stress. Because the human brain cannot process more than one thing at time, the best you can do is switch quickly from one task to the next. Multitasking is an unnecessary time waster, not a valuable skill that leads to greater efficiency or effectiveness.

Single-tasking (i.e. focusing on one activity at time and doing each sequentially) results in greater flow and better outcomes. And if you do “multitask,” it’s best to layer or blend activities that draw on different mental faculties. Listen to a podcast while you make dinner. Watch a movie while you work out on the exercise bike. Have your kids play with your friend’s kids while the two of you chat and catch up.

Savor the white space

Because time is limited, you might think maximum productivity means filling white space with activity and action. This mindset leads to overscheduling and plugging gaps with pure busyness.

Take deliberate breaks between activities. Forego external stimuli and simply sit in silence and notice your breath. Observe the thoughts and experience the feelings that arise, while resisting the urge to do anything about them. Savoring the white space produces clarity, sparks creativity and fuels imagination. It helps you to reflect and respond mindfully, rather than rush and react hastily.

Know that you are already whole

When you’re learning, growing, striving, and seeking to move to the next phase, it can be hard to appreciate your present state. Ongoing comparisons can cause you to pursue goals that bring fleeting excitement, but not lasting joy.

Experience the journey of life with deep curiosity and profound wonder. Can you tap back into who you are at the core – before test scores, performance evaluations, college degrees and professional awards became a reflection of your worth?

Operating with a sense of abundance leads to a healthier relationship with accomplishments and external markers. You don’t always have to maintain a pristine home, keep an exciting lifestyle, stay at the top of your game, or be the perfect parent. You can allow laundry to pile up, be boring, take a nap, and make mistakes without criticizing yourself.

Once you let go of seemingly important goals and ideals that don’t make a true difference, you can invest your time in what really matters.

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Photo by: Ferrous Büller

Mindfulness: a doable alternative for when you can’t think positive

zen stones

Life is full of paradox. And we are living, breathing paradoxes.

We hold opposing viewpoints, conflicting values, and competing commitments. We have a kind heart and a selfish streak. We soar and we falter.

In the midst of life’s ups and downs, self-help gurus, positive psychologists, motivational speakers, and well-meaning friends remind us to think positive:

Reframe the situation. Debunk your limiting beliefs. Transform your negative self-image. Look on the bright side. Make lemonade out of lemons.

Positivity certainly has its place and its benefits. But it’s not the only path to caring for your well-being, gaining contentment, seeing possibilities, facing your fears, acquiring skills, and achieving success.

What’s more, it is hard to change your negativity into positive thoughts when you feel like crap and you’re not equipped to dig yourself out of the hole. Pep talks and affirmations can only take you so far.

What’s the doable alternative? 

“Every moment is unique, unknown, completely fresh.” – Pema Chödrön, The Places That Scare You

Instead of trying to change the thoughts that bring you discomfort, embrace them as they are. Welcome them as your teacher, guide, and even your friend.

Develop your capacity to live with paradox. This starts with mindfulness: moment-to-moment awareness of what is before you, with open curiosity and no agenda.

Mindfulness is a skill you can cultivate through yoga, meditation, gardening, walking, or any other experience that allows you to be present in the moment, without judgment. It is also a way of being that is always available to you.

With mindfulness, you’re not working to transform your negative thoughts into positive outlooks. Rather, you’re simply observing the bare facts and raw reality. You drop the labels and loosen your grip on the story line underlying your thoughts.

From a place of centered awareness, you make conscious choices that are grounded in reality. It’s not that you won’t feel pain, make mistakes, or get angry. But you’ll be better able to open up to situations as they unfold, let go more easily, make peace with the past, and apply the lessons you learn to the present and in the future.

By practicing mindfulness and by being mindful, you can begin to change your relationship with undesired thoughts and accompanying feelings. You learn to tap into the infinite, non-evaluative, inner witness that can sit with any experience.  As such, the need to think positive before you take appropriate action becomes less desperate.

Why is mindful thinking more doable than positive thinking? 

“With mindful awareness, challenging situations become more manageable, not because anything changes about them or even because how you think and feel about them has changed. Instead, they become more manageable because you learn a new way of approaching your experiences — your thoughts, your feelings, your bodily sensations — allowing them to be just as they are and greeting them with friendliness, gentleness, and compassion.” – Dr. Catherine Vieten, Mindful Motherhood

As I continue my journey to becoming a first-time mother, I find mindfulness especially valuable. My grand excitement, pure joy, and massive strength co-exist with my sheer terror, intense uncertainty and strong self-doubt. There’s so much paradox to process.

We all want to think positive and feel good about life-transforming events. But when there are multiple variables and limitless unknowns, positive thinking and feeling good can be out of reach.

Feigning positivity when you’re downright anxious or outright ambivalent creates inner tension. Mindful thinking, on the other hand, allows you to stay in integrity and find calmness on your own terms, at your individual pace, in due course.

With mindfulness, you give your fears and conflicting beliefs the attention and respect they deserve. You don’t have to cover them up with a smile or wish them away with idealistic thoughts. You zero in on where you have the most power and influence.

You recognize when you lose your patience, do the unthinkable, and say harsh things. You forgive yourself more quickly so you can make amends more peacefully. You stop complaining and whining. You come to terms with your situation or you do something to change it.

By facing circumstances precisely as they are, without any self-deceit, you develop your adaptability, decide what you want to stand for, and show up as a pillar of strength, despite the paradoxes.

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Photo by: Jack Kennard