To benefit from this effective-if-used-properly tool, we need to first understand what mindfulness isn’t.
I hear misconception after misconception from my patients that it’s become clear: most people misunderstand mindfulness.
Mindfulness is largely misunderstood because the media, lifestyle magazines, spiritual gurus and mental health experts rarely explain what it is and how to do it. They throw out the word without context: “Mindfulness will bring you greater peace of mind.” But how? Why? Who should do it?
While mindfulness is somewhat of a “you’ll know it when you feel it” concept, there are some myths I can quickly dismiss to improve your practice and help set your expectations. Here we go…
Myth 1: The purpose of mindfulness is to feel gratitude (or any specific feeling).
Nope. The purpose of mindfulness is to feel whatever it is you’re feeling, with the goal of ultimately (not immediately) reducing, controlling or resolving difficult feelings. Mindfulness does NOT require that you feel gratitude when you … well … don’t.
Many get really good at putting their feelings aside because they have to tend to customers or children or a boss. Some even take pride in this shove-it-away talent. It looks like this: “Why won’t that chest tightness go away?! Oh well. Gotta take this call.”
Many don’t take the time to understand the root causes of their discomfort for any number of reasons. If they did, it would look something like this: “What is that tightness in my chest? It feels like irritation … no, anger. Oh yeah! That conversation I had with my husband at lunch! He said [fill in the blank] and I don’t think he gets how much that bugs me.” This realization is helpful because it’s actionable — you can take steps to resolve the issue.
Myth 2: Mindfulness means crossing things off your list.
Many people (incorrectly) believe they’re mindful if they’re being productive and responsible. They say, “Yup, I’m getting to that project I said I would do. I’m mindful.” Eh. Not quite.
Mindfulness is not about doing the project, it’s about HOW you do the project. If you do the project with awareness and intention, you’re being mindful.
For example, have you ever driven somewhere and, upon arrival, couldn’t remember how you got there? You were on autopilot or in a “mindless” state. In a mindful state, however, you focus on the moment-to-moment activity of driving to your destination.
See what feelings and thoughts come up when you’re doing activities mindfully. In the case of driving, you may discover you don’t really want to go, you’re uncomfortable in your seat or you’re longing for a passenger. These surprise feelings are buried in almost every activity, no matter how mundane.
Myth 3: Mindfulness is boring.
When we’re bored, we distract ourselves and this takes us out of the present moment.
One way we distract ourselves is by saturating ourselves with stimuli. How often do you listen to music while you drive? Listen to a podcast while you cook? Watch TV to fall asleep? We call it multi-tasking, but really, it’s tuning out of our here-and-now experience.
Next time you’re cooking alone, turn off all distractions. No TV, no social media, no Alexa updates. Smell the onion, hear the crackling pan, feel the knife in your hand and name your emotional state. Move slowly and watch your meal come together. Once done, reflect on whether or not it was actually boring.
Myth 4: Mindfulness is only for monks.
Many people think mindfulness is for people who dedicate their life to a spiritual practice, when in fact, it’s a quality anyone can bring to their life.
Monks can practice mindfulness all the time because they have forsaken families and careers, but you can also learn to easily move in and out of the mindfulness state between your obligations.
It may take you a little longer than a monk, but mindfulness is a practice that can benefit anyone from any walk of life. No spiritual commitment required.
Myth 5: Mindfulness will only benefit you if you practice for years.
Yes, the longer you practice, the more benefits you’ll reap, but most people find they feel calmer, less reactive after just a few weeks of practicing mindfulness.
When starting out, just like with new exercise goals, you’ll need to set achievable goals. Check out my next journal entry on everyday ways to boost mindfulness for some hints.
To your emotional health,