For the entire month of June, I took a class called Mindfulness in Performance at Boston University’s School of Education. I originally thought I would learn about coping with various performance-based stressors we may face at our jobs and in everyday life, as well as how to help student athletes, which is a part of my career path. However, I learned a great deal, not only about those things, but also about myself. This course changed my life for the better in so many ways.
On day one, we were told a portion of the course would include meditating both in class as well as for five days on our own, in which we had to journal after each practice. I truly did not know if I would be capable of doing this. I always heard that meditating was about “not thinking,” or “clearing the mind,” and I knew that was just not possible for me. What I didn’t know is that “not thinking” is impossible for almost everybody in the world. No one can truly stop their mind from thinking, without perhaps years of training as a monk or being fully engulfed in the meditation world. In fact, I learned so many things that I never knew and this class opened my eyes to so many false truths I’ve held over the years.
I want to share my experiences from this course in the hopes that anyone out there who is struggling or needs to make sincere changes in their lives will have the courage to begin implementing mindfulness. By doing so, you are taking a good, long look at yourself in the mirror, facing all your demons head-on, and choosing to better yourself and feel happiness.
Here is what I learned…
Today, we all move at such a fast pace, we hardly even notice how we never stop to take a second and slow down. Mindfulness is about intentionally being in the present moment and being aware of your surroundings/thoughts/feelings/people around you, so that you can fully be in the “right now,” moment-to-moment experience, instead of thinking about the past, future, or being wrapped up in social media.
By practicing mindfulness, you allow yourself to control where you place your attention. You will develop a presence of what’s going on internally and externally to free yourself from denial and avoidance of difficult thoughts or feelings. You face them and learn about thoughts that may be useful to you, versus those that are simply maladaptive.
Take the time to stop, slow down, catch your breath, and enjoy the moment because you will never it get back. Not all the pictures in the world could bring you back to that same moment. So if you don’t stop to enjoy it and be present, you’ll one day realize that you let your entire life just pass right on by.
About Facing Our Demons:
Mindfulness expert George Mumford was once a heroin addict who grew up in a rough neighborhood with a pretty awful upbringing and home life. We not only read his book in class, but we had the pleasure of meeting him when he visited. His story is amazing. He used mindfulness to change his entire life. He faced his demons head-on, put effort into training his mind to think differently about his past, and travels around the globe teaching professional athletes how to use mindfulness (he once trained Kobe Bryant), and shares his stories and words of advice with the world. My favorite piece of his advice was, “What we hold in our minds becomes our reality. Who are we? Who do we want to be? If you don’t know who you are, you’ll become anybody.”
The past is a part of us and always will be, but if we face it instead of suppress or fight it, we will be able to confront the feelings that linger from those memories. We will allow ourselves to grow from it and take it with us, but not let it defeat us.
Mumford told us to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Facing your demons is no easy feat, and it took him years to do it. And although these steps are the hardest ones you may ever take, it’ll be the best decision you ever make for yourself. Nothing good will ever come from suppressing or fighting your troublesome thoughts and feelings. You’re just setting yourself up for future struggles because what you do now is creating the next moment.
The best way out is through. It’s difficult but 100% doable. Get motivated and be interested in the process. And if you can face and get through your demons, you’ll find that you will be able to get through just about anything that comes your way.
Meditating does not mean to sit without having any thoughts – it is actually quite the opposite. There are various ways one can meditate, and it’s all about finding what works best for you. We had a few guest speakers during the class and each of them had a different style of meditating. One guest told us that it is okay to explore the thoughts that arise, as long as you are aware of them, you are kind to yourself, and you remember to come back to your breathing or to a focal point like soft noises in the room. It’s like a bird leaving it’s perch to go explore those thoughts, but then always coming back to it’s perch, or to the present moment.
You can use meditation to rehearse difficult situations so that when they happen in real time, you will be prepared to respond in a way that is most beneficial. A guest told us he once rehearsed a difficult situation during his meditation practice and let himself feel the anger arising and envisioned the outcome of that. When it came time to truly handle the situation, he was able to avoid becoming angry, and instead, had a very successful experience. Letting himself run through the emotions and feelings first was very beneficial for when it came time to face the actual situation.
Before sitting down to meditate, have the intention to be kind to your experience, tolerant of your experience, and interested in your experience. By tolerating certain thoughts that arise, you are learning to be patient with yourself and to have these thoughts but to not let them fully takeover. It’s not easy, and takes a lot of time to practice and learn what works best for you. Trust in the process.
About Anxiety & Acceptance:
We all feel anxious or overwhelmed at times, some of us more often than others. But next time those feelings strike, try saying “this is anxiety,” rather than “I am anxious,” so that you don’t internalize those feelings.
Mumford told us to remember that “Anxiety is not mine, it’s not my anxiety. Anxiety is a thing that is happening. Don’t attach yourself to it.“
There are countless things in life that we can’t change: the past, mistakes we’ve made, the way people treat us, the anxiety we feel…the list goes on. But what we can do, is accept that and choose how we respond. We can choose to react differently. Before this class, I didn’t realize I even had a choice. But we all do. If someone is mistreating us, rather than yelling at them or being overcome with anger, we can react differently. We can choose to walk away or to confront them respectfully. Rather than getting swept up in our anxious thoughts, we can try to act as an observer into our own lives, like we are on the outside looking in. We can be aware of those thoughts and situations, accept them, and move on.
Truth vs. Comfort can be a battle you may not even know you’re fighting. Facing the truth is painful, but it will set you free. If you stay in your comfort zone you will never leave, you will never grow, and you will never reach your full potential. Don’t let the fear drag you down.
Practicing self-compassion could change your life, if you let it. Having self-compassion isn’t just about taking the time to relax or doing something good for yourself. It is so much more than that. It’s centered on three main pieces: having self-kindness, common humanity, and being mindful.
Self-kindness is not being so hard on yourself, and having self-love. Common Humanity is knowing no one is perfect, and that you are not alone. There are others out there going through their own struggles, you are not the only one. Find comfort in that. Having a strong support system in your life could truly help you through this process. And being mindful will allow you to notice your struggle, instead of avoiding it or reacting to it, and being with it without self-judgment.
Self-compassion is all about treating yourself the way you would treat a really good friend. Learn more from the expert, Dr. Kristin Neff here.
About Changing Your Mindset:
Your self-talk reflects your attitude. If you are constantly seeing things in a negative light or if you’re very self-critical, that will become a part of your everyday life. When you feel anxious or overwhelmed, think of having a reset button in your mind. Take a minute to slow down and breathe. Reset. Re-focus. Change your way of thinking, change your entire outlook on life.
A fixed mindset is believing this is “just the way you are” or that you are stuck and that you cannot change. However, learning to have a growth mindset will create positive changes. It will allow you to challenge yourself, to continue learning, growing, and developing as a person. You can look in that mirror and begin to defy all the odds against you.
Stop thinking happiness is something that just happens. Happiness is a choice. We can always choose happiness, and although this takes time and patience, by practicing mindfulness that choice becomes much easier.
In difficult situations, stop and ask yourself: what is the best possible choice I should make to respond successfully?
A glass can truly be both half empty and half full, but if you see it as half empty that means you are in survival mode and not growth mode. You can’t do both. You cannot grow if you’re simply just trying to survive each day.
If you don’t believe or think positive things about yourself as true, they will never be internalized. Make your mind your friend, not your enemy.
Bottom line: You have to start somewhere, so start by taking these baby steps. You could truly change your life for the better. Stop waiting for happiness to show up, because it won’t. You have to choose it. Mumford told us to “Learn how to learn. Investigate these teachings to experience it for yourself. Do the activity for the sake of doing. Take the journey.” Enjoy the journey and the process of discovering yourself. It won’t be easy, and it’ll take time and effort, but you will be forever grateful that you did.