Every day is filled with repeated behaviours, thoughts and experiences
‘Experience is just showing up even though your mind is elsewhere,
Awareness is when you notice you’re there.’
As Ruby Wax says in ‘Sane New World’, we can all go through the motions, but bringing mindfulness or ‘awareness’ to what we’re doing transforms the experience.
So how can you create new habits with mindfulness?
New habits start with awareness
Another meaning for mindfulness is awareness.
This means the first simple task is to become aware that there is something you would like to change, or something new you want to do.
You may have had a stressful year at work. Your days fly by in a mixture of anxiety and negativity followed by positivity, then back again. How can you stop this experience? You can become aware or conscious of the effects it’s having on you.
It’s only on a trip to your GP that you realise that your blood pressure is high. Other little issues crop up like your appetite is all over the place and you guiltily admit that you haven’t had time to do much exercise of late.
If you sit down to think about it, you might surprise yourself to see how much time you’ve spent in this way.
So this first step, becoming aware of the way things are, is essential. Then you might choose to do something about it, and it could be just a few small moments of mindfulness!
New habits through small mindful changes
Your next decision is to look at what negative aspects of your life you want to address. And at the same time which of the good things you want to cherish and spend more focus on.
With a mindful approach you can start to make small changes that can have big impact.
The Hippocampus is the part of the brain specifically involved in learning and memory. It becomes activated when we experience uninterrupted focus.
So when you bring mindful attention to one thing at a time, this grows the brain’s grey matter which ‘increases the ability to remember, attend, inhibit and execute actions …’ as Ruby Wax describes it.
Decide to focus on completing one task, without getting distracted. This could mean you won’t read the internet headline news, check Facebook or respond to a ‘quick’ text.
Place your task at the forefront of your focus and get it done.
This can apply to anything:
- slow right down to savour your cup of tea
- take a ten-minute walk at lunchtime without your phone
- set your wake-up alarm five minutes earlier to sit and meditate in that extra smidgen of time
It’s not difficult to make tiny changes, but notice how it’s so easy to swerve off onto old ways of doing things.
Create a tiny new habit as part of your daily routine.
Over time, your brain will be firing together new neurological pathways – new habits.
And these new mindful habits increase your positive outlook all round.
Practice makes perfect
The brain likes to work as efficiently as possible.
So when you start becoming more alert and present to aspects of your daily life, you can replace negative, time-wasting habits with more positive, streamlined ones.
Keep practising them over a length of time.
There’s some debate over how long you have to repeat a task before it becomes a new habit. It’s probably different for different people and for the tasks or new habits you’re implementing. 21 days in a row is a good place to start.
New experiences become new habits
Do you remember when you first learnt to drive a car?
At first the new experience was complicated. But now, with years of practice, you may well find yourself driving without thinking.
Sometimes a completely new experience engages us in mindful focus as a default.
Think about that driving lesson mentioned above, or the first time you learnt a sport or other new activity.
Because it’s all new, your mind is focused on every aspect, in an effort to store the information.
In every day life we become entrenched in our habits. Even simple ones, like the routine we have first thing in the morning, the type of food we eat – even the brand of food, type of drink, activity, television programme, annual events in our lives and places we travel to.
There is nothing wrong with having routines, but it can be easy to become fearful of change and resist trying new things.
So be curious about the holiday you’re planning this year, or the food you’re choosing to eat.
Are there different choices you’ve never tried before that may be a possibility this time?
Small changes can also highlight the simple pleasures of life. Sit with a loved one, give each-other time. It is a simple yet enjoyable choice.
Listen fully to a friend rather than keeping half an eye on your text messages. This can bring more enjoyment and calm into your day.
A walk out in nature, fresh juice, curling up with a book to read, or booking some time to enjoy an activity you love; think about some of the things you like to do, and make space to do them.
New habits – achievable through being mindful
‘The fact is, all of us can eat soft pasta, correct computer errors, even fight an illness – in panic or in peace. But choosing peace doesn’t just happen; it’s a skill that takes regular practice to master…’
So there are lots of tiny ways you can bring your awareness to your life and make small changes. It doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated.
As Martha Beck says, it could just be a shift in your approach – panic or peace!
It might be a little challenging and a tiny bit out of your comfort zone, but it will be worth it, to live life in the present, with calm and joy!
There are several ways you can build up this mindful way of making changes in your life, by working with me at Place of Serenity. Look out for our Weekly Meditation, One-to-one Sessions and 6-Week Courses.
Mindfulness helps me create new habits, however small, how about you?
Yvette Jane – Mindfulness & Meditation Coach
Updated blog post from 15 January 2016