Life on Autopilot

Mindfulness

One of the biggest benefits I have felt from practicing mindfulness is being more conscious of my “autopilot” moments throughout the day. We have all these moments:

-Leaving home without your briefcase or purse
-Did you lock the front door or not?
-Driving to work on a Saturday morning (this happened a few times for me)
-Being stuck in rigid routines, and frustrated if those routines are not followed
-Losing focus, constantly forgetting what you were supposed to accomplish
-Emotional detachment, just going through the motions of your life
-Do you ask people how they are doing and not wait for them to answer?

Click here for an in-depth article on mindlessness, and how to overcome it.

Before I began practicing mindfulness I would have most of these things happen to me every day. I never felt “present” in my own life. I felt like an empty shell going through the motions until better things came along. I looked forward to vacations, or the weekend, without any regard to how to maximize my happiness in the present moment. Often we are so focused on the future that we overlook the present and we don’t put our full effort into it. These mindless moments are incredibly depressing, and keep you from maximizing your full potential every day. If you’re not running your life, who is, or is your life running you?

The fundamental goal of mindfulness mediation is to make the most of the present moment. It helps you to snap out of these mindless moments, and to absorb what is happening around you. Much like the websites that promise increased memory and mental abilities from playing their intellectual games, mindfulness mediation increases your brain activity and can maximize your efficiency.
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Is everything going to be perfect? Like I said before, you are still going to have days where your temper, frustration, or lack of energy gets the best of you. But even if you have these moments of mindlessness, with mindfulness meditation you will be able to snap out of it sooner. You realize that you may have a bad morning, but that doesn’t mean you have to have a bad day, or even let it continue to steamroll into a bad week.

Practicing mindfulness has increased the passion I feel every day of my life. Jokes are funnier, my friend’s problems are more important, and work is a challenge worthy of my best effort. I have deeper relationships with my wife and my family, and I am happier than I have ever been. Awake out of your autopilot, take hold of the controls, and soar. You are better than what have been settling for, and now is the time to take action. Our mortality adds sweet satisfaction and importance to each and every day; we never know when our number is going to be called.

Why waste even a single moment to mindless routines, emptiness, and knee jerk reactions? Start analyzing what you’re doing and why you do it. Begin sharpening your mind, and make the most of every experience. Hug your loved ones like you mean it, do your job as if you’re competing for an award, and plan each day to the fullest. You only get one turn on this merry-go-round so enjoy every second, don’t postpone your satisfaction to a day that may never come!
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Celebrate Your Imperfection

I'm perfectly imperfect

I’m perfectly imperfect


I think one of the most difficult parts when starting the practice of mindfulness is the quest to be perfect. After sitting and doing your meditations you expect immediate results. I was (and still am) rather impatient and anything short of the light shining from heaven upon me was unsatisfactory. I kept waiting to see the amazing results that I was promised from the several many books and articles I read: space, patience, and a clearer understanding of the problems around you? I bought into it quicker than Jack was sold his magic beans.

It’s really not surprising. All of us have been spoiled in this information age, and we all want our needs met five minutes before we even know what our needs are. Mindfulness is a process, and it requires a lot of practice and patience as you begin. Like anything in life, the more you put into it, the more you will get out of it.

Click here for tips to help make a habit of mindfulness meditation.

Although I did see some results rather quickly, I became easily frustrated when I would have the same mindless moments I did before my meditations. I would lose my temper, say things I wish I hadn’t, and was rather impulsive during stressful times. I would fall into these same negative coping routines I had been plagued by for years. I expected to be perfect, and to deal with every situation the appropriate way, every single time. I mean what good is a strategy if it doesn’t work every single time?

(Or so I thought.)

When it comes to mindfulness you will never be perfect. Although your ability to create space to deal with the stress in your life will improve as you continue your mediations, you will relapse into moments of mindlessness. To this day I will react to things without giving them proper thought. I still occasionally blurt out things at inappropriate times that I wish I could take back. I will lose my temper, over think things until my head aches, and have depressed days where nothing goes right.

But even though these things are still going to happen, now that I have been using my mindfulness strategies, they have been happening considerably less often. Prior to mindfulness I would have many consecutive days of pessimism and helplessness, now these miserable moments only last an hour, or only minutes. I am mentally stronger by practicing mindfulness, and it takes very serious problems to rattle my focus.

It is our imperfections that make us stronger, and by being able to reflect on the moments in which I don’t react as I properly should, I can better prepare myself for when it happens again in the future. Before I would ignore my weaknesses, and just see it as a fixed personality trait. Now I see it as an area for improvement.

These imperfections make us unique, and are good reminders that the best strategy for surviving the demands of the daily grind is flexibility. You will never be perfect, but you can be better, and you will continue to improve as you create more mindful space.

In the comment box below, I would like you to feel free to share the biggest area of your personality that needs improvement. Is it lack of organization, impatience, negativity, helplessness, anger, frustration, or some thing else? What have you done to improve in this area? Was it successful or are you still struggling?

Beginning Mindfulness Meditation

Cultivating Mindfulness_Meditation_tree_oliwinward

I may have put the cart in front of the horse with my past few blogs. Talking directly about how mindfulness has helped me in my day-to-day activities was explained to hopefully build your interest into the many BENEFITS that practicing mindfulness can provide. I hope your infatuation with this topic has grown to the point where you have curiosity about how to do mindfulness mediation, and are willing to give it a try.

There are many websites and blogs in which you can find tips, strategies, and explanations on how to do mindfulness mediations. From body scans to simple breath meditations, there are many ways in which you can clear your mind using mindfulness techniques. The internet is loaded with an incredible amount of research and websites devoted to mindfulness, and there is substantial evidence to support the claims that mindfulness can improve your life.

The biggest pressure I felt when first doing mindfulness meditation is, “how do you do it?” and “am I doing this wrong?” It was very difficult to clear my mind, and to view my thoughts without judgment. The biggest tip I got from Professor Kuechler was that when practicing mindfulness is: “you are not your thoughts,” and “it’s not good nor bad, it just is.” He told us to imagine our thoughts and emotions and clouds passing in the wind. As a thought comes into your head, do not hold on to it; allow the breeze to let it pass on by.

Being nonjudgmental is one of the biggest components of mindfulness meditation. It is what allows you to view your thoughts, opinions, and actions from an outside perspective, and can help provide clarity in difficult situations. I believe it is in these nonjudgmental moments that I have my clearest and deepest thoughts, which have given me an incredible perspective to my memories and experiences.

I currently do my daily mediations in the morning. It is very important to make it a part of your daily routine, and you’re more likely to continue meditations if you set aside a specific time every day to do it. I usually sit in my classroom at my desk, (or even in my car in the parking lot), and do my breath meditation for 15-20 minutes per day. I have done longer meditations when time allows, but I have found that on even my most stressful days, even 5-10 minutes of meditation can be extremely beneficial.

There are several guided meditations you can find on YouTube, and they are a good introduction to mindfulness mediation if you want to experiment with this at home or in your office. Currently, I use the MINDFULNESS APP that I downloaded from Itunes on my Iphone, and I have been very pleased with it.

mindfulness app

It makes my guided meditations highly portable, and you can listen along with headphones, or even using your speakerphone. It has many different functions, and you can select guided meditations that range from 5 to 40 minutes long. It was only $1.99 and I highly recommend it to anyone wishing to explore mindfulness meditations further.

I challenge you to try mindfulness meditations for at least five days. You will feel a change come about your personality, and your stress level will reduce. Please contact me if I you would like any more advice, resources, or encouragement. Like anything worthwhile, it is difficult to start, but it is well worth the reward!

Avoiding Antagonists

negativity
“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven..”
― John Milton, Paradise Lost

As a fifth grade teacher I experience a considerable amount of stress. From dealing with angry parents, the endless demands of administrators, or apathetic students, it is very easy to become frustrated and lose your cool. Teaching is an extremely difficult job in which the hours are long, and the rewards are few. It’s very easy to get lost in the pessimism and blame-game that has now become public education. We are held accountable for many things we can’t control (like parent involvement) without given any resources or power to make positive changes. This is very difficult environment to deal with, and most days you go home feeling completely defeated.

This is true for many professions, where we feel like mindless cogs in the machine, overworked, underappreciated, and pushed to our limits. Some people handle this pressure better than others, and can shrug away this stress to fight on another day. But yet others let the demands of their job get the best of them, and they become an antagonist to everyone around them. They want you to know how miserable they are, and it feels like they are actively recruiting you to join their legion of doom and gloom.

Prior to practicing mindfulness, I was apart of this army of antagonists (I may have even been a general, thought I don’t know if I’d want to give myself too much credit.) I wanted to gripe and complain about anything that I could. I saw the worst in every person, situation, and there was not problem too small that I couldn’t make a mountain out of. I gravitated to the other antagonists at my school, and together there was nothing we couldn’t destroy with our gloomy attitudes! Oh how misery loves company!

I have since realized that happiness is mental, and that by using my mindfulness skills, I can positively deal with the demands of my job, and not let it bring me down. But in order to stay positive, I have found it absolutely critical to stay away from the other antagonists at my school Negativity loves company, so avoid these coworkers at all costs, and this will dramatically effect how you feel at work.

My mood, outlook, and attitude have all greatly improved as I have actively tried to surround myself with more positive people. I spend more time being productive instead of participating in “hallway drama/complaint sessions,” and I am happier professionally than I have ever been. Instead of letting every little thing bother me, I create my mindful space and let it drift away. Do I still have bad days? ABSOLUTELY. But I no longer feel the trapped, miserable, and hopeless feelings I once felt. By putting myself in the right frame of mind, and analyzing situations for what they truly are, I can let the silver linings of any bad day carry me toward a positive experience.

What have you done to try and create a more positive work environment? Or are the antagonists in your office smothering your happiness?

That Familiar Feeling. . . .

Stress Shattered Glass Word Cloud Concept

When I first began doing my mindful meditations, I was told to focus on the physical changes that happen to my body throughout the day. I was amazed at the different sensations I experienced in my body as I became more conscious of my mood and temperament. I could feel my muscles tighten and relax as I dealt with stress, joy, and frustration. I became very aware to these physical differences. By noticing these changes, I could focus upon them, and relax myself until the tension subsided.

Whenever I feel stress, anger, or frustration my shoulders and neck tense and stiffen. It feels as if I have a 50 lb sack of flour on each shoulder, and my spine fuses together. By being more observant of this, it has helped me to calm down and regain my focus during stressful times. This “stress-shell” that forms around me can be conquered with concentration, and removing it allows me to be a better person at work and at home.

Within mindful mediations, there is a technique called a “body scan.” During your 20-30 minute mediation, you put focus to all parts of your body, and being more mindful of the sensations you feel during your deep breathing. You begin with your toes, and work your way through every joint, muscle, and extremity in your body. It is in this meditative and relaxing state that you can focus on tension until the pressure drifts away.

I was fortunate to visit my family this weekend, and began discussing this topic with my mother. Whenever she feels stress or anxiety, her knees tighten, and she is very aware of these changes. Even before her conscious mind realizes the emotion, her knees tighten and pulsate, and she feels her body is warning her of the stimuli around her.

In reading a few books on mindfulness, many researchers feel that these feelings are common in everyone, and were necessary parts of our subconscious mind for survival. These physical changes create a “fight or flight” reaction that can warn us of impending danger. If we all feel these physical changes as part of our survival, you must feel it too! I challenge you to be more observant of it. See if by focusing on it if you can release your tension during those stressful times.

Where in your body do you feel tension and pain in times of stress?

What can 20 minutes do for you?

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What is mindfulness? It is a question that will get you many different answers. Mindfulness to me is having moment-by-moment awareness and focusing on the details that make up our lives. It’s ignoring our predisposed rigid mindsets and challenging the status quos. As cliché as it sounds, it’s training your brain to think, “outside of the box.” It reminds me of one of my favorite sayings:

“If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.”

I think we often forget that our brain is a muscle, and it can be trained and exercised similarly to other parts of our body. Often our brain goes into mindless mode and we go through life on autopilot.

How often have you driven home from work and you do not remember the commute at all? Have you ever pulled into your driveway and awoke from a daze thinking, “how did I get here?” Have you ever driven to work accidentally on a Saturday because you feel preprogrammed into your set routines? I know I have, and I think it’s a common thing we’ve all done. If you have any of your own “mindless” story please share it below!

I know one of my biggest problems is with my memory. From grocery lists, to errands, to my “honey-do” list, if it’s not written down, my brain simply cannot keep up with all of the daily demands thrown at it.

These are only a few examples, but with the mindfulness techniques I have been practicing I am more mentally present to my wife, my employer, and everyone around me. I have found my mind drifts less, and I am more focused and efficient in everything I do.

By setting aside time each day to allow your mind and body to clear and reset you can increase your focus throughout the day. When most people are asked to set aside 20-30 minutes for their breath meditations, they claim up and down that they do not have time. YOU DO HAVE THE TIME. Think of all the time you waste as your mind drifts off focus, or wanders from task to task.

When it comes to my own mindful meditations I like to think of a dirty kitchen. How many of you cannot start cooking in a messy kitchen? I know I can’t. I must first clean and straighten up my kitchen and then everything is ready for me to measure, prepare, and cook. I think of mindfulness the same way. I am cleaning up and organizing my thoughts 20 minutes per day, in order to have a “clean kitchen” in order to get my work done faster.

Would you trade 20 minutes per day to have more energy, to be more purposeful and focused, and to increase your efficiency throughout the day? If you wouldn’t do that, what would you be willing to trade for it?

Welcome to Mind-FULL

mindfulness

Looking around at the ticking clock, your phone buzzes and interrupts you from what you were focusing on . . . .Was it what errands needed to be completed on the way home from work? The date of your child’s next medical appointment? Or could it be the time and location of your staff meeting? Maybe it was who you forgot to return an email or phone call to? Maybe now that you’ve been successfully distracted by all of the stimuli surrounding you, that you’ve completely forgotten what you were thinking about in the first place?

We all have these problems! In this world of 24-7 access to information, being hounded by endless obligations to our jobs, family, and friends, you cannot help but feel overwhelmed. Our society has become too distracted from what is truly important. Our lives have been transformed into a rat race in which we run ourselves ragged searching for cheese in an endless maze. Don’t you wish the world would just slow down?

Luckily there is a way in which you can create space to deal with the increasing demands of our modern society. It is called mindfulness, and I have found it very effective when dealing with my stressful life. I am creating this blog to show how you can take back your life from the demands and obligations that are weighing you down. Between working full time during the day, completing my MBA at night, and preparing for my first child, I too have problems dealing with the amount of stress thrown my way.

Although I am relatively new to mindfulness myself, I am hoping to create a powerful setting in which I can increase my knowledge of mindfulness and share with you what I have learned. Mindfulness utilizes breath meditation and yoga techniques to increase your brain’s focus, and can even be used to reduce stress, anxiety, and illness.

Is your first vision of this process of some Tibetan monks singing chants?

It was for me too.

But since learning about these techniques in my Mindful Leadership class I have found myself a more effective and happier person in both my personal and professional lives. Even Harvard Business School has devoted resources to this topic and provides mindfulness training to their graduates to create better leaders.

I value research based information, and will use articles and references from related literature whenever possible, but I will also include my own personal accounts on my mindfulness journey as well. I hope you can use the information in this blog to see the significant life changes I have already experienced through mindfulness, and I welcome any questions of feedback you may have.

Let the journey begin. . . . . .