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Mindfulness, self-awareness and self-care

In this article, Adjunct Prof Marcus O'Donnell discusses how mindfulness, self-awareness and self-care can help build your resilience.

Mindfulness isn’t about stopping your thoughts, but about finding new ways of being with them.

In the last few steps we’ve focused on skills like problem solving and communication that will equip you to grow and respond more positively to any difficulties you may face in your personal or professional life.

In the next few steps we’ll look at how you can build your resilience by taking care of yourself and making sure that you’re healthy, rested and focused.

Meanwhile, let’s look at what a more mindful and self-aware approach to self-care may mean for you in terms of building your resilience.

Mindfulness and everyday life

It’s a fact of life that we often find ourselves caught in a difficult spiral: we’re really busy and this can make us feel stressed. You know that you need to take care of yourself, but you keep putting off opportunities for relaxation because you’re too busy.

When we accept this kind of thought process, our ‘busyness’, our stress, our need to relax and rejuvenate, and the realisation that we need to care more deeply for ourselves, all start to collapse in on themselves.

Helpful prompts – whether from ourselves or others – to take more care become a source of guilt rather than a call to action. So, what can be done?

Mindfulness as self-care

Mindfulness is a series of self-care techniques that can help us better manage these thought processes. These techniques enable us to take care of ourselves in the midst of our everyday busyness.

These days, many people have heard of ‘mindfulness’, and you may have already tried a form mindfulness, such as meditation. That said, there are also many misconceptions about what mindfulness is, how it works and what it helps us to do.

Addressing misconceptions about mindfulness

Let’s address one of the key misconceptions about mindfulness: mindfulness is not about stopping our thoughts and entering a state of thoughtless calm.

Jon Kabat-Zinn – one of the founders of the contemporary mindfulness movement – defines mindfulness this way:

Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally. It’s about knowing what is on your mind.

In this view, paying attention is about approaching our thoughts, intentions and behaviour with curiosity and generosity.

It’s not about stopping our thoughts or reaching a magical place of no thoughts. It’s learning to be with our thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations in a new way.

Practising mindfulness

Mindfulness practice often focuses on the rhythm of our breathing by drawing our attention to the sensation of each breath at the tip of our nose or to the rising and falling of our belly as we breathe in and out.

This reflects Kabat-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness as training ourselves to ‘pay attention, on purpose, in the present moment’. However, Kabat-Zinn’s definition also states that this should be practised in a non-judgemental way.

So, when your mind wanders away from how you’re breathing – as it inevitably will because that’s simply the way our minds work – just notice that this has happened and come back to noticing your breath again. It’s that act of bringing your attention back to a point of focus that’s the essence of mindfulness.

Gradually this practice will allow you to put distance between you and the constant commentary that goes on in your mind.

In other words, as meditation teachers are fond of telling their students: ‘you are not your thoughts’. You are certainly not the negative, overly critical voice that so many of us hear when we don’t quite measure up to the high expectations we often have of ourselves.

Mindfulness in summary

Dr Dan Siegal sums up this mindful, non-judgemental approach to ourselves and others with the acronym COAL:

  • Curiosity – becoming mindfully aware is about discovery, so allow yourself to be surprised.
  • Openness – don’t get stuck by thinking there is only one approach to mindfulness.
  • Acceptance – give both yourself and those around you a break.
  • Love – love can be an everyday emotion where we show real kindness to ourselves and others.

Your task

Explore these simple instructions from Getting started with mindfulness and use either the three-minute body scan or the five-minute breath meditation audio guide to see what mindfulness meditation is like.

When you’re done, share your experiences in the comments.

If you already practise mindfulness or meditation, you may also want to share what you do and what difference this makes in your own life.

This article is from the free online

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