We often rely on self-discipline to chase a heart’s desire or to bring about a change in ourselves. We believe that determination, enthusiasm and discipline will get us there. But along the way, we begin to struggle with our habitual tendencies, go wayward and give up on ourselves. We have all been there, haven’t we? But what if I told you that if you master a simple technique, the journey to transform yourself will become not only effortless but also enjoyable? Yes, I am referring to mindfulness. Even science has discovered the power of mindfulness to bring about behavior change. Let’s go a little deeper.
Recognizing unconscious patterns of thought and feeling
What you are is primarily a collection of habits and beliefs that shape your thoughts and actions. It follows then, that to bring about any meaningful transformation, you need to review your current habits and beliefs and eliminate the ones that lead you astray.
Now, a habit is the brain’s way of carrying out certain routine functions on autopilot so that you can focus on bigger tasks that require your conscious attention. Most of your daily activities such as brushing your teeth, showering, walking to the train station, or driving to your office is handled by the autopilot which mindlessly runs operations in the background while you’re involved in more important tasks such as solving life’s big challenges or experiencing new things. “Autopilot’s genius is its very mindlessness. Its quiet efficiency ensures that you have adequate mental capacity to meet challenges in professional and personal life,” says Caroline Arnold, author of Small Move, Big Change: Using Microresolutions to Transform Your Life Permanently.
But the problem is that your brain’s autopilot is not equipped to discern the good from the bad. As a result, you often end up engaging its capacities to develop undesirable programs — unconscious patterns — that become your prison.
“So, how do I break free from this prison?” you might ask.
Awareness is the first step
An ancient but powerful practice called mindfulness can help you detect where your autopilot is causing trouble and leading to unintended consequences.
Simply put, mindfulness is being fully aware of, and involved in, the present moment. By giving your full attention to whatever it is that you are engaged in, you ensure that the autopilot doesn’t take over and you don’t act out mindlessly. In time, the autopilot “unlearns” the self-defeating pattern and you successfully break the undesirable habit.
Take the example of habitual overeating, which is often a result of a “mindless program” that makes you disregard the satiety signal. The unconscious pattern could be the result of any number of factors including childhood trauma, poor self-image, a way of escaping an emotional issue, scarcity consciousness, and so on. Whatever the cause of the old habit, mindfulness helps you become aware of the pattern, thus helping you retrain your brain to recognize hunger and satiety cues so that you never overeat again. The same goes with the habit of smoking — once you are mindful, you don’t automatically reach out for a cigarette every time you feel bored or anxious. And knowing the health hazard of smoking, I bet there aren’t many who smoke consciously.
Of course, deeply ingrained patterns may need much more conscious effort on your part, but becoming aware of them is always the first and more important step towards becoming free of them.
Cultivating the practice of mindfulness
Before we move ahead, you ought to understand that you can’t be mindful in fragments. In other words, you need to cultivate a mindful disposition such that you remain highly alert, sensitive and aware in the present moment, no matter what you’re doing. In doing so, you will begin to overcome habits and thought patterns that are no longer serving you. Of course, the autopilot will still work efficiently—though it will now be restricted only to those activities and aspects that don’t need your conscious attention.
Becoming mindful can be hard, especially in the beginning. It brings to surface rather unpleasant aspects of you that you never knew existed. In fact, if you are being brutally honest, you may have shocking revelations about your tendencies and behavior, your long-held beliefs and thought-patterns. But once you get past that initial discomfort, it becomes easy for you to overcome your old undesirable patterns. With mindfulness, not only do you break up with your bad habits but you also begin to rediscover simple joys of everyday living; you find a richness of being that was previously inaccessible to you; you feel more alive and sensitive than ever. And most importantly, you don’t form new unconscious patterns.
Kick-start your journey to transform yourself
If the idea of living mindfully resonates with you, there are many wonderful resources available on the internet. Here’s one simple practice that can help you kick-start your journey to transform yourself through mindfulness: Set an alarm on your phone that goes off every 2 -3 hours to remind you to breath consciously. When the reminder comes, just stop whatever it is you’re doing and breathe slowly and deeply three times. This will not take more than a minute but it is a powerful technique to bring you back to here and now.
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