Mindfulness is not effortless
For most people, a mindful practice begins with meditation: learning to sit quietly and concentrate on the flow of the breath without trying to control it, watching your thoughts and judgments arise and pass. Meditation can be very calming and is a great way to learn mindfulness.
But don’t confuse the two. Meditation and mindfulness are not the same. While meditation teaches you the habits of mindfulness, a mindful life is not guaranteed to be calm and stress-free. In fact, genuine mindfulness can be very uncomfortable.
Confused? Well-known mindfulness teacher and scientist Jon Kabat-Zinn explains it like this: “The goal of mindfulness is not to turn off your thoughts and judgments but to become aware of them. Then even in very stressful situations, you can move into the actuality of the situation and find ways to move with it and regulate your own reactivity to it.”
Get comfortable with uncomfortable
“One of the most difficult things in the world—if not THE most difficult things in the world—for us human beings to do is to be present in our own lives.” says Kabat-Zinn.
The goal of mindfulness is not to cast aside your worries and transcend everyday life, it is to fully and skillfully engage with it. Mindfulness teaches you to identify your automatic judgments and pause before reacting. Mindfulness allows you to learn new, better ways of responding.
Mindfulness is work
It’s probably not realistic to expect instant results either. Many people who begin a mindfulness practice are disappointed when 20 or 30 minutes a day of quiet sitting doesn’t instantly produce a Zen-like calm for the rest of day.
Truth is, mindfulness is only the first step. It helps you become aware of your problematic thought patterns, automatic reactions, and difficult emotions. The next and more difficult step is to begin to change these with time and effort.
Mindfulness is change
Mindfulness is a powerful tool for changing your life. It can reduce stress and anxiety, improve attention and focus, help with depression, increase productivity, and even improve your relationships with other people. But it’s not a magic pill.
The real transformative power of mindfulness doesn’t occur until you learn how to apply the lessons you learn during meditation to the rest of your day. Once you become aware of your emotions and reactions during your daily life, especially in stressful situations, you can begin to change them.
This awareness gives you the power to turn off your “autopilot” and stop reacting in self-defeating ways. This awareness gives you the power to begin to consciously change your bad old habits into more effective ways of acting.