This article is part 2 of 2. If you have not already read part 1, you can do so here.
As I pointed out in part 1, the greatest benefit mindfulness can bring to your life is the opportunity to choose how to lead your life, instead of reacting to it. Most of us spend our days at the mercy of wasteful habitual impulses, device notifications, and worldly distractions competing for our attention on an hourly and even minute-by-minute basis. Mindfulness will give any of you who are willing to commit to consistently practicing it the opportunity to take back control and create the life you want. No one else can do it for you, and change is never easy, but mindfulness can guide the way.
There are 3 simple steps to beginning a mindfulness practice:
Through regular practice, mindfulness brings to light our habitual patterns—the good ones, the bad ones, the conscious ones, and the unconscious ones—and gives us the option to change them. Some of our habitual patterns are helpful and make life more livable and enjoyable. You most likely won’t want to change these but your newfound awareness will bring you more appreciation and gratitude for all the good things in your life. You will also notice your habitual patterns that are counter-productive, frustrating, and up to now maybe even unknown. These are the patterns you would likely change, if you could. This process of “beginning to see” is Awareness and is the first step to mindful change.
The good news is, you don’t have to sit down cross-legged and meditate to create Awareness. Any intentional, reflective practice that you can commit to doing regularly will work. One of the best is journaling but can also include: walking and reflecting, short “check-ins” with yourself throughout the day, purposeful conversations with friends, a partner, or colleague—anyone who will openly share their honest observations of you—and of course, meditation. The point is to create an intentional and regular habit of reflection that reveals your habitual patterns, helping you to see the impact they have as they appear throughout your daily life.
Many people, especially in traditional Western cultures, like to jump quickly to action, which is step three: Choice. But first, make sure to take the time for the most crucial step, step two: Clarity. One of the greatest benefits I have received from meditation is the incredible clarity that comes with patience, withholding judgment, and curiosity (check out a previous article I wrote about how I learned to have valuable political discussions with those of differing views, using this practice). If you stay in curiosity for long enough, withholding your impulse to act, react, or fix it, you will eventually have an “a-ha!” moment where you “get it” and a deep sense of Clarity emerges. You will understand your patterns and habits in a deeper and more profound way than you had before and you will know what to do.
Most of us have awareness of many of our bad habits and have tried to change them, only to find ourselves slipping back into that habit, often over and over again. This is frustrating and discouraging and a result of acting without Clarity. You think you understand, but when your attempts to change fail, it is a clear sign that you have not gotten to the root of the habit. Like mowing down dandelions in your lawn, it looks good for a while, but then they grow back. To get rid of them for good, you must first find the root and then pull it out. Finding the root of our habitual patterns can be hard, takes patience and open curiosity, and is best understood through experience, so give it a try and see what happens. I promise, if you wait long enough for Clarity to arise, your attempts at change will finally succeed!
You now have Awareness of a habit, Clarity in understanding the root of that habit, and are finally ready for Choice. Now is the time to consider: “Do I wish to do what I always do here or would it be better to do something different?” And, if you choose “different” ask, “What is a better way of responding right now?” “How do I want to be, act, or respond in this situation?” “Who is the person I wish to be in this moment?” Any questions work. The point being to consider your typical behavior and what you would like to replace it with. Usually, by this point, you will have gained enough insight to know the new response you’d like put into practice. But, even if you don’t, you are now empowered with Clarity around this pattern. You have freed yourself from its hold and can experiment with new ways of responding and being until you find one that works for you.
No matter your scenario, mindfulness will slowly bring Awareness, Clarity, and Choice to all aspects of your life. One of the hidden benefits of this practice is that you can’t selectively apply it. Change in one part of your life will carry through to all others—work, family, friends, political discussions, you name it! If you stick with it, over time you will begin to make different choices and the way you work and live will change, for the better. The exciting part about this is that you will be able to choose the changes you make, freeing you to craft the life you wish to live and become the person you hope to be.