By Sarah Teczar
I have always been a terrible worrywart. I used to think of it as a character trait—something that was in my nature, like empathy or a wry sense of humor. But when the stresses of maintaining a work-life-school balance started affecting my sleep, I knew this chronic anxiety wasn’t working for me. So I picked up a copy of “Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World,” by Mark Williams and Danny Penman.
Mindfulness is a mental state of awareness and being present in the moment. Williams and Penman say it’s also about being compassionate with yourself. Cultivating mindfulness can involve anything from making small changes in your daily routine to practicing five-minute breathing exercises. As I began reading through these tips, I was skeptical but curious. Meditation had always been too elusive for me, but mindfulness seemed more doable. The word mindful itself appealed to me; it meant to be aware, which I’m much better at than I am at emptying my head. At first, the thought of setting aside precious extra time to embark on this journey gave me even more anxiety, but I was willing to give it a try.
Instead of following the eight-week program straight through, I read the book in pieces. I was surprised at how just thinking about the mindfulness process (how meta) has helped. Here are the best tips I’ve learned.
Live in the now!
Garth from “Wayne’s World” had it right. Mindfulness teaches you to be fully present in the moment, good or bad. One day, I was so bogged down in my thoughts that a friend passed me on the sidewalk and said hi, and only later did I discover that I had sailed right by without even seeing him. Now, I try to enjoy my walk to work and be aware of my surroundings rather than letting the day’s to-do list preoccupy my brain.
Ahem: Your attention, please
As you’re reading this, how many tabs do you have open on your computer? Have you watched a video or checked the price on those boots you wanted to buy? Did you answer a text? It’s okay. I do it, too.
We live in a world that demands us to multitask. Mindfulness teaches us to relearn focusing our attention on one thing at a time. As tempting as Facebook might be in the middle of email-writing, try to complete your message and send it before moving on to something else. It’s surprisingly hard to do, but whenever I try focusing on one task at a time, I’m less forgetful and make fewer mistakes.
Don’t judge me, Brain
Mindfulness is a judgment-free zone. This is good news for me, because I’m my own biggest critic and will beat myself up if I don’t think I did something well enough. If I ever have any free time, I become plagued with indecision. Should I catch up on my reading? Grab a drink with friends? All of the above? Invariably, I question the decisions I did make and beat myself up for whatever I didn’t accomplish. Not only is this counterproductive and harmful, it can destroy any feelings of relaxation I may have achieved. I’ve started to be more forgiving toward myself. If the 30 minutes I spent watching trash TV were enjoyable, then it was time well spent.
I still have a long way to go in my journey towards mindfulness, and it may take forever to get there, but at least I now know to look up and see my surroundings along the way.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sarah Teczar is a Boston-based writer pursuing her M.F.A. in fiction at Emerson College. A Francophile and lover of languages, she enjoys breaking down preconceived notions by traveling and meeting new people. Follow her @sarahteczar.
Photo of woman sitting on beach by Shutterstock