Mindfulness

Mindfulness in Everyday Life

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Written by Kristin Ridder, Ph.D.

How many times have you gone through your day on automatic pilot - and then wondered where the day went? This happens to everyone in many ways. Maybe you had a conversation with a friend and realized you didn't even know what they had just said to you because your mind was somewhere else. You might have been driving and suddenly noticed that you missed your exit because you had been so caught up in your thoughts.

Mindfulness teaches us to be aware of these patterns and to bring ourselves back into contact with the present moment instead of worrying about what could go wrong in the future or reliving pain from our past. It teaches us to be be psychologically present and aware, noticing what is happening in the here and now while paying attention to both the inner world and outer world.

Contact with the present moment is important for self-awareness about our thoughts and feelings, which lets us chose our behavior and make intentional choices. Over time, cultivating mindfulness helps us to observe our thinking patterns, notice when we get caught by certain unhelpful thoughts, and allow these thoughts or emotions to be without getting caught up in them. It sounds so simple, but it can be a tricky skill in real life. Being present lies at the heart of mindfulness.

I like these simple ways to get mindful because anyone can do them, nearly anywhere. Nobody can be mindful or present-minded every moment of every day! Your mind will probably pull you back to your thoughts again and again. That’s normal - our mind is effective at training us to believe that our thoughts are very important and that we should always pay attention to them! These exercises, from the book “ACT Made Simple” are an easy way to bring yourself back to noticing the present moment and practice shifting away from those unhelpful thinking patterns.

Take Ten Breaths

This is a simple exercise to center yourself and connect with your environment. Practice it throughout the day, especially any time you find yourself getting caught up in your thoughts and feelings.

  1. Take ten slow, deep breaths. Focus on breathing out as slowly as possible until the lungs are completely empty—and then allow them to refill by themselves.

  2. Notice the sensations of your lungs emptying. Notice them refilling. Notice your rib cage rising and falling. Notice the gentle rise and fall of your shoulders.

  3. See if you can let your thoughts come and go as if they’re just passing cars, driving past outside your house.

  4. Expand your awareness: simultaneously notice your breathing and your body. Then look around the room and notice what you can see, hear, smell, touch, and feel.

Drop Anchor

This is another simple exercise to center yourself and connect with the world around you. Practice it throughout the day, especially any time you find yourself getting caught up in your thoughts and feelings.

  1. Plant your feet into the floor.

  2. Push them down—notice the floor beneath you, supporting you.

  3. Notice the muscle tension in your legs as you push your feet down.

  4. Notice your entire body—and the feeling of gravity flowing down through your head,

    spine, and legs into your feet.

  5. Now look around and notice what you can see and hear around you. Notice where you

    are and what you’re doing.

Notice Five Things

This is yet another simple exercise to center yourself and engage with your environment. Practice it throughout the day, especially any time you find yourself getting caught up in your thoughts and feelings.

1. Pause for a moment
2. Look around and notice five things that you can see.
3. Listen carefully and notice five things that you can hear.
4. Notice five things that you can feel in contact with your body (for example, your watch against your wrist, your trousers against your legs, the air on your face, your feet upon the floor, your back against the chair).
5. Finally, do all of the above simultaneously. 

Harris, R. (2009). ACT Made Simple: An Easy-To-Read Primer on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

Grounding in Light Meditation

Looking for a new way to practice mindfulness and feel more grounded? I love this "grounding in light" meditation written by Nancy Napier and found in her book "Sacred Practices for Conscious Living." If you're just starting out with mindfulness meditation, you can read more about mindfulness in an earlier post. You may also want to give mindfulness of breathing a try before you engage in this meditation. 

Before you begin this meditation, find a comfortable and quiet place where you can be alone for about 10 minutes. You can sit in an upright but comfortable position in a chair or you could always lie on the floor. When you finish the meditation, take a few moments to absorb the practice. 

Money as life energy: A mindful approach to money.

psychologist for women financial stress

Money. The topic of much stress, avoidance, conflict, and sleep loss. Sound familiar? We spend far too little time talking about the role of money in our lives and creating a healthy relationship with our finances. As parents, we often spend too little time educating our children on the value of money. As educators, we fail to teach basic financial skills that are critical to our well-being as adults. Money is considered a taboo topic in our society, which further adds to avoidance and distress. And to some extent, after our survival needs and some comforts are met, it doesn't matter how much money we have or make. 

All of this means that there is an opportunity to do things differently. To become aware of what money means to you personally. To know what you've been taught about money, both directly and indirectly. To make choices about money that are based on your values, not on fear. To develop a healthier relationship with money. 

 

Overcoming Avoidance

Would you rather talk about anything else except money? Does thinking about money bring up fear or discomfort? As with anything in life that we try to avoid thinking about, the more we try to push thoughts of money away, the more distress we tend to experience. Check in with your own experience about this...

If avoiding the topic of money and reminders of your finances doesn't seem to work, are you ready for an alternative approach? - Being open and honest with yourself about money and being willing to expose yourself to your finances. Exposure therapy is excellent for many fears! And the same behavioral principles apply to fear and anxiety that can come from how we relate to money. Generally, distress is mostly caused by avoidance, or not wanting to "go there" - which makes whatever is there - in this case money - much scarier than it needs to be. 

The first step is choosing to take a different approach. Then it is putting it into action. In this case, it is exposing yourself to your history with money and current financial situation and relationship. What were you taught or told about money throughout your life? Did you grow up in a family where money, or lack of it, posed a real threat and subsequent panic? Was there never enough and no one talked about it? Or was money something that mysteriously flowed and met all of your needs and provided some luxuries? Perhaps your parents spent time educating you on how to balance a checkbook, or how to get a job, but didn't talk to you about their own philosophy and relationship with money. See if you can identify themes in your experience around scarcity or abundance, or around money as a taboo topic of conversation.

After your've identified some patterns around your history with money, take some time to reflect on your current relationship with money. What old patterns do you carry with you? Do these patterns seem to fit with the rest of your approach to life? And are these patterns working for you? What are the benefits of your current relationship with money? And what are some of the downfalls? 

Now, are you willing to to a complete look at your current financial situation? Things you might look at include how much money you have coming in, how much is going out, what you are spending your money on on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis, what you are saving or investing, how much debt you have, what your actual budget is - not just what your budget is in theory. Try to do this in a mindful way - being present to the current situation without judgement. This is about first allowing what is there to be there without changing anything. 

 

Identifying your Values

This is where the idea of "money as life energy" comes in. This concept is courtesy of a book that I highly recommend called "Your Money or Your Life" by Dominguez & Robin. It's simple: you trade your life energy for money. You can figure out what you make per hour minus all of the expenses related to your job and calculate what your life energy is currently worth. Then you can ask yourself two main questions:

  1. Is my current job compensating me well enough for my life energy? 
  2. Am I using my life energy in a way that is consistent with my values?

I'll focus mostly on question #2 for the rest of this post...

Take some time to orient yourself to how your values influence your relationship with money. You may want to do some values identification and clarification work and can check out my previous post on values for more information and resources on how to do this. Some questions you can ask yourself to get started include:

  1. What are the top 3 things that are important to me in life?
  2. Is the way I am using money consistent with how I want to live life and who I want to be?
  3. Are there certain areas where I am spending money or using my life energy in a way that is not consistent with what is important to me?

 

Choosing

Once you've sorted through some basics of how your values relate to your relationship with money, you can make a plan and perhaps set some goals to "live out" these values. It's all about choices - each day, or even each moment, choosing to live out your values or perhaps choosing to do what you've always done or what is comfortable. No matter what your values, it's helpful to take a mindful approach to your finances - meaning slowing down and noticing - so that in each moment you can make a choice. Often times we make choices while on autopilot, which takes away the intention and consideration in making choices. See if you can empower yourself by bringing intention and consideration back! Here's some steps you can take:

  1. Track your financial situation - all incoming and outgoing funds - on a daily basis. You can use an App on your phone or computer to sync all of your accounts. Then all you have to do is click "refresh" to bring awareness and empowerment to your choices.
  2. Set one small financial goal based on your values. There is no right or wrong goal - the most important thing is that it is consistent with your personal values. For example, you may notice that you enjoy the experience of eating out when it's dinner with your partner, but also realize that you spend more money than you'd like on convenient (but not very enjoyable) fast food lunches while at work. A goal may be to bring a lunch to work most days and put the money that you save toward eating out with your partner. 
  3. Try to set one goal at a time and integrate it into your life before adding more goals. Remember that changing habits works best when goals are specific, intentional adjustments to your life done gradually over time. 
  4. You may also think in terms of question #1 - is my current job compensating me well enough for my life energy? This may prompt you to think more about goals you can set to get more for your life energy!

Sticking to it

Change is difficult. Even when it is an intentional change that will better your life. It's normal to feel some resistance or ambivalence. See if you can make some room for whatever thoughts and feelings arise. And continue to stick with your values-consistent plan. If you're a woman in the Chicagoland area and would like assistance in sticking to your goals and learning some more ways to respond to your emotions around money, contact me or schedule an appointment

 

Mindfulness of Emotions Meditation

Want a new skill to practice that will help you feel less overwhelmed by your emotions? Try this mindfulness of emotion meditation. It's one way to practice making some room for unwanted emotions. When you allow difficult emotions to be present, they have less control over your behavior. The purpose of this practice is give you space to slow down and observe your inner experience. Emotions can be the scariest when you become focused on running away from them. In this exercise, you have the opportunity to practice doing the opposite. Over time, with continued practice, emotions or fear of emotions no longer have to drive your life!

Partnering up with Fearlessly Fit Life to help women develop a healthier relationship with food.

This week I'm doing a blog take over at Fearlessly Fit Life, where I'll be sharing information on how to develop a healthier relationship with food! Check out the video and see what else is going on with mindful eating at Fearlessly Fit Life. 

Women's fertility. It's not just about biology.

Trying to get pregnant can be quite a stressful endeavor. Perhaps just thinking about the "ticking biological clock" raises your anxiety. Or maybe you've actively been taking steps to conceive and finding that the harder you try, the more distressed you feel and the more difficult it is to conceive. Due to advances in society, medicine, and culture, women are waiting longer to start growing their families. In many ways, waiting to start a family can be empowering and beneficial for a woman. However, society has also evolved faster than biology. There are real limitations on women's reproductive capacity that occur over time. But it may not be as black and white as you think... 

The willingness to crave. TED talk by Jonathan Bricker.

I have followed and modeled some of my own work on Jonathan Bricker's research on tobacco cessation. Dr. Bricker recently did a TED talk on "The willingness to crave" which illustrates how Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is an effective intervention for quitting smoking and tobacco use. This also applies to food cravings! I wanted to share this here, as I think he does an excellent job demonstrating what Acceptance and Commitment Therapy looks like in the context of addictions and cravings. 

What is mindful eating? An adaptive way to manage the modern food environment.

It's the holiday season and food is everywhere! How does one navigate the modern food environment without gaining weight? This is a tough question to answer, as we have evolved in an environment where food was scarce. In order to survive, it was best to eat anything and everything available. Our world has evolved too quickly for us to keep up - in terms of keeping our bodies healthy. For many people in the developed world, food is too available given our biological predisposition. Food is also designed to hit the "need more" and "want more" triggers, as it's particularly sweet and fatty - good things for beefing up before the next food shortage. 

Boundaries. Why are they so important? And how can I protect my boundaries?

I decided to take a week off from blogging last week. I share this explicitly, as I believe it represents setting a healthy personal boundary (I needed some time off from work and to enjoy the holiday!). Boundaries can apply to so many important parts of life and are particularly relevant around the holiday season, when culture/family/society have many explicit and implicit expectations of how and what we should be doing with our time. Holidays are not only a time of joy and magic (although that's there and can be nice!) - there's often stress that comes with all of the expectations.