Sometimes the doing part feels like the hardest part of making changes. But as we’ve previously discussed, more than we tend to realize, we are doing new things all the time. Most of the time, it’s because we are reacting to changes around us, and the changes we make are the necessary adjustments to keep us in places that are more familiar. This is change nonetheless. Sometimes the doing part is easy, and usually under these circumstances, it’s a more deliberate process because we’ve developed a meaningful insight that compels us to want to do things differently moving forward. Even under these circumstances, taking the first few steps is challenging because it’s new and unfamiliar, and we don’t yet have the competency to feel good about what we are trying to do. However, when it comes to healthy changes, changes for the better, it’s often true that the process is inherently rewarding, even before we reach our goal of integrating a new normal. Another way to ease into the new first steps is to start with something that you can do, and to build upon that step towards behaviors that are more of a stretch. So before we continue on to the three practices that will change your life permanently for the better, let’s start with two things that you can do right now: 1) Set aside 15 minutes, and 2) read the first three parts of this series Changing Your Mind again. Once you are done, I’ll meet you after the break.
Okay, all caught up now? Hold onto that curiosity, your growth mindset, and developing intention a little while longer. Let’s talk about how another 15 minute investment will change your life forever. These three practices have been shown in research and in the real world to permanently change your mind for the better.
Practice #1 – Gratitude. When we take the time to attune into what is positive in our life, we are practicing gratitude. When we feel grateful, what we are doing is acknowledging with our thoughts and feeling with our emotions the things in our life that are good. Gratitude is different than optimism (positivity regarding the future) or positive thinking (positivity regardless of reality), because it is grounded in what is real and authentic in our life. Over time, a regular practice of gratitude also shapes how perceptive we are, making us more likely to notice positivity in our daily life, creating a upwardly gratifying cycle of greater awareness, more positive emotion, more engaged living, and more optimism about the future. I speak more about how to practice gratitude in this article I shared during Thanksgiving.
Practice #2 – Mindfulness Meditation. Though the practice is thousands of years old, we’ve only recently acknowledged the legitimacy and usefulness of this practice in the modern world. Now that it has been validated and accepted, mindfulness has reached out beyond the monastery into psychotherapy, government, business, education, parenting, and relationships. This expansive reach makes sense once we understand what mindfulness meditation does – it improves our ability to attune to ourselves and engages us in our inherent ability to direct our own mental energies to places that best serve our needs.
The list of practical benefits is huge. When in a mindful state, we are more balanced between our thinking and our feeling. We are more able to access the most sophisticated parts of our mind that can handle thinking, feeling, and relating through complex scenarios and find the best solutions. We are more patient. We are more open and empathetic. We become aware of how our actions and behaviors impact those around us. We develop a more reliable intuition. We stress less.
There’s many ways to practice mindfulness, and as it continues to make inroads into the modern world there will likely be more regular opportunities for all of us to practice. In the meantime, try and find a strategy that works for you, whether it’s an app on your phone that guides you through a daily 10 minute meditation, a class at the local spiritual center or church, doing yoga or tai chi with a group of friends, or in your own personal sanctuary that you’ve created in your home. What’s most important is that you practice consistently and integrate these three things: 1) set up the context of learning by telling yourself that you working on your mindfulness, 2) practice staying in a state of attunement for an extended period of time, and 3) practice redirecting your mental energy from one focus to another. Any practice that allows you to do these things will put you in the right headspace and will improve your mindfulness, not just when you are meditating, but in everyday life as well.
Practice #3 – Kindness. Whereas gratitude improves our sense of the outer world, and mindfulness improves the sense of our inner world, it’s a practice of kindness towards others that connects our mind to the inner and outer world of other people. What we find in the process is that we are all more connected than when our own minds are limited by the artificial boundaries of our own skin. What does a practice of kindness look like? Sure, there are specific research validated practices, such as Loving Kindness Meditation studied by Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D. and others which has been shown to do at least 18 positive things, which is worth integrating into your daily meditations as a foundation for this kind of mindful growth. Here’s how to do it. However, when it comes to kindness, I think that the daily practices with the people we share life with give us the same opportunities for growth, while immediately benefitting those that receive our kindness. I think that’s one true value of kindness, which is the sense of connection that it creates and reinforces with others. With our intimate relationships (friends, family, romantic partners) our kind acts are manifested in our presence, our thoughtfulness, our patience, our empathy, our encouragement and validation, our forgiveness, our reconciliation. With all of our other human contacts outside of our immediate social circles, this is when our ability to be kind truly stretches our capacity for growth – when we include the needs of others, especially when we don’t immediately benefit ourselves. However, as supported by Positive Psychology research, it’s these types of acts where we take our best attributes and traits, and utilize these strengths for the sake of something larger than ourselves, that we experience the sustainable positive emotion of “meaningfulness.” And those that experience more meaningfulness in life also experience the most life satisfaction. This is the other true value of kindness, that in helping others, we also help ourselves.
This is the time to be creative (another mind expanding exercise), knowing that there’s no specific strategy to do kindness correctly. But the key is to have the intention of kindness, with the needs of others in mind. In practice this may look like consistently tipping more and more often. Developing a habit of regularly donating items that you could imagine someone else getting more use out of. During the holidays, integrating personal traditions that involve giving to others outside of your circle of friends and family. Smile and greet strangers, especially those that don’t look like you, act like you, or live life like you do. Give gifts to teachers, gardeners, housekeepers, and the UPS guy that delivers all your Amazon Prime packages. Big or small acts, they all help us practice kindness, which in turn helps us develop our capacity for empathy, generosity, openness, and compassion. And we grow in a way that is natural and authentic.
Three Practices, a Total of Fifteen Minutes a Day. Fifteen minutes a day can literally rewire your mind and change the physical structure and functioning of your brain – ten minutes of Mindfulness Meditation to improve your sense of awareness and mental flexibility, three minutes to add a Loving-Kindness Meditation to expand your mind to everyone around you, and two minutes to write down three things that you are uniquely grateful for today to improve your positive perception of life and to increase the positive feelings you experience everyday. Can we change our minds? Yes, we all do, throughout our lifespan, no matter what. What can we change? Turns out a lot. Consider these three strategies based on truth-based principles – fifteen minutes a day, to be more mentally healthy all day, everyday.
Two things that you can do to get started: 1) Set aside another 15 minutes, and 2) start these three practices today.