Since 2000 I’ve been practicing mindfulness in several ways, including sitting meditation of various kinds and mindfulness in action during my daily life. Looking back over this period of time, I can see tremendous gifts that these simple acts of mindfulness have brought me. I hope by sharing them here, I can also inspire others to start adding mindfulness practice into their lives.
1) Improved Listening Ability
As a coach, my ability to listen is my bread and butter. It allows me to connect with my clients, help them understand themselves and thereby make the decisions and changes that transform their lives. And as a leader it helps me understand the organization, the market, and make informed decisions.
I’ve improved my listening by training the mind to be still in yoga, meditation and walking mindfulness. And of course, mindful listening is a powerful practice in itself.
2) Fewer Bad Moods
A few years ago, I made a commitment to myself to be in a good mood, or at least a neutral mood, every day. About 6 months later, I suddenly realized one day that 1) I was in a bad mood and 2) this was my first bad mood in about 6 months! By then I had actually forgotten the declaration I had made to myself. And I had to think carefully about what I had done to make that happen.
One of the clues was not just what I had done, but also what I had stopped doing. For a few months at the beginning of the year I had been meditating for one hour every day. It seems that the positive effects of that practice had overflowed for a month or so before I started to revert to my previous bad mood pattern.
Scientific research into mindfulness backs up my experience and shows that mindfulness practices like meditation lead to improved moods and more happiness.
3) More Control of My Thinking
One of the most continually useful skills I have developed through mindfulness exercises is to be able to notice my own thinking and thereby gain much more control over it. Once I can catch myself thinking dis-empowering thoughts, I can quite easily change them to work for me instead of against me.
For example, recently I was doing my morning exercises and I heard the words in my head ‘I hate stomach exercises’. How dis-empowering! No wonder I find myself avoiding those exercises. I had never realized until then that I was internally demotivating myself with my thoughts while at the same time trying to motivate myself. It is truly amazing what we tell ourselves when we’re not paying attention!
Now that I know I have that dis-empowering thought, I can easily replace it with more constructive thoughts: “I choose to do those exercises because I want to.” “I love the results!” “And I can learn to love the feeling too.” By noticing the thoughts I’m having, I gain control of so many aspects of my life.
Most of the time our minds operate on programs that have been ‘installed’ years ago. Some of it is ancient programming from our animal past, some is from early childhood, often from experiences that are completely irrelevant to our current situations. Mindfulness allows us to notice those undesirable thoughts so that we can change them to suit our actual current needs rather than just living unconsciously.
4) More Freedom (to do what I choose, rather than doing what I can’t help doing)
Through the constant practice of noticing my own thoughts and changing them to suit me, I have gained much higher confidence in myself. I know from experience that my mind is plastic and can be changed through my own effort, as confirmed by recent developments in neuroscience. And I’ve already changed many of my old thought patterns so that I am less afraid of making mistakes and less bothered and stressed by the unending pressures of life. To me, this feels like freedom.
The more I practice mindfulness, the more it continues to inspire me. By listening to myself in the deepest way, I gain insight into the most frequently asked questions that I can’t read about in an FAQ: about who I am. In this noisy world, I’m inspired to find answers in the deepest quiet where I had not thought to look before.
Learn how to get the benefits of mindfulness at the Hong Kong Premier of Mindfulness @Work on October 3, 2011.