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Mindfulness – the Gift that Goes on Giving

What’s so great about Mindfulness?

There’s a phrase I like from academia – ‘there’s nothing so practical as a good theory’.  And the thing is, Mindfulness is so practical.  It’s not some airy fairy esoteric thing.  It’s an approach to life that makes sense, because it’s based on careful study, going back many many centuries, of how the mind works.  And these understandings equate to ‘news we can use’.  Perhaps, given that it is such ancient wisdom it’s stretching it a bit to call it ‘news’.  However there is a great deal of news value in Mindfulness in that the more that neuroscientists study it, the more they announce new discoveries about how it works.

So it’s based on a very old wisdom tradition, but has brand new science continuing to explore it, and supporting it’s value.

Mindfulness Meditation – the gym for the mind

Steadying the mind and improving concentration

Doing regular Mindfulness meditation is like taking our minds to the mind-gym.  We learn to steady our minds and develop our ‘concentration muscle’.  And that has immense practical benefits in our everyday lives.

Keeping things in proportion

We also learn to observe our thoughts and feelings – to really ‘get’ that a thought is just a thought and a feeling is just a feeling.  When we are caught in particular thought tracks, we can fall into the mistake of assuming that the thought is telling us the ‘whole truth’, but more often than not it is just a passing idea often very much influenced by the emotion we are feeling at the time.  And when we look at that thought ‘in the clear light of day’ (when we become ‘unhooked’ from the thought) we can see it for what it is.  Think of those times where you have a thought like ‘My manager is going to be so angry with me for the mistake I’ve just made – how am I going to cope?’, but when we unhook from the thought we can get the situation into perspective, and  know that it is not the end of the world.  Similarly with feelings – when we are caught in anger with our partner, we can get caught in believing that he/she is mean, unkind, inconsiderate etc. and completely forget the many kind and considerate things they do for us.  When we unhook from the feeling, whether it be anger, hurt, disappoint or some other feeling, we are able to see things in proportion again.

So getting better at recognising and unhooking from unhelpful thoughts and feelings is immensely helpful and can save us a lot of stress, frustration, irritation and shame.

Getting better at being in the present moment

During Mindfulness meditation we focus on a single ‘object of attention’, such as the sensation of breathing.  Feeling sensations is something we can only do when we are in the present moment, and not in our heads analysing or thinking.  Mindfulness meditation involves bringing our attention back to the sensations of breathing each time we notice that we get caught up in thoughts.  So, over and over again, during a single meditation session we practice (and so get better at) coming back to the present moment.

And the better we are at being in the present moment, the more we get to enjoy the pleasurable moments of our lives.  Also, the better we are at being in the present moment with the people we care about, the more it will enhance the quality of our relationships and the more we will enjoy them.

Becoming more accepting and compassionate of our selves

Through Mindfulness meditation we also practice being non-judgmental and compassionate with ourselves and our inner experiences.  We practice accepting that our minds wander off and that we need to keep bringing them back to the sensations of breathing.  We accept that thoughts and feelings turn up uninvited and that this is just part of the human condition.  We practice ‘starting afresh’ in a self-forgiving kind of way every time we notice our mind has wandered off, and we bring it back to the sensations of breathing.

So, just imagine how useful it would be to be doing a daily workout whereby you are gently improving the steadiness of your mind, your concentration, your ability to get things back into perspective, your ability to spend more time in the present moment, and your ability to be less harsh on yourself and less judgmental.

But … If meditation’s not your thing, how about Everyday Mindfulness Practices?

The principles behind Mindfulness can either be practiced in the form of regular meditation, or by engaging in what I call ‘Everyday Mindfulness’ practices.  For example, we can make a point of noticing when our mind gets caught up in unhelpful thoughts or over-analysing in the course of our everyday life, and choose to bring our attention back to the present moment.

Likewise, we can notice each time we are harsh and judgmental towards our selves or others, and consciously choose to be more accepting.

We can develop the ability to be more aware, more in the present moment, more accepting , less judgmental and more compassionate through a number of  ‘Everyday Mindfulness’ practices.

The Combo package

Of course, practicing both Mindfulness meditation and doing ‘Everyday Mindfulness’ practices will help us to develop these abilities more quickly.  Just as going to the gym and walking to work will get you fitter than just doing one or the other.

Is it worth the effort?

Increasing numbers of people will answer with a whole-hearted ‘yes’.  It seems that Mindfulness was not just ‘flavour of the month’ in the noughties, but continues to grow in popularity.  Not surprising, given the many benefits it offers.

If you are interested in learning Mindfulness check out my ‘Mindfulness for Everyday Life’ 6-week on-line course or any local workshops on Mindfulness that I am offering, on my home page:


The Pre-Christmas “De-frag” challenge

As I write this, it is a little under 5 weeks till Christmas.  I am struck by the fact that some people start ‘gearing up’ and ‘girding their loins’ for Christmas two or even three months before December 25th.  How crazy is that?  How can we get ourselves wound up and in a state of stress for two to three months, all for the sake of one day.   We completely forget ‘the reason for the season’ – joy, peace and love.  And for those of us who follow the Christian faith, celebrating the gift of Christ.  For those who do not follow this faith, the values of joy, peace and love are a part of all major religious traditions and are values of importance to many people with no interest at all in religion.

And as a person who can get pretty stressed out over Christmas, my challenge to myself, and to you if you care to join me, is this: how can we start to ‘unwind’, de-tress, gear down and generally ‘de-frag’  each and every day in the lead up to December 25th .

To me “De-fragging” is about clearing our metal ram, slowing down, relaxing and letting go.  And relaxing and letting go are important pre-requisites for experiencing joy, peace and love.  To quote the cartoonist Michael Leunig: “We cannot love at speed”.

So, am I suggesting you should plan to be less productive and get less done?  Not at all.  In fact, ironically, ‘slowing down’ from ‘rushing-ness’ can result in us becoming more efficient and able to get more done in the time we have available.  How so?  A very positive ‘chicken-and-egg’ dynamic is available here if we choose to tap into.  If we are able to intentionally adopt a stance of calmness, gratitude, peace, joy and love and move away from stress and frustration and rushing-ness, it is possible to regain a sense of perspective and from this sense of perspective to be able to think more strategically and creatively and come up with better solutions to problems.  On the other hand, if we are caught in what I think of as ‘fight-flight physiology dynamics’ – a greater tendency towards stress, worry, hypervigilance for what is going wrong (a.k.a. negative thinking), black-and-white or all-or-nothing thinking, tunnel vision, and creating worse case scenarios in our heads, we are unable to get things into perspective and think strategically.

And research suggests that attitudes such as gratitude and awe will help us to become less stressed and anxious, thus reducing the ‘fight-flight physiology dynamics’ I mentioned above.

So, if you were to intentionally choose to adopt the qualities of joy, peace and love and develop these over the coming five weeks, not only might you have a more enjoyable lead up to December 25th, but you are likely to find that you are less stressed and more able to think clearly and creatively. 

And what if you were to take a two-pronged approach?  Firstly, intentionally choosing one or two positive qualities, such as joy, peace and love to focus on each day.  And secondly, creating plans for Christmas that allow joy, peace and love to predominate over perfection and duty.  Imagine how things could be if you were able to loosen up on your expectations of yourself about the perfect gifts you want to give, the perfect house and garden you want to welcome visitors into and the perfect meals you wish to serve.  And perhaps there are other ways you could relax your expectations to make Christmas less stressful , and more enjoyable.

On the practical planning side of things you will find many blogs with helpful ideas.  Suggestions commonly include

  • If you are hosting a Christmas meal, can you make it ‘pot luck’ or ask specific family members to contribute a dish.  Or pitch in together to prepare the meal, but with a shared intention to bring as much joy, peace and love to the process.  Without this shared intention, ‘help’ in the kitchen can be a source of huge pressure and tension, where tension is high and tempers are frayed.
  • If possible, agree with family about gift-giving.  Whether that be a price limit, going in together to buy gifts or agreeing to only give second-hand items.  If this isn’t possible, work out your own limits in terms of price and the amount of effort you are willing to make around gift-giving.  Remind yourself that in a month’s time, or possibly even a week’s time, your choice of gifts is quite likely to be already forgotten.

But stepping back again from practical strategies to a great ‘defrag’ strategy…

Adopt  ‘good enough’ as your motto.  Gifts only have to be ‘good enough’, not perfect.  Cooking only has to be ‘good enough’, housework and garden maintenance only have to be ‘good enough’.  After all, all of these things are in the service of having a wonderful day with people we care about so it’s helpful to move the focus to that end goal.  While it seems almost universal to worry about what others think of us, learning to live lightly with these thoughts and fears is hugely liberating.  Perhaps now is ‘as good a time as any’ to start on the journey of being less concerned about not meeting other people’s expectations.  And as you are probably aware – oftentimes others don’t hold such expectations of us, we just imagine they do.   Perhaps now is as good a time as any to really embrace or play with the idea that “What other people think of you is none of your business”.

So, how about challenging yourself to defrag your Christmas, in preparation for defragging your holidays, in preparation for defragging the coming year.  Of course, I encourage you to only challenge yourself in a ‘good enough’ kind of way!  Make it a light challenge.  Add in some fun.  Focus on making it a joyous challenge, in the service of creating a joyous occasion filled with lots of appreciation and gratitude for all the small wonders in life.

The Fear Of Missing Out – Taming Your Email


Fear of Missing Out stopping you deleting emails you don't want?


Are you a ‘download’ junkie?  Have you subscribed to every ‘useful’ e-newsletter in the known world?  And are you drowning in information overload?  Does FOMO (the ‘Fear of Missing Out’) stop you from deleting emails and throwing out articles? Me too!

But I’m getting better and better at managing this ‘ongoing battle’ with overload.  And yesterday I came across the most ‘sane’ blog I’ve ever seen on the subject (ironically, of course, I found it in one of those zillions of e-newsletters I subscribe to.  I’ll include the link below.  But first …

“That’s a handy thing” / “You never know when it will come in handy”.

I come from a family of collectors, and some of the collecting borders on hoarding (O.K. to be honest, completely crosses the border …).  And to make matters worse, my family are very much into local and family history.  Now there’s a recipe for disaster when it comes to rescuing / saving and hoarding everything.  And a family saying that we all laugh at, but use frequently is “You never know when it will come in handy”.  To be fair, I don’t think this is just something our family suffers from.  I am sure it is very common – whether applied widely, or to a particular area of interest.

I don’t know if there’s been any psychological research done on ‘the fear of missing out’ but I wouldn’t be surprised if there has (if you know of any, please tell us about anything you’ve found in the Comments box below).  Somehow it seems to me to be quite a primal urge.  In the same way that that everything seems urgent and important when we are caught in fight-flight physiology or a ‘rushing’ or urgency mode, making it hard to let go the somewhat less urgent tasks and focus on the most urgent, it seems harder to let ‘things’ go the more stressed and busy we are.  It reminds me of the hawks on the road, eating road-kill.  Apparently they instinctively grip onto their ‘find’ when faced with an approaching car, which limits their ability to fly and increases their chances of being skittled.  The busier or more stressed I am, the more ‘important’ / “might  be really useful information later” certain emails or e-newsletters seem.  And of course the writers often exploit this sense of stress and urgency by having a limited-time offer in the subject line or first paragraph.

My ‘Claytons’ solution

Firstly, to explain the term – in the 70’s or 80’s in Australia and New Zealand there was a marketing campaign for a non-alcoholic drink, called Claytons – ‘the drink you’re having when you’re not having a drink’. (If you’re interested, this youtube clip of one of their adverts gives you an idea why it was so frequently parodied.  So my “Claytons” solution to email was to set up a folder for all the things that I wished I had time to read, called ‘Labour Weekend Reading’.  I did this about five years ago, a couple of weeks before our 3 day Labour Weekend holiday, thinking that I would have heaps of time to catch up on all this reading.  And I’m still happily ‘filing’ emails that I haven’t got time to read into my ‘Labour Weekend Reading’ file.  As yet, I have not opened that file to actually read anything, so it has a humongous number of emails in it.  But it has helped me to use the Mindfulness strategy of ‘noticing and naming’ the Fear of Missing Out, and to recognise my unwillingness to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’!  This strategy has saved me from experiencing the discomfort of hitting the delete button and fearing I would miss out on some ‘good stuff’.  This is a classic case of avoidance of emotional discomfort!  And avoidance is not a Mindful response.  But in this case, I’m not sure if there are any harmful consequences to it (I’d be interested on your opinion on this).  And one day, with increasing Mindfulness and intentionality, I may reach peace with this, rather than just calling a truce, and I may just hit the delete button and get rid of the whole lot in one fell swoop.  But not just yet, because you never know, maybe I might still find time to read some of the emails in that file…  I love Christine Carter’s suggestion of setting up a separate email account for all these kind of emails, but in a lot of ways, I think that may also be another ‘Clayton’s’ solution.


Fear of Missing Out stopping you throwing stuff out?


And what about paper files?

In discussing this with some Counsellor and Supervisor colleagues recently, it turns out I’m not the only one with this hoarding instinct!  We all have boxes or filing cabinet drawers of handouts, training materials and articles which we believe that one day we will sort through and save the ‘good stuff’.  I know that I hate re-creating resources on something I have already written about (for example when a file becomes corrupted).  So the idea of throwing out a resource and then later discovering I ‘need’ it for a workshop or a client has me holding on to drawer-loads of ‘stuff’.  And in reality, if I wanted to look for an old resource for a client, it could take hours to sort through and find.  In reality it would be quicker to just re-write it – and I may well create something better and more up-to-date than my original.  But the idea of re-writing stuff is, for me, kind of like the idea of scraping my finger nails down a chalkboard (remember them?)  But I’m getting pretty close now to just biting the bullet and doing a big toss out.

One idea my colleagues and I talked about was ‘helping’ each other with this task – that with a supportive observer present we might decide “to heck with it, it can all go”.  And then we could use the time we saved by not painstakingly sorting through every sheet of paper to have a coffee or a wine and enjoy each other’s company – and celebrate a mini-victory over being captive to ‘stuff’.


Living a simpler life is something that really appeals – being freer from ‘stuff’.  Christine Carter’s article on the ‘Greater Good – The Science of Meaningful Life’ website is a great step in that direction with regard to emails.  As I mentioned, this is one of the most ‘sane’ articles I’ve read on the topic.

And you might also enjoy Courtney Carver’s website if you aspire to a simpler life in a broader sense.

Simplifying, whether it be our inboxes or our lives, helps us to lead a more Mindful life.  And Mindfulness helps us to value and achieve simplicity.  Both seem challenges worth tackling.

Image Credits: Pixaby and Adobe Stock Photos

Please comment:

A penny for your thoughts … (not literally, but you know what we mean – we’d love to hear your opinion and learn about your experiences).

How are you at deleting emails?  Or better still, unsubscribing?   And how about throwing out old paper records, articles, resources?  And other ‘stuff’ (belongings) – do you aspire to de-clutter and simplify with regard to belongings?  What have you found helpful in your attempts to de-clutter.  Please share your tips.  We’d love to hear from you on the Comments Board below.

Any and all comments welcome – whether or not you agree with what I’ve written.