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Mindfulness

The Ultimate New Year’s Resolution: Mindfulness

Instead of losing weight or exercising more, try being more mindful this year.

I’m not going to lie. I’ve definitely put on 15 pounds since the pandemic started. But I’m not going to resolve to lose weight this New Year. And I’ve definitely fallen off the exercise wagon. Bad knees stopped my marathon training in its tracks, and…who am I kidding? I have no excuse for also stopping my bourgeoning yoga practice. But I’m not even resolving to exercise more. Instead, I’m focusing on focus. I’m resolving to be more mindful this year. And so should you.

Mindfulness

 Motoki Tonn/Unsplash
Source: Motoki Tonn/Unsplash

Mindfulness as we know it today got its start in the West with teachers like Thich Nhat Hahn in the 1970s who began popularizing Buddhist and Hindu principles of self-awareness. The addition of Western science helped popularize mindfulness further by showing that being aware of one’s thoughts, feelings, sensations, and environment had positive impacts on stress reduction and overall health.

Cut to today, and we have an extremely crowded mindfulness industry. There's yoga. And meditation. There are even meditation and mindfulness apps.

Mindfulness is everywhere. It’s so ubiquitous that it’s easy for the term to ring hollow. So why should we want mindfulness to be our New Year's resolution?

Mindfulness: The Keystone Habit

Charles Druhigg explores keystone habits in his popular book The Power of Habits. A keystone habit is a behavior change that leads us to make further positive behavior changes. Exercise is a keystone habit. When we start exercising regularly, other good habits tend to follow. We start to eat healthier and improve our sleeping habits.

Mindfulness is the ultimate keystone habit. If mindfulness is practicing self-awareness of your thoughts feelings, bodily sensations, and environment, becoming more mindful will help you become more aware of what you’re eating, how you’re body is feeling, and how positive or negative your thoughts are. Becoming more mindful can inspire you to make other positive changes in your overall health, behavior, and mindset.

How to Become More Mindful

That’s all well and good, but how can you become more mindful, and then, how can you measure mindfulness to know whether or not you’re reaching your mindfulness resolution?

Traditional Ways to Become More Mindful

One way to work on your mindfulness resolution is to go a traditional route. Yoga and meditation are tried and true ways to bone up on your mindfulness. So you could resolve to take a certain amount of yoga classes per week or meditate a certain amount of time each day.

What I don’t love about this route is that it has a similar downside as resolving to exercise more. Instead of focusing on the positive effects of mindfulness, we start focusing on doing this thing we don’t want to do each day. No fun. And that’s often the reason resolutions like this go down in flames.

A More Fun Way to Become More Mindful

Instead of starting with yoga classes and meditation, there’s another way. We can focus on measuring how often we are mindful each day. This keeps things positive and it helps us focus on the positive effects of mindfulness instead of being something we have to cross off our to-do list.

Here’s how to measure and expand your mindfulness practice each day.

1. Find Your Flow

Flow is the psychological term for when your skill level matches the difficulty of the task at hand and time seems to fly by. It's when you're completely absorbed in what you're doing.

One of the best ways to be present and in the zone is to make a list of the activities that you enjoy and that help you reach a flow state.

I love reading, writing, and sometimes a good yoga class. So I’m going to keep track of how often I practice my flow activities and how often I actually feel that “in the zone” feeling. That way I can quantify how often I’m feeling a sense of flow and work to increase that time each day.

One recent study even found that becoming absorbed in an activity (experiencing flow) helped decrease people’s loneliness and boost their positive emotions during their COVID-quarantine. So find what makes you feel the flow and gradually boost how much you’re in the zone each day.

2. Track Your Mindfulness

You can also keep a journal of your daily mindfulness. Record how you’re feeling, what you’re thinking, how your body is feeling, and what’s going on around you. Putting your mindfulness in writing can help you keep track of how your self-awareness changes over time. This can give you a way to regularly check in with yourself and reset your self-improvement goals throughout the year.

Noticing you’re always negative? Set a goal to be more positive. See a pattern that your emotions don’t seem to match what’s going on in your environment? Start seeing a therapist or talk more openly with your partner or friend about your emotions. Journaling can help you reflect on your mindfulness and set goals throughout the year to become more connected to your thoughts, feelings, sensations, and environment.

3. Make Mindfulness a Game

 Kelli McClintock/Unsplash
Source: Kelli McClintock/Unsplash

Another way to boost your mindfulness this year is to make it a game. My new book Play Your Way Sane: 120 Improv-Inspired Exercises to Help You Calm Down, Stop Spiraling, and Embrace Uncertainty contains some fun games to help you become more mindful of your thoughts and environment. For example, you can go on a walk and talk about all the things you notice. Point to objects you see as you mosey and call out what they are, "Tree, street, dog, car!" Instead of being “in your head,” this mindfulness game helps you become more aware of your environment.

You can also spend a few minutes closing your eyes and focusing on all the sounds you hear. Or you can acknowledge your thoughts and tell yourself to try out a new thought. I call this game Nope, Try Something Else, and it’s a fun way of becoming more mindful of your thoughts and feelings.

Instead of promising you’re going to take ten yoga classes a week, just play one quick mindfulness game each day. The perk of games is that they’re short and fun, so it takes a lot of the pressure off and keeps you coming back for more.

The Mindfulness Resolution

You can make mindfulness a game, journal about it, or expand your flow activities. Take your pick. But the bonus is that making mindfulness your one-and-only resolution will help you feel better, be more present and engaged, and make other positive changes in 2021.

Side note: Aren't we all glad it's finally 2021?

So instead of seeing you at the gym this January, I hope you’ll join me in looking inward and becoming more connected to your thoughts, feelings, sensations, and the world around you.

Now that will make for a happy new year.

References

Csikszentmihalyi, M., & Csikzentmihaly, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience (Vol. 1990). New York: Harper & Row.

Drinko, C. (2021). Play Your Way Sane: 120 Improv-Inspired Exercises to Help You Calm Down, Stop Spiraling, and Embrace Uncertainty, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Duhigg, C. (2012). The power of habit: Why we do what we do in life and business. Random House.

Huang, F. H., & Chang, L. C. (2020). Importance of Flow for Lonely Nursing Home Residents During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Journal of gerontological nursing, 46(11), 5-6.

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