Mindfulness is a relatively new concept that’s getting a lot of buzz lately. Many people are seeking to be more “mindful” and are trying to pay more attention to little things in life: everything from feeling a breath in their lungs to noticing the specific color of the sky.
There is no ‘one thing’ that means being mindful; and mindfulness is not a destination to achieve. There is no right or wrong way to do it: there is only practicing it. It’s an art slowing down and increasing ones awareness of the self and world.
Why? Because studies show these small moments of mindfulness lead to happier people.
So, what about Habits?
Habits are actions that we do automatically based on a trigger of some type. We don’t make a conscious decision to do them. And as we all know, they are really hard to create or change.
A habit is an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary over time.
It’s important to realize that habits are learned over time and therefore can be unlearned over a similar amount of time. This should alleviate confusion with instincts – innate behaviors in response to something OR addictions – physical and mental dependency on a particular substance.
Habits = Automation
In some ways, habits are the opposite of mindfulness. We go about our lives automatically, sometimes unaware of the actions we are taking because we’ve learned to do them with so little effort and thought.
In order to be mindful, we should eliminate habits?
No way. Habits can be great things. They can automate very positive things in our lives (brushing teeth, taking medication, saying “thank you”, etc.). They can free up mental energy or even be the trigger to remind us to be mindful. The keyword here is “can”.
Not all habits are created equal. A habit of biting nails while nervous is less productive than a habit of saying “thank you” when someone gives you something. It’s important to be aware of the habits you have and make continuous improvements as necessary.
Tying Habits to Mindfulness
Here are three keys to making habits work FOR us.
1. Spend your time wisely
Automation of our lives should allow us to achieve more of the desirable things, not more of the dirty work. An sole proprietor might hire a secretary so she can get out of the office and back to doing what she is passionate about with customers.
If she used her new-found free time to take on more paperwork, she’s lost the purpose of automating part of her business. Create habits that automate the dirty work so you can use the free time to enjoy your life.
2. Know which things to automate and which to not
More habits is not better. Today’s mindfulness tips are full of suggestions for eliminating the bad automation we’ve accrued over the years. Being aware of which things are happening automatically — and selective in which you allow — is an exercise in self-awareness and puts you in the drivers seat. In some ways, it’s a practice in mindfulness itself.
3. Habits can trigger a reminder to be mindful
A certain action you do regularly or automatically can be the reminder to pause and reflect on something else. The next time you automatically say “thank you”, pause and think of several other things you are grateful for.
Studies show that small, regular activities of mindfulness like this can actually be as beneficial as longer session of meditation. They have also shown a direct correlation to a positive mood and perception throughout the day.
Practice makes permanent
There is no right or wrong to mindfulness, there is only practice. Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent. Habits can be a great way to help us strengthen that practice, since they are already so wired into our brains.