The Importance of Practising Mindfulness On Your Pattern Breaking Journey & Beyond
Ever since I embarked on my pattern breaking journey and founded Baggage Reclaim in September 2005, my mentality has changed dramatically. And even though I revisit the past or even do a little future speculation in the name of work, the fact that I am consistently happy and have a lot less drama and anxiety in my life is due to spending the bulk of my mental time in the present. Even when taking a trip down memory lane, I can differentiate between past and present while remaining aware of who I am and where I want to go.
I still experience life’s inevitable ups and downs, and I’ve had periods of my life that have been stressful, but a critical factor in me not spiralling out of control and losing my self-esteem is the fact that I keep dragging myself back to the present. This is a challenge at times, especially when my mind is super busy and eager to imagine injustices or playing over events in my mind, but shaking myself out of these oh-hell-to-the-frickin-no trances, is a pattern breaking activity in itself.
Mindfulness is about being in the present – not worrying about what isn’t happening and not trying to anticipate what’s next.
Why is this important on your pattern breaking journey? Because you’re going to [compassionately] examine some aspects of your past so that you can adapt your habits.
I am, however, mindful of you getting stuck in the past. When you’re not yet conscious and aware of the pulls on your emotions, energy, mind and time, thinking about the past becomes synonymous with living in it. This in itself can be the block to self-awareness because, in order for you to break and transcend an unhealthy pattern of thinking and behaviour, you need to acknowledge and accept what you’ve been thinking and doing. This includes your motivations for doing so and why these patterns are working against you.
Your primary objective with revisiting the past, with pulling up all of this information, is to learn from the insights gained.
If you get stuck on blame, shame, ruminating, feeling helpless, you’re not going to have the opportunity to learn, grow and love yourself more because you’ll be too busy being afraid. That’s why part of the work you’re doing is about not just uncovering beliefs and associations but also releasing fear.
It’s essential that even if it’s just one thing, that each day that you do any work or you do a spot of raking over the past, that you make a note of something that you’ve learned on these days and express it positively. This means that even if you suddenly recognise something that you said or did that was not beneficial, refocus on the present. Think about what you can learn from it instead of beating yourself up for not being able to reach into the past with an arm like Inspector Gadget and change it.
This is where keeping a journal as well as a Feelings Diary are a must. Your entries will help you to understand your present and by being conscious, aware, and present and so increasing self-knowledge and self-awareness, you will also gain insight and clarity that will discharge you from the previous negative messaging and reasoning that you might have attached to a feeling, thought, action, or outcome.
Journaling teaches you to observe instead of judging.
There’s no point in bathing in guilt (or even blame and shame) unless you’re going to identify whether you’re doing the best that you can do for you now or what you’ve [positively] learned from the experience. It’s also about considering what you can [positively] do now and moving forward, even if it’s taking baby steps to put something in motion.
When you’re in the present, you can look for the positive life lesson. When you’re in the past, you’re facing backwards and closed off.
You’re not going to spontaneously combust into a person with different habits overnight. Be patient with you and if you have a bad day, remember that tomorrow and every day after is a fresh one to get up and try again. Sometimes you have to have bad days. You then, if you keep trying to come back to the present and increase self-awareness and self-knowledge from the insights gained, start to have good days. And you begin to have regular runs of good days that help you keep the bad days in perspective.
I know it’s a pain the arse but those situations where you feel wounded? They are showing you where you need to adapt your thinking and behaviour. The work you’re doing will not control the universe, but it will enable you to take command of your reaction to not just events and experiences, but also thoughts, feelings, and actions that you’ve typically drawn a meaning that eventually trips you up.
When you’re not mindful, you veer between extremes. At one end, you engage in self-esteem depleting activities such as worrying about what isn’t happening, analysing and trying to fix the past, and wanting to ‘fix’ old mistakes with people from your past or with people whom you’re frustrated with in the present, instead of learning from your experiences for you and your future. And then at the other end, you try to anticipate what’s going to happen next. You bet on potential (while minimising or even sabotaging your own), and you try to protect your future by not making decisions.
In the real world outside of your head, you get stuck in your present which no doubt adds to anxiety about your future which you’ll no doubt anticipate as being dodgy and then feel helpless. Phew! Exhausting!
I had no agenda when I decided to take a different path. I hadn’t tasked myself with changing anyone around me; I just wanted to get on with my own life. I didn’t know where it would lead. There was and still is no destination.
As there wasn’t a destination and what I was doing was more about changing how I lived and how I felt about me, it meant that doing these things was for me not about a goal per se. If I had a goal, it was to be healthier and happier, but it’s not like I’d quantified it which is what many people do. Their goal is to be, for example, happier and it’s quantified by the fact that they think that they’ll feel that they’ve achieved this happiness when they, for instance, meet someone or own certain things. That would be like me feeling that my job was done when I met ‘the boyf’, but actually, I’ve continued investing in me. I am still my responsibility.
Treating you with love, care, trust, and respect is something that you have the responsibility of doing every day for the rest of your life.
I’d started out looking for alternatives to steroids and to see if a change in diet could alleviate my symptoms, but during the process, I’d also had some major epiphanies about my own behaviour and my life, namely unavailable relationships and my low self-esteem.
Not having a goal like “I’ll make some changes and my family will change, or I’ll find a relationship”, meant that if I had a bad day or week, I didn’t think “Well I might as well not bother treating myself well because I haven’t met the man of my dreams yet.” If my family pissed me off (and they did and still do), I didn’t think “Eff it in a bucket and chuck it. I may as well just give up now.”
Let’s be real: it’s not that the thought never passed my mind that it would be a lot easier if everyone else changed or something or someone else came along and fixed my problems, but I knew it was bullshit. Every single time I fell into my old habit of putting it on someone else, I ended up feeling unhappy and experiencing a setback. But I learned to get back up, dust myself off and try to live each day learning to treat me well.
And trust, there have been bad days and weeks, and some of you may remember that my health was affected yet again by me forgetting to listen to myself because I was too busy treading water in stress. But, and there is a big but, because I overall treat me with love, care, trust, and respect and am very committed to me, overall and consistently, I am happy, both independently and within my relationship. Since that time, I’ve become increasingly conscious of how my body reacts to stress, recognising the signs that I’m getting overloaded but also managing that stress – osteopath, affirmations, occasional acupuncture, kinesiology, exercise, journaling and having an active response.
Making a commitment requires us to put the effort in day after day. Some days we’re better at being committed to ourselves than others, but we just have to keep doing it. We live to try again. We learn from what does and doesn’t work, and by trying and trying again, we strengthen the commitment through action and thinking. If you’re always looking to give up, to abandon the process, you’re not committed to the decision to change your habits and better your life.
The funny thing is that when you spend more time in the present, you get to have an active part in the future that follows. Life serves us lessons through our experiences to teach us where we may need to adapt our thinking and habits. Do your work in the present, and the past will gradually start to take care of itself while your future opens up with possibilities.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
- How much of your day is spent being in the present?
- How much of your current stress is related to concentration of your energy and emotions on the past or trying to anticipate the future?
- When you experience what you regard as ‘uncomfortable’ or even ‘negative’ feelings, do you observe them and let them pass or do you judge them and you and then respond accordingly? What are the specific thoughts, feelings, and actions that you engage in? Do you feel worse or do you feel better?
- Check out mindfulness and meditation app Headspace. I’ve recommended it to so many students and readers with great results including improved sleep within days after a decade of poor sleep, feeling connected and self-soothing, able to navigate grief better, and being calmly able to respond to issues instead of freaking out or seeking unhealthy distractions.