Time to be Mindful, time to be Mindless

 

Over the last decade mindfulness has become common practice for people looking to improve their health and wellbeing, and for good reason. Drawing on Buddhist principles mindfulness is a state of being where your attention is focused inwardly, without judgement; this allows you to identify emotions, thoughts and influences and, rather than fighting against them, recognise them for what they are and letting them go if need be.

More specifically, when it comes to attempting to lose weight or altering eating habits mindfulness can be used to identify the triggers behind the behaviours you wish to change. Feelings of anxiety, low self-worth, stress and hurt are common emotions, which can be soothed by a chocolate induced boost of dopamine. Many of us who use food as a coping mechanism are probably not even aware we are doing it or have forgotten what triggered the need to develop the habit in the first place.

Mindless behaviours

Without actively paying attention to what we are doing we tend to go about our days in a mindless state, relying on habits, routines and past experiences to get us by. These automatic behaviours are doubled edged. While they make many day-to-day tasks more efficient (brushing our teeth or cleaning dishes) they may not be so good for our long-term health and satisfaction, especially if they no longer line up with our goals and desires.

When it comes to changing these automatic behaviours, identifying their roots and their influences can be hard as they tend to have been ingrained for so long. Cue mindfulness as a method of sorting through them and as a gateway to self-awareness.

Mindfulness as a first step

Now mindfulness is great. I’m a big believer in trying to be more aware of why I feel the way I do, and not judging myself for it, but awareness itself is not going to lead to change. Consistent, constructive change arguably first requires a basis of awareness, but the next step is where most people come unstuck.

How do you take the desire to change and manifest that into a new way of being? One where existing hang-ups no longer bind you?

It may seem absurd, but maybe there is also hope in then doing the exact opposite of being mindful…maybe rather than looking inward for the catalyst to change we should look outside ourselves to allow us to be a little mindless?

Here are three things you can focus on to make healthy changes to your routine easier.

Environment

Most of us who struggle with stress, emotion and feelings of inadequacy are reacting to our physical and social environments. Therefore, once you have used mindfulness to identify these negative reactions, working to alter your environment can automatically reduce your experience of them. This could be changing your route home from work, spending less time with people that don’t support your goals or re-arranging your kitchen.

Connection

A recent study by researchers at the University of Amsterdam looked at whether mindfulness improves empathy. The results were surprising in that with some people, especially those who already had narcissistic tendencies, became less empathetic. Empathy with and for others is important for living a compassionate life and to form social connections. Addiction research shows that forming social connections can help replace the addiction or previous habit. So rather than spending all your time trying to be mindful and focusing on your thoughts, why not try reaching out to friends or doing something you enjoy, like dancing or choir singing, and mindlessly lose yourself in what you are doing.

Visualisation

Day dreaming is the antithesis of being mindful but conjuring up a crystal clear vision of what you want to achieve is a powerful tool for making change. Think about a scenario that you wish would play out differently;

  • maybe it’s that afternoon meeting, which then leads you reaching for the doughnuts
  • or your evening ‘snaccidents’ (the act of eating by mistake) whilst you’re watching T.V.

Take the time to sit and imagine such scenarios playing out in the perfect way for you; focus on your feelings, the environment, they way you react to certain cues. Then build an alternative story for your brain to believe and follow.

Time to be Mindful, time to be Mindless

While the practice of mindfulness is powerful we should avoid getting caught up in becoming mindful all the time. Use mindfulness as the starting point to making change, then look outside yourself and even to the future to drive forming healthier routines forward.

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Ian is a Registered Dietitian and online weight loss coach with a background in the NHS. A specialist in weight management, disordered eating and metabolic health.

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