Mindfulness: try less, experience more

I first learned about mindfulness in graduate school. One of my professors led a course, and as a stressed-out student it sounded like the perfect escape. I remember feeling excited to finally find a bit of mental bliss and quiet. Instead, I found myself impatiently waiting for everlasting peace, tranquility, and enlightenment. It almost never…

Gently challenging your thinking traps

It turns out there is a stepwise method for addressing thinking traps that gives us a little freedom from their tyranny. It’s called reappraisal. Reappraisal means slowing down, looking at what’s going on in your mind, and evaluating your thoughts. It’s especially helpful when you’re having a strong emotional response. It’s a skill you can easily learn, and though it seems pretty basic, following the steps can help reduce the intensity of a painful emotion and lead to more effective actions.

Trying to control your emotions might be the problem, not the solution

Emotions like anxiety, sadness, and rage are powerful neural states that can be extremely challenging to experience. And without the right skills, we can respond to them by acting in ways that bring negative consequences. Wouldn’t it seem that the logical answer is to suppress these dangerous feelings?As it turns out, one of the best ways to respond to emotions is to approach them with mindfulness, acceptance, and self-compassion rather than through avoidance or over-control. 

Getting to know your thinking traps

Our minds are constantly appraising the world around us. Appraisals are adaptive: our ancestors needed the ability to identify, interpret, and problem-solve the events in their lives in order to survive. In contemporary life, this skill is no longer just about survival. It influences everything we do—planning for the future, negotiating relationships, finding love, and so on. But sometimes, this amazing skill can also get us into trouble.

Practicing acceptance

“There’s nothing you can do. You’re just going to have to accept it.” Has anyone ever said this to you? Or something similar? If you’re like me, it probably wasn’t very helpful, even if it was true. You probably felt shut down or dismissed, even if the person who said it was trying to help. There are two reasons a statement like this doesn’t help. First, most of us don’t have a clue about how to accept something. There’s no instruction book. Second, the word “acceptance” can imply giving in, giving up, or resigning yourself to lousy circumstances—and who wants that?

Letting go of the “if only” mindset

If only I got that promotion. If only I got into business school. If only my house were bigger. If only he loved me. Have you ever found yourself thinking this way? I call it the “if-only” mindset. It’s normal to have these thoughts, but believing deeply that something needs to happen before we can enjoy our lives can create tension and despair, and prevent us from truly being with what’s going on in the present.

Mindfulness: it’s about practice, not perfection

It turns out being mindful is hard. The moment I find myself just noticing what’s happening in the present is exactly when I’m whisked away into mental reverie…If I were to make a pie chart of the time I spend focusing on the present versus swimming in my thoughts, the “present” slice would be comically slim, probably somewhere in the 5-10% range. That’s what I mean when I say I can’t do it either.

In the moment at work and at home

Does your work day ever go by in a blur and later you barely remember what happened? Are you ever physically at dinner but mentally still at work? Maybe you’re impatient to check email or thinking of all you’ve got do tomorrow to “catch up.”