3 Practical Mindfulness Tips for Non-Meditators

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. Viktor E. Frankl

Easy for Frankl to say but not very easy to do. Let me be completely honest.  I have tried meditation during multiple phases of my life with varying degrees of success.  For me a successful meditation is being able to sit still and quiet for 10 -15 minutes with occasional attention on my breathing, but most of the time my mind is distracted by an upcoming meeting, the noise downstairs, an itch on my nose, what others think about me, etc.  I am definitely a meditation novice. 

This article is for those of us who will probably never meditate to the level of expertise a monk would exhibit.  These practical tips will help you to improve mindfulness and manage negative emotions, allowing you to bring your best self when it matters the most.

PAUSE

First, you have to be aware that you are encountering an important and challenging situation that can easily trigger your negative emotions.  The emotions that show up when you feel threatened inhibit your ability to accurately perceive situations, problem solve, make decisions, manage stress and collaborate–all critical strategies to successfully navigate important, challenging and relational opportunities. 

What are the signs that let you know that you are in this type of situation?  It is easier to take notice of your physical signals when feeling threatened than it is to notice your emotional state.  Some of the most obvious physical indicators are a clenched jaw, shallow increased breathing, a sinking feeling in your stomach, and maybe starting to feel hot or sweat.  We all react a little different but awareness of these physical indicators can give you a clear understanding that it is time to PAUSE so you can catch up with your emotions and not react with behaviors that don’t serve your desired results. Pausing will feel like you are stopping a natural inertia and it won’t be what you immediately want to do.  Pausing is an easy thing to say and a hard thing to do, especially in the heat of the moment.  This is why well intentioned, skilled and competent individuals often make awful decisions that end up having negative consequences for themselves and others.

What to do after you Pause?

1 - Breathe 

We have an intuitive understanding that our breath can calm our mind and emotions. Most of us have either told others or been told ourselves to "take a deep breath” when things got challenging. Most clinical psychologists and medical doctors use some kind of breathing practice with patients. However, because breathing happens automatically, many of us don’t give the breath as much attention as it deserves and have not learned to harness its full potential to calm our minds and emotions.

One of the reasons breathing can change how you feel is that emotions and breathing are closely connected. You can change how you feel using your breath! Given the fact that it is so difficult to change your emotions using thoughts alone - try "talking yourself out of" intense anger or anxiety, learning to use your breath becomes a very powerful tool.  You can learn to "breathe" your way through negative emotions. 

Nature has equipped you with a "fight of flight" emergency response for dealing with both physical and social threats.  It has also provided you with a "calming" response, to restore peace and balance, which is critical for successfully navigating your most challenging and important social interactions.  You are able to trigger a calming response whenever you like by pressing the "button," i.e. your breathing. 

2 - Identify and Verbalize Feelings

Effective decision making requires discernment: the ability to evaluate and assess a situation accurately.  Discernment arises in the absence of negative emotions. The more negative emotions you have, the less discernment you have.  We’ve all made important decisions from places of fear, anger, guilt, and pride.  Negative emotions signal that you are seeing the world through a distorted lens.  This is important because in situations of high stress the part of your brain that helps with advanced thought processes like strategy, trust building, and compassion shuts down.  Your instinctive brain, takes over.  

Neuroscience now supports the ancient wisdom psychotherapists, writers, and the philosophers have always stated: Simply recognizing and naming an emotion reduces its effect, making thoughtful management of your behavior more accessible. In other words. putting your feelings into words helps you. Research repeatedly shows those quickest to recover from distress are people who can identify how they are feeling and put those feeling into words.  When you take time to identify and name your feelings, you become less stressed and you can think more clearly and creatively, making it easier to find constructive solutions.  As neuroscientists like to say, naming an emotion helps you tame it.

3 - Name Your Best Intention

Setting your intention allows you to focus on who you aspire to be within these critical moments, to recognize and live your values, and to positively shift emotions and actions. This enables you to understand what is important within a defined challenging and important situation.  Voicing intentions takes the focus off of your barriers and perceived limitations and places the focus on the intended impact that you desire. Taking the time to name your best intention has the potential to completely flip how you see an opportunity, how you choose to engage and how you act in that situation.  Naming your best intention gives you purpose within that critical moment. 

These 3 practical skills can be used in the heat of your most challenging and important situations, allowing you to bring your best self to achieve your desired results.  Try it and see!