Well, here it is – the first week of a brand new year!
Exciting, isn’t it!
Or maybe a little nerve-wracking….stressful….already packed full of resolutions, expectations, old memories of what not to do from the barely-departed previous year (aka baggage), and more than a bit of fear.
Enter “mindfulness”. Mindfulness is a powerful tool that can facilitate the kind of positive life change that resolutions seldom do. Best known as one of the four core tenets of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), mindfulness is commonly defined as “awareness without judgment of what is, via direct and immediate experience”1.
How can mindfulness help you in 2010?
While resolutions and expectations are born of past experiences, and thus are colored more by painful remembrances of how we did not measure up to our own standards or others’ in the past, mindfulness keeps us anchored here in the present, which is the only place where any true change is possible.
The first step to using mindfulness as a tool for positive change is to be able to distinguish it from what we normally do. So let’s take a common New Year’s resolution as an example – a resolution to adopt healthier eating habits.
Without mindfulness, here is what you might expect to happen on January 2nd, when, full of good intentions and steadfast resolution, you approach the refrigerator. You open the door and stare in at the new healthy selections you just purchased, sitting there on the shelf next to last night’s party leftovers. Your hand shoots resolutely towards the healthy side of the shelf. Your mind says, “You know you won’t be able to keep this up. You might do okay for a few days, but sooner or later you are going to break your resolution. You might as well just go ahead and eat those party leftovers anyway. They are going to spoil otherwise, and it is wasteful to let perfectly good food spoil just because you are trying to eat healthier. You can eat the healthy stuff you bought tomorrow.”
Does any of this self-sabotaging dialogue sound familiar?
With mindfulness, you do not waver between the past and the future, trying to predict the probability of an outcome that is only possible here, now, in the present moment – an outcome that you are in charge of and are perfectly well-equipped to determine.
So now let us take the same example, but apply the tool of mindfulness to achieve a different outcome. There you are, standing in front of the open refrigerator door. Your eyes fall on last night’s leftovers, and then on the new healthy items you have just purchased. Your hand reaches toward the healthy side of the shelf, already anticipating the crunch of the sautéed bell peppers with chicken and seasoning that you are going to make for dinner. Your stomach grumbles. You begin gathering all the ingredients to make your meal. Happily, you unwrap your new sauté pan that you got for Christmas, add a little olive oil, and start chopping vegetables. Thirty minutes later, you sit down for a lovely, healthy meal that is both delicious and satisfying. You clean up, and head into the living room to catch your favorite television show.
What just happened here? With mindfulness, you sabotaged your saboteur by simply staying present. You didn’t allow your mind to wander back to the past, which is forever out of your control, or to the future, which is not yet within your control. You stayed true to the reason you visited the refrigerator in the first place – to fuel your body with delicious, healthy nutrients per your New Year’s intention NOW, in THIS moment, to offer yourself the gift of healthy eating habits. You chose tasty ingredients, enjoyed putting them together into a meal, ate them with gusto while you were hungry, stopped when you were full, cleaned up, and moved on to the next activity you had planned.
Mindfulness hands back on a silver platter your power to make new, self-affirming choices in the present moment. Mindfulness is your best friend in a season too often filled with recriminations, regrets, fears, self-doubts, and atoning resolutions. The past is in the past, right where it belongs. And the future depends on the choices that you make right now, today.
So take mindfulness by the hand, and walk confidently and positively forward together in the present moment to greet the New Year.
At Southlake Counseling, we understand how New Year’s resolutions can often collide with last year’s regrets. This is why our staff of trained and experienced clinicians have dedicated over two decades to the study and successful application of Dr. Marsha Linehan’s Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) treatment methods. If you are struggling with maintaining a positive outlook about making good choices in 2010, we are here to help. If you would like to learn more about Mindfulness or our DBT program contact us today at www.southlakecounseling.com to learn more.
1 Marsha Linehan, PhD, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Founder