Since I speak and write about mindfulness and leadership development, I often get feedback about the topic.  There is one comment and there is one question that I get far more than any others.  So I’m going to share these with you (and my responses) in my next two posts.  The first is the most frequent comment I get, which is:

“There is no way I could ever practice mindfulness meditation.”

Every time I give a talk on mindfulness, there is at least one person in the audience who comes up to me and says this (politely), often followed by, “Mindfulness sounds all well and good, but meditation is just not my thing.”  Or a variation is the person who says, “I know there are all these benefits to practicing mindfulness.  But I tried mindfulness meditation a couple of times, and I just can’t do it.”  When people make comments like this, they usually really mean one of the following:

  1. It seems “woo.”  I feel silly doing it.
  2. When I sit still, I get very uncomfortable.  I don’t like it.
  3. I’m really busy.  I don’t have time to practice mindfulness.

I addressed the first point in my previous post on practicing mindfulness.  I said that while mindfulness meditation is a practice with roots in Buddhist traditions, Jon Kabat-Zinn recognized that you do not need to study Buddhist tenets to benefit from mindfulness – you only need to cultivate the ability to be mindful.  This is a skill that in itself is not inherently “woo.”  And a mindfulness meditation is simply time dedicated to the practice of mindfulness.  If you sit down to try it and still feel silly, this is a great opportunity to practice acceptance, or lack of judgment, about what you are doing.

To the second point, remember, neuroscience tells us that when we are trying to be mindful as beginners, we literally can’t do it – the narrative part of our brain stays active at the same time.  This means that when we initially try mindfulness meditation, our narrative mind chastises us about the things we didn’t get done earlier and worries about all the things that we still need to do.  We suddenly find that we are face-to-face with our concerns and our To Do Lists.  This in turn can fuel our narrative mind.  It starts asking us how useful is it to sit still and telling us that instead we should be using this time to do other things.  We may feel more uncomfortable than before we sat down, and we may want to leap up and get back to our lives.  This is very common when people first start mindfulness meditation.  It also creates an excellent opportunity to practice being mindful, of staying in the present and observing your thoughts and feelings without creating further judgments.  And when you practice and start to develop the ability to be mindful, you actually become less stressed and anxious.  So even if you are uncomfortable at first, I encourage you to stick with your mindfulness practice.  (If you continue to be  uncomfortable, I encourage you to seek the support and guidance of an experienced mindfulness teacher or group).

To the third point, I live in the Washington, DC, Metro area, so I understand all too well how busy everyone is.  Many people here work long days, spend 2+ hours a day commuting, and have numerous responsibilities outside of work – the week fills up quickly.  We need to remind ourselves that our schedules do not own us; it is up to each of us to choose our priorities and how we spend our time.  Like anything, practicing mindfulness requires a willingness and dedication.  It might feel like you are stretched so thin that there is no way you can carve out even a sliver of time for a mindfulness practice.  And what I say in response is that if you are that busy, there is a good chance that you are also stressed and anxious, and it’s the perfect time to start a mindfulness practice.  Just like you might prioritize eating well and exercising, practicing mindfulness supports your physical and mental well-being.

Come back for the next blog post, in which I’ll tell you the most common question I get about mindfulness (and the answer).

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