5 Tips for Being Mindful (Even When It Doesn’t Feel Possible!)
by Dr. Christina Contrastano
You probably clicked on the link for this blog because you want to parent with more intentionality and some well-meaning person told you mindfulness can help you be more present and connected with your children and help you make decisions in line with your values rather than reacting emotionally. You may be totally willing to dive in and yet, you already have so much on your plate that adding one more thing seems unfathomable! I promise you, it is possible!
Here are 5 tips from a clinical psychologist, and much more importantly, a busy, very sleep-deprived mother who has finally figured out how to practice mindfulness daily.
#1 Start where you are
You do not need to add anything to your life to practice mindfulness. You just need to do what you are already doing a bit differently. Let’s look at some ways to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life. Pick one or two that work for YOU now and keep these in your pocket for later.
Right now, as you read, notice your breath. Don’t try to change it. Just notice the air moving in and out of your nostrils…or maybe you feel it more in your throat or chest? Repeat two more times.
“Breathe and KNOW you are breathing.”
Look at you already rocking this mindfulness stuff! You got this!
Turn your attention to your feet. If you can, wiggle your toes. Push the ball of your foot into the ground, now the heel, now the whole foot. Right then left.
“Find your feet!”
What three sounds can you notice and hear right now? What sounds can you hear from very far away?
“Listen, really listen.”
If you’re able, have you walked at all today? To your kid’s room? To the kitchen? Every step is a chance to tap into mindfulness. Focus on the feeling of lifting and placing down each foot. Notice the sensations. Notice the sound.
“Be here now”
#2 Be gentle
As you were reading above, did you zone out? Remember that there’s a load of laundry sitting in the washer? Or did you try to figure out if there’s enough frozen Mickey Mouse waffles (which if you’re three, don’t taste the same as regular shaped waffles) for breakfast?
Remember, that’s normal and expected. Minds are designed to wander. Our minds are like little puppies or toddlers that want to explore and don’t want to stay in place. If your puppy or toddler meandered away, would you scream and berate them? Probably not, right? So don’t do it to yourself either! Mindfulness helps us catch our minds when they wander and gently bring them back to the present moment. Gently is the key word. Just as we hopefully wouldn’t scream at the poor pup or tot, berating ourselves when our mind stumbles back into the past or forward into the future is not helpful. Noticing that your mind is no longer in the present moment and coming back to your breath or the soles of your feet or sounds or whatever you chose as the anchor IS the practice. . If you did say, “I suck at this!” or “This is so dumb. How is this going to help me?” just notice those thoughts too. The practice is to notice it, with kindness, and resume focusing on our anchor.
#3 Let go of expectations
Mindfulness may make you feel less stressed and overwhelmed or it may make you less likely to lose your cool on your kids…and it may not. If you are practicing mindfulness in an attempt to change yourself, your kids, your partner, traffic, weather, covid-19, you are missing the point of mindfulness. A core part of mindfulness is accepting things as they are without trying to change them. Not approving or liking, but not fighting reality either. Try to notice what your expectations of the practice are, acknowledge them and let them go. My pre-dinner one minute mindfulness practice as I finish cooking will likely not make my child eat all her green beans and it will maybe help me respond to her throwing the veggies on the floor in a way that is aligned with my values. The cool thing about mindfulness is that two things are true. We don’t do mindfulness to change ourselves and mindfulness may change us!
Mindfulness is a skill and we need to train our brain to get better at this new skill. Just as you likely won’t learn to ride a bike from reading about a manual, you won’t learn to be mindful by reading about it. You have to actually do it! My guess is that stopping now and taking three breaths with intention will do more for your mindfulness practice than reading 10 more articles on mindfulness after this one!
Again, practice with kindness! When your toddler was learning to walk, you likely didn’t scream at them every time they fell. In fact, you probably cheered and encouraged them even if they took two uncoordinated steps and then face planted. You learning to be mindful is just like your small child learning to walk. It’s new! You won’t be good at it at first! On certain days, even after lots of practice, it may still be hard for a number of reasons! That’s normal!
#5 Pick an anchor
The problem with practicing is that we are busy parents! We often forget to practice since being on autopilot is so normal for us, so pick a specific cue, such as every time you’re stopped at a traffic light, to take a breath and check in. Maybe you pick an activity, such as brushing your teeth, reading books to your kids or pushing them on the swings and decide to do that activity with mindfulness. Some people set an alarm bell to ping them throughout the day. Sometimes, a time of day helps serve as a reminder. For instance, I try to practice for a few seconds as soon as I get to my desk at work after the rush of school drop off and again just before starting the bedtime routine at night. Treat this as a fun experiment! Try different cues and see what works best for you! The only way to do it “wrong,” is to not do it at all!