Being mindful: Habits and how to change them

building awareness

Being mindful – Being Aware

Being mindful means being aware; understand ing what we are doing. and why.

Much has been written about what it means if you fold your arms in different directions but that is a post for another day; all I want you to try now is to fold your arms in the opposite direction. If you normally cross your arm left over right, try and do it right over left; and vice versa, if you always fold right over left, try and do it left over right. Do it several times. Then try and mix them up; crossing your arms in alternate directions.

Just think about what it felt like doing that ‘simple’ exercise. Normally we don’t have to think about how we fold our arms, we just do it. The way we fold our arms is deeply ingrained in our brain; it is what might best be called a habit. When we try and fold them in a different way, it seems difficult, awkward, and may be even a little frustrating.

For most of us, when we try to fold our arms in the opposite direction, we must think about what we are doing, choose to act differently, we might have to consciously stop ourselves from doing the exercise ‘wrong’; being very aware of what we are doing, making slower, deliberate movements. We might even give up, throwing our arms up in the air, as our perseverance and patience reaches its limit.

Part of the problem is that folding our arms in the wrong direction feels uncomfortable maybe even ‘unnatural’. It is nothing of the sort, it just means that we have got so used to folding our arms in a specific way, that it feels right and our openness for anything different is very low. 

Think about those occasions when you try to an established way of doing something; maybe writing with the opposite hand, stopping smoking, or driving on the other side of the road in Europe. How easy was it to fall back into the old pattern of behaviour? Now think about how difficult it is to start exercising, if you have not done so for a while so for a while, or how easy it is to end up arguing with a significant other, blaming other people, pleasing-people, being angry – and how difficult it is to change those behaviours.

being mindful

To change those behaviours, we must be aware of them, aware of their impact on ourselves and those around us, to commit to changing them and have to the perseverance (and patience) to try again when things get difficult, or we ‘fail’. 

Mindfulness practices help us to quieten that interval voice, what I call the stroppy teenager,’ that stops us changing; the voice that tells us something is too difficult, criticises us for failing, telling us that we are no good. The exercises help us become aware of why we are doing something, opening the door to understanding what we are doing and why, which frees us to develop other habits that may be more beneficial for us.