Mindful Reflections: Abdominal Breathing

20170103_173329

A little over two weeks ago I designated mindfulness as my main focus for 2017. In order to make it easier on myself, I decided to choose a “mindfulness method” for each month. My method for January has been abdominal breathing.

Here are a few things I’ve observed so far.

  1. Even with a “method” to rely on, remembering to stay mindful takes a ton of discipline. However….
  2. Having a designated place to focus my attention has been helpful. Bringing my attention back to my breath – when I notice myself living unconsciously, at least – is starting to become automatic.
  3. Abdominal breathing is a very effective way to engage with the present moment. It quickly takes me out of my head and into my body.
  4. My focus and productivity seem to increase whenever I’m conscious of my breath.

I’ve been pushing myself pretty hard for the past two weeks, which has resulted in a pretty sporadic mindfulness practice. That’s why I think that last observation is the most important one. It shows me that there doesn’t have to be a dichotomy between my focus on mindfulness and hustling towards my goals. In fact, mindfulness seems to make my efforts much more effective.

The key for me now is making sure my mindfulness practice doesn’t get overshadowed by other concerns in my life. I want to learn how to stay mindful even when my external life is chaotic. Maybe I’ll have to start setting mindfulness reminders on my phone or invest in one of those mindfulness apps. Anything to make mindfulness a habitual part of my life.

How do you remember to stay mindful throughout the day?

 

Advertisement

Quote of the Week #31

Begin

I think this ancient poet’s words, while simple, contain three powerful lessons about achieving success:

  1. Begin – Like a lot of people, I have dreams and goals but don’t know exactly how to accomplish them. I’m learning that the only way to learn is to just get started.
  2. Be Bold – Beginning takes a lot of courage. So does continuing when things get tough. When I read about anyone who has achieved their definition of success, boldness in the face of challenges is one thing they all have in common.
  3. Venture to be Wise – I put emphasis on “venture” because wisdom seems to come from realizing you don’t have it all figured out. So this part of the quote might be interpreted as, “embrace each day as a learning experience.” And the best way to learn is to start taking action.

2017: The Year of NOW

20161205_175408

As we near the end of 2016, I can look back on the past 12 months with a smile. I made more progress in my personal development this year than in any year prior.

One of my main focuses throughout the year was changing the way I think. I used strategies such as repeating thought loops, positively reframing my negative thoughts, and cultivating gratitude and self-love. These efforts weren’t without reward; maintaining a positive mindset throughout the day has become much easier.

New Year, New Strategy

If I’m being truly honest with myself I have to admit that focusing on my thinking will only get me so far on my journey. No matter how many of these thought-strategies I use, trying to change my thoughts only offers me temporary relief from negativity. I may be better at editing my thoughts as they come up, but my default thoughts are still mostly negative. Plus the constant effort to think positive thoughts can be exhausting at times, and when my negative thoughts can’t be reframed or overcome by positivity, I often end up even more frustrated than before.

This doesn’t mean that becoming a significantly happier person is a pipe dream for me though. I just need to change my strategy. Fortunately, I’ve known the correct strategy for quite some time now: being present to the moment.

My most life-changing moment was reading “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle back in 2013. Before reading it, I had always completely identified with each and every negative thought I had. So Tolle’s assertion that “you are not your thoughts” was revolutionary for me. By following his advice to observe my thoughts and place my attention on the present moment, I was able to experience a sense of peace that was completely foreign to me at the time.

“To realize that you are not your thoughts is when you begin to awaken spiritually.”

– Eckhart Tolle

Despite experiencing the literal power of “now,” I continued to only return to it in my darkest moments. Being present to the moment was nice, but I wanted to actually change the quality of the thoughts I was having. In a way, avoiding the challenge of actually changing my thoughts almost seemed like taking the easy way out. So presence took a backseat to my focus on positive thinking.

Fast-forward three years and here I am, a lot happier but still struggling daily to change my thoughts. So I’m forced to ask myself….

Why am I exerting so much energy trying to change my thoughts when I could find peace through being present to the moment?

The irony of it all is that “the easy way out” is actually a huge challenge in itself. Living in the NOW may alleviate the need to change my thoughts, but it requires just as much effort and discipline.

“The beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not “the thinker.” The moment you start watching the thinker, a higher level of consciousness becomes activated. You then begin to realize that there is a vast realm of intelligence beyond thought, that thought is only a tiny aspect of that intelligence. You also realize that all the things that truly matter – beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace – arise from beyond the mind. You begin to awaken.”

– Eckhart Tolle

So as 2017 approaches, I feel it’s time to make a change. Instead of spending so much time trying to think more positively, I’m going to make being present to the moment my main focus.

Over the years I’ve noticed that I’m a more effective person when operating from a place of presence. I’m more creative, more charismatic, and more energetic. I can think more clearly and I’m better able to focus on whatever task I’m working on. More so than positive thinking, being present to the moment is starting to show itself as the key to my happiness and success.

I still plan on exploring new ways to improve my thoughts and emotions, and I’ll still pursue my goals. But I want presence to be the foundation from which all of my actions spring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thriving versus Coping

thrive-quote

This year was filled with many valuable lessons, but none had a greater impact on my thinking than a concept called thriving versus coping. I actually heard about this concept a couple of years ago, but this year it seemed to be a common thread across most of the content I consumed.

There are quite a few ways I can describe thriving versus coping. It’s the difference between actively seeking out happiness and just trying to avoid pain. It’s the difference between really living and merely surviving. It’s progression versus regression. It’s living in abundance instead of scarcity.

The Cost of Coping

I think coping can be accurately summed up by the phrase, “just getting by.” And the more I consider this idea, the more obvious it is that I often live with a coping mindset. This mindset manifests in a variety of ways:

  • A scarcity mentality
  • Avoiding failure (“prevention focus”)
  • Living unconsciously
  • Letting my circumstances dictate my emotional state
  • Expecting people and situations to make me happy
  • Taking value
  • Waiting for inspiration to take action
  • Stagnation and regression

All of these behaviors/habits result in my viewing life as something to be endured, not enjoyed.

Choosing to Thrive

According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary to thrive is:

  1. To grow vigorously
  2. To gain in wealth or possessions
  3. To progress toward or realize a goal despite or because of circumstances

While all of these definitions are accurate, the one I resonate with most is “to grow vigorously.”

When I’m coping in life, growth is rarely a priority, even if I’m working towards an external goal. Instead, I’m focused on avoiding negative experiences. I would rather stay nice and comfortable than go through the inevitable pain that comes with growth. I liken it to treading water in the ocean; I may not be drowning, but I’m definitely not getting any closer to the shore.

Thriving, as I see it, is the complete opposite of coping. It means:

  • An abundance mentality
  • Pursuing success (“promotion focus”)
  • Being present to the moment
  • Taking full responsibility for my emotional state
  • Cultivating my own happiness
  • Giving value
  • Taking right action, even when it’s uncomfortable
  • Constant growth and progression

One of my key intentions for 2017 is finding ways to shift from coping to thriving. In the past couple of months, I’ve already started using this concept as a lens through which to evaluate my life. Now it’s time to make some concrete changes.

 

 

 

Quote of the Week #27

whatever-you-think

Every day I see more and more wisdom in this quote.

I have a tendency to get caught up thinking about everything that is lacking in my life. Things like positive energy, love, and presence. But I rarely stop and consider what I’m offering to the world. Am I a source of presence and positivity? Do I show love and compassion to the people around me? More often than not the answer is no. So how can I expect any of these things to come to me?

Instead of focusing on what I don’t have, I want to start focusing on what I can offer the world. Even if it’s small things at first – like smiles or silly jokes – I want to be someone who gives value instead of taking it.

Quote of the Week #25

put-your-heart

It constantly amazes me how, when I’m fully engaged with even the smallest task, everything seems to go more smoothly. That’s not to say that being present allows me to succeed at everything I do. I still have to push through blocks and make tons of mistakes. But when approached from a place of presence, none of those things are inherently negative. They are simply part of the process of living and learning.

Vlog: Gratitude

Cultivating more gratitude in my life is something I’ve been working on a lot lately. Here’s a quick video I made explaining why I think gratitude is important, and one of my favorite ways to practice it (spoiler alert: it’s keeping a gratitude journal). I hope you enjoy.

What are some ways that you like to practice gratitude? Let me know in the comments section!