I used to be very skeptical about mindfulness. Despite growing up in Berkeley, CA and the whole ‘trained therapist’ thing, I tend to shy away from anything that feels too “woo-woo.”
Despite my reservations, I kept hearing about study after study, telling me mindfulness worked. Apparently, it works so well that schools are teaching it to kindergartens. Mindfulness is taught to prisoners as a means of reform. It’s the new corporate buzzword. It relieves anxiety, depression, and a host of other mental ailments.
I couldn’t deny it any longer: mindfulness works. I decided to learn everything I could about mindfulness so I could integrate it into my life and teach it to my clients.
What is Mindfulness?
Before we go any further, let me answer the question: “What is mindfulness?” Mindfulness is maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.
We tend to lump mindfulness together with meditation. Mindfulness is a form of meditation but what’s great about mindfulness is that you can practice it any time of the day or night, no matter what you’re doing.
Once I overcame my own resistance and embraced mindfulness, I ran into a bigger problem: my client’s resistance. I could relate. While I knew becoming more present and mindful of my thoughts and feelings was a good thing I hated how hard it was to keep my awareness on my breathe and would give up after a few minutes feeling frustrated.
Then a good friend and colleague introduced me to “The Alarm Exercise” and suddenly all the things about mindfulness that were so tough…just got easier.
The alarm exercise is a mindfulness tool that only takes 4 minutes a day. You heard me right…4 minutes. First, I’m going to give you the step-by-step instructions on how to do this exercise and then I want to tell you why it works.
How it Works
1. Use a four-hour block of time for this exercise. (You may want to start on a Saturday or Sunday or on a day that you’re not working.)
2. You will need an alarm that you can have with you at all times. (Your phone is the easiest but you can use a kitchen timer or any other alarm clock.)
3. Start by checking in with yourself. Take a moment to notice how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking about. Now bring your mind back to the present moment and set an intention for your day. (For example, “I intend to be loving and kind towards myself and everyone else that I encounter.”)
4. Now set the alarm for an hour from now. For example, if it’s now 8:00am, set the alarm for 9:00am. (If you’ll be in a place an hour from now that you know you can’t be interrupted, set the alarm for when you know you’ll be in a quiet place. Do the best you can.)
Quick Tip: Everyone’s day is different so if you’re going to be in a meeting an hour from now, feel free to set the alarm for times when you know you have time/space to focus on your meditation check-in.
5. When the alarm goes off, check in with yourself. Notice what you’re thinking about. Notice how you’re feeling. Notice what’s happening in your body. Was your mind wandering? Are you ruminating about the talk you had with your partner this morning? Are you obsessing about an upcoming project? Now bring your attention back to the “here and now” and remind yourself of your original intention. Set the alarm again for the next hour.
Quick Tip: If you’re constantly leaving your desk and running around and find that you’re never near your phone when the alarm goes off – set it to go off 5-7x each day. Most likely, you’ll be near your phone for at least 3-4 of those times.
6. Do this for four hours (four mindful check-ins a day), at least 3x a week, for 2 weeks. If you can commit to every day that would be ideal but if you miss a day – don’t beat yourself up – just do it again tomorrow!
How to Track
It takes 66 days, on average, for a new behavior to become a habit. Learning and practicing mindfulness is a new behavior you want to develop so it’s going to take you some time to make it habit.
The best way to ensure that you’ll stay on track and practice mindfulness is to schedule and track your progress.
There are a couple of different ways you can approach this:
– Every Sunday evening look at your week ahead and set your reminders to practice mindfulness during times when you know you’ll be available. You can also set a reminder to go off every Sunday evening to remind you to create your reminders!
– You can download an app from 42 Goals called Productive is a free, easy to use app, which is designed to track habits.
– You can do it the old-fashioned way and grab a piece of paper and write down the days/times you were able to practice the exercise.
– Do all 3!
Why it Works
The first step in any journey is awareness. We can’t figure out where to go and what to do until we know where we are right now. Practicing mindfulness will allow you to better understand how you’re thinking and feeling. Once you’re aware of your thoughts and feelings, you can start to take steps to change your thoughts and feelings.
We tend to think of that we have no control over how we think and feel. Actually, our thoughts and how we react to them is the only thing we have complete control over in life.
You can’t control if your boss is in a bad mood or the train running late, but you can control how you decide to react to these events. If you’re already aware of how you’re feeling in that moment, instead of just reacting to these events, you can make choices that will insure that you take care of yourself and not fall down into that rabbit hole of negative, obsessive thinking.
Try it for 2 weeks and comment below and let me know how it went for you!