Give Yourself the Gift of Quiet

January 8, 2019

New year, new you, right? Admittedly, I love the renewed focus on self improvement this season brings. However, after years of trying (and failing) to implement wholesale changes to my habits and routine, I realized that there isn’t one hack or trick that’s going to change everything.

For me, it’s the simple, small actions you can do consistently and that you actually enjoy that end up making a huge difference.

I believe two of the most important areas to focus on are your energy and your mind.

In my last post, I wrote how balancing your energy can help you do more of the work that matters. Here, I want to share some ideas on managing your mind, which I believe can lead to a more focused, calm, and intentional way of living and working.

Why should I pay attention to my mind?

Our minds are incredible. They help us navigate a complex world through solving problems, recording information, directing our body, and so much more.

Yet, our minds are also a source of anxiety, worry, and distraction. We obsess over small things that don’t really matter, worry about future events we can’t control, and let our mind lead us away from the task at hand.

“The mind is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master”~ Robin Sharma

If left unchecked, we succumb to the whims of our mind.

However, if we get to know our mind better, we can move away from distraction and impulse into a world filled with focus and control.

Simply, we can make our minds work for us, rather than working for our minds.

What's up with my mind?

The mind is a complex beast. There’s a lot to learn on how it works, and better teachers out there than me.

With that said, I think there are a few basic points I’ve found helpful and hope you will too.

First off, our minds are naturally a little chaotic (understatement alert!). Try sitting with your eyes closed for 5 minutes, and watch where your thoughts go.

Second, just learning to recognize the chaos of our mind is a big step towards greater self-awareness. You start to notice how easily your mind gets distracted, and how random the thoughts can be.

Third, I don’t think our mind’s tendency to wander is bad. In fact, lots has been written about the importance of ‘daydreaming’ to foster creative thinking. The issue is that our mind often wanders when we need to focus.

Fourth, we can train our mind to become more focused. In much the same way we can train our bodies through exercise, we can train our minds. And as with exercise, training your mind has additional benefits, like reducing stress.

How can I start managing my mind?

My advice is to give yourself the gift of quiet. Build time into your life to just be with you.

Whether that is through meditation, going for a walk, or just sitting in quiet contemplation, all these practices can help you manage your mind, and become more self-aware.

What has made a huge difference to me is using these moments of quiet to practice mindfulness.

What is this ‘mindfulness’ you’ve read so much about? Simply put, it’s being aware.

I love this definition by Jon Kabat-Zinn:

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

There’s plenty of research and science backing up the benefits of mindfulness out there, but I can only share from my own experience that this stuff works. The only way you’ll truly know is if you try.

Anyway, what do you have to lose? Best case you become less stressed, more focused, and potentially happier. Worst case you’ve spent a few minutes a day trying something new.

Tips for getting started

I think most people will find value getting into mindfulness through meditation. I recommend Headspace for starters, but there are others like Insight Timer or Calm that are great too.

If meditation isn’t your bag, here are a few ways you can practice mindfulness on a daily basis:

  • Walk it out. Leave your phone and take a stroll, and just concentrate on the walk itself. When you start thinking and planning, take a breath and re-focus on the present moment.
  • Mindful meal. Enjoy a meal without a screen. Pay attention to the act of eating, and notice the small details of taste and texture. Eat slowly and enjoy.
  • Take 10. Take a minute to take ten deep breaths. This is a personal favorite, as it’s simple, quick, and you can do it literally anywhere (except underwater).

The key with any of these habits is to use them intentionally to work on bringing your mind to the present moment. You can do some great thinking over a long walk, for example, but it’s not the same as walking mindfully.

Quick thoughts on new habits

Of course, what I’m suggesting here does require dedication and practice. Creating new habits is hard, but here are a few things I’ve found that make it easier:

  • Find something that resonates with you, and do it every day. It could be minutes of meditation in the morning, or a walk after dinner each night. The key is to center the activity around quiet, and to use the time immersing yourself in the moment.
  • Start very small at first and build up from there. Think about what you can realistically commit to doing daily, and then start with half that time. I believe it’s easier to take baby steps, rather than to try for a big change overnight.
  • Trust in the process. You wouldn’t expect a huge difference from working out after a week, so release your expectations and give it some time. I found noticeable difference from meditation after about a month of daily practice, even more after three months, and so on. The gift that keeps on giving!
  • *Show yourself some love*. Self-compassion is the most underrated virtue to building better habits that I’ve found. You will absolutely fail along the path to changing your behavior. Perfection does not matter. What matters is how quickly you forgive your inner critic when you miss a day, and start again. Fall down seven times, get up eight.

Wishing you more energy, focus, and time to work on what matters most to you!