Practicing Mindfulness outside of Meditation

Buddhist monks do not only swear on meditation, but they also bring mindfulness into their daily cleaning tasks. By putting all energy into these tasks, they are completed more efficiently, while also creating a relaxing state of mind.
Picture source: https://tricycle.org/trikedaily/meditation-chogyam-trungpa/

One key aspect that really helped my mental health was being mindful, which I first started practicing through meditation and Wim Hof breathing. I feel like mindfulness is often talked about nowadays, but always in the context of mindfulness meditation – While that is a key to become more mindful in general, I feel like there are many activities we do on the daily, where we can continue training a mindful mind. So, here are some activities I started completing with my full attention to the process. After all, mindfulness is simply the act of being present in the moment πŸ™‚

Exercise

Do you run with music or do you focus on the experience?
Picture source: https://www.runnersworld.com/training/a28555402/fixing-your-running-form/

I used to distract myself when exercising by listening to up-beat music or distracting podcasts, so that I don’t have to focus on the physical and mental difficulty of the task. But in terms of improving your fitness levels and exercise mindset, it is really helpful to focus on what exactly you are experiencing while e.g. going for a run – What is your breathing rhythm like? How do you automatically move your arms? When do your feet touch the ground? By bringing your attention to your current state, you become much more aware of how exercise affects you and your body!

Painting

Maybe Bob’s calm mind is due to him being fully present while painting? If you don’t paint, you can practice mindfulness while consciously listening to him beating the devil out of his brushes instead.
Picture source: https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-bob-ross-everyones-favorite-art-teacher

Another hobby of mine that I used to take as an opportunity to do while listening to music. Nowadays, however, I find there is nothing more relaxing than listening to brush strokes on a canvas and watching your painting take form. Maybe Bob Ross manifested this fascination of mine πŸ™‚

Eating

If this is what you look like when eating, but you are fond of becoming more mindful, this is your chance to change a habit! Just put that phone down, it’s not too difficult πŸ˜›
Picture source: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/may/06/table-for-one-how-eating-alone-changing-our-diets

Nowadays it seems quite common that people are either on their phones or watch TV while eating. I find that to be a pretty unhealthy habit, and if you manage to solely focus on the eating experience, you are not just helping your physical health but are also training your meditative mind! I know it sounds silly, but give it a try πŸ™‚ Realising how many distractions influence our mind is the first step to simply being.

Pretty much any activity really

Wherever you are, be there totally

Eckhart Tolle

Well, to conclude – Anything you do can be done mindfully. And why would you want to do that? Because your brain is like a muscle, and the more mindfulness you practice during simple daily activities or hobbies, the easier it gets to be mindful when you become anxious. Even something like brushing your teeth or doing the dishes, doing it while being fully present in the moment does not only help better completion of the task, but also shapes your mind.

When bringing mindfulness into your daily life, it will become much easier to meditate over time. While I think meditation itself is great, if you keep dwelling and pondering while completing simple tasks, your continuously wandering mind might become unhelpful to your mental health. So, I encourage to take off those headphones, put your phone down and simply listen and feel. And if your mind wanders – Notice and bring it back πŸ™‚

The Key to Improving your Anxiety – Do What Makes you Anxious (and stop excessively washing your hands)

After a little break from technology I am back with some new blog post ideas and a calmer mindset, yay πŸ™‚ I originally meant for this blog to be aimed at people with emetophobia, as the resources I found on other blogs when I was suffering with it were pretty unhelpful and actually made my phobia worse.
In short – The phobia revolves around vomit, and the tips I saw online to ‘help it’ were mostly just advice on how to avoid vomiting or seeing vomit in every situation. That is not only unrealistic and unhealthy, but is exactly the kind of advice someone who is desperate to never face their fear looks out for. Only, that it reinforces vomit to be something to be scared of and the phobia cycle continues (I have outlined this in a prior blog post).

Face what you fear (maybe not dangerous animals though, as they could actually kill you… How about starting with irrational anxieties?)
Image source: https://coreaspect.org/way-for-facing-your-fears-and-bounce-back/

Anywho, I have recovered from my phobia by slowly doing things that make me nervous or anxious. But I feel like this applies to all types of anxiety – You need to do what makes you anxious for you to realise it really is nothing to be anxious about, which is also empowering in itself. The thing is, it is really uncomfortable in the moment; You might cry, maybe you’ll have a panic attack, but I promise you, you will not die, and over time you will decrease your suffering!

Let’s take a personal example of mine: Washing one’s hands! Even though I have pretty much overcome my phobia, this was still a big topic in my life the past few months. When people around me did not wash their hands before cooking or after going to the bathroom, I would not only get uncomfortable but I might even start a fight. I would cry a few tears and possibly insult their hygiene as a way to protect myself and make my fear of germs seem valid. But making them wash their hands will only validate germs as a bad thing, and it could even harm them mentally and physically when excessively done! That made me realise, my thoughts and behaviour were catastrophic and obsessive – Yes, washing your hands is important, but it’s not as dramatic as my mind made it out to be.

Let’s be honest, today’s society has huge (ridiculous) hygiene standards of constantly using antibacterial gels and wipes. That is important for some settings, but for the typical person with a fear of germs, this can become excessive and unhealthy. Where do we draw the line?
Image source: https://www.cdc.gov/features/handwashing/index.html

This past month I faced my fear of not having ‘clean’ hands very dramatically by pretty much only washing them when they were visibly dirty (and most toilet breaks). Of course, washing your hands after going to the toilet is a hygienic standard, but I am glad I can calmly go take a pee-break at night without having to worry in bed that I did not wash my hands. Might sound gross, but hey I’m still alive and healthy and my excessive worry is gone too!

So – The only way I got over my excessive worry about my own and other people’s hand-washing behaviours was by drastically changing mine to be what I very much feared. Yes, I was uncomfortable and felt dirty, but living through the after effects of not having overly cleansed hands and seeing I was fine, reinforced that my worry was simply unhelpful and false. Doing what makes you anxious is the empowering challenge you might need, to show yourself how strong you are. It’s all about believing in yourself and being patient πŸ™‚

The Importance of Self-Discipline

This past week I have tried to neglect laziness and be more productive. It is safe to say that I have been super busy, which I really enjoyed. But over the past month, I have also walked away from lazy habits by becoming more self-disciplined. I remember first hearing about the habit of discipline – It sounded daunting, something that only soldiers and strong believers show. But once I adopted a more disciplined routine, I realised it is the doorway to getting what you want in life. Here’s why:

If you live life according to immediate comfort and the avoidance of discomfort, you can never get to where you truly want to be. I found self-discipline to be the most crucial thing for my mental health, as I learned that challenges shape you and make you grow.
Picture source: https://videohive.net/item/aerial-silhouette-of-young-woman-climbing-up-to-the-top-of-a-mountain-in-front-of-the-sea-flight/23341387

It is the Key of Changing

Breaking habits is hard, so you have to change them – Replace bad old habits by doing something new to make it easier for you. For example, I used to go on my phone first thing in the morning. I now pick up my notebook instead, where I can check what I have to do, which motivates me to get out of bed. It would have been way easier and more tempting to keep checking my phone, but by using self-discipline I continually reinforced the emergence of a new habit.

It Establishes a Routine

Through this continued forcing of a simple behaviour, it slowly gets you to change your routine. It takes time, and it will be tough at times, but the more self-discipline you act out the easier it gets. For me, I started with a hobby that I enjoyed and was keen to do, such as sewing. By pushing myself to sew whenever I knew I had time to, I was able to transfer that self-discipline onto other more neglected parts of my life, such as reading non-fiction literature and revising for my driving theory test.

It gets You What You Want

You need continuous discipline to push out of your comfort zone and change. Staying in your comfort zone is what will hold you back from what you truly aspire to be or have in life, and you need to have continuous self-discipline to not crawl back into the place of never facing your fears. In order to have what you desire, you need to go through discomfort and face the challenge, which is where discipline is so crucial! Also, look at what you really want in life, so that you know where to apply your effort. I found a story that made the importance of self-discipline very understandable here: https://www.uncommon-knowledge.co.uk/self-discipline.html

It is easier to go down a hill than up, but the view is much better at the top. – Henry Ward Beecher

Two summers ago, I had no self-discipline – I was a lazy teenager and my mental state was as its worst. Even three months ago, I was longing to be this whole other person, but the combination of little self-discipline and fear of changes kept me stuck. As a result, I hid away and locked up my anger and unhappiness. But now I have learnt that changes were much needed and have made me happier than I have been in quite some time. But the only way I am getting here is by using constant self-discipline, which makes me able to look back at the end of every day and feel proud and accomplished. So go out and make your future-self proud too, you won’t regret it πŸ™‚

How I went from Feeling Lonely to Being Happy Alone

I think everyone knows the feeling of not wanting to be alone – Of course, as humans have a natural social instinct. But there is a fine line between wanting some company compared to needing people around you to be happy. I have compiled a quick list of things that helped me to love being alone (maybe a little bit too much, I am already an introvert by nature), and how I learnt to completely enjoy my own company

  • Remind yourself – You do not need other people around you to be happy. In fact, you should live by the exact opposite; You are the only constant and continuous support in your life, so become the source of your own happiness. Being alone does not in any way influence how you should feel about yourself, as you can become completely in control to regulate your self-esteem!
This cute picture sums it up for me – You have to look after yourself and learn to support yourself, which will make being alone a much happier place
Picture source: https://medium.com/@iamnancyruffin/why-letting-go-of-toxic-relationships-is-a-form-of-self-care-c9818445d410
  • Do activities by yourself you enjoy – Some of my hobbies are solitary activities already, such as reading, sewing, and knitting. Of course it is nice at times to have company, but it’s not essential for these activities. So use such hobbies as something to look forward to when you get to be alone – For one, I love having the house to myself as it means I can read in silence, or I can practice my singing and piano without bothering anyone. On top of that, if you want to go shopping, see a movie, or eat out but have nobody to join, still go for it! I have never seen anyone judge someone who is alone in a cinema or restaurant, and if someone does judge you, it reflects badly on them, not on you πŸ™‚
Productive activities by yourself that you look forward to make your time alone something you can look forward to! Enjoy it while it lasts πŸ™‚
Picture source: https://www.pinchofattitude.com/i-love-being-alone-10-guilty-pleasures/
  • Entertaining yourself is important – The ability to amuse yourself and laugh while you’re alone is so important! Just because you are alone, it does not mean you can’t have fun – Yes, it might be a bit odd if someone sees you laugh all to yourself, but it makes you happy and also builds your charisma for when you are around others! It also makes you radiate happiness and positivity πŸ™‚
Apparently women laughing alone with salad is a thing on the internet, but hey she seems to be having a great time, and so can you!
Picture source: https://www.thehairpin.com/2011/01/women-laughing-alone-with-salad/
  • Get off social media – Seeing pictures of other people enjoying their time together is neither fun nor productive. Do something to keep your mind focussed on yourself and your joy. Scrolling through other people’s lives makes you build a negative connection to social media sites, and it probably is a very invaluable part of your day.
Spending time on social media leads you to compare and degrade yourself. This can make your time alone feel painful and you get into a ‘lonely and not good enough’ mindset, so go offline to feel better.
Picture source: https://thebannercsi.com/2019/02/04/the-craze-is-on-surviving-without-social-media-for-a-week/

So, remember – The opposite of loneliness is not surrounding yourself with people. It’s all about the mindset, and the only way to stop feeling lonely is by looking at your time alone in a different, more positive, light! Be productive, do things you enjoy, and remember that being okay with being alone is so important to feeling positive in life. If you do want company, reach out to your friends and family, I promise they won’t bite or judge you πŸ™‚

Buy Less, Make More – Improve Your Mindset by Crafting :)

This past week I focussed on being less greedy and more charitable, but this post will focus on how I have neglected greed by creating more. I will be upfront and say I am quite charitable as a person – I like to give my time and efforts to volunteering and other people. At home, I live out my generosity by running errands for my Animal Crossing villagers and, of course, cooking or helping with other household tasks. But greed is something that eats away at the modern day person, which is sadly due to a materialist and consumerist society encouraging an excessive ownership of cheap and low-quality items.

Nowadays, we often buy cheap things that easily break and aren’t actually useful. Rather than consuming, make items you require so that you waste less money and plastic!
Picture source: https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/the-good-and-bad-sides-of-consumerism

Greed is the desire of possessing certain things in life, which I have seen in my own life concerning clothing and food. While the sin of greed is opposed by the virtue of being charitable, to me the opposite of greed is a mixture of giving and being grateful. While you should give more and take less, you should also learn to be grateful for what you already own so that you consume and desire less.

This is something I am currently progressing towards in life, by changing how much and what I buy, and instead working towards making items I need myself. This means I sew, knit and craft almost every day, which not only teaches me patience, but also leads to owning items that are better in quality and are much more appreciated – I also consume and waste less, which is not only good for one’s soul but also the environment. By needing time to create what I want or desire, I find that my mindset on owning items has taken a shift, and I am much happier and grateful for what I have in life.

I wanted a cute pink shirt, so I made one! It was a bit tedious (as you can see from the uneven seams, but oh well), but making it myself meant I could make exactly what I wanted, while it also taught me patience and appreciativeness

To me, making your own items means you become more satisfied with yourself and your possessions, resulting in taking better care of them while also being proud of your skills and patience. I will be honest – I am feeling happier than I have been in quite a while, and I can see that learning to be patient and resilient through crafting is transferring to my general mental health. So, I definitely recommend spending your free time by adopting hobbies that require determination and time, to teach you a positive mental mindset πŸ™‚

How Self-Restraint is Linked to Happiness

This past week I have been focussing on cutting out gluttonous behaviour, while applying more restraint on myself. There’s a few things I have learnt from doing this, as well as from the reading I have done, so I want to emphasise how important it is to adopt temperance for a healthier and happier mind-set.

Studies have shown that self-discipline is linked to many mental benefits, including happiness (See https://bigthink.com/personal-growth/how-to-improve-self-control?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1 for more information)
Picture source: https://www.t-nation.com/diet-fat-loss/tip-how-to-increase-self-control

At first I thought gluttony was just about taking in excessive amounts of food and drink that you want rather than need. So I started at that, and have stopped eating out of boredom, but I also realised that taking this rule too seriously takes away the occasional delicious treat (as you really don’t need it, it just tastes nice). When researching this eating aspect more, I came across resources that proposed gluttony is also about becoming slaves to food as a substance – If we don’t have it at the right time we might get β€˜hangry’, you might not know why you are having something as you β€˜need it right now’, and you might be led to eating food of poor quality in high quantity.

Over time this behaviour pattern with any substance has aversive effects. Why? Dopamine is the answer!

Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that motivates to engage in pleasurable activities, such as eating, smoking, gambling, videogames, and so on. This can over time lead to addiction due to reducing the sensitivity of dopamine receptors, increasing the threshold of the pleasure experience and making us engage in a given activity more. It also leads to the reduced ability of enjoying (or getting a dopamine response from) less β€˜addictive’ things in life, such as reading, hiking, crafting, exercise. We become adapted to the high and quick dopamine release when engaging in the prior mentioned activities, while behaviours that might benefit our mental and physical state become less and less desirable to engage in.

This is where self-restraint plays a powerful tool – The ability to say no to inviting pleasurable experiences does not only heighten your enjoyment when you do allow yourself to engage in those, but also makes simple things in life better. You become more grateful and accepting of the non-addictive parts of life, while giving into gluttonous behaviour reduces the enjoyment we can experience and enslaves you to the quick and high dopamine releasing activities.

This makes self-restraint a really important habit to adopt! It takes time to build habits, so don’t rush this. I recommend writing down each activity you did during the day and rating from 1-10 how much you actually enjoyed it through reflection, and how much it meant to you and your growth as a person (see my example below). Once you learn what does not matter to you and your life, cut down on those things and learn to say no, despite their temptation. Restraining yourself will be hard at first, but it will form your life around activities you find actually meaningful, rather than wasting your time.

During the day, it helps to keep note of what you have been up to and track its enjoyment and meaning, which leads you initiate positive changes.

So, remember: Practice and effort lead you to adopt habits that will easily let you say no through trained self-discipline, and ultimately you will enjoy life a lot more πŸ™‚ During this next week, I will be focussing on being more charitable and less greedy, which is one I am excited for, as I have always favoured giving over receiving! Let’s see what that says about me…

Resources

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9pMbi7wmVmg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gluttony

https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/americas-most-tolerated-sin

The Deadly Sins & Heavenly Virtues – Their importance for Mental Health

I have never been very religious in my life, and have identified as an atheist these past few years. However, the more I look into religion, the more appealing I find the idea of having some rules to live by. I am currently reading a book about Buddhism, which is teaching me a lot about discipline and productivity. However, for this post little series, I will be focussing on Christianity, and in particular the seven deadly sins and the seven heavenly virtues and their link to the human mind.

Today’s society encourages the partaking of all deadly sins in a modern way.
Image Source: https://hackernoon.com/future-of-all-business-exploit-the-7-deadly-sins-80c2b7b7b6a0

In short, the seven deadly sins are habits one should avoid due to their classified immoral nature, and this includes:

  1. Lust – Excessive sexual appetite
  2. Gluttony – Over-indulgence
  3. Greed – Avarice
  4. Sloth – Laziness
  5. Wrath – Extreme anger
  6. Envy – Desire to have something that belongs to another person
  7. Pride – Hubris & Vanity

Now, I don’t personally condemn these habits as immoral due to my so-far limited religious beliefs, but when looking at the list I think each of these is bad for your mental state. These traits encourage indulgence, disinhibition, and egotism, which is not helpful for anyone’s mindset. So, it might be helpful to keep these in mind when assessing your thinking for certain negative patterns!

To counter-balance these ‘sins’, a set of values that would enhance the human soul, named the heavenly virtues were proposed. In my research, I came across different sets of virtues, so I stuck with those that were most clear to understand for me.

  1. Chastity – Purity
  2. Temperance – Self-restraint
  3. Charity – Giving
  4. Diligence – Conscientiousness
  5. Forgiveness – Composure
  6. Kindness – Admiration
  7. Humility – Humbleness

Aristotle even talked about having 12 virtues, which you can see here:

https://aesthetichealingmindset.wordpress.com/2011/06/12/4706/

Adopting the values of the heavenly virtues can teach you a helpful mindset that will improve your mental well-being
Image Source (and some good reading!): https://www.aconsciousrethink.com/6802/seven-heavenly-virtues/

I always find my mental health improves when I live by certain rules, which are based on creating a more disciplined routine. Within that, positivity and being able to let go, rather than dwell, always help me to move forward from a bad patch. When looking at the sins and the virtues, I think it is safe to say that living life according to those would create more discipline, and a life fuelled by less hate and more love. You would be encouraged to adopt values that help you give, forgive, and be kind, while you neglect habits that bring you down, or make you indulge in your own achievements and materialism.

There is a lot within each sin and virtue, so this is more of an introductory post to a 6-week (not 7, because I will be excluding Lust) blog post series, where each week I will challenge myself to focus on one particular sin and the counter-balancing virtue, and live more according to those. This is part of my own self-growth and increasing interest in religion, but some of these habits and values might be particularly interesting for my own (and your!) mental health!

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_deadly_sins

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_virtues

http://freedomoffaith.tripod.com/id11.html

https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-24/edition-2/deadly-sins