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A Simple 7 Step Process to Mindfulness for Beginners

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mindfulness for beginners

How many of you can relate to this? You’re living in a big city. You commute to work each day to a job you dislike. As you push past other commuters on the sidewalk or nudge up against strangers on public transport, you daydream about your last trip to somewhere exotic. You imagine planning your next trip, and you imagine a well deserved pint after work with your friends.

At the office you do tasks you find tedious or pointless, so you distract yourself by tracking the price of Bitcoin online, texting your friends, or planning your next vacation. You get dragged to meeting after meeting and seem like you’ll never be free to explore your true passions which, you don’t even know what they are.

Whenever you talk with your friends and family, you’re constantly reliving the past or planning for the future. On the way home you try to ignore the blaring sirens of ambulances and police cars driving past, the cacophony of humanity around you as you stumble into the nearest pub and try to drown the boredom and frustration with a pint.

“The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

This scenario is well known to many of us that live and work in the modern world. We are caught up in well-built habit loops which allow us to think back into the past or ahead into the future but allow us to conveniently avoid what’s going on around us. We do this because as humans we are trying to conserve vital mental energy and processing power. Sadly, this means that few of us live in the present moment and are aware of our surroundings on a regular basis.

Mindful meditation is a practice that is fast becoming a global phenomenon. It is a type of meditation that helps individuals focus their efforts and their mental energy on the present moment. It has been argued by spiritual aspirants and medical professionals alike that mindful meditation helps reduce stress and alleviate symptoms of boredom, lack of motivation, and even attention deficit disorder.

Here is a seven-step process you can try to help you start to develop your own mindful meditation practice:

Step 1: Sit

Find a spot that will allow you to sit free from distraction for 10 to 15 minutes. This might be a park bench, a conference room, a train car, the seat on a bus, a closet, a couch, a yoga studio or in the middle of the floor of your kitchen. In the end, it doesn’t really matter where you sit, as long as you can find a place that is comfortable and will allow you to avoid distractions for between 10 to 15 minutes without being called to take care of some task or interrupted by a friend or stranger.

Step 2: Straighten up

Settle into the right posture with a straight back and feet resting on the floor or crossed underneath you. Finding a relaxed and alert posture is important when you attempt to develop a mindfulness practice, because as you enter the meditation phase of the practice you will become aware of any slight discomfort. The more balanced your posture when you start, the better off the practice will go.

Step 3: Close your eyes… or don’t

Some people prefer to close their eyes while they practice sitting meditation, while others prefer to maintain a soft gaze looking straight ahead or focusing on a single object. Both options work, but if you are just starting off it may be easier to close your eyes to avoid distraction from the outside world.

“Many people are alive but don’t touch the miracle of being alive.” – Thích Nhất Hạnh

Step 4: Focus on your breath… or anything

Again, one of the easiest ways to develop a keen awareness for the present moment is to focus on your breath. That being said, some people prefer focusing on a single object nearby, or on the sensation in a certain part of their body. To each their own. I would experiment to see what works best for you.

Step 5: Be open to distractions

The harder you try to block out all distractions from your mind, the more challenging it will be to find flow and reach that altered state of consciousness.

Step 6: Feel the burn, and let it pass

Understand that the process of mindful meditation is like going to the gym; you are training your mind and building habit loops which will benefit you in the long run. When someone is trying to get fit, they will often elect to take the stairs up to their apartment or to their office rather than take the elevator.

When your legs start to ache and you become short of breath, you don’t think “I’m climbing the stairs wrong,” instead you think “I’m out of shape, I should climb the stairs more often!”  The same goes for mindful meditation.

Mindful meditation is something that should be practised just as people practice yoga or go to the gym. You are working out your mind, so you should treat the practice like a workout. You will get better with time, but it will be hard work.

Step 7: Look for little wins

It is expected that you will become distracted many times over the course of a mindful meditation practice, it’s completely natural. Rather than being disheartened by this, try to become aware of the moments in which you become distracted. Once you become aware that this distraction is present, consider celebrating your ability to recognize it as what it is, a distraction, before returning to your breath.

While this seven-step process doesn’t provide much detail into the actual practice of mindful meditation, there are plenty of programs available online that provide free mindful meditation courses and lessons for you to try.

Do you practice meditation? Comment below!

Image courtesy of Twenty20.com

McVal is the founder of We Write For Growth, a platform for businesses to connect with talented writers and researchers and growth hackers. He is also the author of How to Make $2,000 a Month Online and Start Up your Life: Why we don’t know what we want, and how to set goals that really matter. McVal writes about motivation, decision making, and strategic thinking. He graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 2011 with a degree in Spanish, and has since worked as a market researcher and business consultant in Washington D.C., New York City and London. You can reach him on Twitter @mcval or on IG @mcvaliant. 

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Adithya Shetty

    Mar 12, 2018 at 10:49 am

    Hi Osborne,

    Great post, Recently I’ve started practicing mindfulness and minimalism and your above tips sound good.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. TH

    Mar 12, 2018 at 6:31 am

    Awesome simple guide! Meditation/ working on being mindful has been a huge help for me personally so glad to read that others are working on this as well! Cheers and keep up the good work.

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When I hear someone using my name once in a while throughout the conversation we are having, I cannot stop myself thinking “this person must have read Dale Carnegie’s books or must have been influenced by someone who read them…” Have you just recalled a similar moment and it felt nice?

As Dale Carnegie famously said, “Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and the most important sound in any language”. Why did Dale Carnegie highlight the importance of an individual’s name to that person in his “How to Win Friends and Influence People” book published in 1936?

Each and every one of us wants to feel special and unique. I guess he recommends using the person’s name in the conversation because that is one of the easiest ways to grab that person’s attention so that we can enhance the chances of getting our point across. However, I am more interested in this from the other side; hearing our names directly addresses our individuality, our need or desire to feel special and unique.  

Let’s park this one for now and we will come back. 

Categorization is essential to our survival

There is countless scientific research telling us about how our brains recognize similarities and put things into categories, which has been crucial to our survival in evolution and still helps us with a lot of things from learning new things to coping with the continuous influx of massive amounts of information through our senses. 

The continuous influx of information is mostly handled by our subconscious mind rather than conscious. It is estimated that our brains receive about 11 million bits of information every second through our senses, of which only 40-50 bits can be processed by our conscious mind. We process more information than we are aware of. The magic here is the subconscious mind.

An example is when you are at a very loud party where you hear a lot of words flying around without you recognizing each one of them, then suddenly, you immediately catch it when you hear your name. Your subconscious had been processing all of those words, without your awareness, but informed your conscious mind when your name was out there because it was relevant to you.

In order to most effectively process this much information and inform the conscious mind with only the relevant ones, our subconscious employs categorization as one of its strategies.

When our ancestors encountered some deadly predators in the African savanna, their subconscious prompted their conscious mind to immediately fight or flight by categorizing the information gathered through their senses into “predator / life threat / take action”. Most probably we are not descendants of the ones that were frozen rather than fighting or flighting! 

Although it is a completely different situation, the same strategy applied in remembering lists. Let’s look at the below two lists.

  1. lion, eagle, shark, leopard, hawk, whale, panther, falcon and dolphin 
  2. lion, leopard, panther, eagle, hawk, falcon, shark, whale and dolphin

The second list is easy to remember because it is reordered into relevant groups even though the content of the both lists are identical.

Subconsciousness is the magic and categorization is one of its key strategies. It is essential to our survival, learning new skills and processing information as well as bringing back the information we had processed and stored. 

This amazing skill has its drawbacks

As a result of our brains’ categorization strategy, we also categorize people, especially if we don’t know them as well as our closest ones.

Imagine I am sitting at the table next to yours while you are having your favorite coffee and working on your computer or reading your novel at your neighborhood coffee shop. I stand up, very calmly grab your bag, and start walking away. Your reaction might be quite different depending on my outfit. It could be much more vocal and harsh if I have a dirty T-Shirt and a pair of torn jeans on. However, if I have some navy colored, 3-piece suit and well-pressed white button up shirt on, you might even say something like “Excuse me, you might have picked up my bag by mistake”. (There is an experiment done by social psychologists which reported similar results)

Similarly, I would not be surprised to hear that my co-worker’s spouse is very skilled and knowledgeable in English grammar and literature because he is an English teacher. However, I would not expect it from my co-worker herself because she is an outstanding chemical engineer.  

This is defined as unconscious bias or stereotyping, as a result of our subconscious brain’s categorization strategy. The outfit I have at the coffee shop impacts your response to my action, because it puts me into a different category in your mind depending on my outfit. My co-worker’s and her spouse’s backgrounds make me put them into different categories, which might mislead me sometimes.

Just like we categorize things, it is very natural that we categorize people.  

The key question here for me is; how do we truly treat people as individuals so that they feel unique, just like as they would want, while we know that our brains categorize people

We can overcome unconscious bias 

Leonard Mlodinow, in his enlightening book “Subliminal”, suggests that “if we are aware of our bias and motivated to overcome it, we can.” That doesn’t mean that we need to fight our brain’s categorization strategy. We just need to employ our conscious mind more when we are working or dealing with individuals. 

Our unconscious bias might tell us scientists are bunch of technical nerds who cannot understand abstract concepts that marketers are talking about or it might say that marketers are some daydreamers who need to be grounded by scientists to the real world all the time. I am an engineer and I love thinking in abstract terms and I worked with quite a lot of marketers who thought primarily in factual and concrete terms. 

Spending some effort to learn more about individuals will help overcome unconscious bias. Gathering more information and qualities about them will make it easier for us to treat them as individuals rather than a member of the category we put them in our minds. 

The moral of the story here is to recognize the fact that our brains do categorize, and it is essential; but also, to recognize that every individual wants to feel unique. When we appreciate these two and keep reminding them to ourselves, we are one step closer to figuring out our own way to overcome unconscious bias and treat people more like individuals. 

What was the most interesting part of this article for you? Share your thoughts below!

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