Are You Doing Mindfulness Wrong?

| Bryan Landaas LCSW

Mindfulness is everywhere these days, yet it seems that mindfulness is hardly anywhere based on how people may be practicing it. Here are 5 questions to ask yourself to make sure you aren’t sabotaging your mindfulness practice and are getting the most out of this powerful wellness-promoting exercise.

Are you practicing mindfulness in order to be comfortable?

If so, stop immediately! Mindfulness is definitely not about being comfortable. If you truly want to get the most out of your mindfulness practice you should actually be intentionally practicing it while feeling uncomfortable. The whole point of practicing mindfulness is to strengthen your ability to detach from, and practice non-reactance to, your internal experiences, both pleasant and unpleasant. So if you’re only doing it in order to feel the pleasant feelings and stopping whenever you feel uncomfortable then you’re really missing the point.

Are you practicing mindfulness with rigid rules or routines?

While it can be helpful to have exercise routines, including mental exercises such as mindfulness, it is also important to practice flexibility in your mindfulness practice. Mindfulness can be endlessly practical in every aspect of your life, but in order to reap the benefits you need to be able to adapt it to the situation at hand. You probably shouldn’t start up your Headspace app, light up your incense candle, and ring your meditation bowl in the middle of a work meeting. Try engaging in mindfulness exercises in various situations throughout your day, perhaps while sitting in traffic, waiting in lines, or using the restroom (yes, I just said you can practice mindfulness on the loo).

Are you treating your mindfulness practice as a coping strategy or as an exercise?

This might be the number one way most people are cheapening their mindfulness practice. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard somebody say something along the lines of, “Yeah, I was so stressed out about [this or that] but then I stepped away for 5 minutes, did some deep breathing, and then I felt better.” Well, that could certainly be a step in the right direction, especially if the alternative would have been an outburst of rage, but what mindfulness practice really aims to do is develop the psychological skills and abilities to instinctively regulate your emotions while remaining engaged in the moment. The only way to achieve this is to treat your mindfulness practice as a regular exercise, just like running or weight-training. Through intentional, repetitive practice you can develop what is referred to as “trait” mindfulness (as opposed to “state” mindfulness), which means that your mindfulness superpowers will automatically kick in during those times you most need it….without even thinking about it!

Are you using mindfulness practice as an escape?

This is a very common misapplication of mindfulness practice and one that can become very problematic. Many people practice mindfulness as a way to zone out and escape their experience which in the extreme can result in an emotional numbness. While this can certainly be useful in certain situations, it’s not what mindfulness is about. Mindfulness is a skill to help you disconnect from unhelpful patterns of thinking and behavior, but it is also a skill to help you connect with what is important, such as your relationships with others and the world around you. The ability to flexibly and intentionally detach and attach to chosen aspects of your experience is at the core of mindfulness practice.

Do you use the terms of “mindfulness” and “meditation” synonymously?

There’s no doubt that the terms mindfulness and meditation are often used interchangeably and understandably so. Most, if not all, meditative practices incorporate some element of mindfulness practice. However, mindfulness practice should be thought of as a way of getting to a certain mental state or state of being, which can then serve as the foundation for a meditation. Think of it this way: mindfulness is like clearing your mental landscape and meditation would be planting the seeds, flowers, and trees (or constructing the building if that’s more your speed). Using this metaphor, it becomes apparent that mindfulness practice in isolation is kind of like clearing a bunch of trees for no reason. It’s actually kind of wasteful if you think about it. In order to make the most of mindfulness practice (and not be wasteful), you need to foster a sense of intentionality with your thoughts and actions.

Today's the day to make a change.