I’m always trying to promote being mindful. But I frequently catch myself being mindful mindlessly – frantically ticking tasks off my mindful habits like they’re just another to-do on the list without a second thought.
I never quite reaching that feeling of calm. Or, I do tune to the right frequency, only to knock the dial again by rushing onto something else.
We fall out of touch trying so hard to throw ourselves in.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big advocate for habits – especially ones to help me be more mindful. But I’ve become increasingly aware that the habits are surface level. You can’t build a house on sand. You need a solid foundation of thought patterns and principles for habits to work their true magic. Otherwise we dismiss them, claiming they just don’t work for us, when really, it’s us that isn’t working for them (though through no ill intent).
So, I decided to strip it back to the basics. How can we create that foundation and start to dig into habitual processes and unconscious thinking? Let’s give it a go.
“Many times busyness is often mistakenly equated with productivity. But those words are not synonymous. Just because we’re spinning our wheels, rushing from one commitment to the next, doesn’t necessarily mean that we are doing anything worthwhile.” – Crystal Paine
Before we rush and jump in, let’s slow down. Why is laying this foundation so difficult?
Sometimes I think the world spins too fast for any of us to keep up, but I’ve had glimpses, every now and then, in my own life and in souls I’ve found, that are so peaceful, so graceful and so calm.
In my flustered state, I want to shake them into action, convinced that they’re moving too slow and will face some inevitable doom for doing so. But they aren’t doomed. In fact, they’re more successful in every choice they make than I ever could be. And more than that, they feel better doing it. I rush through decisions, failures and successes without feeling them at all.
When we act through the unconscious thought patterns, habits and reactions that we, and the world around us, have constructed, our decisions are clouded with doubt, worry and anxiety. We’d rather make no decision at all than the wrong one – but making a decision is all that matters. Trust yourself to handle the consequence.
We need to get back to the basics. But how?
I won’t pretend to have all the answers. This is something I’m right in the middle of working on right now, but I can share the habit that I’ve had the most success with so far.
Set daily intentions.
What in the world do I mean by that? Well…
Every night, before I go to sleep, I reflect on my day, as I’m sure many of us do. I usually find journaling about it before I jump into bed is really helpful for clearing my mind – capturing the essence of my buzzing thoughts on a page. Then I sit in the silence of my dark room to listen. To find those last little buzzes and the gargantuan buzzes I have a talent of muting. Then I ask myself what I need. Literally.
And, it sounds crazy. But I usually get an answer. After all that reflection, something always comes to mind.
So, I set daily intentions for the next day that gives me what I need. It’s the last thing I think before I go to sleep and it’s usually the first thing I think in the morning too – I make thinking about it part of my morning routine.
What do I mean by an intention?
An intention, as I’ve defined it, is a word or short phrase to sum up your overall goal for your day. It’s something of a mantra, a point to consider and to recall before you make decisions. It might be something like ‘grow’, ‘be honest’, ‘say yes’ or something more physical, like ‘less stress’, ‘more time alone’, ‘more excitement’ – anything. It’s whatever you need.
Once I’ve set daily intentions, making decisions becomes simpler. Does this align with my intention, or not? Make the choice that aligns.
With practice, you’ll find yourself always considering your core principles before making decisions and being more aware of making conscious choices, as well as the effects your choices have. You’ll pick up on thought patterns you’d never before questioned and highlight habits you’d have never noticed otherwise.
Does it actually work?
For me, at least, yes. Not straight away, of course, it’s a kind of conditioning – you’re essentially deconstructing and reconstructing a whole new pathway for your thoughts and choices to follow. And that’s heavy stuff.
But it does start to work.
An intention I’ve set a few times of late is simply to ‘listen’. This was mainly aimed at conversations with myself, but it extended well to others too. I knew I’d been overworking. My digestion and appetite was confused and erratic. I wasn’t sleeping well. And honestly, I didn’t feel like doing anything. I was tumbling through everyday never stopping to even notice where I was.
But I started doing it almost accidentally. When my Tuesday alarm went off after another disturbed night, before hauling myself out of bed, I paused. I asked my body if it was really up for our morning run. And I realised pretty quickly that I wasn’t. I took an extra hour of sleep instead and ran in the afternoon after I’d picked up some more energy.
That same day, I repeatedly questioned whether I was doing actions out of habit or out of a true need or desire. Was I really hungry, or had I just noticed the clock hit 12? Did I want to sit scrolling on Instagram, or was it just a force of habit?
This intention extended to people, too. I paid more attention when people spoke, I made more of an effort to really consider what they were saying and reply with more developed insight. They said I seemed more awake, more compassionate, more interested and honest. I felt it too.
It felt like the world was moving slower. It was as if someone had taken the plugs out of my ears and the world, which had seemed canted and out of focus a day before, had been realigned. I felt like I was in my body.
And, even though I set a different intention the next day, I still found myself listening to my body, to my thoughts and to the people around me – taking those all-important pauses to listen and to think. After just one day of dedicated focus on it, it was already becoming a habit and the benefits were shining through.
Remember to keep it fresh
You know how sometimes you arrive at a place with little recollection of the journey there? Or find yourself sitting down to work, realising you haven’t really paid attention all morning, but are somehow sat washed, dressed and fed, ready to work? They’re the kind of unconscious habits and processes we’re talking about. Sometimes they’re less obvious – wasting time on things or people you don’t truly care for, eating or sleeping out of habit, rather than in a way that fuels your body, staying in a job when you know deep down you’d rather be somewhere else.
If you moved around all your furniture, or took a new route to work, however, you wouldn’t be able to operate on autopilot. You’d be shaken out of the trance every time you noted something was different. Freshness is the perfect platform for us to make conscious decisions, because it calls for our attention. It keeps us awake.
So setting a fresh intention everyday and having to concentrate on something new stops the intention going stale and ending up, as stale things do, abandoned in the bin. I find it more effective to repeat them as a feeling calls from them. I might set the same intention a week later if it feels right to. But I try to vary one day to the next.
Speaking of which, what daily intentions should you set?
This is completely individual to you, the principles you consider important, and the skills and qualities you’d like to grow. Like I said, I choose mine just before I go to sleep the night before. By setting it then, I’ve had time to meditate on the whole day, as I said earlier, by journaling and reflecting. And the ideas tend to just come to me.
If nothing jumps out at you, I suggest trying to shape them to counter any discomfort you’re feeling. Discomfort tends to come from a place of unease or dispute so it’s fertile ground for growth. If you’re tired or stressed, take more breaks, promise to relax and have more fun. Set daily intentions to slow down, to be calmer and more compassionate if you find yourself being irritable.
Whatever comes to you first is likely the right answer. And remember, this is just for you, so don’t dismiss ideas because you think they’re silly or cheesy. The best ones usually are.
As I drift off to sleep, I’ll often envision the day to come so that I’ve already begun lacing my intention throughout my day, before it’s even started. By having my intention as the last thing I think at night and one of the first thoughts I have in the morning, I like to imagine it nests into my subconscious overnight.
I hope you’re all well. I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this. Will you try it? Have you discovered any winning habits recently? The style of this post was a little different, too, so let me know if you liked it!
Keep at it. I’m cheering for you as always. Love, Ella-Rose xx