Why You Should Start Cultivating Mindfulness Now – with Erin Olivo

    —
February 13, 2014

Dear friends, please enjoy this inspiring article from clinical psychologist and Sounds True author Erin Olivo on the many benefits of cultivating mindfulness in our lives. Erin is author of the excellent audio learning program entitled Free Yourself from Anxiety: A Mind-Body Prescription, in which she offers a series of simple, yet very effective guided meditations for relaxation and resilience.

Why You Should Start Cultivating Mindfulness Now – by Erin Olivo, PhD, MPH

Have you noticed how the term mindfulness is popping up everywhere? It’s no longer just reserved for Buddhist retreats and Yoga Journal articles. Mindfulness is the hot topic at the office for coping with stress, and the media can’t seem to get enough of it—Time magazine’s cover story this week is on “The Mindful Revolution,” The Huffington Post has a “GPS for the Soul” section, and a search on The New York Times comes up with almost 200 articles on mindfulness in the past year. Mindfulness has clearly reached buzzworthy status.

The first time I heard the term mindfulness was in 1993 while I was getting my masters degree in social work. But it was after reading Thoughts Without A Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective by Mark Epstein, M.D. that I had my “aha” moment with mindfulness. This book explained the unique psychological contributions of the teachings of Buddhism (including mindfulness meditation) and how to combine them with psychotherapy. I was getting my Ph.D. in psychology at the time, and that was exactly what I wanted to do.

So why should you start cultivating mindfulness now? Not because it’s trendy, but because it’s key to Wise Mind Living. If you want to live a balanced life and make choices from Wise Mind, practicing mindfulness is one of the most fundamental skills you’ll need.

But first you need to understand exactly what mindfulness is. In its essence, mindfulness means paying attention to the present moment, accepting it without judgment, and not thinking about the past or future.

There have been countless books written about mindfulness, and you can check out my Resources section for some recommendations. However, I suggest you start by reading this article from Women’s Health that gives a concise introduction to the concept of mindfulness. As the article says, practicing mindfulness can be done any place at any time, and you can bring mindful awareness to any activity.

Over time, the more you practice mindfulness, the more focused and connected to yourself and others you’ll become. Ultimately this will lead to a sense of heightened awareness. A recent New York Times article discussed how mindfulness trains the mind to stay on task and avoid distraction:

“Your ability to recognize what your mind is engaging with, and control that, is really a core strength,” said Peter Malinowski, a psychologist and neuroscientist at Liverpool John Moores University in England. “For some people who begin mindfulness training, it’s the first time in their life where they realize that a thought or emotion is not their only reality, that they have the ability to stay focused on something else, for instance their breathing, and let that emotion or thought just pass by.”

So my homework assignment for you is to set aside 10-15 minutes each day to start your mindfulness practice. Many people find that listening to a guided meditation in the beginning is quite helpful, and you can try using my Mindfulness Practice audio meditation.

If you’d rather do it on your own without a guide, then try this simple exercise. Get into a comfortable position, sit still and just pay attention to your breath. We focus on breath because it’s always there, which means you can always observe it because it’s a part of you, and it’s neutral. When thoughts enter your mind that pull you away from concentrating on your breath, just try to let them come and go like clouds passing through the sky. Don’t try and figure out what they mean, just observe.

And don’t try to change your breath in any way, just pay attention to how it feels. Try to notice how your breath comes and goes in your body. While you’re doing this you’ll likely notice that simply observing the rise and fall of your breath gives you a feeling of calmness when you focus on it, very similar to the way you feel when watching the waves at the beach.

Ideally you’ll incorporate this practice into your everyday life, because bringing mindfulness to your choices will make you more likely to follow through and succeed! Just remember that mindfulness meditation is a skill that does require practice, and the longer you do it the greater the benefits it will produce.

Mindfully,

Erin

Contemplation

Author Info for Dr. Erin Olivo Coming Soon

Also By Author

Being Mindful of Not Being Mindful

Modern life is chock-full of habits of mind that get in the way of mindfulness. Be on the lookout for them in your own life. Steering clear of them will be part of practicing mindfulness.

Here are some of the most common things that pull people out of mindfulness:

  • Thinking about the past (literally taking you out of the moment)
  • Thinking about the future (ditto)
  • Multitasking
  • Judging, analyzing, criticizing, or evaluating
  • Attaching to thoughts or observations
  • Pushing away thoughts or observations
  • Having a lack of intention
  • Having a lack of compassion
  • Being in denial

 

WISE MIND LIVING PRACTICE

Catch Yourself Being Judge-y

Judgment is one of the most common ways to pull yourself out of mindfulness. Whether you are judging your experience as good, bad, or ugly, it’s an obstacle to be fully present in the moment. And you do it all the time. Everyone does. The way to do it less — the way to not let judging interfere with your ability to be mindful — is to increase your awareness of when you are judging.

Try spending a few days noticing all the judgments you make throughout the day. About anything and everything: “What the hell is that lady wearing?” “Yuck, this food is gross!” “I should not be the one handling this!” Any time you catch yourself playing Judge Judy, notice it, label it as a judgment, and resist the temptation to judge yourself for being judgmental. Then try to tell yourself the same story but with neutral (nonjudgmental) language: “Her shirt is bright.” “Oh, that is bitter.” “I have a task that I do not like.” With enough practice, you’ll begin to make that kind of switch automatically — in mindfulness practice as well as in life.

 

Looking for more great reads?

 

Excerpted from Wise Mind Living by Erin Olivo

Erin Olivo, PhD, MHD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and an assistant clinical professor of medical psychology at Columbia University. She has a psychotherapy practice in New York City. See erinolivo.com.

Erin Olivo: Emotional Literacy

Erin Olivo, PhD, is a psychotherapist and assistant clinical professor of medical psychology at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. With Sounds True, she has recently released the new book Wise Mind Living: Master Your Emotions, Transform Your Life. In this episode, Tami Simon and Erin discuss the evolutionary roots and value of our emotions. They also speak about the cyclical nature of emotions and how they can affect us in seemingly contradictory waves. Finally, Tami and Erin talk about how we approach emotional reactivity as parents—as well as ways to teach our children how to healthily approach their own emotions. (63 minutes)

Why You Should Start Cultivating Mindfulness Now ̵...

Dear friends, please enjoy this inspiring article from clinical psychologist and Sounds True author Erin Olivo on the many benefits of cultivating mindfulness in our lives. Erin is author of the excellent audio learning program entitled Free Yourself from Anxiety: A Mind-Body Prescription, in which she offers a series of simple, yet very effective guided meditations for relaxation and resilience.

Why You Should Start Cultivating Mindfulness Now – by Erin Olivo, PhD, MPH

Have you noticed how the term mindfulness is popping up everywhere? It’s no longer just reserved for Buddhist retreats and Yoga Journal articles. Mindfulness is the hot topic at the office for coping with stress, and the media can’t seem to get enough of it—Time magazine’s cover story this week is on “The Mindful Revolution,” The Huffington Post has a “GPS for the Soul” section, and a search on The New York Times comes up with almost 200 articles on mindfulness in the past year. Mindfulness has clearly reached buzzworthy status.

The first time I heard the term mindfulness was in 1993 while I was getting my masters degree in social work. But it was after reading Thoughts Without A Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective by Mark Epstein, M.D. that I had my “aha” moment with mindfulness. This book explained the unique psychological contributions of the teachings of Buddhism (including mindfulness meditation) and how to combine them with psychotherapy. I was getting my Ph.D. in psychology at the time, and that was exactly what I wanted to do.

So why should you start cultivating mindfulness now? Not because it’s trendy, but because it’s key to Wise Mind Living. If you want to live a balanced life and make choices from Wise Mind, practicing mindfulness is one of the most fundamental skills you’ll need.

But first you need to understand exactly what mindfulness is. In its essence, mindfulness means paying attention to the present moment, accepting it without judgment, and not thinking about the past or future.

There have been countless books written about mindfulness, and you can check out my Resources section for some recommendations. However, I suggest you start by reading this article from Women’s Health that gives a concise introduction to the concept of mindfulness. As the article says, practicing mindfulness can be done any place at any time, and you can bring mindful awareness to any activity.

Over time, the more you practice mindfulness, the more focused and connected to yourself and others you’ll become. Ultimately this will lead to a sense of heightened awareness. A recent New York Times article discussed how mindfulness trains the mind to stay on task and avoid distraction:

“Your ability to recognize what your mind is engaging with, and control that, is really a core strength,” said Peter Malinowski, a psychologist and neuroscientist at Liverpool John Moores University in England. “For some people who begin mindfulness training, it’s the first time in their life where they realize that a thought or emotion is not their only reality, that they have the ability to stay focused on something else, for instance their breathing, and let that emotion or thought just pass by.”

So my homework assignment for you is to set aside 10-15 minutes each day to start your mindfulness practice. Many people find that listening to a guided meditation in the beginning is quite helpful, and you can try using my Mindfulness Practice audio meditation.

If you’d rather do it on your own without a guide, then try this simple exercise. Get into a comfortable position, sit still and just pay attention to your breath. We focus on breath because it’s always there, which means you can always observe it because it’s a part of you, and it’s neutral. When thoughts enter your mind that pull you away from concentrating on your breath, just try to let them come and go like clouds passing through the sky. Don’t try and figure out what they mean, just observe.

And don’t try to change your breath in any way, just pay attention to how it feels. Try to notice how your breath comes and goes in your body. While you’re doing this you’ll likely notice that simply observing the rise and fall of your breath gives you a feeling of calmness when you focus on it, very similar to the way you feel when watching the waves at the beach.

Ideally you’ll incorporate this practice into your everyday life, because bringing mindfulness to your choices will make you more likely to follow through and succeed! Just remember that mindfulness meditation is a skill that does require practice, and the longer you do it the greater the benefits it will produce.

Mindfully,

Erin

Contemplation

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5 Tools to Create More Space in Your Mind

Busyness, distraction, and stress have all led to the shrinking of the modern mind.

I realize that’s a strange thing to say. Most of us don’t think of our mind as something with space in it, as a thing that can either be big or small, expensive or claustrophobic.

But just think about the last time you felt overwhelmed, stressed, or out of control. Chances are, you might not even have to think that hard. You might be experiencing that state right now as you read these words.

What happens in these moments? 

First, our mind wanders. It spins through all sorts of random thoughts about the past and the future. As a result, we lose touch with the direct experience of present time.

Second, we lose perspective. We can’t see the big picture anymore. Instead, it’s like we’re viewing life through a long and narrow tunnel. We become blind to possibility, fixated on problems.

Put these two together and you’ve got the perfect recipe for eradicating space in the mind. The landscape of the mind begins to feel like a calendar jammed with so many meetings, events, and obligations that these neon colored boxes cover-up even the smallest slivers of white space. 

So it could be nice for our partner, for our kids, and, mostly, for our ourselves to consider: how can we create more space in the mind?

Here are five tools for creating mental space. If you want to go deeper, check out my new book with Sounds True on the topic called OPEN: Living With an Expansive Mind in a Distracted World.

1. Meditation.

You’ve no doubt heard about all of the scientifically validated benefits of this practice. It reduces stress. It boosts productivity. It enhances focus.

That is all true. But here is the real benefit of meditation: it creates more space in the mind. To get started, try it out for just a few minutes a day. Use an app or guided practice to help you.

2. Movement.

So, maybe you’re not the meditating type. That’s fine. You can still create space in the mind by setting aside time for undistracted movement.

The key word here is “undistracted.” For many of us, exercise and movement have become yet another time where our headspace gets covered over by texts, podcasts, or our favorite Netflix series. 

There’s nothing wrong with this. But it can be powerful to leave the earbuds behind every once in a while and allow the mind to rest while you walk, stretch, run, bike, swim, or practice yoga.

3. Relax.

When it comes to creating headspace, we moderns, with our smartphone-flooded, overly-stimulated, minds seem to inevitably encounter a problem: we’re often too stressed, amped, and agitated to open.

Relaxation – calming the nervous system – is perhaps the best way to counter this effect and create more fertile ground for opening. When we relax – the real kind, not the Netflix or TikTok kind –  the grip of difficult emotions loosens, the speed of our whirling thoughts slows, and, most important, the sense of space in our mind begins to expand.

How can you relax? Try yoga. Try extended exhale breathing, where you inhale four counts, exhale eight counts. Try yoga nidra. Or, just treat yourself to a nap.

4. See bigger.

When life gets crazy, the mind isn’t the only thing that shrinks. The size of our visual field also gets smaller. Our eyes strain. Our peripheral vision falls out of awareness.

What’s the antidote to this tunnel vision view? See bigger.

Try it right now. With a soft gaze, allow the edges of your visual field to slowly expand. Imagine you’re seeing whatever happens to be in front of you from the top of a vast mountain peak. Now bring this more expansive, panoramic, way of seeing with you for the rest of the day.

5. Do nothing.

Now for the most advanced practice. It’s advanced because it cuts against everything our culture believes in. In a world where everyone is trying desperately to get more done, one of the most radical acts is to not do — to do nothing.

Even just a few minutes of this paradoxical practice can help you experience an expansion of space in the mind.

Lie on the floor or outside on the grass. Close your eyes. Put on your favorite music if you want. Set an alarm for a few minutes so you don’t freak out too much. 

Then, stop. Drop the technique. Drop the effort. Just allow yourself to savor this rare experience of doing absolutely nothing.

Nate Klemp, PhD, is a philosopher, writer, and mindfulness entrepreneur. He is the coauthor of the New York Times bestseller Start Here and the New York Times critics’ pick The 80/80 Marriage. His work has been featured in the LA Times, Psychology Today, the Times of London, and more, and his appearances include Good Morning America and Talks at Google. He’s a cofounder of LifeXT and founding partner at Mindful. For more, visit nateklemp.com or @Nate_Klemp on Instagram.

Chip Conley: Midlife: From Crisis to Chrysalis

Midlife has a bad reputation, often paired with the word “crisis” or seen as the “over the hill” phase of our journey. As the founder of the Modern Elder Academy (the worlds’ first midlife wisdom school), Chip Conley is changing this negative narrative to one that reclaims our middle years as a time of incredible regenerative possibilities. In this podcast, Tami Simon sits down with Chip to talk about his new book, Learning to Love Midlife, and how those of us amidst this phase can activate our capacities for renewal and “let our souls lead the dance.” 

Tune in for a very honest and hope-giving podcast on: The phoenix phenomenon; the anatomy of transition; the metaphor of the chrysalis; cultivating a growth mindset; the components of high “TQ” (or transitional IQ); creating space for something new; the great midlife edit; the dark night of the ego; radically shifting how you want to live your life; vulnerability and accepting help; “dancing backwards in high heels”; developing a friendship with your body; letting go—but also welcoming in; the alchemy of curiosity and wisdom; goosebumps as a sign you’re on the right path; and more.

Note: This episode originally aired on Sounds True One, where these special episodes of Insights at the Edge are available to watch live on video and with exclusive access to Q&As with our guests. Learn more at join.soundstrue.com.

Mark Matousek: Living Like a Stoic

When things are at their worst, says celebrated author and writing mentor Mark Matousek, Stoicism is at its best. Considered the most practical of all philosophies, Stoicism is on the rise in today’s world—for reasons you’ll hear discussed in this podcast. 

Give a listen to this educational, pragmatic, and perspective-shifting conversation with Mark and Sounds True’s Tami Simon exploring control versus acceptance; using the mind in a more skillful way; humility, proportion, and appropriate action; taking responsibility for what we’re capable of; amor fati, to love life; working with your emotions; Emerson and “the exterior life”; writing prompts for letting go of the disempowering stories we tell ourselves; choosing how we hold our memories; why Stoicism is not a form of bypassing; adversity as a path to freedom; the practice of turning the obstacle upside down; shifting your angle of vision and telling the whole truth; “cosmic optimism,” Emerson’s reality-based form of hope; asking questions and finding your own way; doubt, confusion, and struggle on the spiritual path; Emerson’s view of enlightenment; and more.

Note: This episode originally aired on Sounds True One, where these special episodes of Insights at the Edge are available to watch live on video and with exclusive access to Q&As with our guests. Learn more at join.soundstrue.com.

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