By Jenny Taitz, Psy.D.
Are you crawling into 2012 with a new juice fast or gym membership?
Often, around New Years, people will themselves to start yet another restrictive diet or rigorous fitness trend. The concept of starting anew feels meaningful and hopeful. I cheer loud and smile big when my patients’ feel excited about new potential methods of achieving the goals they choose.
When we set goals, we also need to accept both others and ourselves. Tara Parker-Pope recently wrote an illuminating article in the New York Times on the struggle people face in trying to lose weight (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/01/magazine/tara-parker-pope-fat-trap.html?_r=1). The research she describes explains compassionately weight loss is not just about willpower. Your body may resist weight loss despite your most valiant efforts. Ms. Parker-Pope courageously recounts her own battle against her biological predisposition and shares data on the ubiquity of weight loss resistance.
Just to be clear, I am not recommending you return your not-yet worn Lululemon outfit and spend the money on Michelin dining! You will improve your health by improving your habits. The matter to resolve is how you go about the process of moving toward your ambitions.
Do you judge yourself a failure if you don’t reach a certain weight or accomplish a particular objective? People often feel tempted to define success in all-or-nothing terms and similarly judge others according to certain assumptions. For instance, you may assume someone who struggles with obesity lacks willpower or someone who is thin is happy.
For a moment, consider, if you do engage in judgments, are they useful in helping you achieve your goals or connecting with others?
In the service of increasing peace with yourself, in addition to any goals you may set, you might consider committing to pursuing your resolutions with mindfulness.
3 ways to befriend rather than battle yourself in 2012:
1. Notice judgments. Do you wish the process were easy and dwell on how unfair it feels? Wishing things were easier actually makes life harder. If you find yourself engaging in judgmental thinking, noticing this process is the first step towards stopping.
2. Focus on this moment. Instead of harping on what you did wrong yesterday or what you’re hoping for tomorrow, attend to what may be possible now. Reviewing in full detail what you ate yesterday won’t remove calories or curb your appetite.
3. Appreciate now. There is more to notice than your battle. We can pay a lot of attention to the things that upset us or we can shift our perspective toward the reality we may feel grateful for.
Adopting a mindful stance towards our bodies may feel foreign and difficult. It also may feel like a weight has been instantly lifted--- I don’t know any other diet program that can promise that!
Entries in resolutions (4)
By Jenny Taitz, Psy.D.
Starting over can be welcome or aversive. Whether we like it or not, with the New Year comes an opportunity for beginning anew. And while we do not have to wait until January 1st to make changes, New Year’s is a natural time to reflect about one’s life and decide to make different choices.
So with New Year’s quickly approaching, let’s take the opportunity to take stock of the past year. How do you feel when you think back on the year? What comes to mind? Perhaps it has been rough financially or your job is not as satisfying as you’d like. Or perhaps it has been a year of accomplishment and blessings. Likely, you have experienced significant amounts of both joy and sadness. I know I have.
Often in life, we think we have moved beyond something only to find it reappear as an obstacle yet again. This happened to me recently in my career. It can be challenging to maintain a positive attitude when things have not gone the way you hoped. It is much easier to look back and focus on regret, frustration, and disappointment. Mindfulness teaches us not to deny such feelings when they arise, but also not to dwell or cling. Rather we allow each emotion to emerge and then fall away. If we are able recognize the transience of all experiences, negative emotions become much less threatening. We know they will soon pass and something else will arise.
So as this year comes to an end and as the next begins, perhaps we can resolve to embrace transience, to make friends with impermanence. We can make an effort to be present in each moment, recognizing that whatever it brings will soon be gone. In doing so, we can try to remember that every end is a beginning. In this never ending cycle of beginnings and ends, what will you do with this opportunity to begin anew?
2009 is drawing to a close. Only a few more days left to realize those New Year's Resolutions. Oh, don't you remember? Those aspirations from earlier this year that you wanted to achieve? Well, fear not, regardless of whether or not you realized them (or can even remember what you wanted to do), we all have another opportunity to make or break, fulfill or forget, or propose or postpone a whole slew of resolutions for 2010.
Generally speaking, these aspirational changes are quite helpful and healthy. They guide us to make substantive, meaningful change in our lives. We might decide to get in shape in order to feel better and (hopefully) be able to live longer to spend more time with our family. We might decide to get a new job in order to feel more satisfied at work. Whatever the desired change and motivation, New Year’s resolutions provide an opportunity to recognize important personal values and articulate related goals for fulfillment.
So, what does mindfulness have to offer? Is an objective awareness of the present moment with its focus on acceptance applicable to the establishment and pursuit of life-changing actions? Put simply, “no.” Mindfulness with its emphasis on experiencing the present as it exists is not too keen on changing it. Unless one of your resolutions is to practice mindfulness or acceptance more regularly in 2010, then the emphasis on being present in the now won’t help you realize your goals. Think about it: is mindfulness going to get you to go to the gym or line-up a series of job interviews? Of course not. However, some of the essential qualities of mindfulness can be helpful for you.
In his seminal book, Full Catastrophe Living, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn outlined what he described as the “attitudinal foundations of mindfulness.”
In addition, I would add “Non-identification” as another aspect of mindfulness. Taken together and applied sensitively to your resolutions, these qualities will help you approach your desired changes in ways that are sensitive, respectful, and supportive of change.
This perspective involves suspending our tendency to evaluate experiences. However, if you’ve made a resolution for 2010, then it’s too late: you’ve already made a judgment in deciding on something to change. Fortunately, we can adopt a non-judging approach to our resolutions subsequently. We can stop second-guessing our resolutions as good, bad, or “not enough,” for example.
This one is probably obvious. Change typically doesn’t happen overnight, and we need to be patient as we try to bring about something new in our lives. Intellectually, we understand this fact, but it’s harder to appreciate through actual experience.
This principle refers to the ability to experience the present moment as if it were existing for the very first time, which—of course—it is. You haven’t been in this precise time and space until now. For the New Year, it means that these resolutions of ours are brand new. Even if they’re something that we’ve made in the past, we’ve never had the opportunity to make them in 2010. Thus, we need to approach these resolutions with an attitude of freshness and curiosity. Whatever happened previously is over. All we have is our resolutions manifest in the here-and-now.
Trust refers to the ability to have faith in our intuitive wisdom as well as the present moment. For our resolutions, it means cultivating the ability to recognize that we’ll know how to best approach them. Even if we don’t know how to accomplish something, we can be confident in knowing when we don’t know, and perhaps seeking some advice or guidance.
This one might seem a bit antithetical to having New Year’s resolutions. Aren’t they all about striving for something? Sure. However, we can embody our desire for change through gentle persistence as opposed to brute force. There’s no need to push hard for realization of our resolutions when a simple nudge or light pressure will suffice.
Just as the present moment needs to be accepted as it exists, so does our relationship to whatever change we’re trying to make. We are here, regardless of where we want to be. Telling ourselves that we need or should be someplace else (physically, emotionally, occupationally, etc.) provides little motivation. More often than not, we feel miserable and discouraged as we work towards change. For example, if you’ve lost one pound, you’ve lost one pound. This is true regardless of the fact that you want to lose 20 pounds or that it’s Week #8 of your new diet and exercise regimen.
We need to abandon our desire for things to be different than how they are? Obviously, this is not relevant to resolutions in which we’re actively trying to be different. However, sometimes we hold on to fantasies about our past or future, which make it more difficult to engage the present. For example, reminiscing about how athletic you were in high school is not likely to help you much in getting in shape now. So, we often need to let go of these remembrances and desires in order to better address what’s happening for us now.
Mindfulness encourages us to recognize the present moment without becoming too wrapped-up in it personally. Similarly, our self-worth is not dependent on whether or not we succeed or fail in realizing our New Year’s Resolutions. If you abandon or forget your resolution, it’s okay. You are not a better or worse person. And, if it truly troubles you, you can always try again in the next moment or even wait until next year.
Finally, it’s important to recognize that your realization of your New Year’s resolutions likely will not happen in an instant. It’s not as if you suddenly will lose 20 pounds or instantly land a job. Rather, it will take a series of successive moments as you work towards the change that you seek. Hmm…successive present moments? What can we do with those?
Why is it that mindfulness folks are always talking about the breath? Because it is an ever-present anchor for our attention in the present moment. As long as you are alive, you can become aware of your breathing at any time. Becoming mindful of your breathing is also very subtle and inconspicuous, so you can practice during a meeting, while riding the subway, or standing in line at the store.
2. Attend a meditation group
NYC has many ongoing meditation groups for beginners and more experienced practitioners. Use the UM calendar to find a convenient group for you by clicking here: NYC Meditation Calendar.
3. Use technology to help
Computers, cell phones, TV, and the internet. We often find ourselves wrapped-up in these devices in a very un-mindful kind-of-way. However, they are merely tools; they do not have any inherent interest in promoting distraction. So, we can use them to help support our meditation or mindfulness practice. I’ll be posting more on this issue in the coming months. However, here are a few ideas for now:
•On-line: Set a bell to ring periodically to remind you to be mindfully present. Click here for a helpful website: Mindfulness Bell
•iPhone: Use the Clock to set a countdown timer for your meditation sessions. Now, you won’t be peeking at the clock!
•Computer: Set your screen saver to display an inspirational reminder, like “Be” or “Peace”.
•TV: During the commercial breaks, check in with your breathing and posture. Simply notice what is happening in your body.
4. Create a Sensory Mindfulness Kit
Mindfulness isn’t just about breathing or meditating. It’s about paying attention, and our senses provide us with important information about our experience. You can create a box for “moments of mindfulness” by collecting objects that appeal to your five senses: touch, sight, taste, hearing, and smell. A patient of mine once collected items related to the beach: sand, tropical postcard, chocolate with coconut, CD of ocean sounds, and suntan lotion (for its scent). She would bust-out this Sensory Mindfulness Kit whenever she wanted a few moments of peace and awareness.
5. Put reminders at “points of performance”
In working with folks with ADD/ADHD, I advise the use of Post-It reminders at particular “points of performance”. If you know that you will need something at a specific place, then write a reminder to yourself at that place or close to it. For example, you might attach a note to “Sit with Dignity” on your computer screen in order to prompt better awareness of your posture.
6. Practice Money Mindfulness
It’s likely going to be a tough year financially for many people. Grim economic news is likely to cause lots of worry, panic, stress, and real hardship. As a result, it’s important to cultivate mindfulness particularly at these times. If you’re panicked about your long-term investments, then practice some mindfulness strategies when you get wrapped up in worry and regret. If you really do need to make some changes in your financial portfolio, then it is also best to ground yourself mindfully before proceeding with decision-making. The best money-managers that I’ve seen are the ones with crunch the numbers unemotionally with equanimity as opposed to letting their emotions go up and down with the NYSE.
7. Pay attention to how and when—not what—you eat
Many people will try to diet and lose weight this year. A big culprit in our struggle with weight is related to our simple failure to pay attention to our body’s cues of hunger and satiety. Thus, it is important to slow down and notice how your body feels before you start eating. If you’re hungry, then eat. If not, then don’t. Hunger should be your “trigger” for eating, not sitting on the couch.
8. Remind yourself about what matters most
Mindfulness is helpful in many ways, including helping us realize the degree to which our actions (and reactions) fall in line with our fundamental values, morals, and goals. As we cultivate mindful awareness, we can reflect on what we’ve noticed and learn to better appreciate what’s happening as it happens. Thus, we can see (and transcend) automatic patterns, which might not be serving us well. For example, by noticing the urge to overeat or seeing the start of our procrastination ritual, we can stop the process and bring more purpose to what we decide to do next.
9. Check out Urban Mindfulness regularly
There are big plans brewing for 2009. We’ll have podcasts and downloadable meditations available. The UM blog will have more contributors and more frequent updates. Also, we’ll be pursuing more formal efforts at marketing and branding. If you’d like to become part of the UM team, please send an e-mail to UrbanMindfulness [at] gmail.com.