Mindfulness and Awareness:
Have you ever made a commute to work and hardly remember the drive because you were too stuck in your head worrying about this or that? Have you ever gotten in an argument with your significant other and afterwards wished you had the control not to say some of the hurtful things that you did? These are examples of a lack of awareness of our thoughts and actions. Sometimes we can get so caught up in things and lose control over either thoughts or actions. At least, that is how it seems. Our conscious minds tend to run on habitual patterns. I can get into the science behind this and the neurotransmitter/neuro-pathways but the bottom line is that our thoughts as well as actions are basically addictions. These habits that we form become so ingrained in our minds that it seems completely automatic and unconscious at times. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The first step out of these patterns is awareness. It is the first stage of mindfulness.
The awareness must be of two things. One, you must have an idea of the pattern you are trying to change. Two, you must be able to see this pattern when it shows up in your daily life. Without either of these, conscious change is not possible. You would have to relay on chance or luck, or perhaps on circumstances in your life changing. But who can bet on this happening? And how long could we have to wait for that? The only way to assure the changes we want right now is to first develop the awareness. How do I do this, you ask? Well, have you ever stopped a bad habit, or developed a good one? It is no different. Does it happen overnight? Typically not. The standard that I hear from the scientific field is that it takes a few weeks of consistent effort to change a habit fully. This is not to see that improvements would not be seen right away. But where to start?
In the first example I gave, a person had no awareness of the road on a drive to work because he or she was too busy thinking of problems. These thoughts are probably bothersome and lead to emotional distress, perhaps feelings of anxiety, overwhelm, or even sadness. Developing awareness could help this person stop the incessant thoughts and be “present”. Focusing not on thoughts, bit on the feeling of sitting in the seat, the hands on the steering wheel, the sounds of traffic, and the sights of the other cars and road signs. That is the task at hand and if fully focused on it, the distressing thoughts would have to disappear. But wait, a thought about the heavy work load enters the mind, and off we go into the unconsciousness of incessant thought. The road disappears and we are once again trapped in the mind. If we can only notice when this begins to happen and take action to focus back on the road, we can save ourselves any distress that nights be associated with the thoughts.
The same can be done with the example of the argument. If I am focused on remaining present with my partner I am more capable of avoiding hurtful statements. But if my self awareness fades, I could slip into old patterns of hurtful speech which could cause damage in the situation. It is a matter of knowing if there is an old pattern of making hurtful comments during an argument, and having the ability to see this when the thoughts begin to go in that direction. It is still just awareness, but with a different twist to the first example. Some people may feel it is harder to resist though negative thoughts and actions when anger is involved, but at least with the awareness of it, you have the choice to resist or not. Some of you may still feel it may be very hard to do this, and it can be, but it is not impossible. Even with minimal effort, changes in brain chemistry can be seen. Rigid patterns begin to become loosened, and the door opens to further success. It will typically correlate to the level and frequency of consistent effort.
Setting a daily intention to change a habit is a good first step, whether it be through prayer or ever positive affirmations sent out to the universe first thing in the morning. Meditating and practicing the ability to notice thoughts and feelings even for just a few minutes each day can exponentially increase your success. Also, checking in with oneself throughout the day, observing g thoughts and feelings just for a few moments can be very helpful as well.