How does mindfulness help with changing your habits?
Some people immediately start frowning at the word mindfulness which is particularly unfortunate.
As a whole, mindfulness is nothing more than stopping to think about yourself for a moment. It is a way of doing self-analysis, recognizing one’s habits, and changing ingrained behavior. It’s all about becoming aware of the present surroundings, which helps to change behaviors for the better.
The questions to ask are:
- What am I feeling at this moment?
- What am I thinking about?
- What do I tend to do and not do?
This analysis of yourself is instrumental when you want to change your lifestyle.
Below, you’ll discover how mindfulness can help you change your lifestyle sustainably and enjoyably.
Table of Contents
- 1 How does mindfulness help with changing your habits? Introduction
- 2 Changing ingrained patterns of behavior
- 3 Quitting smoking can also be done thanks to mindfulness
- 4 How to start living more mindfully? MBSR Training
- 5 How does mindfulness help with changing your habits? Conclusion
How does mindfulness help with changing your habits? Introduction
We are usually focused on things outside of ourselves. However, with mindfulness, you dwell on what is happening inside of you.
You get to know yourself better, and you also learn to recognize the moment when you are in danger of falling back into one of your old habits and traps. Whereas, of course, this is just the sort of habit you’d like to change to live a healthier life.
Mindfulness can allow us to break certain habits that impair our health, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and unhealthy snacking.
Changing ingrained routines is difficult with not impossible! And it is a prerequisite for adopting a lasting healthy lifestyle.
To use mindfulness to change your lifestyle, you must first learn to recognize your own (unhealthy) habits.
In other words, mindfulness is becoming and being aware of your own experiences, actions, and behaviors, moment to moment, without passing judgment on them.
Changing ingrained patterns of behavior
Snacking behavior after a stressful workday: Example
Imagine you come home from work after a long, stressful day at the office.
You are tired, slightly frustrated by that last annoying customer, and also a little jealous of that colleague who just got a promotion while you are still in the same position.
And on the upside, you have to arrange an evening meal and prepare a dish.
At such times, chances are you’ll resort to an unhealthy snack to satisfy the initial hunger (think a bag of potato chips), possibly combined with a glass of alcohol because you’ve earned it after that hard day.
The problem is that it is hard to stop eating such snacks, and you often eat way too many of them (which seems like compulsive snacking) while you have yet to have your evening meal.
Afterward, you are consumed with regret and feel extra frustrated and rotten for the rest of the evening. And this while you wanted to feel better in the first place.
It’s hard to resist that bag of nuts or potato chips in such a moment of stress and frustration.
If you are comfortable in your own skin and the sun is shining, you can often manage without problems, but as soon as you experience stress and frustration, it becomes more difficult.
Tip: Check our other article for 5 practical tips to reduce stress: What Are 5 Stress Management Techniques to Relieve Stress?
How mindfulness can help
With mindfulness, you notice precisely what is happening.
You come home after that hard day at work, and you find that you are tired. You feel that you crave comfort.
You want to make it enjoyable for yourself. You know there’s another delicious bag of potato chips in the cupboard. Carbohydrates are intoxicating, so you instinctively reach for those chips or a packet of cookies.
The first few chips are usually tasty, but you don’t really taste much after that. In fact, you could have stopped eating after a few pieces, and nothing would have happened.
With mindfulness, you deal with such situations more consciously. You wonder what it actually gets you. You wonder what is going on in your head, and you also think about what you are experiencing physically.
After devouring a mass of potato chips, for example, mindfulness will help you understand the consequences of your decision.
You were looking for a way to feel better, and you conveniently sought a solution with a fatty snack. But now it appears that you feel even worse. Such insights are what mindfulness offers you.
Being aware of the consequences of your choices is the beginning of integrating mindfulness into your lifestyle.
Consciously making different choices thanks to mindfulness
Start training this and purposefully integrating it into your life. You will begin to recognize the learned behavior and its consequences over time.
You’re going to examine what it’s really giving you now (both positive and negative). Then you can just consciously make a different decision at such times in the future.
In the end, you don’t do it on willpower but rather based on research into yourself.
After all, what would have offered you more benefits? For example, cutting fresh vegetables and preparing a healthy but delicious dish will make you feel better.
And then you wouldn’t have felt so bad, and you would have had a better evening.
Quitting smoking can also be done thanks to mindfulness
It has been scientifically proven that mindfulness works well against stress, recurrent depression, chronic pain, anxiety, etc.
The research on the effect of mindfulness on lifestyle changes is still in its infancy. Still, the results in this domain also seem promising.
The practice of mindfulness makes you more at ease in moments of stress and discomfort. Which will ultimately make you less inclined to reach for that unhealthy and smelly cigarette!
In mindfulness training to quit smoking, you learn pretty quickly to notice the feeling of craving a cigarette.
Then you will also learn techniques for examining the associated physical reactions and enduring them until your craving for a cigarette subsides, rather than going along with it and effectively lighting a cigarette.
Mindfulness has also been used successfully in certain situations for relapse prevention in alcohol and drug addictions and in the context of weight management.
- Meditation experience is associated with differences in default mode network activity and connectivity, J. Brewer et al., 2011
- Relative Efficacy of Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention, Standard Relapse Prevention, and Treatment as Usual for Substance Use Disorders, S. Bowen et al., 2014
- Mindfulness training for smoking cessation: A meta-analysis of randomized-controlled trials, M. Oikonomou et al., 2017
- Mindfulness Approaches and Weight Loss, Weight Maintenance, and Weight Regain, C. Dunn et al., 2018
How to start living more mindfully? MBSR Training
You can become more mindful in life in several ways.
When people talk or write about the proven effects of mindfulness training, they usually speak about Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction training (MBSR).
This is a 2-month training developed by American Jon Kabat-Zinn, director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society (University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School) and former director of the world-renowned Stress Reduction Clinic in the United States.
Initially, this mindfulness training was intended primarily for people with chronic conditions. Nowadays you can find well-trained trainers worldwide offering this eight-week training.
You can also do the official exercises that come with this training, such as the body scan, sitting meditation, walking meditation, and simple yoga exercises.
You can do these independently, without a coach through YouTube or e-learning platforms such as Udemy, Teachable, Coursera, Khan Academy, etc.
You can choose to apply mindfulness yourself at various times throughout the day. And you do that simply by keeping your attention and living the moment.
Some simple examples:
- While peeling carrots: How does the skin of the carrots feel and smell?
- When washing your hands: Does the hand soap smell nice, and is the water lukewarm or warm?
- As you brush your teeth: How does the toothbrush feel against your teeth, and how do you like the taste of the toothpaste?
By understanding how does mindfulness help with changing your habits, you’ll get results.
How does mindfulness help with changing your habits? Conclusion
Finally, a tip to start living more mindfully: If you notice that your thoughts are wandering, keep going back to what you are doing.
By the way, you can also do this kind of exercise while walking or cycling.
This can be done by not mindlessly strolling or biking through but by looking intently at the grass, the birds, the passersby, the trees, the buildings, registering the smells, looking at the flowers, noticing sounds, etc.
In all these ways, you are training your attention muscle, so to speak, just as you train your regular muscles.
And just like with normal muscles, you have to keep doing it, or you will weaken.
By training your attention muscle, you become more and more observant. Eventually, you can notice your thoughts and feelings more and more.
And that, in turn, allows you not to get carried away by a brooding thought or, for example, not to give in to the urge to eat away your frustration or light that smelly cigarette.