by April Hadley, LLMSW
The ancient Greek poet, Archilochos, wrote, “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”
Do you have high expectations for yourself? I know I do. Another word you can use for expectations is hope. I like the word hope because it feels more gentle than the word, expectation. When I say, “I hope to be a more peaceful person” it lands more softly than “I expect to be a more peaceful person.”
It can feel risky to be honest with yourself about your hopes because you will likely fall short of your own expectations. I can’t speak for you, but I don’t like feeling the sting of my own disappointment. My disappointment often leads to beating myself up and I can all too easily conclude that I will never rise to the level of my hopes. I end up feeling hopeless.
What can we do instead of falling down the spiral of hopelessness? The second part of Archilochos’ quote provides a clue. We can actively prepare ourselves by training in the direction of our hopes! If you hope to become more mindful, you can train yourself to rise to the occasion which is pretty hopeful!
Most people who attempt to practice mindfulness quickly discover that it can be difficult to maintain a regular training program. In light of this, I would like to share 5 tips that I have found to be incredibly helpful in maintaining my own mindfulness training (or any other type of training program for that matter):
- Do it on purpose. It may seem obvious that you need to practice on purpose, but I have seen people try to think their way into being more mindful by talking about it, reading about it and listening to podcasts about it. Just as you wouldn’t try to think your way into running a 10K race, you can’t think your way into being more mindful. Start with a few minutes of practice each day and add more time as you go along. One of the best ways to practice on purpose is to use a guided meditation. I highly recommend using the free meditations on the Insight Timer App.
- Practice when you are NOT stressed. People often take up the practice of mindfulness because they hope to reduce their stress but they try to force mindfulness into their moments of stress before their mindfulness muscle is strong enough to handle it. It’s a bit like completing one running session and thinking you can run a 10K race the next day. Practice a formal meditation once a day when you feel the least amount of stress. Do this without any expectations for 2-4 weeks. Your mindfulness will slowly get stronger and it will naturally find its way into your stressful moments.
- Practice once a day. There is some debate in the field of mindfulness about how much a person should practice in order to feel the benefits. Try to think of mindfulness as “dose dependent.” A few minutes of practice once a day will strengthen your muscle of mindfulness more than one long session once a week. Give yourself permission to start small. A 3-minute or a 5-minute practice is a wonderful place to start!
- Begin again and again. Even though a daily mindfulness practice is important, you will skip your practice. There will even be times when you go for months without practicing. Rather than beating yourself up, save your energy and give yourself permission to begin again…and again and again. Giving yourself permission to start over is the only way anyone maintains a meditation practice. It may seem like this tip contradicts #1 and #3, but it is important to accept that you will have a “consistently inconsistent” practice!
- Use the buddy system. Most people think of meditation as something you do alone but the ancient practice of meditation has always been practiced in community. Tip #5 is my favorite because I have discovered that I do most things better and more consistently when I surround myself with a supportive community. Ask a friend to be your meditation buddy and agree to text each other a “thumbs up” each time you practice!
Good luck and remember we are here to support you on the journey!