6 Mistakes You Can Make During Your Mindfulness Journey + What To Do Instead
Throughout my mindfulness journey, I've made several mistakes which almost made me give up my practice! Fortunately, I learned from each of these mistakes and now I'm ready to share so you can learn from them, too.
I expected my mindfulness practice to “fix” things
Once I learned more about mindfulness and the potential benefits it could provide, I began to expect it would fix certain things, such as my poor sleeping habits, stress and my tendency to focus on the past. When I didn't see results right away, I began to wonder if my mindfulness practice was worthwhile or not! After a while, I did begin to notice that I was sleeping better and my stress was decreasing, however, I still tend to dwell on the past, even after years of practice! Everyone has a different experience with mindfulness and our journeys are reflective of that.
What to do: Try to be open to your own experiences with mindfulness and let go of expectations. As unique individuals, we cannot predict how our mindfulness journeys will unfold!
Number two: I felt frustrated whenever I struggled to be mindful
Many people starting out with a mindfulness practice (myself included!) can feel disappointed and frustrated when their journey with mindfulness doesn't go smoothly. However, it's important to know that being mindful isn't always easy! Especially during challenging times, such as periods of stress, overwhelm and high emotion, it can be incredibly difficult to be present in a non-judgemental way.
What to do: Be understanding, kind and compassionate towards yourself. Speak to yourself in the same way you would speak to your best friend! Remember that all you can do is your best and try to use positive affirmations like “I am doing the best I can.” Try not to be discouraged when it's hard (or impossible!) to be mindful- these are the times when your mindfulness practice will grow in resilience and be able to support you more in the future.
I used the same mindfulness practices over and over again, even when they didn't feel right
I used to believe that there were only a few ways to be mindful and to have a “successful” practice, I had to use them regularly. However, the more I've learned about mindfulness, the more I've realised that some practices resonate with me much more than others! For example, meditating is really hard for me to do and can result in frustration, whereas mindful walking is usually an experience which allows me to be present and focused with ease.
What to do: Experiment! Just because someone else feels most mindful by tuning in to their breath, it doesn't necessarily mean this practice will resonate with you. Perhaps, you might prefer using a mindful tool, doing a body scan, listening mindfully, or being mindful while you drink a cup of tea! Explore and find out which practices suit you.
I believed stress was a signal that my mindfulness practice was failing
This was a mistake which truly threatened whether or not my journey with mindfulness would continue. Fortunately, it's a mistake I learned from and I was able to move forward, but I have seen this belief dishearten and disappoint newcomers to the mindfulness practice.
As soon as I noticed I was feeling stressed and mindfulness didn't immediately relieve that stress, I thought my practice was failing. However, it's not often that someone can learn something new and be an expert straight away! It takes time, patience, learning and growing and there are bound to be bumps in the road along the way.
What to do: Give yourself time to practice mindfulness without putting pressure on it to “succeed.” Try to take note of the small ways being mindful helps you, for example, maybe you recover faster from a stressful situation, have a better sleep, feel more in tune and accepting of your feelings, or spend time with your loved ones and feel genuinely present with them.
I criticised myself for forgetting to be mindful
“I can't believe I just ate another meal and forgot to be mindful!”
“I'm so annoyed that I spent that whole walk thinking about work when I wanted to tune in to the environment.”
“I should have experienced that lovely moment rather than wishing it would never end.”
That little voice in my head, although it had good intentions, was making me feel guilty about forgetting to be mindful.
What to do: Rather than focusing on “lost” opportunities, realise that you have an opportunity right then to practice mindfulness. The beauty of mindfulness is that you can practice it at any time you choose! If you realise you didn't eat you breakfast mindfully, you can take some deep breaths instead. If you forgot to be mindful during a walk, simply walk around your house for a minute or two! Any time you remember to practice mindfulness, you have a chance to actually do it.
During times when mindfulness could have helped me, I deliberately didn't practice it
Please don't underestimate the power of self-sabotage. There have been times when mindfulness practices would have been incredibly supportive and I deliberately didn't practice them because I felt like I didn't deserve to.
For example, if I was feeling overwhelmed by my to-do list, I didn't stop to take a few deep breaths and clear my mind because I felt like I shouldn't have let the to-do list get so long in the first place.
If I was feeling sad, hurt or jealous, I didn't do the mindfulness practices which bring me joy, such as gratitude journalling or drinking a cup of tea or coffee mindfully.
If I had a fight with my partner, I would push myself to work and stay distracted, rather than explore, understand and communicate my feelings.
What to do: Recognise the voice of self-sabotage and gently remind it that yes, you do deserve to use mindfulness practices to support yourself. In fact, mindfulness is usually a helpful and constructive tool during times when self-sabotage wants to interfere.