There’s been a lot of talk the last few years about the benefits of mindfulness, since science has revealed more about the links between our body and mind, and how mindfulness works both physiologically and neurologically.
We know mindfulness can improve physical and mental health, but can it also help you be more motivated so that you can get more accomplished and feel more successful? Let’s take a look:
Given that a mindfulness practice can lower stress and provide relief from feelings of overwhelm and anxiety, and that those feelings often prevent us from being motivated, it stands to reason that mindfulness improves motivation.
Mindfulness helps us be more aware of our thoughts and feelings, and as a result helps us have greater control over thoughts and feelings—meaning we are better able to cultivate motivation when we need it.
Often a mindfulness practice incorporates compassion, grace, and kindness—which when directed towards ourselves enables us to take setbacks and challenges less personally, and be better able to persevere in spite of them.
People who practice mindfulness are more likely to cultivate a growth mindset, and recognize that we are intrinsically capable of growth and improvements—including the skills that improve motivation and productivity.
Note the phrase “mindfulness practice”. We use this phrase for a reason, because mindfulness is a skill that is developed and honed over time, through repetition.
It’s highly unlikely that you’ll wake up one day and be suddenly totally mindful. Rather as you spend time on mindfulness exercises and activities, you’ll likely have occasional insights and discoveries that will deepen your understanding of the process…and of yourself.
It’s also a practice in that there is always room for improvement. Nobody ever “perfects” mindfulness. But as we learn and grow, and share our learnings with others, we become more comfortable with the process (and of not being perfect!)
There is no limit to the number of ways that mindfulness can be developed, because anything can be done in a more-mindful way. But here are some ideas to get you started:
1. Paying attention & being present – Most of us are multi-tasking so much of the time that our attention is split between a number of different thoughts and activities. But as we learn to focus our awareness on just one thing, we build and reinforce neural pathways that support mindfulness (that’s a bit of an over-simplification, but a meaningful one for these purposes).
2. Meditation – that probably feels like a “no duh” offering, because mindfulness is rarely mentioned without also bringing up meditation. But because a meditation practice helps us learn how to quiet mental chatter, it also teaches us how to develop an awareness of what our body is telling us.
3. Body scans – often treated as a type of meditation, which it certainly can be, a body scan can simply be checking in with different parts of our body. Where is there pain or discomfort? Am I hungry? Do I need to pee? Which muscles need to be stretched after sitting so long at the computer? Did that news article make me feel scared, angry, both? Body scans are another way to build and reinforce those neural pathways needed for mindfulness, and awareness of what is happening within us and around us.
4. Journaling – In my experience a strong journaling practice is like meditating with a pen in your hand. Allowing the free flow of thoughts and feelings, clearing the chatter and creating space to explore what’s really going on under the surface. Bonus points if you go back and reflect on hat you’ve written!
5. Emotional intimacy – this is one I haven’t seen a lot of folks talk about in developing a mindfulness practice, but I think it’s a big deal. Sharing your thoughts and feelings with people that you trust often reduces their intensity and makes them less scary and overwhelming. Which in turn makes it easier to be present with them, rather than repressing or running from them. Holding space for what you feel is a huge part of mindfulness.
6. Feeling breaks – my term for taking 5-30 minutes out of your day to just allow your feelings to happen. It’s kind of similar to body scans, and could be considered a type of meditation; in fact I recorded a guided meditation to facilitate the process. But it can also be just stepping away when you notice a big swell of emotions, and being present to it rather than forcing it down so you can stay focused on the task at hand.
7. Forgiveness – as we actively seek to let go of our attachment to anger, we can stop being controlled by it and be better able to make more effective choices. Anger is a form of stress, and stress inhibits clarity of thought and motivation. So learning how (and when) to forgive can be a powerful way to boost our productivity.
NOTE—I’m not saying don’t get mad! There is plenty to be angry about, especially these days! But it doesn’t serve us to hang onto those feelings past their usefulness. This could be a whole article of its own… let me know if you’re interested and I’ll put something together…
8. Physical movement – especially anything with choreography like Tai Chi, Yoga, or dance; or anything that encourages you to focus on your form like walking, jogging, or swimming. That focus on your motions helps strengthen your awareness, plus exercise can help relieve the symptoms of stress.
9. Getting into nature – Surrounding ourselves with lush green growth immediately calms and soothes the distress that stress causes, which as we’ve already seen is essential to building mindfulness. But being in nature also encourages us to reflect, which improves our awareness of what’s happening within and around us.
10. Silence – Many of us surround ourselves with a constant influx of information. Podcasts, music, TV, etc., which makes it difficult to be present with our thoughts. Often that’s exactly why we do it! But as our mindfulness practice deepens we can become more comfortable with the quiet, so we can really hear ourselves think.
Again, this is a practice. It may feel super uncomfortable at first. But so did many skills at the beginning, right? Learning a musical instrument comes to mind, when you don’t know where to put your fingers and the sounds come out all wrong. That’s a natural part of the process! And a beautiful part of a mindfulness practice is that allowing yourself to feel uncomfortable actually helps. Laugh at yourself, roll your eyes, get angry, it’s all bringing awareness to what you think and feel.
Ideally you’ll build a habit of mindfulness, and it will begin to become second nature to check in with yourself. But if you find that the habit is difficult to maintain, you can take this free quiz to find out what may be blocking you!
I wish you well on your mindfulness journey. It is one that bears many fruits, often in unexpected ways. And of course if you need support of any kind, feel free to reach out. It takes a village, as they say!