8 Ways to Improve your Mindfulness & Self-Awareness

mind•full•ness

{noun}
the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness in the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and acknowledging one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.

In a world full of noise and distractions, it is hard to be mindful. It is hard to be present.We are constantly being bombarded with information as well as social pressures to be ___ or do ___.

It is hard to be mindful in the world of smartphones, high-speed internet, and Netflix, but it is not impossible.

In this article, I’m going to give you several techniques you can use to improve your mindfulness on a daily basis. Mindfulness, like any other skill, takes practice.

1. Meditate

Meditation is perhaps the easiest and most efficient way to improve your mindfulness. Meditation allows us to learn how to be present and teaches us how to monitor our thought patterns.

I have been practicing meditation for about four months now and it has proven extremely helpful. I have found myself feeling less anxious and stressed on a day-to-day basis.

During meditation, you focus all your attention on either your breath or your bodily sensations. Doing so allows you to be completely present, rather than getting lost in thoughts about the past or future.

If you are new to meditation, I recommend checking out an app called Calm.

2. Do Nothing

A huge part of mindfulness is becoming more aware of how you think. You can do this by simply sitting down and your room and letting your mind run. It may be best to do this by staring at one spot on your wall, that way you don’t get distracted.

Take time to pay attention to your thoughts.

What are you thinking about?

Your to-do list?

What you did last night?

The more we quiet down and listen to our thoughts, the more aware we will become of them, and with awareness comes the ability to change the way we think.

3. Savor Your Food

Often when we sit down to eat we are either watching television or on our smartphones. We get so focused on what other people are doing that we don’t even take the time to really taste what we’re eating.

Next time you eat, just eat. Take time to really enjoy your food.

This is a great way to practice being present. Even more so, it will help you generate gratitude for the food you have on the table.

4. Do One Thing at a Time

To truly be present means to have our minds fully engaged in what we are doing right now. This is impossible if we are trying to do multiple things at once. In fact, the attention span of humans has become even shorter in the age of social media, according to the Telegraph.

Here are a few ways you can practice doing one thing at a time:

  • Don’t listen to music when you clean. Practice just cleaning. This will help you learn to live in the moment.
  • When you’re working, turn off your phone if possible. You don’t want to be scrolling through Twitter while you’re doing a project.
  • When you’re with a group of friends, do your best to really listen to every word they are saying. Be fully engaged in the conversation, rather than letting your mind carry you to another place.

5. Keep a Journal

Another way to become more aware of your thought parents it to keep a journal. When you journal, just put whatever is in your mind into the page. No filter.

After your finish writing, look back on what you wrote. What does it tell you about yourself? Are you thinking mostly negatively or positively?

The more self-aware we are the more mindful we can become.

6. Quite Down Your Life

Like I mentioned in the introduction, our lives are constantly becoming more complicated as we are feed more and more information.

One way to stay mindful in this era of distractions is to learn to quiet down your life. Set time aside to escape from the news and social media. Take time to go on a walk or sit outside.

Sometimes it is wise to turn off the television and music and just sit down and read a book.

When we learn to quiet down, and at times power down,  we can finally become truly present.

7. Get Out of Your Own Head

The opposite of being present is to be lost in thought. It is important that you learn to get out of your own head and live in the present moment.

You can accomplish this through meditation and through simply redirecting your attention in a given situation.

Here’s an example.

You are reading a book but you keep thinking about a test your have tomorrow. Simply and gently redirect your attention onto the book and stop thinking about the test.

This is not easy, but with practice, you can improve.

It is important that you don’t become angry with yourself during this process. Mindfulness is nothing without self-compassion. When you find yourself being distracting, gently bring yourself back to the present moment, extending loving-kindness towards yourself.

8. Don’t Let Your Thoughts Control You

For a long time, I believed that I was in control of my thoughts and that it was my responsibility to think the right way.

Now I’ve realized that thoughts, for the most part, are fluid. They are not really under our control. They come and go no matter what.

Because of this, the most important way to overcome negative thoughts is not to change the thoughts themselves, but to change the way you look at them. If you begin to realize that your thoughts are just a stream of consciousness, you can start to stop believing thoughts that prove to be untrue or not useful.

For more information on why we cannot control our own thoughts, check out this article from the Scientific American.

Closing Thoughts

The more mindful you become the easier it will be for you to be productive and happy. Living in the moment is the best way to live. If your mind is focused on the past or present, you will not be able to enjoy the beauty of now.

Now is the only thing you can change. Now is the only time that really matters.

5 Lessons from Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers

As detailed in my post from July 8,  I have committed to reading a book every month. My book for July was Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. I recently finished the book (I started it in June), and I must say it was amazing.

Outliers is a book about success, more specifically it is about why certain individuals or groups are able to achieve success while others are not. Gladwell supports each of his claims about success with research from psychologists as well as examples of success such as Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

The book is fabulously written and filled with engaging stories from history. Gladwell does an excellent job at writing content that is both enjoyable and informational.

In this post I will detail some of the major lessons I learned from reading the book.

1. Success is Not Just About Hard Work

Our culture teaches us that success is the product of one thing: hard work. All you have to do is pull yourself up by your bootstraps and you’ll find success. But what if it isn’t that simple?

In the first chapters of Outliers, Gladwell explains how much opportunity plays into success. He argues that success is not simply the product of how hard you work, but also of what kind of opportunities and privileges you are afforded by society.

My favorite example of this is Bill Gates, who is one of the most successful entrepreneurs of our era. Many of us know that Gates created innovative computer software and started the technology giant Microsoft. What many don’t know is that Gates was afforded several special opportunities as a child.

Gates began computer programming at the age of thirteen and had access to programming tools adults of the time could only dream of. He was able to put in hours of practice that others in his field had no access to.

He was also born at the perfect time, right when major changes were happening in the area of computer technology.

If Gates had not been afforded these opportunities, it would be impossible for him to be as successful as he is today.

Due to this fact, I think it is important that each of us alter our definition of success. Here’s our current definition in the form of a mathematical formula:

Capture

Now here’s our new definition of success in a similar format:

Capture

This is a more sober and honest definition of success. One that helps explain success in a world where not everyone is treated equally or afforded the same privileges.

Here’s a short quote from the book that sums this point up well:

“Success is not a random act. It arises out of a predictable and powerful set of circumstances and opportunities…” p. 155

2. Practice is Vital

In chapter 2 of Outliers, Gladwell introduces something he calls the 10,000-hour rule. Basically, the what Gladwell says is that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice in order to become an expert in any field.

Although there has been researching that debunks Gladwell’s rule (more on that here), the principle still holds weight.

It is one thing to be given amazing opportunities to be successful, it is another to make the most of those opportunities.

In order to become great at anything, you have to put in the time and effort to improve.

Sports are an excellent example. To improve at a sport, let’s say basketball, you need to put in the time to hone your skills. You must continue to perfect your shooting form and ball handling. You will never become a great basketball player until you put in the time and effort required to improve.

This principle is also true of writing, which is why I try to spend time every day practicing my craft. If I want to be the best writer I can possibly be, I have to practice my writing intentionally and for an extended period of time and on a consistent basis.

3. Talent is a Myth

Let’s return to basketball for a moment.

When we see great players achieving great feats we call them talented. But is talent really behind their success as a basketball player?

Well let me ask you this. Think of the greatest basketball player you know, it could be a professional player or someone you know on a personal level, now think about how long they’ve been playing basketball. Probably since they were five or six or possibly even younger.

Because they have put so much time into the game of basketball, it shouldn’t be a surprised that they are so great.

At the same time, you are more likely to be a great basketball player if you’re tall. But is being tall the same thing as being talented? Tallness is not a talent, it’s a genetic trait. It’s not a choice… it’s a… privilege, or maybe even an opportunity.

Many great basketball players have also been granted special opportunities like playing in summer leagues or on youth all-star teams, where they can learn from better coaches and practice against better players.

Point being: there is no genetic trait that will make you great at basketball. There’s no such thing as being born to play. There are only opportunities and hours of practice that lead to skill and ability.

Another theme Gladwell touches on is IQ. He shares that there are individuals with sky high IQ’s that are poor and miserable while there are individuals with low IQ’s that are happy and/or wealthy.

Although IQ is solely genetically based (you can’t change it) it still does not determine what level of success you will have.

4. The Definition of Fulfilling Work

There are a few points in Outliers where Malcolm Gladwell mentions this idea of meaningful work. Although it is not necessarily one of the key points of the book, it was a major takeaway for me.

To get an idea of what meaningful work means, here’s a quote from the book:

“Those three things – autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward – are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying.” p. 149

Here’s another:

“It’s not how much money we make that ultimately makes us happy between nine and five. It’s whether or not our work fulfills us.” p. 149-150

According to Gladwell, fulfilling and satisfying work consists of three things: autonomy, complexity, and connection between effort and reward.

When we think about our dream jobs, they always consist of those three things.

We want:

  1. Control over our own destiny (autonomy)
  2. Something with variety that will not bore us (complexity)
  3. Something that will keep us working hard, even when we don’t feel like it (the connection between effort and reward)

The crazy thing is, the amount of money we make does not determine whether or not we find our work satisfying. It isn’t about the dollar amount, it’s about whether or not we find our work meaningful.

5. The Importance of Cultural Backgrounds and Legacies

In the last few chapter of Outliers, Gladwell speaks of cultural legacies. He shares that where we come from (our family and cultural background) matters.

For example, have you ever wondered why Asians are so good at math (at least according to the stereotype)?

Gladwell argues that the answer can be found by looking back at the history of Chinese agriculture.

In China, family’s grow rice on their farms. They extremely work hard to keep weeds out and even have to wake up early in the morning to care for their rice crops.

Their culture of hard work can be summarized in the following proverb:

“No one who can rise before dawn three hundred sixty days a year fails to make his family rich.”

Gladwell argues that this type of thinking, the work ethic and endurance of Chinese workers, is what contributes to their proficiency in math.

He argues that hard work is ingrained in Asian culture. Asians are good at math because they choose to put the work in to understand. And they choose to put the work in because that is the way they’ve been taught to live and act.

It is important to be aware of other’s backgrounds and cultures, especially here in the U.S. where there is so much diversity. Learning to respect and understand other cultures is vital to success in the business world and in personal relationships.

Closing Thoughts

Outliers was nothing short of excellent. It changed the way I view success and helped me to realize how much of a role circumstance and opportunity play into success.

It is a book I would highly recommend. As I mentioned in the introduction to this post, it is entertaining while at the same time being informative, and at times even transformative.

If you’ve read Outliers, what were some things that you took away from it? How much of a role do you think opportunity plays into success? Do you buy into the idea that talent is a myth?

Have any book recommendations?

Continue the discussion in the comments!

 

4 Reasons You Should Stop Comparing Yourself to Other People

 

Growing up I was very insecure and struggled with social anxiety. One of the reasons I was struggling with my self-image was because I kept comparing myself with my friends and classmates. I would think things like “I’ll never be as smart as her” or “I’ll never be as strong as him.”

This act of comparison contributed to a constant feeling of insecurity and inferiority. I constantly felt like I wasn’t good enough. Now that I have grown older, I have come to the realization that I should do all that is in my power to stop comparing myself to others.

As I began to implement this into my life, I began to feel happier and more comfortable in my own skin. I began to appreciate the talents of others rather than covet them. I began to love myself for who I am rather than wishing I could be like someone else.

It is common practice to compare ourselves with other people. We compare our athletic abilities, grades, salaries, and even our friendships. Comparison is a part of human nature, but very often comparison will leave you feeling empty and unsatisfied.

Here are a few reasons why you should stop comparing ourselves with other people:

1. You Will Become Unhappy With Yourself

“Comparison is the thief of joy” – Theodore Roosevelt

Like I mentioned earlier, I struggled with my self-image growing up. As I continued to compare myself more with others I began to feel increasingly miserable.

When we compare ourselves to others we often only compare our worst qualities with the best qualities of other people. We just look at their highlight reel. If we only look at the highlights of other people’s lives we will begin to feel insecure or ashamed of our everyday doings.

For example, I might be scrolling through Facebook and see that one of my friends went to India for vacation during spring break. After seeing this I might start thinking something similar to, “I wish I had done something that fun for spring break. All I did was stay at home and watch Netflix.”

These types of comparisons will leave you feeling like you’re not good enough.

In reality, my friend probably had a great time in India, but he also had many boring moments at his home just like I did. It just so happens that he didn’t post about those terribly boring moments on social media.

2. You Will Become Jealous

When we compare ourselves to others it is easy to become jealous of their achievements, abilities, or popularity.

You might have a friend that is a successful businesswoman. Maybe she makes twice as much as you do. If you compare yourself to her you will likely begin to feel secure. You might start thinking things like “why don’t I make as much money as her? I work just as hard.”

You will likely begin to feel jealous and start to harbor envy against your friend. This will begin to separate yourself from her and you will likely build up enmity against your friend.

In high shcool I loved to play basketball. I spent hours learning about the game and honing my skills, but the joy of the game was often snatched from me and replaced with feelings of jealousy.

I would look at my competition or even my teammates and hate the fact that they were better than me. I would sit around and think about how hard I worked, and how much I deserved to play more minutes or get more attention.

If I had just focused on doing everything I could to help my team whether than worrying about being the center of attention, I probably would’ve enjoyed playing the sport much more than I did. More importantly, I would’ve been able to bond much better with my teammates.

3. Your Friends Will Become Enemies

Let’s go back to the businesswoman illustration.

Eventually this jealousy you have been building up towards your successful friend to will cause to dislike your her. After a certain amount of time, you will begin avoiding her or arguing with her. Soon enough you may even begin to fight with her and your friendship could fall apart.

This is a vicious cycle that could all be avoided if we simply learned to stop comparing ourselves with others.

Jealousy leads to anger. Anger leads to hatred. And hatred, as we all know, leads to the dark side.

4. You Will Stop Growing as a Person

Finally, comparison has the potential to paralyze you. You may end up feeling hopeless and thinking that you’ll never be as cool, funny, or successful as the people you compare yourself with.

These thoughts usually lead to apathy. We start to feel like we won’t amount to anything and that we might as well just sit around and let life happen to us. It can make us hopelessly passive rather than proactive.

When we get into this mindset we must realize that we are not the person we are comparing ourselves. I am me, and you are you. You have to decide what you really want in life. Who do you really want to be?

When we figure our who we are and what we want out of life, we can begin living our own lives rather than trying to be someone else. You never want to catch yourself chasing someone else’s dream.

Let’s close with a quote taken from Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations that addresses this point better than I ever could:

“How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbour says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself, to make it just and holy.”

 

#ABookAMonth

In elementary school I absolutely hated reading. Even when I was offered rewards for reading books, I still dreaded it. Most of the time when I “read” a book, I actually only skimmed over it so that I could answer any questions the teacher might ask about it.

As I made my way through high school, I began to question the things I was learning. I was not content with what my textbooks and teachers were telling me, I needed more. I started searching for knowledge and was really drawn to books. I started to read during my spare time and eventually reading became one of my favorite things to do.

After high school, my life has started to get busier and more stressful. I have started to read less and less. That is why I have set up a goal to read a book every month.

I made my list of books into an Excel Spread Sheet:

The books highlighted in green are ones that I already own, whereas the ones highlighted in yellow are ones I still need to purchase.

Reading is an extremely beneficial practice, one that we should all take part in. Although reading a book each month shouldn’t really be that hard, I think it is the perfect place to start. Feel free to join me on my journey to more knowledge!

Has reading benefited your life? If you read consistently, how do you keep the habit going? Any books that aren’t on the list that I should consider reading?

Let me know in the comments!