How to Stop Overthinking Mindfulness
Mindfulness has something for everyone, even though it might seem unattainable or intimidating.
This episode is about how to stop overthinking mindfulness and how to infuse more presence into your everyday life.
How to Stop Overthinking Mindfulness
This is the third episode in our mini series on how to stop overthinking and really simplify wellness.
In this segment, we talk about what mindfulness really is, the benefits it has on our wellness, how wellness mindset blocks get in the way, and some tactical ways to infuse mindfulness into your life.
Today’s episode is about how to stop overthinking mindfulness.
Or if you don’t think about it at all, maybe how to infuse more mindfulness and more presence into your everyday life.
I’m so glad you’re here for this third and final episode in our mini series on how to stop overthinking and really simplify wellness.
Our first episode was how to stop overthinking meals, our second episode was how to stop overthinking movement, and then we’ll dive right into this third and final on how to stop overthinking mindfulness.
If you haven’t already, I want to invite you to take our free Wellness Personality Quiz.
It’s just a few questions, there’s no right or wrong.
It’s about knowing your personality when it comes to wellness, some of the mindset blocks that might be standing in your way, and then you’ll get a free resource guide that will give you tactical tips and suggestions to move out of those mindset blocks and find sustainable, gentle wellness.
Stay tuned, because at the end of this episode I’m going to give you a sneak peak at who’s coming on next week.
On what mindfulness really is:
Let’s talk about mindfulness for a minute here.
I think mindfulness is one of those things that sounds so unattainable, right?
What does it even mean? Does it mean I have to meditate for two hours a day, or become a yogi? We don’t all have time for that.
But mindfulness and mindfulness practices are actually incredibly simple and they’re often the missing piece in the wellness puzzle.
We often focus on food and then movement, but we forget about this other part, about our mind, about mindfulness, about the whole picture.
So what is mindfulness, anyway?
I love to use this definition from Dr. Leah Weiss: mindfulness is intentional attention.
It’s paying attention on purpose.
Think about that for a second: how often do you go through a whole day or a whole week without paying attention on purpose?
It’s so easy, life is so busy and distracting and there are about a million things pulling our attention in different ways.
Between multitasking and juggling all the things, it is just really hard to have intentional attention, or attention on purpose.
So mindfulness is really about presence and about not missing your life or the important things or the people in your life.
The other major plus when it comes to mindfulness and mindfulness practices is that you get so much benefit from them in such a little amount of time.
You don’t have to spend hours on stuff, you can practice what I like to call micro-mindfulness, or these tiny little pockets, and it has so many benefits.
Yes, more calm and clarity, but also impacts on sleep, mental health, and overall satisfaction with life.
Get out of fight or flight and into rest & digest:
Here’s the other really cool thing about mindfulness practices: they help you get out of fight or flight and into rest & digest.
You may have heard about fight or flight somewhere along the line, it’s your body’s stress response to something you perceive as a threat.
A fight or flight would have been really helpful to us back in ancient days to get us out of danger, but nowadays, our bodies respond to stress all the time.
Maybe that’s traffic, your kid having a meltdown, a really nasty work email, a fight with your partner, and many of us can spend entire days or entire weeks in fight or flight mode, super reactive with cortisol spikes galore.
And like always, this is not about shame or blame or telling you that you’re doing something wrong; this is a normal, natural part of the human experience.
But because our modern lives are so full of these stress triggers, some of us find that when we’re in that fight or flight loop, we can’t get out of it, and that has really damaging effects on physical health, mental health, and overall well being.
Maybe those stressors in your life are really big, an illness, something happening in your relationship, a move, loss of a job, or maybe they’re really small, just the daily stressors that add up over time and start to wear you down.
Our bodies crave and need to get out of fight or flight and into rest & digest.
We need to allow our nervous system to calm and reset, and one of the best ways to do that is with mindfulness practices.
I personally think that some mindfulness practices just seem plain unattainable, they seem like they’re going to take forever, or that you need to be some yogi on top of a mountain (which is fine and super awesome if that is you, but for most of us that’s just not a daily thing).
Maybe mindfulness sounds like a religion and you don’t want it to conflict with your spiritual practices, or maybe you just don’t know how to get into it in the first place.
I think that’s where the wellness mindset blocks come in, of perfectionism, all or nothing thinking, and comparison.
When we think about mindfulness, perfection might come up as that perfect yogi on a mountain or needing to go on a spiritual retreat or carve out time for a mindfulness class, and while all those things are amazing, if that’s your ideal and your perfect scenario but you’re not doing it because you’re not able to access that perfect option, then it’s time to rethink things.
All or Nothing
All or nothing shows up when it comes to mindfulness because we often think we have to do things for an hour at a time, so I have to meditate for an hour, or for half an hour, and that’s enough to keep many of us from trying at all.
And there are a ton of benefits from meditation that lasts a significant period of time, but most of us aren’t able to do it, especially when starting out.
So let’s not let all or nothing thinking get in the way of engaging with mindfulness or little bits of mindfulness throughout our day.
Because maybe micro mindfulness leads you down the path to meditation, or maybe it just allows you to be more present and get into that rest & digest, allow your nervous system to have a break and allowing you to feel calm and refreshed, ready for whatever life throws at you.
Maybe comparison creeps in here, you look at someone else and think you’re a scattered person who can’t possibly adopt mindfulness, or you follow somebody on social media (a place we fall into all sorts of comparison traps) who is a mindfulness teacher or yogi and you just think ”I’m nothing like them, that is not my life” and you may think that mindfulness isn’t for you.
But the thing is, it is for you.
It definitely doesn’t have to conflict with any spiritual or religious beliefs, it’s just intentional attention, it’s paying attention on purpose, being present for your life and for the people in it.
Tactical tips to stop overthinking mindfulness:
Just like the other two episodes in this mini series, I’m going to give you five tactical tips to stop overthinking mindfulness, to simplify it, and to actually start practicing it on a daily (or most of the time) basis.
1 | Start with breath.
You may or may not know this about me, but I’m a yoga teacher with a real interest in mindfulness.
And while I think yoga has so many benefits for just about anyone, I don’t even think you have to start there, and I don’t think you have to start with an intensive meditation practice.
I think that the simplest thing to do, is to start with breath.
We are breathing everyday, all day, whether we think about it or not.
This is at our fingertips everyday, we don’t have to buy anything, we don’t have to set aside time, it is the perfect place to start.
There are so many resources to get into breathwork: we’ve had Ashley Neese on the show already and she’s coming back in a few months to talk about breathwork
For now, just keep it super simple with three inhales and three exhales.
Set an intention for intentional breath once a day (maybe twice, maybe three times a day).
Find a quiet moment, maybe in your car while parked, at your desk while your kids are playing, having a cup of coffee, and here is all I want you to do: close your eyes, put your feet on the floor, and inhale through your nose, letting your belly fill with air, letting your lungs expand, and then exhale through your nose, keeping your mouth closed, feeling your lungs and your belly contract and let everything go.
And that is it. Do that three times.
Big inhale, feel the oxygen come in through your nose and nourish your whole body and on the exhale let that feel like letting something go.
The incredible thing about breath, is that it actually is activating the parasympathetic nervous system, the calm, the rest, the digest.
It can pull you out of fight or flight within a matter of seconds, total game changer.
And like I said, it’s free, you don’t need special equipment, you don’t need two hours, you can do this anytime anywhere.
And I think you’ll find that it works so well, so you can start doing this in the morning, the evening, during a break at work, during a walk at lunch.
And my favorite thing is that you can do this with somebody else, it’s a really great tool to use with somebody in your life who might need a little help calming and resting.
I do this with Elle every night, we do three big inhales together and three big exhales together, and it’s been pretty cool to see her take this.
She’s seven now, and she’s been able to use this in her life when she’s having a meltdown, not in the middle of the meltdown, but post-meltdown she’s learned that it can help her calm down.
She’ll tell me, “Mommy I need to take my breaths, I need you to help me take my breaths”, and together we breathe.
And it actually helps me because usually post-meltdown I’m in an activated fight or flight mode myself, and it helps me calm down and be with her in that moment, have some compassion for her, have some compassion for myself, and it’s just this little reset button that helps us get back on track.
I’m telling you, if we could all just start breathing a little more, it would go a long way.
Back to that intentional attention: just pay attention to the breath for three breaths.
2 | Get the tech out of sight, out of mind.
Most of us have goals about reducing the amount of time we’re on our phones, devices, social media, or other ways we’re distracting ourselves from being present in our own lives.
I think it’s really admirable and it’s probably a good idea for most of us to spend less time on tech, but often, the goals are unrealistic and we end up beating ourselves up for the amount of time.
Here’s a simple trick to help you be more present: put it out of sight.
I know, it seems too simple to work, but there’s a ton of research that says the harder you make something to get to, the less likely you are to use it.
We can use this information to our benefit to help modify our environment so that it’s a little harder to get to, we we aren’t so tempted, and when you reach for it it’s a reminder that you wanted to be more present today.
Don’t overthink this part!
It might look like you’re hanging out with your kid on the floor or having a conversation with your partner: take the phone, put it in another room.
You can still hear it if it rings, but it won’t be right next to you whenever your mind starts to get a tiny bit bored.
Another tip: put distracting apps in a different folder.
I call this my simplified screen, I put all my really tempting, triggering apps in a folder labeled “mindfully”, to give myself an extra reminder that I don’t need to open those every second, and then I take it off my home screen and put it onto the second or third screen of my phone so I have to actually take more steps to get to them.
And that makes a difference, by making it a little harder.
Creating those active barriers between you and the device go a long way to make it a little less tempting and you’re able to get back to that presence.
3 | Five minute morning.
I have a whole episode on my five minute morning and how instead of turning it into a morning routine that’s two hours, I really just take five minutes of micro mindfulness to just set myself up to have a little calm so I’m ready to take on the day.
I use my simplified morning journals to get focused.
My tip here: get an actual alarm clock.
If you’re using your phone as an alarm clock, the first thing you’re going to do in the morning is look at your phone.
It’s not a matter of willpower or that you’re unmotivated or lazy, it’s that you’re putting your phone next to your body so you’re going to look at it in the morning.
So don’t put your phone next to your bed, put it in another room and if you’re worried about getting a call in the night, turn the ringer up.
But we all lived with regular alarm clocks until a few years ago so we can all go back, put a normal alarm in your room, and move the phone out so it is not the very first thing you look at.
Start to think about this as a gift that you’re giving yourself, of a bubble of presence where you’re not going to be pulled in other directions by other people, and that you’re giving yourself, as well as the people in your life, that gift.
The phone is still going to be there, the news is still going to be there, and your emails and social media are still going to be there.
This is a muscle that you have to build because if you’re used to reaching for it and opening it up, you’re getting that little dopamine hit, and your brain is going to crave it.
It might feel a little uncomfortable, just give yourself a window to know that you’re really going to want your phone but that you’re just going to let your brain work it out, it will get used to it and you’ll learn a new habit.
4 | Five minute evening.
This is the same thing in the evening.
Come up with a phone or device curfew, I try for 8:30, sometimes it looks like 9:00 at the latest to give myself some downtime.
One of the things I like to do its a gratitude line, it’s not a whole gratitude journal, it’s just one line, and I think of something I’m grateful for that day (the smaller the better).
Those little micro gratitudes really fill up the pages, and over time I have this list of all the little tiny things in my life that I’m grateful for.
Having that tech-free bubble around my evening routine allows me to wind down and also allows me to be more intentionally present, to pay attention, to be present for myself, to be present for those in my life.
It allows me to get out of fight or flight because there’s a lot of things on my phone that trigger that stress response; putting it away, knowing that it’s going to be there tomorrow is such a gift that I give myself and is a core part of what I consider wellness.
5 | Pair it with something else.
One of the things my friend Kait Hurley, who’s been on the show before, has this move & meditate method.
She has online workouts and an app where you move your body and then spend some moments meditating.
What I love so much about this is that it’s pairing two things, maybe it’s something you already do and then you add another part on top so you know that you’re going to practice it.
It doesn’t have to be separate time when you have to find time and space, it’s just automatic.
Maybe you already have a movement or workout routine where you could add a little bit of meditation at the end, or a little bit of breath.
Or you can pair it with so many other things.
One of my favorite examples of pairing is when I turn my engine off of my car and take the keys out of the ignition, I take three deep inhales and three deep exhales.
It doesn’t have to be one more thing on my to-do list, it’s just automatic: when I take the car keys out, I take three deep breaths.
I really, really think mindfulness can be a game changer, can help you get out of that fight or flight stress response loop, to get you into rest & digest, activate the parasympathetic nervous system, and most importantly be present in your life, not missing those moments, and being able to pay attention on purpose.
It’s not going to happen over night or in one day, but as you work this into your daily life and routine, you’ll see it ripple across your life and even to other people, and it will start to really make a difference.
And here’s the cool thing: when you put all of these things together from our mini series, mind, movement, and meals, they all start to affect each other.
As you focus on one, each become easier.
And you end up with this constellation of wellness that makes your life better, that allows you to feel really good and help other people feel good as well.
Bottom line: stop overthinking it.
Trust yourself, you are your own best teacher, you’re not doing it wrong, and you’ve totally got this.
So let’s simplify.
Take advantage of what we know from the science and ancient teachings and embrace gentle wellness, because I know you can do this, I believe in you.
The five tactical tips to stop overthinking mindfulness:
1 | Start with breath– three inhales and three exhales, as often as you want, whenever you need it.
2 | Get the tech out of sight out of mind– the harder you make it to get to tech, the easier it is for you to practice mindfulness.
3 | Five minute morning– get an alarm clock, give yourself a bubble of no distraction so you can be present and set yourself up for success.
4 | Five minute evening– give yourself a phone curfew, again with that little bubble, practice a little gratitude, allow yourself some space before you go to sleep to reset and unwind.
5 | Pair it with something– pair it with something you already do, maybe it’s meal prep, maybe after movement, after meals, or when you pull your keys out of the ignition. When and then is a powerful tool that can help you insert micro mindfulness into your life.
As we end this mini series, I want you to remember that it all counts.
All the ways that you’re adding to wellness into your life everyday all add up (little or big ways), they all lead to wellness.
And doing it in a simple, gentle way will make you feel really good, will bring joy to the process, won’t leave you drained or depleted, because the last thing we want is the quest for wellness to make you ill.
I know you can do this and I believe in you.
Let’s get out of overthinking, let’s start simplifying, let’s take action, and let’s spread this message about what it really means to be healthy and this gentle-wellness revolution.
(Tune in next week when we’re talking to Kelsey Murphy about how to find your passion in 15 minutes a day).
Connect with us on Instagram @realfoodwholelife
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What You Really Need to Know About Mindfulness, with Leah Weiss
How to Breath for Health, with Ashley Neese
Mindfulness for the Rest of Us, with Kait Hurley
Online workouts from kaithurley.com