Archive of ‘Mindfulness’ category

Instead of New Year’s Resolutions, Try Intentions.

We made it! The year is wrapping up and we are looking onward to the clean slate and potential of a brand new year! No matter what the past year held, many are ready for a fresh start. We are in a season of optimism, hope, and commitment to change.

With the new year comes the New Year’s resolutions. I’m not a fan of the New Year’s resolution and I’ll tell you why in a moment. But first, a small disclaimer: I believe we mean well when we set resolutions. Looking at life with a fresh lens and committing to making changes we want to make is healthy. When we set resolutions, we mean to commit to ourselves that this is the year that things will be different. This is the year that we will do the thing, take the leap, start new, and close the gap between who we are and who we want to be. Believing in our highest potential is a gift to ourselves.

But here is the problem with resolutions: They set us up to fail. They are outcome-dependent, often designed to be pass or fail, black or white, all or nothing. We either did the thing, or we didn’t. Sure, it is good in the beginning. The first three weeks of January go smoothly. These new habits are hard, but we are adapting. But what happens when life gets messy or we get busy? We start to slip. Regression is a natural and expected part of the change cycle, but it sure doesn’t feel that way when the commitment we made to ourselves was do or do not. There was no try.

For some, resolutions work. I have heard a few stories about people who stuck with their resolution for the full year, reached their potential, and didn’t look back. But by and large, the experience with resolutions is this:

  • At their best, resolutions become something we feel that we “should” do, a pesky little reminder that we are not living up to the dreams we had for ourselves.
  • At their worst, resolutions can make us feel downright horrible. What messages do you send yourself when you are letting yourself down? I doubt any of us are hoping to highlight or strengthen our feelings of inferiority in the new year. Who wants that?

How do we preserve the part of resolution setting that is helpful while ditching the part that can create anxiety, feelings of failure, and inadequacy? I propose we set intentions instead. Intentions are a mental state that provide a framework for the future. An intention is not what we want to accomplish, but rather how we want to accomplish it. Setting an intention is like setting a reminder to yourself of how you want to live your life.

Intentions are different from resolutions because they are disconnected from any specific outcome. When we focus on how we want to live and the traits we want to embody, the decisions we make will align with our intentions. We will grow to choose what is best for us because we are rooted in honoring our ideal selves. Naturally, we will progress toward our goals.

In three steps, here is how you can get started on setting your New Year’s Intentions:

  1. Brainstorm. The answers to these questions will help you generate ideas and clarity for your New Year’s Intentions:
  • What type of a person do I want to be?
  • What words do I wish people would use when they describe me?
  • How do I want to move through life, work, and my relationships?
  • What do I want more of in my life?
  1. Refine. Now that you have a few ideas percolating, try plugging your intention into this sentence: “When given the choice, I will ____________.

Examples of intentions may sound something like this:

  • When given the choice, I will choose peace.
  • When given the choice, I will choose kindness.
  • When given the choice, I will love myself.
  • When given the choice, I will honor my body.
  • When given the choice, I will celebrate my progress.
  • When given the choice, I will be gentle with myself and others.
  • When given the choice, I will be patient.
  • When given the choice, I will listen to my intuition.
  • When given the choice, I will trust the process.
  • When given the choice, I will move with grace.
  • When given the choice, I will follow through on my commitments.
  • When given the choice, I will be present.
  • When given the choice, I will balance ease and effort.

Here are a few tips that may help:

  • Play around with the language. The language I suggest may seem foreign, and that is okay. Modify it it something that fits you.
  • Seek clarity and specificity. There is power is precision.
  • You can have more than one intention, but there is also value in hitting the nail on the head. It will be easier to remember and honor over time if you have one sentence to go back to.
  1. Remind. How will you remember your intention? I suggest writing it down in multiple places. A few ideas could be a note in your phone, in your planner, on your bathroom mirror, a post it note on the refrigerator, taped to your computer monitor at work or under your keyboard if you would like privacy. Writing it down where you will naturally see it will position you to gently guide yourself back throughout the year.

How does your New Year’s Intention compare to the resolutions you have set in past? I would love to hear! Connect with me at [email protected] or on instagram @counselingandyoga.

About the author: Katy practices at Austin Family Counseling where she provides relationship and couples counseling, and counseling to individual adults and teens navigating life’s many challenges.
Katy Manganella, M.A., LPC-Intern is supervised by Susan Gonzales, LPC-S, LMFT-S.

The Practice of Gratitude

With December marking the end of the year, it is natural to reflect on what kind of a year you’ve had. I encourage having reflections that include gratitude’s and appreciations; it is imperative reflect on the positive things that have occurred over the past year. Having that perspective on how you have seen growth and change, or maintenance and consistency, in a positive light can reduce stress and anxiety and make it easier to reflect with a positive outlook in the future.

I’ve heard the different perspectives of positive and negative described as a cloudy lens and a sunshine lens. I love the simplicity that provides as a visual because looking at your past year in a cloudy lens could lead to feeling sad, conflicted, and unmotivated. This cloudy lens has the ability to reach in all areas of life and makes it hard to find those sunshine moments. Looking through a sunshine lens doesn’t mean negative and bad things don’t occur, rather a sunshine lens means choosing to find something that you are grateful for, no matter how big or significant that something is. Examples could be feeling grateful that you survived your day, you went to a concert, hanging out with close friends, or ending your day with a nice hot bath.

To start a gratitude practice, set yourself up for success. Choose a time during your day that you can have 5 minutes to reflect. Once you have your daily time scheduled, reflect on one thing of gratitude. Just one. If you think of more, that’s great! But only start with one, so that way you feel encouraged to continue this gratitude practice. Once you feel like your reflection time has become consistent, then move up to listing three to five items of gratitude.

Practicing gratitude is like building strength in a muscle. It takes time and consistency to see growth and change in how your perspective shifts from a cloudy to sunshine. I hope with the reflection of this past year, you are able to find those moments that you truly appreciate and are grateful for!

Julie Smith MA, LMFT-A under the Supervision of Kirby Sandlin Schroeder, LPC-S, LMFT-S Senior Clinician at Austin Family Counseling

Definition of Mindfulness

Definition of Mindfulness

In my previous entry, I critiqued Mindfulness’s rise in the West. Today I will provide some working definitions of Mindfulness, explain its core principles and virtues, and enumerate some of the benefits of regular practice.

By: Andrew Wade, LMFT-Associate Supervised by Nadia Bakir, LMFT-S

By: Andrew Wade, LMFT-Associate
Supervised by Nadia Bakir, LMFT-S

Spiritual Context

While mindfulness meditation was conceived within the religious and philosophical context of Eastern spiritual traditions, it is not unique to them. Other faith traditions, including Judeo-Christian and Islam, as well as secular ones, have contemplative practices as part of their story too. Regular practice has shown to enrich and strengthen one’s spirituality, but there is nothing inherently religious in cultivating mindfulness.

Toward a Uniform Definition of Mindfulness

There is little consensus regarding its definition, however. John Kabat-Zinn, an author and advocate of the mindfulness movement in the West, defines mindfulness as “maintaining a moment by moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.” Another leader in the field and the Education Director at U.C.L.A.’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center, Diana Winston, defines Mindfulness as simply, “paying attention to our present moment experience with openness, curiosity, and a willingness to be with what is.” These definitions are similar, but Diana’s includes a more explicit intention in approaching practice, in naming curiosity and openness as defining features.

A common thread tying together all definitions of mindfulness is that it does not endorse any particular modality of experience; rather it embraces the totality of existence, from the simplicity of the breath, to the most complicated thought. Mindfulness is about opening up to experience – to connecting with the vital force of existence within us and without. It purports that all experience is valid and real; we observe it without judgment or critique or rumination.

How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation

How do we do it? Begin by setting an intention. You might say, “Today I intend to focus my attention on the breath.” With more practice, you might intend to cultivate a particular virtue of Mindfulness, such as forgiveness, generosity, or loving-kindness. Practice in a quiet room on a comfortable chair or meditation cushion where you will not be interrupted. Sit with an upright posture but not so erect you cannot relax. Close your eyes and rest your hands comfortably on your lap. Use your breath to anchor your experience. Feel your stomach expand and contract, or focus on the sensation of the air traveling through your nostrils as you inhale, and subtly grazing your lip on the exhale. When thoughts or emotions or sensations arise, notice them, and gently invite yourself back to the breath. No matter how compelling they seem, thoughts and emotions are temporary, and do not reflect the totality of who we are. They are merely waves atop an ocean of near infinite depth.

Why do this? This is the training ground for the real world. A disciplined, consistent practice on the cushion facilitates a deeper connection with your breath and increased awareness of your immediate experience when navigating the complexity of life.

Mindfulness in Everyday Life

A concrete example may bring clarity. You drive by a restaurant where you once had a heated argument with your partner. When you see it, you are reminded of the argument through an image that pops in your head of the two of you yelling at each other and you are overwhelmed by the memory. The common response is to think about that image and relive the injustice and pain they inflicted upon you, and begin to consider ways of seeking retribution. You might feel guilty for these thoughts or ashamed of your behaviors. Your experience narrows as you feel trapped by a familiar story of powerlessness and anger.

Alternatively, you could approach this situation mindfully that might fundamentally shift your experience. By using the breath as an anchor, you approach the restaurant with openness and curiosity. First you might feel a wrenching sensation in your stomach, followed by an increase in body heat and heart rate, and a sense you are feeling angry, and then an image of the argument appears in your mind’s eye. You note the bodily sensation, emotion, and corresponding image as they happen by remaining grounded in your breath; you name each as it arises, “gut-wrenching, heat, emotion, image,” without attaching a story or judgment about them. In doing so, you maintain an open field of awareness in which new experiences may arise, including compassion, generosity, and forgiveness.

I invite you to take twenty minutes a day to practice Mindfulness meditation for an entire week. After each sit, write down common themes or challenges in your practice and see how they change over the week. You will learn something everyday. You can do it!

Definition of Mindfulness


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