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How to Increase Self-Understanding? Use This Powerful Mindfulness Exercise

The beginning of self-understanding starts with mindful awareness of your world and how you respond to it, only then you can make responsible choices.“Why did I do that? Sometimes I don’t understand myself.” During a coaching session, has your client ever said that to you? Or perhaps you’ve felt that way yourself. If so, you’re not alone. Even though we live with ourselves 24/7, we don’t automatically possess total self-understanding. Just as it takes work to understand someone else, it takes time and effort to understand ourselves.

Oftentimes, we’re so busy and our lives and thoughts become so cluttered we get into a reactive mode rather than staying in a calm place of choice. This mindlessness makes us forgetful and causes us to feel separation from self, which creates a sense of merely existing rather than living a full and purposeful life. So how can harmony be restored? The answer lies in developing the skill of mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. explains that 

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

Our brain likes to give us shortcuts, so it saves energy. We do so many things automatically…from tying our shoes to conversing with our loved ones. And often those automatic responses can get us into trouble. We eat things we shouldn’t. We say things we regret. We react in hurtful ways. 

Our minds also like to tell stories about the future, the past, or the present; and these stories determine how we feel. It’s like there are movies running all the time in our brains, and we’re doing the voice-over commentary, adding our opinions and judgments. 

Mindfulness is the simple yet profound practice of bringing awareness to the here and now, without trying to change it. When you’re mindful, you stop automatic reactions and voice-over commentary. This enables you to give your full attention to what is actually happening. Finally, you get to experience the fullness and richness of the moment. This gives you space to make well-reasoned choices; therefore change becomes possible. As you practice an increased awareness of body, mind, heart, and soul, you’re fine-tuning yourself responsibly and conscientiously.

How mindfulness helps self-understanding grow

Before self-understanding grows, you must cultivate awareness of what’s really going on in your life (not what you imagine) and how you’re reacting to it. Mindfulness provides access to powerful inner resources that help you change the way you see and ultimately experience situations. You’re empowered to participate, as you work with what arises instead of trying to escape. You come to know yourself better.

Mindfulness gives you a wider range of options for influencing situations. For example, you can’t completely avoid stress. However, you can develop more adaptive coping strategies. You can stop reacting and start positively responding to stress. This helps you develop greater resilience in the face of everyday stressors.

The practice of mindfulness is a continual process that you can start right now and build on more fully tomorrow. Here are five mindfulness tips to remember…

  1. Practice mindfulness daily so you refine this skill before a crisis arises.
  2. Start where you are, not where you think you should be.
  3. Maintain a positive attitude.
  4. Be willing to remain open, attentive, and curious.
  5. Cultivate loving-kindness and accept what is, not what you’d like it to be.

Mindfulness connects the Mind with the Body thereby deepening self-understanding.

Mindful breathing is the simple act of checking in with the breath throughout the day, without judgments or opinions. Just observe the natural rhythm of each breath. Is it fast? Slow? Shallow? Deep? Given this attention, your breath will calm and deepen naturally. When your mind wanders, name and note the distraction and bring your attention gently back to your breath.

Now couple mindful breathing with mindful thinking to connect body sensations with your emotions. That’s the goal — get out of your mind and more into your body’s awareness.

For example, you’re angry and your breathing is fast, rough, and shallow. When you deliberately focus your attention on the emotion, breathing into it and through it, without trying to change it with your mind, the transitory, insubstantial nature of the emotion becomes evident. You release the tension that prolongs the emotion so that it cannot persist. However, if attention slips to the reason for the anger, then the emotion is sustained. Following the ebb and flow of that emotion on purpose, noticing the intensity, frequency, and quality, allows you to participate in the experience as if you were just a bystander without getting attached to it or trying to push it away.

Tie the Mindfulness Exercise Altogether

Choose one activity (drinking tea, journaling, driving to work, eating, exercising, washing dishes)  where you would like to be more present and mindful and chart your progress.

Mindfulness Exercise for _______________

Use a 10-point scale to chart your mood: 1= feeling centered 5=neutral 10=really activated

What is your mood before you do the exercise?

Do the exercise for a few minutes. 

Notice changes and write down what changed using sensory-based information like, “My heartbeat slowed down, “or “My breath deepened.” 

What is your mood after you do the exercise?

Don’t worry if not much happens the first few times you practice the exercise. In the beginning, the progress might be almost unnoticeable. Trust the process, give it a couple of weeks, and you’ll see results.

To take this exercise one step further, look for ways you can make each activity in your life more nurturing. As you continue to foster and reinforce new and healthier thinking patterns, you’ll make the world a better place as stability, balance, peace, and happiness grows and spreads to other.

When you join my upcoming Stepping Forward Program, you’ll see that Mindfulness is a foundational tool for living a full and meaningful life. I invite you to download my free Introduction to Stepping Forward and start today.


Thank you for the photo Kira auf der Heide.

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