During one of the Friday groups, I promised I would write a blog post on this topic.
But first, Steve and I wanted to wish everyone a happy new year.
The beginning of the new year is always fresh and exciting with the energy of new beginnings. I encourage you to harness this potent energy. Rather than coming up with a “resolution,” consider coming up with a new year’s theme. A resolution tends to fade after a few weeks (or days!), but a mindfully chosen theme is something you can carry with you going forward. What will yours be?
Now onto the blog post…
“What happened?” I say. The client responds, “I don’t know. I just didn’t care. I ate and ate and ate, and just didn’t care at all.”
This exchange is in response to what is often described as a “bad week.” In our program we don’t really believe there are “bad” weeks or “good” weeks. There are just weeks– made up of moments– that add up to the evolving process of mindful living.
But people often conceptualize their experience as bad or good, rooted in the “dieting mentality” that pervades our culture. Bad means they ate too much, ate junk foods, and/or gained weight. Good means they felt motivated, ate whole foods, worked out, lost weight, etc. The whole dualistic division of bad vs. good leads to the first (and fundamental) way to handle the “I don’t care” moments:
1. Drop the idea of bad and good. These are just concepts—mental constructs of either/or, black/white thinking. Either/or thinking is exactly what sets you up for throwing your hands up in defeat and declaring that you don’t care. Let’s face it: bad/good thinking is exhausting. It depletes your joy, and keeps you on a roller coaster of feeling virtuous and pure vs. feeling bad and ashamed. It is time to drop it. This way of thinking has no basis in reality whatsoever. It comes from a dieting mentality of restriction and deprivation. Real life is both/and rather than either/or. Here’s where mindfulness comes in. The more you are tuning into your thoughts and mental states, the better you will be at identifying unhelpful thinking patterns, and shifting them.
Action step: Develop a daily mindfulness meditation practice so you can become better attuned to your thinking patterns.
2. Develop a daily mindfulness meditation practice during times when you are not feeling depleted. Meditation isn’t something you learn, put on a back shelf, and then bring out when you are having a bad time. It should be a habit, just like brushing your teeth. The best time to develop this habit is when you are feeling lower levels of stress.That way you build it and strengthen it like a muscle.
It is part of the human condition that we have days when we feel energized and ready to conquer the world, and days when we want to hide under the covers. Most days are somewhere in the middle. But we need to develop our daily mindfulness practice during the times when we generally feel good. This may seem counter-intuitive because if you are feeling good, you may not be motivated to do anything different. But this is deceptive.
When we have “I don’t care” moments, the momentum of our daily practice will help us through. We may have fewer “I don’t care” moments, they may be less intense, or we might be better able to handle them effectively when we have a daily meditation practice in place.
I don’t make a lot of guarantees, but I’ll guarantee this: If you wait until the acutely stressful times to try to meditate, your meditation will do little for you. In fact, it will be worse. You may conclude that meditation doesn’t really help much at all, and may give up entirely. A key way to handle the “I don’t care” moments is to rely on the accumulated habit energy of your mindfulness practice, which must be cultivated every day under conditions that are not acutely stressful.
Action step: Commit to a daily mindfulness meditation practice of two to three minutes a day no matter what. Link the practice to something you already do: like meditating on the train while you commute, or sitting in your car for a few minutes before going to work.
3. Develop a daily physical practice. According to the mindfulness traditions, the body is made up of energy. In tai chi, this energy is called “chi” or “qi.” In yoga it is called “prana.” This energy is the life force that moves through the universe, and the human body. You may be familiar with energy meridians, and the concept of “blocked” energy. The movements of tai chi, yoga, Aikido (the modalities we teach at our center), and other profound physical practices (such as acupuncture, acupressure, EFT tapping, dance, massage, etc.) are designed to move energy and release blockages. The “I don’t care” moments are not entirely mental. They can be the result of stagnant energy, and can be addressed by moving the body. At the very least, engaging in a physical activity can help to release endorphins, the body’s “feel good” chemicals.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dragged myself onto my yoga mat feeling highly stressed, exhausted, or depressed, and thirty minutes later after moving through yoga asana and breathing, feeling a major shift as prana moves through my body. This stuff works.
Again, if you wait until you are feeling low to engage in exercise, you will probably not be able to muster up the motivation to do so. The reason I am able to practice yoga during the hard times is because it is a regular practice. If you make physical practice a daily habit, it will be there at the ready for the “I don’t care” moments. All exercise is good, but in our program we prefer the mindful modalities because they combine mindfulness with movement. But a person needs to do whatever they feel most drawn to.
Action step: commit to a daily physical practice. Choose an amount of time that is feasible for your schedule, and commit to it every day. The accumulated habit energy of this practice will help lessen the “I don’t care” moments, and get you through those moments when they occur.
4. Enlist others in your journey. Come to our groups, work with us individually, join a supportive group of friends, get a weight loss buddy, join an online forum, take advantage of our offers of email/phone support. Whatever you do, don’t just rely on yourself. This has several functions. One is that it is harder to fall further down the “I don’t care” spiral if you are regularly touching base with others. When you are down, they are up, and vice versa. Helping others is also a great way to help yourself. Did you ever notice how much better you feel after you have offered support to another person? One thing I see all the time is that someone might have a few “I don’t care” days, but if they can get themselves to a group or individual session, things turn around. If they stay away, a vicious cycle develops where they feel worse and worse.
Another benefit of relying on others is that it makes the whole process sustainable. Communities develop, bonds form, and relationships happen. People become invested in each other. These benefits go far beyond weight loss, and expand to an overarching sense of real human caring that we all live healthy and happy lives.
Action step: commit to community. Make it a #1 priority to attend meetings, check in with your coach, get together with your support group, or whatever form of community you resonate with.
5. Inquire into the root of the attitude. Sporadic “I don’t care” moments are a normal part of the process. But if you find yourself not caring about your health more than you are caring, it may be time to look a little deeper.
Use the skill of mindfulness to get in touch with what you are thinking and feeling. What is going on in your life right now? How much is on your plate? When you feel like you “don’t care,” how does that benefit you?
Approach the situation with open curiosity, rather than judgement. Imagine the “I don’t care” feeling as a person, and ask it what it wants, what it is trying to tell you, or what it offers you. Write down your answers in a journal. Allow yourself the freedom to express anything, even that you really don’t care at all.
You may find that you are putting too much pressure on yourself, and the “I don’t care” moments are a message to lighten up. I worked with one client who was getting very down on herself for “not being mindful enough.” The “I don’t care” moments were linked to this pressure. When we discussed how mindfulness is a process that is compassionate—there is no “right” and “wrong,” the pressure released. Feeling like you don’t care can be a signal that your mindset is too intense or achievement-oriented, for example.
Action step: Become curious about the moments when you feel you don’t care. Do a journal entry inquiring into the root of this attitude. Keep an open curiosity and allow whatever comes up.
May everyone have a happy and healthy 2016!
Be sure to check out our new 6 week yoga series “Yoga for a Pain Free Body and a Stress Free Mind” with master teacher Athina Pride. It begins on January 9th.