Mindfulness ‘how’ skills teach us how to practice our ‘what’ skills.
These skills will help you learn how to steer your mind away from judgements, be attentive to what you’re doing in the moment (choose one thing at a time over multitasking) and choose actions that are effective in moving you towards your goals.
There are three sets of ‘how’ skills:
1. See, but don’t judge
The first ‘how’ skill teaches us to take a non-judgemental stance on things. As we have discussed, the mind is constantly judging situations, thoughts, emotions, and others’ intentions. The problem with this is that our judgements are often biased and inaccurate, which can land us in trouble. For example, misinterpreting someone’s intentions in a negative way can lead to unnecessary anger and conflict.
Often, our judgments are either overly positive or overly negative. Being non-judgemental does not mean trying to change a negative judgement into a positive one. It also does not mean trying to achieve balance in your judgments. Instead, this skill encourages you to try and drop judgements altogether.
Here are some ideas for how you can practice ‘seeing, but not judging’:
- As you engage with the ‘what’ skills, stick to the facts and avoid evaluating or assigning meaning to things
- Acknowledge whatever shows up in the present moment (including discomfort or conflict), but don’t judge it
- Accept each moment as it comes, without trying to change it in any way. This includes situations that are uncomfortable, difficult, and not how we’d like them to be
- Describe a situation in detail and write it down on a piece of paper. Next, go through what you’ve described and circle any judgements or non-factual information that you have included. Put a line through these sections, anything that is left should be factual. This exercise will help you become more aware of your own tendency to judge.
Be gentle with yourself as you learn this skill. You will slip up along the way, this is normal and to be expected. Whenever you notice yourself judging something, simply remind yourself to remove these judgements and use this as an opportunity to practice this skill (in other words, avoid judging your judgements!).
2. Set your focus
The second ‘how’ skill teaches us to set our focus on the present. The aim here is to attend to one thing at a time, rather than dividing our attention between several tasks at once. You may have heard the term ‘multitasking’ before, which refers to doing multiple tasks or activities at once. The present skill encourages the exact opposite of multitasking.
The benefit of being able to set your focus on one thing is that you will learn to be less distracted by your thoughts, emotions and worries about the past or future. This leads to enhanced performance, productivity, and greater enjoyment right now. As we have discussed, intense anger can often linger and interfere with other aspects of life. This skill will help you to separate from your anger so you can focus on other things.
Here are some ideas for how you can practice ‘setting your focus’:
- Consciously focus your attention on the present moment. Whenever your mind wanders to other things, gently redirect it back to whatever is happening now. Avoid getting carried away by distraction. This is not something you do a couple of times, rather you’ll need to make this choice repeatedly
- Avoid multitasking and do only one thing at a time. Notice and resist the tendency to want to do several things at once and redirect your attention to the activity you’re doing now. For example, if you’re having a meal, simply focus on eating. If you’re exercising, simply focus on exercising. If you’re having a conversation, simply focus on that conversation
- If you notice yourself multitasking, reset your focus on one thing only. You might need to prioritise your tasks and do the most important thing first. Although it may feel like you’re not getting enough done, this way of approaching things is often more productive.
3. Do what works
The third and final ‘how’ skill teaches us how to act to manage situations effectively. It encourages us to let go of what’s ‘right’, and instead focus on doing whatever is needed to achieve our goals. When we get caught up in judgements about what’s right or wrong, we often become paralysed instead of doing what works. Ultimately, this can prevent us from reaching our goals.
Anger can often drive people to act in unhelpful ways, just to prove a point or maintain power. For example, say you’re angry at your partner for not helping you pack up your house ready to move. In response, you might refuse to pack boxes too. This just adds to your stress because you still must move out on a certain date. Instead, doing what works would mean continuing to pack up the house, and addressing the issue with your partner in a more effective way.
Here are some ideas for how you can practice ‘doing what works’:
- Be aware of what you are ultimately trying to achieve. You must have an idea of what your goals are and what is needed to reach them. Keep this in mind in every situation and let it guide your action
- Practice accessing your Wise Mind to avoid being pushed around by emotion mind. Emotion mind can often get in the way of acting effectively and doing what needs to be done
- As a general rule, follow processes and procedures, even if you don’t agree with them. This goes for things like laws, school/workplace rules, and agreements you have with family and friends
- Let go of proving your point or needing to be ‘right’ and instead shift your focus to being effective.