Mindfulness makes you calm (and other myths)

Spoiler alert: mindfulness is not about being calm!

It’s not about making your thoughts go away.

And it doesn’t always feel pleasant.

(But you should do it anyway)

This week I had the opportunity to do several interviews online. I got a chance to talk about mindfulness for parents and for preschoolers (and the people who love them). During each interview, the same question arose: what do people get wrong about mindfulness?

So, here is my take on the most common myths and misconceptions:

MYTH! Mindfulness is about being calm/having no thoughts:

  • Mindfulness is not about reaching any particular state, calm, blank, or otherwise. It’s a process: seeing what’s alive in the body and mind and consciously acknowledging the moment as it is. Calm can be a by-product because we get some space from our immediate reactions and we practice patience and acceptance. If we go into mindfulness expecting total serenity or zero thoughts, we’ll usually be disappointed. But if we go in accepting whatever arises and being open to however it feels, we’ll be okay regardless of what comes up.

MYTH! Mindfulness means sitting still:

  • While we can practice mindfulness in a fixed posture and it can be helpful to practice in quiet, relaxed conditions; mindfulness can be done anywhere. The goal of mindfulness isn’t to be able to sit still but to be more present, focused, and kind in the real-world. 

MYTH! Mindfulness takes a lot of time: 

  • Like any habit, the more we practice mindfulness, the more automatic it becomes. But those practices can be as short as a single breath or the time it takes to feel the sun on our faces. It’s more about repeating short moments of awareness again and again than sitting for hours on end. 

MYTH! Mindfulness will always feel nice:

  • Sure, it happens sometimes. You’ll be practicing and feel totally connected and able to just watch your experience without getting caught up in it. And yet, a lot of the time, the only thing you notice is that your back hurts or that you’re tired or that this feels silly while you have so much else to do. Just like with calm, if we practice just to feel nice, we will usually be disappointed.

MYTH! You’re doing it wrong when it feels hard:

  • This one is huge! We think we’ve got it when it feels good and we are failing when it’s hard. Nope! As long as you are noticing what’s happening, pleasant or unpleasant, you are being mindful. In fact, you can’t actually do it wrong at all! Yes, it feels nicer when it’s easy or when you happen to feel calm. But it’s just as powerful to practice when everything feels chaotic or messy.

And here are a few just for parents:

MYTH! Mindful parenting makes us doormats:

  • If mindfulness is all about acceptance, does that mean I have to accept my kid hitting his brother? Of course not! Mindfulness is about being present so we can choose the appropriate response to any stimulus. As caregivers, we still get to set rules and boundaries and enforce them. 

MYTH! Mindful Parenting is going to make the whole family happy all the time

  • Just as with the myth about calm, mindfulness is not about reaching a particular state. No one is happy all the time! Instead it’s about being more accepting to all emotions and finding more peace with whatever is going on.

What have you noticed as you practice?