Using Mindfulness to Maintain Motivation

By James Milford

The end of a mindfulness course is often a bittersweet experience. It is often accompanied by a sense of elation at having completed this journey together. There is a shared feeling. Words of enjoyment, appreciation and encouragement are imparted. Awareness of impending separation is tempered by urges to stay in touch and the hugs goodbye. The bond built over 8 weeks formed a cohesive unit, but then, suddenly, it’s gone. The group, the physical and cognitive support that has been a fixture of your week, scatters like the atoms of an out-breath into the ether.

There is often a burst of enthusiasm after a course. The desire to maintain a daily practice is high. Over 8 weeks the requirement of daily mindfulness practice shifts from a cognitive knowing of its importance, to experientially understanding its substance and worth. You can now empathise with Jon Kabat-Zinn when he says “making a time for formal practice every day is like feeding yourself every day. It is that important.”

But there will be challenges to regular practice, times when our motivation suffers. Maybe you have had a busy day and you just wanted to relax. Maybe the kids are demanding and on top of all your other responsibilities finding time simply eluded you. Maybe the myriad of time pressures from daily life just mounted up and you decided against formal practice for that day. This happens -- indeed it is to be expected. Life is busy and demanding, and from time to time our mindfulness practice will slip down the list of priorities. When this happens, we just set our intention to begin again the next day.

However, avoidance can easily become a habit. Research has indicated that many mindfulness practitioners experience a lessening of motivation once the formal structure of a course is completed, with many abandoning mindfulness altogether within a year of the end of their formal course. Various contributing factors have been attributed to this, including lack of time and diminished interest to missing the support and structure offered by the group.

So how are we to meet these real challenges and maintain our mindfulness practice? By using mindfulness of course! By tapping into the experiential and attitudinal qualities of mindfulness that were woven into the teaching of the 8-week course, you can explore your challenges and respond to them mindfully, getting practice back on track.

Acceptance

Rather than ignore or shy away from the fact that your mindfulness practice is suffering, open fully to this reality. Bring a sense of acceptance to the fact that you are having difficulties with motivation. Explore the sensations, thoughts and emotions that arise when you feel resistance to practice. By doing this you make the difficulties part of your mindfulness practice, exploring obstacles and giving yourself a sense of space in choosing to respond.

Non-Judgement & Compassion

Not practicing, can leave the door open for the doing mind to criticise ourselves for not practicing…….” I should be doing this”. Mindfulness practice should not be something else to give ourselves a hard time about. To avoid adding judgement to the fact that we are struggling with motivation, we can bring a sense of non-judgement and compassion to our reality. Recognise that motivation ebbs and flows, that it can be difficult to always find time and offer ourselves support. Recognise that you are human and that you are not striving for perfection. Let yourself off the hook a little.

Beginner’s Mind

Beginner’s mind is essential within mindfulness, but it has an elusive quality, particularly in applying it day to day. However, approaching things with beginner’s mind and a renewed sense of curiosity can be extremely helpful in restoring motivation to practice mindfulness.

We can revisit our motivation for practice. This has likely changed since first decided to attend a course so spending a little time engaging with our continuing motivation can be incredibly helpful. Perhaps you are being driven by a subtle striving or goal setting that is inhibiting your practice. Approaching this with a freshness and beginner’s mind could be how you reinvigorate your mindfulness practice.

Find Support

Finally, it can be helpful to open up to what has changed, what is missing. Research into continued mindfulness practice has explicitly and implicitly highlighted the importance of group support as key in helping maintain interest and mindfulness practice. The lack of structure, support and teaching offered in a group can feel like a loss, so re-engaging with group practice could be beneficial. You might want to deepen your practice with a retreat. Perhaps it is a once a month or once a week drop-in class that you need. Maybe it is more structured and regular. Just explore and see what works for you. It could make all the difference and keep you coming back to the cushion.

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MEDITATION:

Body Scan

RETREATS:

3-Day Mindfulness and Nature Connection Retreat

8-Week Interpersonal Mindfulness Course

Deepening Mindfulness Retreat Day

8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course

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