Most people have their heads filled with internal chatter. It’s that voice in your head that never seems to stop. Often, it goes something like this: “Oh man, I’m hungry. I better get something to eat. What time is it? Oh, it’s only noon. Too early to eat. I can hold on for another hour. I’ve been eating like a pig anyway and need to control myself better. One more hour and then I’ll be good. I can do it.”
Sometimes this discussion takes on a more insidious nature. People with low self-esteem often set impossibly high standards for themselves. The voice in your head compares your performance to this self-imposed standard and finds you lacking. So you end up constantly beating yourself down, and this can take a horrible toll on your emotional life.
Self-awareness refers to being aware of the chatter in your mind. This chatter is just like breathing. You can control it (to some degree), but if you don’t, it will just go on automatically. As you become aware of the voice in your head, you can learn to direct it.
With self-awareness also comes the understanding that you don’t have to take the chatter in your head seriously. Negative thoughts arise spontaneously, but it doesn’t mean you have to identify with them. You can just let them float away like a balloon in a wind. Just because there’s voice in your head that says you are useless, doesn’t mean you have to believe it or agree with it. It’s important to realize that only thoughts you identify with and pay attention to will stay. The thought will fade away if you let it.
Think of those thoughts as suggestions. You approve the suggestion by paying attention and dwelling on it. You disapprove the suggestion by withdrawing your attention. This is why nearly all meditation practices teach you to focus and control your attention.
Mindfulness, as simple as it may sound, can be difficult to put into practice without knowing where to begin. Below are a few exercises worth trying if you want to become a practitioner of mindful living (and you should). Mindfulness can be immensely helpful to people with acne who struggle with chain-reaction negativity, irrational thoughts, and harsh self-judgments. It can change the way you react to yourself and your acne, and change the way you view your life.
Mindfulness meditation is perhaps the best tool for building self-awareness. Sitting quietly and turning your attention inwards gives you a glimpse of what your brain is doing. The goal of mindfulness meditation is to observe the thoughts and emotions that arise as you sit quietly. Observe without trying to affect them. Think of it like watching planes near an airport. You are just lying there on the grass watching the planes as they come and go. You are not particularly interested in or attached to any particular plane. You just observe them as they fly in and out of your view. That’s how mindfulness meditation goes: you watch in a detached fashion as your thoughts and feelings come and go.
Meditation is like riding a bike: you can’t learn it from a book; you have to do it. So there’s no point in wasting too many words talking about meditation. Rather, I encourage you to find a free mindfulness meditation recording online, of which there are plenty.
Here are some sources:
- The University of California Mindful Awareness Research Center has shorter recordings ideal for beginners: https://marc.ucla.edu/body.cfm?id=22
- Meditation instructions at the audio section of buddhanet.net (These can be a bit long to begin with): https://www.buddhanet.net/audio-meditation.htm
- UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness has several guided meditations ranging from 5 minutes to 45 minutes in length: https://health.ucsd.edu/specialties/mindfulness/programs/mbsr/Pages/audio.aspx
A simple Google search for “free mindfulness meditation” will give you plenty more. There are also plenty of free and paid meditation apps for all the major mobile OS platforms.
I suggest a 5 to 10-minute recording to begin with. Meditation can be frustrating initially, so it is better to start slow until you get over the hump. Also, 10 to 15 minutes is probably all that you need to build awareness and mindfulness. I’m by no means an expert on this, but I do think I’m reasonably aware of the chatter in mind, and I’ve very rarely meditated for more than 10 to 15 minutes at a time.
I also recommend you start with a guided meditation. You will find your mind wondering as you meditate. Without being prompted to direct your focus back to your breath, it’s very easy to get lost in your thoughts – which would defeat the purpose of the meditation session.
Awareness building as a part of daily life
Sitting meditation is probably the best way to start cultivating awareness and mindfulness, but it’s not the only way. Once you are familiar with the process, you can turn any moment into centering, awareness-building exercise. I rarely do sit down meditations anymore. Instead, I take some time every day to cultivate present moment awareness and mindfulness. Here are some examples:
- Spend some time commuting every day? Instead of spending that time on Facebook, why not take 5 to 10 minutes to observe your breath and what goes around you. Just watch as life passes around you. Notice the people passing by, without paying attention anyone in particular. Notice the thoughts that arise, and then let them go.
- Beautiful day outside? Go to the park or in nature and try walking meditation.
- Doing the dishes? Do them slowly and with purpose. Notice how the water and soap bubbles feel on your skin? Act with awareness and purpose. Pay attention to your hands as you scrub the dishes.
My point is that cultivating awareness and mindfulness doesn’t require some formal activity. And it doesn’t have to take extra time from your life. You can turn almost any activity into a moment of awareness and mindfulness. The only thing you have to do is.. well.. do it.