One Powerful Mindset Shift For Effective Mindfulness
“Wait a minute, Mom is deep breathing.” My kids know that one way I deal with stress, frustration, or difficult moments (and we are all well-acquainted with those!) is by breathing deeply for a moment.
As I breathe deep, I’m practicing mindfulness. I’m taking a moment to experience my emotions and then asking why I feel the way I feel. Next, I move forward with intention. Mindfulness is a powerful tool for finding inner peace, developing personally, and living intentionally. However, there is a mindset shift we must embrace in order for mindfulness to be most effective.
The mindset shift is this: “What I do matters.”
Because if we don’t believe that, no amount of mindfulness will make up for the lack of motivation we feel or the cloud that overshadows us in coming to decisions. We need to decide that how we feel and think about things and the actions we choose to take will actually make a difference. Although I don’t control other people, the weather, or countless factors in life, the things I can control are the most important. What I do matters.
Ways to describe this shift
There are several ways people describe this mindset shift.
For example, in psychology, this idea is often called having an internal locus of control. “A locus of control orientation is a belief about whether the outcomes of our actions are contingent on what we do (internal control orientation) or on events outside our personal control (external control orientation).”
As another example, people often reference this shift when talking about a victim mentality. Part of having a victim mentality is a belief that “other people or circumstances are to blame” for the negative things in life. In some circles, you’ll hear this referred to as self-determination, personal agency, self-reliance, or freedom to choose.
The Mindset Continuum
Whether or not it’s conscious, we all have some degree to which we believe what we do matters. Our belief lies on a continuum and can fluctuate. On one extreme of the continuum is a belief that we can control everything. On the other extreme is a belief that we can control nothing. Reality lies somewhere in between the extremes, and wisdom is determining that reality.
Thought-leaders across the centuries have taught this same idea.
Shāntideva, in the Bodhicharyāvatāra (written in the 8th century), said,
“If there’s a remedy when trouble strikes,
What reason is there for dejection?
And if there is no help for it,
What use is there in being glum?”
More recently, Reinhold Niebuhr said,
“Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.”
The empowering truth is that in the reality of what we can control lie all the things that really matter in the end, all the things that lead to inner peace and lasting happiness.
What hinders this mindset shift
In order to fully embrace this mindset shift, it can be helpful to think about what might cause us to hold onto the old mindset where what we do doesn’t really matter and we can’t really control the important things. Sometimes our present mindset is a result of childhood experiences, such as what kind of independence we were granted or how we were taught that our choices have consequences.
Over time, we build thought habits and patterns of interpreting the world. In order to shift, we may need to peel away false constructs, such as a victim mentality. This mindset can be a coping mechanism. Sometimes it might even be a necessary step in dealing with trauma. If this is the case, a mental health professional can help.
In moments of defeat, it is all too easy to slip into our “nothing I do matters” mode. It’s a way for us to release self-blame for our present perceived failure or prevent our having to deal with the aftermath. If we relinquish power, we don’t have to worry about it. Our mindset is protecting us. It can be scary to let go of the old mindset.
However, this mindset is also limiting us. If we are not responsible for our defeat, then we are also not responsible for our future success. With a new mindset, our options are endless.
Embracing the mindset shift that “What I do matters”
What we do does matter and how firmly we believe this comes down to a choice. I love how Viktor Frankl puts it in Man’s Search for Meaning: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
We can choose our own attitude about this mindset. Why we have built our current mindset is a complex question. However, the most important concept is that this mindset can change. We can dig into our beliefs and choose to shift.
As part of your mindfulness or meditation practice, consider where you are on this mindset continuum. Are you living in reality? Or are you hanging onto a coping mechanism, false construct, or unawareness? Then, the next time you practice mindfulness or seek to act intentionally, affirm that “What I do matters.” When you determine that what you do matters and then you decide that you want to do what is most loving, your world will change forever.
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