Our MBSR class wrapped up a few days ago. We spent the last session reflecting on where we were when we started and where we are now after eight weeks of intensive mindfulness training.
It’s very hard to quantify the benefits of a consistent mindfulness practice (although brain imaging studies are attempting to do so). In our group, participants talked of feeling more patient, handling difficult situations more effectively, communicating more clearly, and recognizing physical responses to stress earlier. But these qualitative experiences are hard to measure.
I’ve noticed a subtle improvement in my ability to concentrate, sustain attention, and maintain an even emotional keel. Nothing dramatic, but enough to make me curious about what might develop over time and to keep me plugging away at it. Daily meditation doesn’t bring me bliss or elevate me to a higher plane of consciousness. More often than not, I have to push myself to do it. Sometimes it’s boring. Just sitting and doing nothing frequently makes me wonder if my time would be better spent in a more obviously productive endeavor, like weeding the garden or writing a blog post. But I’ve continued to maintain my streak (272 days and counting) because a growing body of research touts the merits of meditation.
So what has mindfulness done for me?
Well, I’m pretty sure it’s making my manicures last longer. I’m serious. I used to be able to keep my nails polished for a day, maybe two at the most. I’d see a chip and would be unable to resist peeling it off until every nail would be ruined. But since I started meditating, my manicures stay intact for a week.
There’s actually some evidence basis for my observation. Mindfulness is being used as a component of treatments for body-focused repetitive behaviors, such as trichotillomania, nail biting, and skin picking, to develop impulse control. So it might be helping me resist the urge to pick at my nail polish.
My manicures also may be lasting because I’m actually waiting for the polish to harden. I used to feel so antsy while my nails were drying that I’d leave the salon after a few minutes, reach into my purse for my keys, and mar the finish before I even got into my car to drive home. Now I take the opportunity to practice observing my breath while I wait, sometimes for as long as half an hour.
And one other mindfulness lesson may be helping preserve my nails: the acceptance of imperfection. In my premeditation days, I’d see a slight chip and not be able to stand it. But now I can notice the flaw, cover it up with a topcoat to keep it from getting bigger, and let it be.
You may think the grooming improvements I’ve reaped from practicing mindfulness are trivial. After all, a long-lasting manicure hardly qualifies as a major quality-of-life booster. But if you consider the value of learning how to wait patiently, resist impulses, and accept what isn’t perfect, you might agree it’s much more significant than it seems.
Fellow MBSR classmates: What has practicing mindfulness done for you? I’d love to post your comments.
My last post described the many ways the compulsion of seeking reassurance can interfere with decision-making and overall wellbeing. The differences between compulsively looking for validation and carefully weighing your options are easy to spot if you ask yourself the following questions.
This isn’t a scientific survey. But if you answered “yes” to many of these questions, you’re probably prone to seeking reassurance. A careful, deliberate person might do research and even ask for other’s opinions before making a decision but anxiety wouldn’t be the dominant emotion. And doubt wouldn’t typically accompany a choice as it often does with chronic reassurance-seekers.
After having read this, you may be tempted to ask the people close to you if they think you use them to provide reassurance. If so, don’t bother to pose the question. You already know the answer.
If you’re prone to anxiety, you know how shaky it can make you feel—not just physically (that’s why it’s called “the jitters”) but also emotionally. When you’re stuck in a cycle of worrying, you start to question everything.
One common way to respond to doubt is by looking for reassurance. A person with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), for instance, may lock the door and then return again and again to check it, or jiggle the knob five, ten, or twenty times to make sure it’s secure. Or she may leave but mentally reenact her departure on her way to work to convince herself she turned the key and heard the latch click.
In the case of repetitive door-checking or any other ritual involving actions you can observe, it’s easy to see how seeking reassurance can become a disruptive compulsion. But other forms of compulsive reassurance-seeking are less obvious, though no less problematic.
Many reassurance rituals take place internally, as with the OCD-sufferer who tries to picture locking the door after she’s left the house. Mental compulsions also occur frequently with the so-called “repugnant” obsessions—fears of being a pedophile or a murderer, say. While such obsessions are an extremely common manifestation of OCD, people who experience them usually feel intensely ashamed and will go to great lengths to keep them hidden.
Incessant questioning is another typical reassurance ritual aimed at minimizing anxiety about uncertainty. It might take the form of constantly polling friends for their opinions about a romantic partner or repeatedly asking a colleague if the boss seemed annoyed when you were five minutes late for the staff meeting. The key words here are “constantly” and “repeatedly.” Asking for others’ opinions and feedback isn’t necessarily an unhealthy practice. But when the need for reassurance is driven by anxiety, getting someone else’s take on a situation is never enough to quell the doubt and the feelings of dread accompanying it.
In our age of infinite information access, it’s especially easy to indulge the urge to question. Have your friends gotten sick of telling you they think your girlfriend is cool? No problem. Just google “How do I know if my partner is right for me?” and you’ll find countless answers*.
[Caution: Don’t read this if you’re prone to relationship anxiety.] *My own search turned up, just for starters: 31 Ways to Know You’re In the Right Relationship, 10 Ways to Know if the Relationship is “Right,” Courage to Know When a Relationship is Not Right for You, Should I Break Up with My Boyfriend Quiz, How to Determine if You’ve Found Your Soulmate, and I’m Not Sure If I Want to Break Up with My Boyfriend.
For people with health anxiety, looking for reassurance online can be a particularly compelling ritual. Worrying about that suspicious lump? Ask WebMd! There are even sites where you can send photos of whatever ails you to be evaluated by a real doctor. (But, to be clear, I’m not recommending it.)
It’s easy to fool yourself into thinking you’re only being thorough if you’re in the habit of doing endless research before making a major life decision or even just a minor purchase. But anxiety about a wrong choice is often the driving force behind such indecisiveness. For those perfectionistic types, selecting a course of graduate study might involve looking into countless degree programs; taking the GRE, LSAT, and GMAT to cover all the bases; comparing employment statistics for different careers; going on dozens of informational interviews; and asking friends and family for their recommendations and advice.
If you feel you need to know all the options before making a decision, even a low-risk commitment like buying a pair of rain boots might set off the process of exhaustive research and advice-seeking.
I can relate. Even though I usually can decide with only a little hesitation about where to stay on vacations and which kitchen appliances to buy, I’m less confident when it comes to interior decoration. I confess to having recently wasted an entire afternoon searching for an end table after having uncovered the “25 Best” online design sites and looking at all of them. And I still haven’t ordered any furniture.
Seeking reassurance, whether through compulsive checking, mental reviewing, or information gathering clearly can get in the way of decisive action. So how do you know if it’s a problem for you or just an occasional annoyance? I’ll explain in my next post.
This blog is intended solely for the purpose of entertainment and education. All remarks are meant as general information and should not be taken as personal diagnostic or therapeutic advice. If you choose to comment on a post, please do not include any information that could identify you as a patient or potential patient. Also, please refrain from making any testimonials about me or my practice, as my professional code of ethics does not permit me to publish such statements. Comments that I deem inappropriate for this forum will not be published.