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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Mindfulness - The calendar method

DafneCholet, Flickr

When this mindfulness project started, some 10 weeks ago, I didn't quite know where it would take me, but I knew I had to make it concrete. Mindfulness can be quite the abstract concept, but I wanted my quest to be anything but abstract. Apart from the regular practice of meditation, I felt that I needed something tangible, some kind of "tool" to keep track of my progress in the field of mindfulness.

I was looking for something simple, effortless, not time-consuming. 

I looked at my calendar - the traditional, paper version of it. 

And I began thinking of the things I would like to keep track of.

There were mostly two: my physical state, and my mental state.

So on January first, I began putting the "daily face" on my calendar. At the end of each day, I would draw a simple emoji: A smiley face meant my mood had been mostly good, a neutral face meant my mood had been okay, and a frowning face meant my mood had been mostly negative (e.g. significantly sad, agitated, or irritable).

To account for my physical well or ill-being, I used a color code: Green meant no physical discomfort, blue meant moderate physical discomfort (e.g. soreness, headaches, digestive issues and the like), and red meant significant illness - red would mean, for example, that I had to take a full day off. (Knock on wood, no such day yet, even if migraine has forced me to change some plans.) 

Out of curiosity, I also kept track of the days I did meditate, of whether or not I had exercised, and where I was in my menstrual cycle. On my "not so good days", I added some additional information such as the weather, any particular stressful events, and whether or not I had certain foods which I had been suspicious about.

I am still writing on my calendar daily. All in all, this new habit only takes up a few minutes every day, and that time is very well-invested: After one month, I was already making interesting discoveries. After two, I could see trends emerge. Now well into the third month, I can almost anticipate some of the patterns

Using the "calendar method" allowed me to discover (or to confirm) the factors that influence my physical and emotional well-being. It was great news in two very different ways:

Factors I have control over: By knowing precisely what is good and not so good for my levels of well-being, I can tweak things, and trust that I will feel better. I am taking responsibility. This is empowering.

(Depending on your profile and specific issues, examples might include the impact of exercise, water intake, meditation, sleep, screen time, social interactions, etc. on your well-being, as well as food-related sensitivities and other reactions to your environment. In all those cases, if you can do something about the causes, you might as well take the bull by the horns to ensure your optimal well-being.)

Factors I have no control over: By knowing that some external, uncontrollable factors also have an impact on my well-being, I am less taken by surprise, and in turn, less frustrated - I accept the situation with more serenity instead of fighting it (or worse, self-loathing). I cut myself some necessary slack. This comes with a new respect for some of my vulnerabilities.

(Depending on your profile and specific issues, examples might include weather-related flare-ups, PMS and other hormonal symptoms, as well as feeling tense or down after a rough day. If you can do nothing about the causes, you might as well face the consequences with a zen attitude.)

It has only been ten weeks, but it already qualifies as an eye-opening journey, and I cannot wait to make new discoveries!

Mindfulness this Week

Have you noticed any trends by paying attention to your well-being and by focusing on the possible causes? What are you doing about it?

Be part of the process: 

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  1. As it relates to the calendar, all information is good. The more you have, the more you establish patterns and adjust. I always refer to my workout journal as.... my workout journal. Duhr. But I track more than my workouts. I track my eating, my sleep, my mood, and whether or not I meditated, walked my dog, etc. As you said, from this, patterns can be identified, but only if you are looking for them -- and that is the key.

    1. Fantastic! I am glad you get something out of tracking your life. :-)

  2. That's a good idea. Like the star calendar chart my fiends use to work with their kid's daily behaviors. It works well for them!

    I've been using a calendar for many years to list and grade my significant activities for each week.