The Problem with Mindfulness

In recent years, Mindfulness Practice has gotten a lot of attention. It is part of recommended treatments for everything: from anxiety and depression (see archived articles on this blog) to cancer and pain management. There are numerous physical and mental health benefits from mindfulness meditation, and it is practically risk-free, so what could be the problem?


Despite my obvious affection for it, I do take issue with how mindfulness meditation is sometimes approached, particularly considering its growing popularity. People hear how effectively it helps high stress--and other conditions--so they download apps or stream videos on YouTube and give it a whirl! Though these resources house fantastic guided mindfulness practices, this is often where the problem begins.

Mindfulness is defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn as, “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally”. When mindfulness meditation is practiced with the focus on relieving stress, it can frequently have the opposite effect. We start setting expectations for ourselves and for mindfulness, like:

  • “I should be able to do this, it’s so simple”
  • “This is supposed to be relaxing. Why don’t I feel relaxed?”
  • “This isn’t working. There must be something wrong with me”
  • “I’ve done this a few times now and I’m still depressed/anxious/stressed. I knew this wouldn’t work.”

When this happens, we lose sight of the fact that mindfulness is meant to be practiced with the sole expectation of being present in that moment, nonjudgmentally. That’s the goal. All the other things are wonderful, helpful, fantastic side effects.

So if you’ve given up on the idea that mindfulness could be for you, or if you’ve tried practicing mindfulness and thought it was ineffective, I urge you to reconsider.

Try starting with the sole aim of paying attention to the present moment, without judgment. It sounds simple but this goal is plenty lofty.

Supporting Grieving Loved Ones


Grief is one of those ubiquitous human experiences. We all feel it, no matter who we are or where we come from. Though it’s universal, it is also deeply personal, and every loss is uniquely mourned. This can make it extremely challenging to be the supportive friend or family member you want to be when someone else is grieving. How, then, do we support those we love when they experience a loss, be it a person, pet, job, health, relationship, or opportunity?


Ease the Challenge of Daily Functions

We often feel at a loss as to how to support others. We ask them how we can help but they’re not sure either and may not want to burden you. This is a time to take action and, within reasonable boundaries, roll up your sleeves and help out.

Here are some ideas of what to do:

Drop off meals that are:

  • Freezable
  • Healthy
  • Individually portioned
  • Within their dietary restrictions and preferences

Do simple, unintrusive chores, such as:

  • Laundry (stick to things like towels & bedding, avoid delicates/undergarments)
  • Sweeping and mopping
  • Washing dishes
  • Dusting
  • Taking out trash
  • Mowing, raking, weeding, shoveling
  • Grocery shopping for simple items (bananas, granola bars, toilet paper, etc.)
  • Helping care for pets.

Make or bring coffee/tea in the mornings (but not too early)


**Always let the person know what you’re doing and confirm they feel comfortable with that. When you’re there, offer a supportive ear without creating a feeling of obligation for the other person to talk.

Hold Off Judgment

The reality is, we make judgments about our friends and family members--as much as we try not to. We too often let these judgmental thoughts about how intensely and how long people “should” mourn certain losses that we forget our loved one is suffering and in need of support.

So here’s what you do:

  • Accept that your brain comes up with judgmental thoughts, even when it seems terribly inappropriate to do so.
  • It’s what you do with these thoughts that matter!
  • Remember, even if a loss seems less significant to you, it could be a major upheaval for others (the opposite can also be true!)
  • There is not a prescribed period of time for grieving
  • Just because it’s been a year, two, or ten since the loss, does not mean a person is “over it”.

If you truly are concerned about your loved one’s behaviors as they grieve, encourage them to seek professional help and support them as they do.

Acknowledge the Difference

Grief is, in part, a reflection of the lost relationship. This loss will be different from any other before and most definitely different from other people’s losses--even if situational similarities exist. It’s essential you acknowledge this for yourself (you may even need to verbalize this to your loved one).

It’s helpful to refrain from:

  • Bringing your past experiences of grieving up unless prompted or asked
  • Saying, “I know exactly what you’re going through”

Instead try saying something like

  • “There’s no way I can know exactly what you’re going through but I’m here to support you any way I can.”
  • “I know this hurts and I’m here with you.”

Don’t Forget

Remember birthdays, wedding anniversaries, anniversary of the deceased’s parting, or any other significant dates. These will likely be challenging times for your loved one. Verbalize that you remember and offer support.

Use the deceased’s name specifically

  • It can be difficult for a person to move forward in grief if they think their loved one will be forgotten.
  • We often refrain from using the deceased’s name because it feels gentler but for the grieving, use of the name can be a comfort
  • Be mindful that for some cultures or religions, use of the name of the deceased in the first year is inappropriate

Ask your loved one what feels right and best for them, then respect that.

Ask the Hard Questions

If you become concerned about how your loved one is coping, it’s important not to shy away from some of the difficult questions. You may be the only person asking them.

Ask if they have started to have thoughts about not wanting to exist

Ask if they have had thoughts about suicide or otherwise hurting themselves

  • If they say yes, ask if they have thought of a plan.
  • Ask if they have intention to act on the plan.
  • Remain calm and understanding, especially if they say yes.

Keep resources on hand to help you help them.

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • Texting Crisis Line: Text “Help” to 741741
  • Nearby hospitals
  • Mental health professional contact information

Above all, don’t panic. Remember it is not uncommon for thoughts of suicide to arise for a person who is grieving.


Just Be There

Enough said. Your friend or loved one may not want to be with you. They may not want to talk all the time. They may want to do their own chores, they may want to work, they may not want to leave the house. Respect any and all of these. Everyone grieves in their own way.

You don’t have to have the perfect words or know what to say. After all, there’s nothing you can say to bring back their loss.

It’s difficult and uncomfortable, but the most supportive thing you can do is just be there.

Be ready to listen and be ready to help.


January is here again, bringing with it the season of resolutions to change your life and be the best you you’ve always wanted to be! Sadly, these resolutions will likely unravel unceremoniously around February.


It’s not an optimistic outlook but statistically, most of our New Year’s resolutions are doomed before they begin. As a counselor, I of course have hope and faith that people really can change themselves and their lives for the better--in fact, I’ve helped many in that process! So why do I have such a dreary outlook at this so-called fresh start?

The problem with New Year’s resolutions is mostly about how we approach them and what the word resolution implies. Resolution is a firm decision to do or not do something and often it is seen as a way of solving a problem. This means that when we make a resolution, we are essentially planning to here-and-now completely change a large set of behaviors in our lives to solve a core issue. That’s quite a tall order! No wonder we fail year after year. That’s simply not how behavior change works.

In order to change behavior, there not only has to be knowledge or awareness that there is a problem, but there has to be a plan for how to approach the change. There must be an intense motivation internally as well as externally to follow that plan (meaning drive and accountability, respectively). A large part of behavior change is altering the way you think, creating new neural pathways, and minimizing a desire to cheat or quit.


So how do you set yourself up for success when you have that serious intention to make a big change in your life?


Change Wording

Words are important and more powerful than we can imagine. Consider revamping your typical “resolution” to be a theme for the year. Create a simple mantra-like word or short phrase you can repeat to yourself frequently. Maybe this will be your year of “Yes!” (taking chances and trying new things), the year of “No” (setting firm, new boundaries that will be healthy for you), or the year of “Healthy Decisions” (focusing on exercising, hydrating, and eating well in addition to losing weight). Whatever it is, make it meaningful to you and descriptive of the change you’re working on!


Goldilocks Specificality

You always hear about the importance of setting specific, measurable goals in order to achieve success. Being vague can set you up for failure but being too specific can as well! Your focus can become too narrow on severely specific goals that either guide you toward finding ways of getting out of it or encourage you to achieve at an unreasonably high cost. Work instead of having an area of focus, like the aforementioned theme, with some specific parameters. So create a map for change but leave yourself room to re-route when you encounter roadblocks.


Take Steps, Not Leaps

Many of us are aware that small steps toward a larger goal is a better way to approach change, but what does that actually look like? It’s thinking about the thing you want to change on a daily basis and refraining from getting ahead of yourself. Break your big goal down into smaller ones, and then smaller still, until you get down to a step you can take today. Each day, keep your focus on the efforts you can make now that will put you in more alignment with your chosen theme.


Set Rewards in Theme

Rewards are vital to success of a goal and should be celebrated at small and big milestones alike! Yay!

But here’s the catch. The reward you set should be appropriate for the amount of progress made and should not just be in alignment with your theme but be encouraging you to continue living your change.

For instance, if your goal is for better physical health, it will not be productive to set a reward of a cupcake. That’s allowing you to continue treating food as reward, celebration, or entertainment when you’re trying to retrain your brain to consider it sustenance. A more appropriate reward might be some new exercise gear that makes you excited about your next workout or a healthy cookbook that gets you jazzed about quinoa and kale!

If better money management is your aim, maybe treat yourself to a day of enjoying free entertainment in your city, like a walking tour, city-sponsored events, or an afternoon at the library with a thermos of coffee you made at home.

This is an opportunity to get creative and have fun exploring the fruits of behavior change and will help drive that inner motivation to keep up the hard work!



Find a friend or several people with whom you can share your progress, regresses, or stagnation. Choose people you can be open with and invite them to call you out if you’re making excuses and looking for ways to quit or cheat.



Overall, one of the best ways to help you make the change you want in your life is to really, actually want it--not just because January 1st came around again! If you think of your goal on December 28th, then that’s a perfect day to get started and start living your change. If on March 5th you realize you haven’t been living your theme for a couple weeks, get back on the horse right away while you ponder how to better navigate whatever roadblock you encountered in the future!