Mental health isn’t a goal, it’s a practice. Something we could all benefit from doing daily, like moving and eating well. The brain consumes about 20% of the body’s energy, we can either guide that energy in a direction that serves us, or leave it to ruminating thought patterns that control us.In the past few years, I’ve tested out a number of practices. Many either didn’t do much for me or didn’t stick, but a few did and have had a profound impact on my life.Why is this important? Our minds have evolved to work, to think question imagine speculate worry, to make sense of the world and who we are in it. Our brains will use 20% of our energy whether we like it or not. When left unattended, this often results in mental loops that don’t serve us.I was a victim of this. A classic type-A—incessantly scrutinizing with a voice behind my eyes telling me what I ‘should’ be doing. Sometimes I was aware of the voice, other times I just listened to it blindly, began to associate it with my self-narratives and identity. Of course I’m a hyper-productive, formidable badass that doesn’t have feelings! Nope. The misalignment slowly caught up to me, and thankfully my 20s have been a steady stream of self discoveries that have brought me closer to clarity in what actually makes me thrive and feel good. But it took some time and trial and error to get here.I can attribute these discoveries to either a momentous experience (breakup, move, death, career change, psychedelic experience etc) or a mindfulness practice that stuck. I’d prefer to not have a momentous experience every day or week so I’ve put more energy into finding those practices that are both impactful and sustainable. Here they are,
Ah how very cliche I know but if you listen to nothing else, if you take nothing else from this please take this. I swear I started with the exact same mindset you’re likely feeling now. I saw it as another ‘have-to’ to fit into my day. The pressure was everywhere—I couldn’t listen to a podcast without the recommendation coming up or walk the streets of SF without seeing a Calm ad. I kept hearing about how great meditating was, but I told myself I couldn’t make time for it. The reality, like with most things, was that I made the choice not to because I wasn’t getting any immediate reward. I didn’t experience what everyone else was telling me I would. I spent many minutes sitting on a chair with my eyes closed wondering what the hell I was doing and when the magic everyone talked about would happen, as I thought about what email I needed to send or groceries I needed to order.This is the reality of starting to meditate. All I can tell you is pick the right style and keep doing it, and do it for real. The fact that Headspace and Calm have 5 or even 10 minute options is absurd, I’m still thinking about what I’m going to eat for breakfast at 5 minutes. You don’t hit meditation zone until at least 15 minutes, I’d argue 25-30 minutes but I know that’s unreasonable to ask people for just getting started.My practice is with Tara Brach every morning immediately after I wake up. I don’t look at my phone, I just get out of bed, brush my teeth, get my coffee going, and sit down cross legged with Bose noise-canceling headphones and meditate for 30 minutes using one of her guided podcast episodes.At night, I do 20-30 minutes of somatic meditation. It gives me a space between my day and sleep, and provides a much needed check-in and centering after a day of running around. I love Reggie Ray’s Somatic Descent.Two years ago, I’d be shocked if you told me I’d ever spend an hour or more meditating every day but I honestly can’t imagine life without it now, I get this itchy sense that I’m disconnected from myself and my body if I go too long without it. It’s developed a deeper sense of awareness and connection to myself and others.
I love this one because it’s so simple—you don’t need a cushion, incense, quiet room, or even 15 minutes. It can be done in a meeting, on a call, during a workout, before sleep, anytime anywhere, for just a few seconds. All it takes is pausing and taking a deep breath. Then another. Then another. Done. So good. I started doing this after using Spire for a couple of weeks—a wearable that buzzes when your breath is short or tense, indicating a higher stress level. I realized how often I was holding my breath in conversations, when reading, walking, etc and started intentionally taking a few deep ones when I notice I am. It immediately calms and brings awareness back to now.
This wasn’t any revelation, I’ve always been a workout fiend. Movement is my go-to release. But before it was an obsession with fitness, now it’s a form of therapy. I don’t need to get into all the health benefits we all know those. What might be surprising though is the minimal effective dose that makes a difference, just a short walk around the block can do it. On rest days, when I don’t have a workout planned, I still make sure to break up long periods of sitting with movement. 3 pm is a good time, at the afternoon lull when I realize I’ve been sitting at my computer for a few hours. Get up, stretch and walk, listen to music, a podcast or take a call, walk home. I usually return refreshed and clear-headed.
This is my newest practice and one I’ve found especially fulfilling. Have a simple ritual daily or weekly with another person or persons, that acts as a pillar in your life. Something that you can look forward to, a small dose of social connectivity in the form of a steady and unspoken agreement like having coffee with your partner every morning, Sunday FaceTime with your mom, or Wednesday yoga with a friend. Rituals provide a level of certainty, consistency, and control in our stress-filled modern lives where things often feel out of our control or in a state of constant flux.
Yep that's about it, I now take time to feel. I invite feelings to be felt. An odd thing to try and intentionally do, but this was an important shift for me. For years, I wasn’t good at letting myself feel. My narrative around that was that I’m strong, unemotional. But the truth was there were a lot of things I was unwilling to feel, so I’d simply quiet or ignore them instead. I learned that doing so didn’t get rid of any of the feelings, it shoved them into a dirty pile that would overflow eventually, and at times of extra stress or adversity when I’d least want to deal with them.Now, when I feel a new emotion wave, I look at it like an objective observer. I acknowledge it, I think what’s that? What’s going on there? Once it’s clear what it is, I give it a name Iike ‘anxiety’ or ‘fear’ and invite it in rather than push it away, listen to what it’s trying to tell me.I got this from Tara Brach, she uses the acronym RAIN: Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture. Do this with your feelings as they come along. It’s not ideal at first, sometimes really difficult and uncomfortable, but it’s better than smothering because I promise you they find its way to the surface in some way shape or form down the line.
Writing acts as both a release and a tool for me. A release to freely and privately brain-dump all my thoughts and feelings on paper and a tool to find clarity in them. It’s fascinating how I can sit down with an overwhelming amalgam of thoughts floating around in my head, start writing, and things just start to become crystal clear. It’s like pulling a single string out of a tangled knot. I don’t have a rigid practice around it, I just get this feeling of build up when I go too long without it—as if the thoughts pile like weights in my head and writing takes the load off. I keep a journal in the Bear app, an entry for every day. Sometimes I go a few days without writing, but I always go back and write about previous days in addition to current thoughts. Sometimes it’s just a few sentences about what I did that day, other times it’s a spew of introspecting, venting, or revelling.
We need to be mindful about our mindfulness—develop habits that act as guiding lights that keep us on track. On track to growth and fulfillment, away from negative mental loops and self-flagellation.
These practices are simple habits that have helped me, I share them here as ideas but everyone’s unique, every life has its own set of priorities and time commitments. Find what feels good, what fits, don’t force it. It isn’t homework, it’s your life.