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Mindfulness coach: 5 mental shifts that will instantly enhance your life

Pictured: The author in New York
Photo: Oneika Mays

With everything going on these days — an economic fallout, election looms and a global pandemic — protecting your mental health is one of the most important things you can do.

How people respond to adversity is something I've studied and observed for 10 years as a mindfulness coach. And lately, friends and family members have been asking about how they can cope with today's emotional challenges.

My simple advice is always the same: Get rid of the bad habits holding you back. Here are some positive mental shifts that can instantly enhance your life:

1. Adopt a 'can do' mindset.

I started doing yoga 15 years ago, and I'm grateful for how much it has helped improved not just my physical health, but also how I approach obstacles. 

Whenever I encourage people to try it, they'll often tell me, "I've always wanted to, but I can't because I'm not flexible at all!" This mindset holds us back in so many ways, because we're essentially thinking: I'm not [X] enough, so I can't do [Y].

Achieving goals is all about making adjustments in life, the same way we adjust different parts of our body during yoga. When you take a moment to look at things with a "can do" mindset, you'll achieve things that you previously thought were impossible.

2. Embrace the uncomfortable things.

A mentor once said something that changed the trajectory of my life: "You can fake comfort, or you can change. But you can't do both." 

That really stuck with me.

When things got bad, I used to do everything in my power to avoid talking about my feelings. But I soon learned that you can only run from them for so long; eventually, you'll have to face reality.

On March 16, I was sent home from work as part of quarantine orders. I remember feeling very scared and worried about what was to come next. But forcing myself to sit quietly with my thoughts — even though my mind was racing with fear — helped me regulate my emotions.

Little by little, I felt more connected and more able to navigate through the discomfort of uncertainty. 

3. Develop a desire to help others.

Socrates said, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

Years ago, I managed a bookstore in New York City. A blizzard hit and traffic was at a standstill, with busy streets suddenly coated in snow. A customer called asking if it we could hand-deliver a few books to her friend.

The weather was terrible and it wasn't something that we typically did, but I decided to do it anyway. When I arrived at her door, the woman's eyes filled with tears of gratitude. She told me she was going through a divorce and recently diagnosed with cancer. Those books were a refuge for her.

Little acts of kindness have a ripple effect, and those ripples can create a wave of positive change in the world that might just save us all.

4. Avoid social disconnectedness.

There's a African proverb that goes, "If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together."

The people I've met through yoga classes and meditation retreats have been an incredible source of comfort during my darkest moments. Even when I go weeks without seeing friends and family, I'll reach for the phone and call someone to check in on how they are doing.

This pandemic feels like a journey with no end in sight. The way we work and relate to each other has changed significantly. People are feeling more isolated than ever. But I believe that the path to a more fulfilling life is through connection and community.

5. Be present.

Being mindful and present helps us get through turbulent times and come out stronger, with a clearer sense of meaning and purpose.

So many of us tend to go through our days on autopilot, which is essentially the opposite of mindfulness. We may also fall into the trap of "distractions," like buying a ton of things we don't need or binge-watching Netflix for days. While these actions can provide instant gratification, they are often very dangerous.

Mindfulness requires constant awareness and attention to the things happening around us. Time is a precious commodity. Don't mentally rush through it or wish it away. Savor the moments, even the ugly and unpleasant ones — because they, too, will pass.

Oneika Mays is a yoga and mindfulness coach. She has used her years of experiences to support social justice non-profits, facilitate workshops and lead retreats. Oneika can be seen most recently on the TBS series "Lost Resort." Follow her on Twitter.

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