- I don’t have the time to practice mindfulness.
- I would like to meditate but I usually forget.
- Meditation is too difficult. My mind always wanders.
When I survey participants in my mindfulness programs, these are the three most common mindfulness obstacles people report. I say “obstacles” because these are hurdles that get in between you and your mindfulness practice. But, you can overcome them. In fact, character strengths can supercharge your meditation practice.
How might you use your highest character strengths – called signature strengths – to overcome the obstacle?
In the structured program, Mindfulness-Based Strengths Practice (MBSP), I refer to this idea as fostering “strong mindfulness.” This means that you are using your character strengths to assist you in your mindfulness practice.
Here are 3 steps to make this happen! You’ll see that step 2 offers one example of how you might tap into each of your 24 positive personality qualities to help you stick with your meditation. These ideas apply to most mindfulness practices – breath meditation, walking meditation, and so on.
Step 1: Choose one of your signature strengths.
Step 2: Find the right “fit” with your strength below:
- Creativity: Practice a variety of sitting postures, different ways to follow your breath, and alternate paths for managing mind wandering.
- Curiosity: Never stop exploring what is rising and falling in your present moment.
- Judgment/critical thinking: Investigate distractions that arise in your mind for several seconds, before returning to your breath.
- Love of learning: Merge mindfulness with a meditation reading.
- Perspective: Merge mindfulness with a philosophical reading.
- Bravery: Keep challenging yourself! Gently challenge your body positioning (e.g., how you sit, how you cross your legs), breath with muscle tension, face inner discomfort, and challenge yourself with the location of your practice, e.g., with different types of weather, in loud and quiet environments.
- Perseverance: Challenge yourself at the onset of each meditation period to overcome any obstacle that arises, e.g., mind wandering, sounds, body tension, etc.
- Honesty: See each meditation experience as an opportunity to break through at least one internal blind spot to see yourself more clearly.
- Zest: Merge sitting meditation and mindful walking (e.g., walk, then sit, then walk).
- Love: Offer up each meditation experience as a loving dedication to someone alive or deceased; consider choosing a different person each time.
- Kindness: Weave in compassion practice (self-compassion and compassion for others) in each of your meditation practices.
- Social intelligence: For each meditation period, mindfully reflect upon those who are suffering; empathize with the sufferer.
- Teamwork: Practice meditation with another person or as part of a meditation group or spiritual community.
- Fairness: Practice offering benefit “to all beings” on the planet during your meditation (this include human, animals, plants, and other organisms).
- Leadership: In preparation for each new meditation period, organize a step-by-step structure that you’d be willing to follow.
- Forgiveness: Before each meditation, spend time deliberately “letting go” in which you breathe out and release tension, stress, blame, and defensiveness.
- Humility: At the onset of your practice, remind yourself of the impermanence of life as you reflect on your mortality and the mortality of those you love.
- Prudence: Closely adhere to every standard meditation instruction in your practice, e.g., posture, airflow, placement of hands.
- Self-regulation: Follow a disciplined daily structure – same day, same time, same amount of time, same practice – for a week.
- Appreciation of beauty/excellence: Engage in your mindful sitting or mindful walking practice outside, with your eyes open.
- Gratitude: Infuse a blessing component at the beginning and end of your meditation practice.
- Hope: Practice your meditation during the day when your energy is highest; conclude with one optimistic statement.
- Humor: Replay in your mind one funny, meaningful conversation or experience from the last day prior to each meditation practice.
- Spirituality/religiousness: Infuse your practice with a prayer at the beginning and end, or merge it with “centering prayer” practice.
Step 3: The next time you practice meditation, weave in the use of one of your signature strengths. When an obstacle arises in your mind or in your body, use your naturally energizing signature strength to manage it. As you need to, bring forth a second signature strength.
This exercise and the ideas in step 2 are designed to help you bring greater energy and enthusiasm to your meditation practice. You probably feel a high degree of motivation around your signature strengths so why not make good use of them in establishing a meditation practice? It will help make your meditation practice stickier because you’ll overcome obstacles that get in the way of your practice and you’ll want to return to it.
In this way, meditation practice becomes rewarding in and of itself (i.e., intrinsically motivating), rather than your feeling it is something you “have” to do.
Niemiec, R. M. (2014). Mindfulness and character strengths: A practical guide to flourishing. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe.
Take the VIA Survey of character strengths.