Blind Faith in Behaviors that Fail Us: The Case for Mindfulness

How do you decide who or what you should trust? Or, do you even think about it?  My guess is that many of us unconsciously trust a lot of things without even thinking about them. We trust that the sun will come up in the morning and set at night. We trust that people will stop at the red light and go on the green light. Because of our privilege, most people reading this blog trust that they will have food to eat and a place to sleep. All of these things would fall into the category of verified faith. We have trusted and have had these verified to be true almost 100% of the time.

On the other hand, we put blind faith in other things that have failed us miserably. You might trust that the next diet will work even though you have had diets fail repeatedly in the past. You might trust that if you get to a certain weight, you will be happy, although the mindset that says you “aren’t enough” will follow you no matter what weight you are. You might trust that if you drink just one glass of wine you won’t drink the next, even though that has been shown not to be true. You trust that you won’t buy something if you just look at the ad even though your credit card bill would indicate differently. I could go on, but I’ll let you fill in the rest.

What have you done repeatedly expecting different results but do it again anyway? And why? The answer to the “why” is that you have probably gotten some comfort from the activity. Maybe it’s the hope that this time things will be different. We hope for the relief that we get from the activity or behavior. And we might even get small glimmers of relief but that is soon overtaken by the guilt, shame, or disillusionment that follows shortly thereafter when things backfire. For example, you put your faith in a diet and lost weight only to put the weight back on and more after you went off it. Or, you put your faith in a person to behave differently than they have in the past only to have them do the same behavior again.

In my Eat for Life classes, people come with a history of dieting that has failed them. Yet, they can still have a hard time letting go of the dream. Instead of a diet, what I give people in the first class is the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to be in the present moment with curiosity, kindness, and compassion. It is the key to being able to choose differently than we have in the past. But it takes cultivation. In “The Magnanimous Heart” by Sarayan Helen Liebenson, she writes “We cannot let go of much of anything until we have enough trust and confidence that we will be held. It is not reasonable to think we can let go of anything without something else being put into place.”

Mindfulness can hold you as you step into new territory in life. Mindfulness can show you which steppingstones are stable and which ones are laid in quicksand. Through the act of coming into the present moment with curiosity and openness, we have the space in which to consider what we have done in the past, how it might have failed us, and be willing to choose a different path if the worn one has not been a happy one.

Here are some steps to consider for building verified faith in your choices. It’s often called the STOP sign technique–Stop, Take a Breath, Observe, Proceed.

1. STOP before you act. This can be a hard step because we are falling headlong into our lives at such a fast pace that we act before breathing. Stop simply means to take a pause before we take action.

2. TAKE A BREATH. This might mean breathing for a minute or two or even longer until you feel more centered and grounded. Breathing helps you to activate your parasympathetic nervous system and your prefrontal cortex, both of which help you to relax and to think in more complex and creative ways. New choices become available to you when you can think more clearly.

3. OBSERVE your body, thoughts, feelings. Mindfulness teaches us that our thoughts are often faulty, and we can learn to observe them without acting on them. In fact, most of our thoughts are repeating ideas we have been conditioned with from the culture, the news, our peers, our family, and more. These thoughts are often quite biased and limited in view. They are not to be blindly trusted. As you breathe and notice the thoughts, decide if you are hearing something that has served you in the past or been a hindrance. Take another few breaths and ask yourself if there are different ways of looking at the situation. Notice how your feelings respond to this thoughtful reflection. As your thoughts change, so do your feelings. And your body, which might have felt tense, could start to relax.

At some point, after you have stopped, engaged in some deeper breathing, and observed what’s happening in your mind and body, you are more likely to reach a deeper truth. I sense my deeper wisdom coming from my body and heart. And this wisdom often comes as a whisper instead of a shout so it’s important to stay quiet to hear it. Once you’ve heard it, it’s time to proceed. This might take a minute, a day, or even a week. Taking your time to listen to your internal wisdom is worth it. You can learn to have faith in your own inner truth.

4. PROCEED. At this point, your thoughts and actions will be more in alignment with who you want to be and how you want to be in the world. You can have faith that the results will more reflect the time and effort you put into listening to and honoring your inner self.

Through this process, you will gain verified faith in the practice of mindfulness and your inner wisdom to help you break out of conditioned patterns. Breaking away from the known can be scary even when the known is not what we want. It may indeed feel scary to let go. But, mindfulness helps us to open to the unknown and discover that there is land to put our feet on when we leap into the void.