Chances are, you’d rather be doing something else right now. Whether it’s traveling, having drinks with friends, or doing crafts, we all have pastimes or hobbies that help us unwind. These interests can be healthy for reducing stress and adding to the quality of life.
Unfortunately, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. Even hobbies that seem healthy or productive can turn into escape mechanisms for avoiding the more challenging aspects of life. Rather than dealing with challenges head-on, people can treat hobbies as a way to cope. (Instead of reflecting about a disagreement and talking through it, people try to forget about it by distracting themselves.) Those distractions can become an addiction, just like watching too much TV, or relying on drugs or alcohol to decompress. When people start compromising other aspects of life for a hobby-turned-obsession, it can be a sign that they should be focusing on other things.
Let’s consider running as an example. About half a million people finish marathons each year, and two million people finish half marathons.1 Running that many miles requires a great deal of training, dedication, time, and sacrifice. It can also be extremely rough on the body. Of course cardiovascular exercise is healthy, but the amount of exercise required for running marathons and half marathons is well above what medical professionals recommend for maintaining good health. On top of that, long-distance running takes a toll on joints, and many runners battle injury or chronic long-term pain. With all of these costs, there must be some major benefits of running, right?
I’ve spoken with many long-distance runners who have told me they enjoy the sport because of the feeling it gives them: they can clear their minds and be in the moment; they get an emotional high or euphoric feeling; they can focus on doing one thing well and temporarily forget about everything else.
I find this motivation to be incredibly interesting, since all of these things are positive, but none of them are directly tied to running. In fact, the reasons people run happen to align surprisingly well with the reasons why people practice mindfulness. They are two seemingly opposite pastimes that yield many similar rewards.
There is one major difference, however. Marathon runners don’t always know they can cultivate the peacefulness of experiencing the present moment without beating up their body.
I know I’m going to get some pushback here from athletes who think mindfulness can’t compare to a sport, but hear me out! Like running, mindfulness is also a form of training and requires effort. In the beginning, it feels uncomfortable doing it for even a few minutes, and impossible for longer periods of time. The results of the training and practice are experiential and results differ, but you must practice regularly to feel the results.
The emotional rewards of training for marathons and achieving goals can be found in a mindfulness practice. To be clear, I’m not recommending that people become couch potatoes. I’m simply saying there is likely a quicker, more direct way to get a stress-reducing experience.
The same can be said for many pastimes that become escape mechanisms. If traveling or doing crafts gives you that zen-like feeling, it’s helpful to know you can cultivate that same feeling through a mindfulness practice. This unchains you from the things you thought you needed, and ultimately gives you more freedom and control in your life. On top of that, practicing mindfulness is free.
We all want to live happy lives where our mind isn’t preoccupied with worries or incapacitated by stress. Nipping stress directly in the bud is the most efficient way to do that.
I recommend taking a little time from something you are currently doing in excess, and shifting that time to a mindfulness practice. The self-discovery process may be the beginning of a more peaceful life, and an opportunity to experience peace from within.
I am always available for you if you need help getting started.