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By Lauren Thomas, MA, LPC


My kids have been running cross country for the first time this semester. Practice takes place at a local reservoir park at 7 am, three times per week, and lasts an hour. At that time of day, there is little I can do besides wait in the car, so I decided to discipline myself to walk around the reservoir while they run. This may not seem like a big deal, but it has been a while since I have dedicated 3 hours of my week to exercise, so I was overdue in making this commitment. Getting into a rhythm was challenging at first, but I am noticing some big improvements, particularly in my mindset, that I want to share with you.

Here are 4 things I’ve learned about mindfulness (being aware of the present moment, including our thoughts, feelings, and body sensations that accompany it):

1. Feelings Follow Feet

I am probably not alone when I say that starting a new habit or discipline doesn’t always come naturally or feel terribly exciting. I don’t always feel like getting dressed in the dark and driving 30 minutes to the trail. The first week of practice, I huffed and puffed my way around the uneven, sandy terrain and thought, “What was I thinking?” I felt slow, clunky, and self-conscious as I watched people twice my age lapping me (seriously).

Here’s what I am noticing: the more I do it, the better I feel. The hardest part was getting started. The more I walk, the stronger my body is becoming. I can anticipate the hills and bends in the trail and can encourage myself to keep going. Pacing myself and steadying my breath has become easier. I know I will feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of each practice hour, getting a little faster and going a little farther each week.

My encouragement is to not wait until you “feel” like getting started with a goal you want to achieve. Just start. Your feelings will catch up with your feet.

2. Looking Up Is a Good Idea

At the beginning of the semester, my mind raced when I first started walking. I thought about my to-do list for the day or my latest concerns. Being in nature, as beautiful as it is at the park, did not feel relaxing or rejuvenating. I could not appreciate my surroundings while my attention was focused elsewhere.

One day I decided that I would look up and around the trail while I walked. I now use my 5 senses to observe what is around me, in the moment. I live in the land of the Longleaf pines; these tall, stately trees flank the path. A variety of interesting birds, ducks, and turtles make their home in and around the lake; I listen to them call to one another. I watch the branches sway in the gentle morning breeze and smell the fresh-mown grass of a nearby golf course. This practice helps me notice the beauty around me and boosts my mood as the sun rises and I watch the fog dissipate over the water. It brings me joy to see people of all ages starting their day the same way, nodding or waving hello as we cross paths.

3. Using a “Container” is Helpful

Sometimes, even when trying to be intentional to observe what is around me, my mind still wanders. We can’t control what thoughts pop into our head, but we can control whether we allow them to linger and distract us. A useful tool I use when prepping clients for EMDR is called the “container” exercise. The idea is that we imagine a container (i.e. box with a lid) to hold any material that is distressing in the moment. This material could be a relational conflict, worry about a future event, a negative thought about ourselves – whatever is distracting us from being fully present and focused on what we want to be doing instead. We’re not throwing away this material or saying it is not important; we are simply storing it until a more appropriate time.

This comes in handy while I am walking and trying to enjoy and appreciate nature. I picture putting my to-do list or worries into my container until I have time to process them. This exercise takes practice but is a great tool for redirecting our minds to the present from the past or future.

4. Just Breathe and Celebrate Progress

I mentioned earlier that my breathing was labored when I first started walking. The more I tried to rush and just “get done,” the shallower my breaths became. I had to remind myself that it is okay to start out slowly. I had to accept my limitations as a beginner and slow my pace and focus on taking deep breaths. Having grace for myself has helped me enjoy the process of getting fit, instead of putting pressure on myself to become an athlete overnight. Oh, how we want the results without the discomfort of putting in the work!

I am reminding myself that anything that is worthwhile takes time and discipline. Growth does not happen in an instant! I choose to celebrate my progress since beginning this endeavor in August. I am getting faster and stronger as I continue to train. I still have a long way to go, but the healthy habit is now formed.

It’s Your Turn

I hope you’re reading this and feeling more motivated to attempt a change you have been wanting to make for a long time. Whether it’s developing a healthy routine or facing your anxiety, addiction, or trauma, it may be hard at first, but it will get easier! Our knowledgeable and caring team at Lime Tree Counseling would love to walk with you at your own pace and equip you with tools to experience the life you’ve been dreaming about. We provide individual counseling for anxiety, trauma counseling, grief counseling and addiction counseling. Please contact us for a free 15-minute phone consultation with a member of our staff today or schedule a 50-minute initial session. We look forward to hearing from you!