Self-development

How to Overcome Obstacles to Mindfulness

by Intelligent Change — 8 min read

How to Overcome Obstacles to Mindfulness

As you probably already know, there are endless benefits to practicing mindfulness, mainly revolving around emotional resilience and psychological wellbeing. It’s also something that can be practiced in almost everything we do in life, from our work and purpose to our quality alone time, dietary and consumption habits, and even to our body image.

The goal with mindfulness is to make us more aware of everything that matters and contributes to our life quality: our thoughts, the words we say, how we feel in our environment, the choices we make that affect the world around us. How mindful we are isn’t fixed or constant––it fluctuates depending on our practice and focus. After all, mindfulness takes hard work and there are numerous obstacles that can make it challenging for us to keep practicing.

However, if you manage to understand the nature of these barriers, you’ll very likely be able to overcome them as well. Knowing about their existence makes you less self-judgemental and more prepared to tackle them head-on. It also paves the way for you to accept that lapsing into mindlessness occasionally is neither tragic nor unusual––it’s something that’s bound to happen. This realization can help you create strategies for being compassionate with yourself and return back to the mindful path.

Here are some of the most common obstacles to mindfulness and our suggestions on how to overcome them.

1. Stress

Since mindfulness is a great way to combat stress, among other things, it may seem funny to say that feeling stressed out can also be an obstacle to practicing mindfulness. But, the thing is that perceived stress puts us into a fight-or-flight mode which initiates behaviors that are anything but mindful: restlessness, anger, uncontrolled reactions to situations, negative thinking, loss of appetite/overeating, burnout, and so on.

Returning to a state of mindfulness is particularly difficult if you’re in a stress loop and the frustration keeps piling on day after day. Until you figure out how to calm down and relax, it will be difficult to start living a mindful life again.

How to Make the Switch from Stress to Mindfulness?

To make the switch from stress back to mindfulness, you need to learn more about emotion management and build capacities for coping with stress. We strongly recommend venting through exercise, conversations with others, and journaling, but also practicing meditation and doing breathing exercises to soothe your nerves.

2. Lack of Persistence

Some people are more persistent than others, that’s a fact. We can’t all have the same character, but what we all can do is inner work towards becoming aware of our flaws and learning to transcend them.

Mindfulness requires a lot of work, and the more we practice, the easier and more fun it gets.

When you start practicing mindfulness, you might find that your thoughts are always rushing out of control, to such an extent that all your efforts to concentrate feel futile. But this is completely normal. The more you try, the easier it will be to find your sense of calmness.

How to Be Persistent With Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a day-to-day practice that requires persistence and accountability, and once you start being mindful in one area of your life, it will slowly spread to other areas, too. “Practice makes perfect”, right? Once you appropriate mindfulness as your way of living and thinking, it will no longer be an exercise that requires persistence, but a part of your nature.

3. Exhaustion

Being physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted means we’re out of energy, and all we want to do is rest. When we’re exhausted, we’re not interested in practicing mindfulness, as mindfulness requires a certain level of energy to focus, pay attention, and be present.

In such situations, sleeping or at least lying down doing nothing will have a higher priority as a physiological need than practicing mindful awareness. Higher consciousness is great, but we need to have the resources for that.

Overcoming Exhaustion and Becoming More Mindful

If the described scenario is what your everyday life looks like, if you’re constantly exhausted from work and your daily activities, perhaps you’re the type of person that needs mindfulness practice the most. If that’s the case, it’s time to change your lifestyle, prioritize your wellbeing and self-care, and pay more attention to your health, needs, desires, and presence in the moment.

One of the things you could do is smart planning. Start scheduling your activities so that you’re better organized during the day and then make sure to get enough sleep during the night. Sleep is crucial for combating exhaustion, along with regular exercise, clean eating, or healthy routines. All the activities that contribute to combating exhaustion––even taking the day off––also contribute to living a more mindful life.

4. Being Hungry

As we mentioned already, unnoticed physiological needs are a serious obstacle to our practice of mindfulness. When we feel hunger, it means that our blood sugar levels are dropping, and we can become irritated, nervous, tired––anything but calm and mindful.

Combating “Hangry” and Becoming More Mindful

In case you don’t know it already, hangry stands for hungry an angry. It best describes why we can’t be mindful when we’re hungry––it’s in our blood.

On the other hand, the way we eat is another important aspect of daily mindfulness practice. To make sure that your blood sugar levels are adequate throughout the day, make sure you have a balanced and structured diet.

If you eat every day at the same time, you won’t easily get hungry during the day, meaning that you’ll be able to focus more on your mindfulness practice.

5. Doubt

Although praised everywhere, mindfulness is a concept you can’t touch, measure, nor prove it’s effective in a material way. That’s why it’s normal to have your doubts. There is no guarantee that something will work or not, and this kind of doubt holds many people back from trying mindfulness practice.

Doubt can sometimes be useful because it helps us think more rationally and analyze all sides to the situation, but it can also block us from having enriching experiences.

How to Deal With Doubt and Choose Mindfulness?

Keep in mind that doubt is just thoughts and ideas that haven’t been proven to be true. It’s the inner dialogue of your brain. When you read about mindfulness, especially if you focus on scientific research, you are reading about science-backed facts and positive benefits. Now, you may not have tested these facts on yourself yet, but you should definitely keep in mind that they are far more reality-based than your doubts.

When you notice that you’re slipping into doubt and self-sabotage, try to be aware of it and ask yourself whether there is an underlying fear and resistance beneath that doubt. Try to understand what kind of fear it is, whether you are in conflict with your should or must, and keep going with your mindfulness practice.

6. Emotional Reactivity

Practicing mindfulness leads to better emotional control, but at the same time, if you’re emotionally overwhelmed and caught up in reactivity, it’s quite difficult to be mindful because your mind is not clear and your energy is invested elsewhere.

The emotions don’t necessarily have to be negative to make the practice of mindfulness impossible. Falling in love is a life-enhancing and joyful experience, but it can literally snatch you up from the real world and seriously undermine your efforts to stay present in the moment.

How to Deal With Emotional Reactivity to Achieve Mindfulness?

On one hand, emotional management and emotional literacy are one road towards gaining an in-depth understanding of how your mind works and how you can gain a healthy level of control over your emotional life. This can help you remain mindful even if there’s an emotional thunderstorm coming at you.

On the other hand, sometimes it’s just better to let things go and wait for things to settle down. If you’ve fallen in love, as in the example given above, it would be silly to put your emotions under control. Wait for the initial wave to pass and mindfulness will come back to you.

7. Irritation

We can become irritated for a variety of reasons. Maybe our current mindfulness experience is not very good, or there are distractions preventing us from being fully present. Maybe it’s a secondary state that comes along with stress, exhaustion, or emotional reactivity.

How to Get De-Irritated and Engage in Mindfulness?

What’s interesting is that, from a mindfulness perspective, being irritated while trying to be mindful is an excellent opportunity to take your practice to the next level. Let your irritation be and ask yourself why are you being like this? What are your current needs? Forgive yourself for not being fully there and simply let yourself enjoy the mindfulness practice with the resources that you have.

This is also a chance for you to stay mindful of your feelings of irritation, see if you can recognize common patterns or thoughts that have an influence over them, and learn how to identify what those thoughts and patterns are. Combatting irritation for the sake of mindfulness is a practice of mindfulness in itself.

8. Pain

Any type of pain can be a big obstacle to mindfulness practice, regardless of whether it’s physical or emotional. It can be quite distracting from your meditation, it can cause severe impatience, resentment, and stress, and it can be so overwhelming that it becomes unbearable, making it impossible for you to focus on anything but the pain.

If you can’t manage your pain and at least lower its intensity, practicing mindfulness can prove to be too big of a bite for you.

How to Address Pain and Be Mindful of It?

Sometimes, you’ll simply have to wait for it to go away. However, there’s the fact that the tradition of mindfulness encourages people to analyze their pain on a deeper level, become aware of the sensations it causes, and, eventually, learn how to deal with it, perhaps quicker than they would have if they didn’t practice mindfulness.

Staying mindful while you’re in pain, although in line with the theory behind mindfulness, is perhaps one of the greatest challenges you’ll face in practice.

9. Rush

Being mindful when you’re rushing is really difficult. Mindfulness requires you to be present in the moment. When you’re rushing somewhere, your mind is never where you are––it’s ten steps ahead.

The state of rush wastes your mental energy and the resources you’d otherwise invest in your mindfulness practice, making it impossible for you to focus. As you rush, your anxiety bubbles up, there are too many distractions, and you become more and more tired exponentially. To save time and energy, you may try to multitask, which will only make things worse overall, as it has a significant influence on your focus and strength.

How to Slow Down and Be More Mindful?

Since rushing is actually a stress reaction, the proper way to address it is to destress.

The same activities you’d try when you’re stressed out can come in handy when you want to slow down and return to being present in the now, whether that’s breathing exercises, meditation, venting, journaling, or something else you’ve chosen as your happy place.

10. Addiction

Being addicted means having a compulsive need for pleasure that keeps you away from focusing on other meaningful things because there are desires to be fulfilled.

Although officially there are substance addiction, gambling, and, since recently, internet and video game addiction, we can also be addicted to food, sex, and a plethora of milder forms of compulsive behavior related to anything that lets us escape the “unpleasant” reality.

We put “unpleasant” in quotation marks because the more you avoid dealing with what’s really bothering you and choose to escape reality instead, the lower is your threshold for unpleasantness.

Addictions are quite difficult to overcome because the behavioral pattern in question is always followed by a chemical reaction of the brain––the brain gets high on dopamine, triggering you to repeat the same behavior over and over again.

How to Combat Addiction and Commit to Mindfulness?

If we’re talking about traditional addictions, we encourage you to seek professional support. There are many addiction-combating programs based on mindfulness principles that have proven themselves successful over the past decades.

On the other hand, if you’re dealing with mild compulsive behavior, the practice of mindfulness and your eagerness to be aware and focused in the current moment can help you get out of the vicious cycle of compulsion. Remember that only you are in control of your own life, and it’s your commitment to do better that helps you break bad habits and start new, healthy ones.


how to overcome obstacles to mindfulness

The obstacles we’ve outlined today are no laughing matter––they can give you a real challenge in your mindfulness practice. If you manage to muster up willingness, enthusiasm and really commit to your practice, we believe that you can overcome them and build your own spiritual practice.

And while you’re working on that, be gentle with yourself and remember that it’s pretty normal for this type of practice to be challenging. After all, mindfulness is all about improving ourselves, facing uncomfortable truths, and challenging our common worldviews. If it doesn’t result in change and insightful revelations, you may be doing it wrong.

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