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Different spiritual traditions, including, but not limited to Buddhism, emphasize that it is important to always keep in mind that one's thoughts and emotions do not constitute the essence of a person.

That is:

  1. When some thought crosses my mind,
  2. makes me like or dislike something (emotion),
  3. then these thoughts and emotions are not my true self in that they come and go like they want (similar to breathing, blood circulation and other bodily processes, which most people can't consciously control). The true self is the entity that observes them.

Theory and practice shows that realization 3 often leads to an increase in happiness (e. g. I feel pain, I acknowledge the thought I'd rather prefer to experience pleasure and the emotion of sadness as inevitable by-products of the activity of my brain, which usually eliminates suffering despite presence of pain) and - as a result - higher productivity (less time and energy is wasted on useless thoughts emotions).

Right now, I occasionally do the whole process (observe thoughts, observe emotions they've generated, remember that they aren't my true self), probably when the pain gets too hard.

I want to develop a habit of doing this routine so that I'm automatically doing those 3 steps all the time (as frequently as possible). As a result I expect my stress resistance (ability to do productive work in suboptimal conditions) to dramatically increase.

What routine can I use to develop that habit (apart from the process described below), ideally scientifically proven?

Notes:

  1. I need some practical, actionable recipe for developing the desired habit, which is better than the option below. I do not need some theoretical, philosophical stuff.
  2. If your routine is well-suited for people with tendency towards premature action and ADHD, it's even better.

Standard habit formation process

  1. Install on your mobile phone an application, which vibrates every 20 minutes.
  2. Every day in the morning, turn on the application.
  3. Whenever you feel the vibration, do the three steps (observe thoughts, observe emotions they've generated, remember that they aren't my true self).
  4. Before you go to sleep, turn off the application.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 for at least 40 days.

Update 1 (05.01.2016 12:13 MSK): Below you can find a selection of techniques, which seem to help me observe the mind. I don't guarantee that they will work for anyone else. And I don't guarantee that it really helps me - it just seems to help.

Morning observation ritual

  1. Write out at least 10 thoughts that are running in your head.
  2. For each of them do the 3 steps (observe the thought, observe the emotions it generates and remember that you aren't either of them).

Imagine the thoughts on a diagram

It helps to imagine the different thoughts as diagrams with time on the horizontal axis and the intensity of a particular thought on the vertical one.

Diagram

Music

Some music seems to be more conducive to mind observation than others. I noticed it when listening to the Focus at will music, section Focus Spa.

Focus at will

I'm not affiliated with Focus at will, I'm not getting any remuneration for this and you probably can get the same music in other ways.

  • Is this new question related? – user2341 Jan 1 '16 at 18:44
  • Has anything that you have tried before worked for you? Anything that helps you stay mindful? Understanding what worked before might help – user3547 Jan 3 '16 at 7:17
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    Dmitri I use Google calendar to remind me of mindfulness thrice a day. I set them up as 5 minute appointments at three times in the day. Other (perhaps) natural, but more random, reminders could be traffic signals, the doorbell of your house, incoming call on your mobile, whatsapp messages, etc. – Parag Jan 5 '16 at 4:58
  • @user3547 In my update 1 you can find some techniques, which seem to help me recently (after I asked this question). – DP_ Jan 5 '16 at 9:32
  • @DP_ One year later, are you still following the same techniques? Did they work for you or did you modify them? Would be interested in knowing your results... – user3547 May 3 '17 at 22:11
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Well this is a suggestions question because your mileage may vary based on what you do and what's your environment. I'd suggest to use the most natural way available.

The main idea here is to have a reminder in place. For this maybe you can use the entrances at your home or workplace to be a reminder. Or an action like drinking coffee or water or using the toilet. Or you can mark a person you see around you everyday.

Side by side, cultivate a more natural inside reminder. Can't beat this one. This could be autosuggestion like telling yourself to be mindful and relax. Or it could be some action like scratching your head or ear. Or it could be any time you are walking. And you could use rubbing your knees when you're sitting. But you see all this requires predisposed awareness. Try to be aware of your body movements. This will certainly help in future.

In formal meditation, cultivate awareness of your sitting and the environment by using the sounds or smell or feel of the place. This would help in cultivating general environmental awareness in other places also. In the sense, this is more habit-forming.

These are some tips. But beware of the fact that any external thing you use, should not become a crutch such that when you are away from it, you lose all reminders altogether or you cannot be mindful at all.

  • Can you give an example of a natural inside reminder? – DP_ Dec 31 '15 at 11:33
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    I have edited the answer with a few more pointers. – esh Dec 31 '15 at 11:37
  • For some people, the "natural inside reminder" is related to the experience of an "Observer" or "Witness". I asked a question about that, but there seems to be no one who agrees with my experience of what an Observer is. I have heard many other people (probably not Buddhists) talk about it, so I know that the term is in common use. I can't tell you how to "get" one, I think it develops on its own as we progress. Eventually, we outgrow it. – user2341 Jan 2 '16 at 16:37
  • Since you mention "autosuggestion" as a helpful technique, if you're willing and able to I think that this question would appreciate your input. – ChrisW Jul 17 '16 at 22:12
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External help like apps can be a hindrance when you get to rely on them. Even guided meditation instructions can become as you get used to them.

The issue with habits is that most of the action is not strictly mindful.

Having said this much of the standard advice is to systematically bring your attention to a chosen object and then to continuously keep re targeting this object, while continuously reviewing if your attention is with the object. This is like 1st looking at the object and then looking under a magnifying glass, or taking aim and shooting with a machine-gun to the object. When you practice this your mind will stay with the object. After sometime this will become pleasant also. Also this will increase your concentration. Ideally this redirection should be aimed at the 4 foundations of mindfulness or Metta, Muditha, Karuna and Upekka.

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As I read your post, and the answer given by @BlackFlam3, some ideas came to me about the question. I think it is easy to turn these spiritual practices into the focus of your worship, and thereby miss the moment. You start turning your focus to the thoughts about your thoughts. Making it into a routine is what the mind wants, as to take control away from awareness.

I would re-emphasize @BlackFlam3's suggestion in bringing the focus back to something inside. As I read the recommendation about "scratching your head", it occurred to me that I've developed a habit of stroking my beard. Ironically, I'll get lost in thought and have my arm twisted in a strange way, which causes my shoulders to become tense as I do this. In this, I can give awareness to my habit and perhaps laugh at it - use the pain as a reminder. Then, perhaps, I can use my beard as the reminder directly.

My favorite author, Eckhart Tolle, talks about this. I paraphrase, but something like, "in the act of observing your non-presence, you become present."

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Observation is always there.

There is no need to do all this tracking. Just being able to be clear when one thought is coming and the next coming is more than enough. Then you will be able to find the peace that exists in between every thought.

Do concentrated practice sessions and strengthen this awareness muscle. And then be lightly aware of your skandhas through the day, powered by your trained mindfulness. Be aware of yourself trying to be aware as well. Awareness of everything comes before your attachment so just let go of the attachment when you notice.

I reccommend this guide on observing your thoughts and eventually flowing it into your daily life.

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You are on your way. There is an old saying: "What you focus your attention on grows." So, you will develop a mind observation habit. It is inevitable, you cannot fail. It just takes time and effort.

The way I see it, the mind is like a big party or caucus, or place where opinions are debated: some become more popular, others less. The most 'popular' are those that hold your attention the majority of the time, and which control most of your awareness. The large get larger and the small get smaller, because you only have so much focus at any one time.

Mindfulness is a way of crowding out the unwanted, distracting aspects of awareness, which brings the act of being aware to center stage. When this is the case, the important truths about life can be experienced, confirmed, deepened, and made more primary / automatic. If you build it, it will happen. You are doing it.

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