New England 61 Day Challenge: Mindfulness

Whether you’re trying to quit smoking, or sweets, or cigarettes – or all of them for the New England 61-Day Challenge, you’re probably adding some stress to your life in an attempt to better your health. However, there’s a powerful tool you can put in your toolbox that can help you quit AND help lower your stress levels: mindfulness.

“Mindfulness is focused attention on both what’s happening internally in our bodies and externally, moment to moment, without judgment,” said Dr. Kathy Mueller, the Medical Director of the Integrative Medicine Program at St. Francis Hospital, “a really interesting and simple concept that’s not really easy to do.”

Think of mindfulness as clearing away the clutter of distractions from your life, to afford you time to think about… how you think. To consider why you do some of the things you do, both good and bad. Dr. Mueller said this can be especially helpful to identify some of our damaging habits that we tend to do mindlessly, while focusing on other things, like overindulging on popcorn while watching a movie, or smoking a cigarette while talking to friends. Dr. Mueller said her advice to people trying to quit smoking is, ironically, not to quit at first, but instead to make sure that when they are smoking cigarettes, to do nothing other than that, so they can be more mindful of what smoking does to them.

“It’s an interesting idea to actually focus on what you don’t want to do to figure out why you don’t like it,” she said.

Dr. Mueller is also a proponent of a daily routine she calls 5-3-1. It involves five minutes of meditation a day.

“Meditation can mean anything. It can mean sitting, listening to a piece of music and not doing anything else. It can mean walking for five minutes and not doing anything else, just paying attention to walking,” she said.

The “three” component to 5-3-1 is to find three things each day for which you’re thankful, no matter how small. Dr. Mueller said merely trying to find three new things each day will make us more mindful of ourselves and our surroundings.

“And then the one is do one kind thing. It could be opening a door for someone. It could be sending somebody a thank-you note. One kind thing a day,” she said.

Mindfulness can help overcome dependence on both nicotine and excess sugar.

“If you think about the two preventable causes of death [that the New England 61-Day Challenge addresses], you’ve got cigarette smoking, you’ve got obesity, so it aligns with my passion perfectly,” said Dr. Reggie Eadie, the President and CEO of Trinity Health of New England, and the man responsible for bringing the 61-Day Challenge here.