The Magic of Mindfulness


I am not one to throw around the word “magic.” But, honestly, sometimes that is what it feels like.

I was someone who thought I had no choice but to succumb to my thoughts and emotions. I tried every little strategy there was. At first, I would start out hopeful, but soon realize I was stuck in the same patterns I was in before. Nothing had changed.

The first time I came across mindfulness – honestly, I was hesitant.

Probably not for me.

Probably wouldn’t work.

But I tried it. And I practiced it.

And I am forever different, because of it.


The Road Less Traveled: Taking a New Neural Pathway

In my husband’s PhD program, he did brain research. He researched how the brain worked, the effects of stress on the brain, and studied medical therapies that could help the brain function more optimally.

I’ve always been fascinated about how our minds work, so we had plenty to talk about and I had lots of questions for him.

I remember one thing that really stood out to me. He told me that when we engage in certain patterns of thinking, it creates grooves in our brains. He told me to think about it like walking on a path in the woods. If a path has been walked on many times, the path is more clear. It is worn because of the frequent travel.

If you want to take a new path that you haven’t taken before, it’s going to take a bit more effort. It won’t be quite as easy as your usual route.

However, the more you choose to take this new path, the more distinct it will become. The more you take it, the more clear the path will be and easier to travel. We take paths that are familiar to us and that is why you may be stuck on negative path. But the more familiar you can make that new path, the more automatic it will be for you to take it.

We can literally rewire our brains. I challenge you to take a new neural pathway.

I challenge you to take the road less traveled – it will make all the difference.


Your Thoughts Release Chemicals

I was simply blown away when I realized this. And so much more careful about what I thought too.

Before I talk about this, let me first say, I do not have a specific position when it comes to mental health medication. I think it is a decision that needs to be made personally by the individual. I know some people have stories about how helpful medication has been for them, and others prefer non-medication methods. I think it is dependent on the situation and the person and every person and situation is different.

With that being said, I was amazed when I realized that thoughts actually release chemicals the same way a medication might.

If you have a happy thought – dopamine, the pleasure chemical, is released into the brain. If you have a calming thought, serotonin, the calming chemical, is released into the brain.

And on the reverse, if you have a fearful thought or a stressful thought, the cortisol chemical is released into your brain.

Now, this wouldn’t be such an amazing concept, except the fact that we can we actually control what we think. And when we control what we think, we literally are controlling what chemicals are being released into our brain.

With mindfulness, I have been able to take a step back from my thoughts, and feel that I have more choice about what I think.

A negative thought will pop up – and before I make a decision about if I engage with it – I think,

Do I want to release cortisol into my system right now? Do I want to release the fear, panic, or stress chemicals right now?

If the answer is no, I do not engage the thought.

Or on the reverse, if I start to feel bad about something, I will decide to think a positive thought, and I will literally be able to feel a difference. I can notice the feeling of dopamine being released from the positive thought, or the feeling of serotonin being released from the calming thought.

I know this might sound completely crazy – but this is science.

We truly do have this much power over our minds and how we feel.


The Attack of the Amygdala

It is important that the thought is not engaged in right away. If you start to engage the thought, it will be MUCH harder to get out of that mental state. Once the chemicals are released, they are in your system, and it will likely be a while until you can calm down or get out of it.

I have heard it called the “attack of the amygdala.” The Amygdala is the fight or flight center of your brain. Once it is alarmed, it is likely going to act as if there is an emergency. That’s it’s job, really. In evolutionary terms, this is a very helpful system. When humans were living in the wilderness, and saw a predator, the fight or flight chemicals were quite helpful. You gain the adrenaline to fight the predator or you go into a state of fear and run for your life.

Again, helpful back then, not so much now. That situation just isn’t quite as common anymore.

So keep in mind when you run into certain thoughts – ask yourself, will releasing these chemicals help me survive a dangerous situation? Or, would a rational mind be more helpful right now?

Usually, it is the latter.

And remember, if you allow your amygdala to be attacked, it will be A LOT harder to come out of it, than if you never allow it to start.


Okay, so how do I become mindful?

So, maybe at this point in the article you are reading this and thinking “Wow, you’ve made it sound so easy and so simple, glad it worked out for you. BUT, in my experience, it is NOT so easy and NOT so simple.”

Trust me, I’ve been there. I really, really have.

It is like anything else. The more you practice, the easier it becomes.

Will you try it today and have it suddenly work for you?

Probably not.

Will you diligently practice it daily for 6 months?

You will see change.

To be mindful is to detach from your thoughts a bit. It is to recognize and acknowledge you are having certain thoughts, but also realize you are not your thoughts. It is to create a distance between you (your higher rational self) and your thoughts. It is having a curiosity to your thoughts, but not an emotional reaction. A simple Oh, I notice I am feeling sad right now. Oh, I notice I am feeling worried. Oh, I notice I am feeling embarrassed.

It is to notice, but not to engage. You say it calmly. You say it gently. There is no judgment around having the thought. You are not trying to stop yourself from having the thought altogether, you are just not allowing yourself to engage with it further.

It is a method of having awareness around you thoughts. You are able to recognize that certain thoughts, if taken further, will put you into a negative emotional state. You develop an awareness around what thoughts will be productive for you to think, and what thoughts will not.

You are compassionate toward yourself. You show yourself kindness. And you encourage yourself. Remember, your negative thoughts may still be automatic, just gently counter them with encouragement.

For example, if you think,

I am not doing a good job.

Counter it with,

You are doing the best that you can, and that is enough.

Notice if you feel any change when you think the encouraging thought. The more you say it, the more likely you will believe it.

So, just to re-cap, the important components of mindfulness are:

  • Noticing Thoughts
  • Not engaging the thoughts
  • Being non-judgmental of thoughts
  • Gently countering negative thoughts with encouraging thoughts
  • Being compassionate toward yourself

Remember, the more you practice, the more worn the pathway will become, and the easier it will be. Even if a negative thought is tempting to engage in, keep in mind the chemicals it will release into your body. And if you allow yourself to engage the thought, your fight or flight center may be activated, which will take much time and effort to calm down.

I have mentioned before that listening to podcasts every morning on my drive in to work helped me to get to a more positive mental space, so this is one option to try.

If you are someone that might benefit from one-on-one work and accountability, I invite you to do coaching with me, as I would love to be part of your mindful journey.

Also, there are many, many articles on mindfulness if you would just like to educate yourself more.

You might notice I don’t have anything cited from what I wrote about in this post. The reason for this is because what I wrote about did not come from one specific source – it is a collection of knowledge gained from my experience working in the mental health field, conversations with my husband and his PhD work, and a wide variety of research, articles, and podcasts. If there is any aspect of this post you would like to dig into further, please let me know, and I will see if I can find a specific article/podcast for you!


Magic, Miracles, and Science

I titled this post “The Magic of Mindfulness” because mindfulness truly feels magical and miraculous to me. Not even just in my own life, but how I have heard about it affecting others as well. And how far reaching and life altering its effects are.

Mindfulness has been found to be a very effective treatment for:



Attention Deficit Disorder

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Chronic Pain

And the list goes on..


Maybe you are wondering why I would call something that is scientifically proven to be magic or a miracle?

I remember when my husband and I were first dating – what now feels like many years ago. We were talking about C.S. Lewis’ book Miracles.

I came from a traditional Christian perspective. My husband was also a Christian, but a scientist as well.

We were debating miracles. Are they real? Honestly, I was ready to get mad at him because I felt like his science mind was going to try to talk me out of the idea of miracles. I just figured scientists probably didn’t believe in that kind of thing.

But I will never forget what he said:

Science doesn’t push me away from miracles, science makes me believe in them more. Isn’t it a miracle that there are stars in the sky, that we live on a planet that supports life, that something happened – whether the big bang or something else – that we even exist? Isn’t it a miracle that we are here together having this conversation? Isn’t speech a miracle? Aren’t thoughts a miracle? Aren’t scientific discoveries that heal people and save lives, miracles? Science doesn’t make me believe in miracles less, science makes realize that miracles are all around me. Every movement, every breath – all of it – it is a miracle.

And he was right. Magic and miracles are all around us.


I hope you too, can experience the magic of mindfulness.






Journal Questions:

  • Think about what you read about the neural pathway, the thought chemicals, and the attack of the amygdala. How does this affect how you would like to engage with your negative thoughts in the future? Do you trust that practice will make it easier to take a new neural pathway? Do you think you will be more intentional with thoughts realizing thoughts are releasing chemicals into your mind and body? Will you be more careful to calm the thoughts, before going into the flight or fight mentality? What will you do different because you now have these perspectives?
  • What practical steps will you start taking today to become more mindful and gain better control over your thoughts and emotions? What strategies and suggestions in the “how to” section stood out to you?
  • Write down one commitment / action step you know will keep you in line with your goal of becoming more mindful and give you the extra motivation and support you need to follow through on this goal.


3 Little Lessons that made me Happier & Healthier


1. Lowering my Exercise Standards

I’ve always wanted to be someone that exercised regularly – what I didn’t realize was that it was actually my high standards getting in the way of an exercise practice. I knew cardio was the “best” kind of exercise, and I had decided that to be healthy I needed to do 45 minutes of intense cardio every weekday.

And guess what? I did not follow through on that exercise schedule. I had a day when I was really tired and intense cardio for 45 minutes just was too much for me to handle. So I didn’t do anything. I felt bad for skipping my exercise routine. And I dropped off after that. I stopped exercising altogether because I didn’t feel like I was doing a good job in keeping with it.

I used to think high standards would motivate me to do my best. But really, it just caused black and white thinking. Either I was doing things perfectly…or not at all. And since perfect standards were impossible…not at all was more likely to happen.

So what is my exercise standard now?

Exercise almost every day at any intensity for anywhere from a half hour to an hour.

Maybe this seems too relaxed? Too vague? My standards seem too low? Well – I have exercised more this summer than any summer I can think of.

Sometimes on a beautiful day I go on a two hour hike with my husband in the woods.

And some days it’s raining and I feel sick and I am tired and anything seems hard. A two hour hike definitely seems impossible on these days. But then I think, Could I handle a half hour of listening to one podcast on my phone while walking around inside my house? Yeah…that doesn’t seem so bad.

And as long as I do some form of exercise, I feel good about it, which causes me to stick with the routine. Sometimes the guilt of not doing something perfectly will cause us to quit that thing altogether. I have found it to be important to have realistic standards, and ones you know you can actually follow through with.

This summer I have reached my goal of exercising almost every day at any intensity from a half hour to an hour. Lowering my standards has helped me exercise MUCH more and as a result has helped me become healthier and happier.

In Gretchen Rubin’s book Better than Before, she talks about the importance of doing what works for you. This is what has worked for me for my own exercise habit. If there are habits you are interested in developing in your life, I definitely recommend her book!


2. Giving up Planning

When I say “give up planning,” of course, I don’t mean all planning, but as a chronic over-planner, I needed to learn how to allow for spontaneity.

I also thought that planning everything out, would improve experiences, but it often did the opposite. I would make a plan for a Friday evening to do a hike and picnic. I would then come home to a storm and colder temperatures. But my planning mind would hold on to the plan, No we must still follow the plan! Even if the plan didn’t make sense anymore.

Or, I would let go of the plan, but it would be really hard to do so. There would be a strong sense of disappointment that the plan wasn’t happening like I expected.

I think planning can be helpful, but I try to make my plans a little less rigid now, a little more loose and able to be changed. Sometimes I think of them as “maybe plans.” My mind naturally likes to plan things. But now I will think things like, IF the weather is nice, MAYBE we will go for a hike and picnic.

If I come home to a storm, This seems like a really nice night to stay in and read. MAYBE we’ll do a picnic and hike tomorrow.

There has to be room for changes and the unexpected. Not only because these two things are inevitable, but sometimes we miss opportunities because we are so focused on following the plan.

This applies not just to day to day planning, but life planning too.

If we plan out our life so perfectly, we might miss a beautiful opportunity that is outside of our expected plan.

Or, your dream job/spouse/life may actually look a little different than what you expected – you don’t want miss out on an amazing opportunity because of rigid and overly specific planning.

So just to be clear, I still do plan. But I have been so much happier since allowing spontaneity and unexpected changes – it is a much more enjoyable way to live!


3. Realizing Fun is a Responsibility

It feels a little funny writing that heading. Probably because it is so different than I used to think.

I’ve always been a pretty responsible person. When I was in school – making sure my school work was done on time. At work – making sure my paperwork is done before deadlines. At home – making sure chores were done before play.

However, I am also a person that has struggled extensively with having low moods in the past. It was only within the past couple years that I realized having fun was a responsibility I needed to have for myself.

It’s easy to write off fun. Many people would not feel comfortable saying that they make fun a priority. In fact, a few years ago, I would probably have judged someone for saying something like that.

But, fun is a priority and responsibility for me now. I am being irresponsible if I am not allowing fun into my life. Because I can be susceptible to low moods and because I can get into overly-responsible mode, it is important for me to make time for fun, as a way of taking care of myself.

How much fun? I make sure I have fun at least once a day, because it is that important. Fun for me could be hiking, going out to eat, or just spending time with my husband. Every person has their own definition of fun – just make sure it is a priority in your life – it truly is important and fundamental for your self-care.


These are just a few little lessons that have helped me be a little happier & a little healthier. I hope they inspire a little bit of happy & healthy in your life too!

Wishing you the loveliest of days.




Journal Questions:

  1. In what ways would you like to be happier & healthier? How could you work on developing habits that would help you toward health & happiness?
  2. What is your current relationship with exercise? How would you like it to be different? What is an exercise strategy that might work better than the one you are currently using?
  3. Are there ways in which your planning is not serving you? Do you have difficulty if plans change or things don’t happen as expected? How could you change your relationship with planning? Are you willing to allow for more spontaneity?
  4. Do you make a fun a priority? Would you be willing to shift your perspective into thinking that fun is a responsibility you should have for yourself? How would you make your days different if you embraced this way of thinking more?

The Overthinking Mind: Navigating Decisions, Uncertainty, and Intuition


The overthinking mind hates uncertainty. This is much of the reason that it overthinks. The mind won’t let go until the perfect solution exists and all the mental calculations add up. Often, the overthinking mind will find itself in an endless loop of thoughts and ideas.

Should you make a move or should you not? Are you in the right job? Are you on the right path? There are so many questions to be answered.

The overthinking mind has an amazing ability to see things from every perspective. And let me be clear, this ability truly has incredible benefits. It is one of your greatest gifts.

However, seeing something from every possible perspective, also makes it incredibly hard to make decisions.

Again, your mind has amazing abilities. But, unfortunately, our minds did not come with training manuals. And, if your mind works a little differently than those around you, you might have made the mistake of using other people’s systems, rather than a system that most suits your thinking style.

I want to offer intuition as a strategy for decision making and a way to feel confident within uncertainty.

Maybe you already use intuition and this is simply a confirmation for you? Great!

Or maybe you reject the idea of intuition? You like rationality and logic. Trust me, I’ve been there. If you are in this second category, I invite you to just hear a bit about my journey with intuition, and open yourself to the idea, just a little.


Intuition: Not rational?

It is my opinion, that for the anxious and uncertain heart, intuition is the doorway to calm and comfort.

When “following my intuition” was first suggested to me, it was in a counselor’s office. I was telling her about all the little decisions of life I just couldn’t make, and how they were causing me so much stress.

She asked me how I typically made decisions.

My answer?

Logic. Pros and Cons lists. Intense and thorough evaluation.

Now, if you do not have an overthinking mind, this is a fine way to make decisions. In fact, I work with clients at my job who struggle with impulsivity – we are constantly talking about carefully weighing out the pros and cons.

BUT, if you are an overthinker, pros and cons lists are probably not going to work for you. You can always think of one more pro, and one more con.

I know, the pro and con list is like the #1 way we have been taught to make good decisions. And if it is working for you, keep with it! But, if you are still struggling to make decisions and are overwhelmed with uncertainty, maybe consider another way?

So anyway, I told the counselor I only made decisions with carefully calculated thinking.

She then asked,

Do you ever just use intuition?

I answered back,

No. Never. Intuition is based on feelings and I don’t believe rational answers come from it.

She scribbled in her notebook for a moment. And then nodded, and said “Okay.” And we didn’t talk about intuition again.


Intuition: Worth a try?

I didn’t see the counselor for a while after that. Not because I didn’t like her. I just wasn’t sure she could help me. I didn’t spend any time even considering the idea of intuition after the session.

A few weeks later I met my husband after work to decide if we were going out for dinner or heading home. Either way, I was really looking forward to spending time together – just the two of us. It had been a long week. We met up near my work and he immediately informed me he got a text from some of our friends.

They want to hang out tonight! What do you think?

This was absolutely the last thing I wanted to do. I was so tired. So drained.

And then my overthinking kicked in,

But should we? We haven’t seen them in awhile? Maybe it would be a lot of fun? What if we regret not going? But I really don’t want to! But it’s good to push yourself sometimes! Remember that one time you pushed yourself to do that one thing and you were so glad you did? Maybe it’s like that? But how do you know when to push yourself and when not to? There needs to be some kind of rule for this…should it be “always push yourself” or “always do what you want.” Neither of those rules seem good…

And on and on it went.

Suddenly my husband came back into focus and his expression was half “What’s going on right now?” and half “I’m used to this.”

The counselor’s voice popped into my head:  Do you ever just use intuition?

Well, I thought, Now is as good of a time as any.

And as soon as I had decided I was “allowed” to use intuition, I knew exactly what to do.

Do you care either way what we do? I asked my husband.

Doesn’t matter to me! Just as long as I’m with you! He replied.

Okay, let’s go home!

And home we went. And it was a lovely little evening.

And since this day, I have used intuition in my day to day decision making – and am ever grateful. I had not realized how intensely the overthinking weighed me down. It was only once it was lifted, that I experienced a “lightness” that I simply hadn’t felt before.


Intuition: Was it right?

I think one of the biggest questions that comes up with intuition is: how do you know it is right?

This is a difficult question. I think intuition is the “most right” decision you are able to make based on everything you know in the present time. Intuition is a quick thinking process that takes all your beliefs/values/desires/past experience/logic – and comes up with the “best” answer based on this.

Some people (including myself in the past) are leery of intuition – because it feels impulsive or feels like it could be emotional based. I would not recommend intuition with the clients I mentioned who struggle with impulsivity. We all need to learn different things. But for the overthinking mind, you are probably FAR from impulsive.

I also worried if I used intuition I would just follow my desires, rather than the actual best choice. But this wasn’t the case. My intuition seemed to know when it was okay to say “no” and rest and when I needed to do the hard work and push myself.

Intuition in small decisions does not necessarily mean everything works out perfectly. My husband and I could have gone home and had a not so great evening that day. Intuition in these small decisions does not necessarily know future outcomes – but it is likely the closest thing to a “right” decision there is.


Intuition: Can you trust it for big decisions?

I know that it is scarier to use intuition for big decisions. Small decisions might seem more inconsequential, but big decisions may change your life quite a bit. My argument? All the more reason to trust intuition.

As an overthinker myself, sometimes I want to go with the most logical choice, because it seems the safest. It may be safe…but it may also leave you unfulfilled in your life. I am not arguing for an illogical decision. But intuition can do a good job of taking into account both your need for fulfillment and your need for stability.

With big decisions, sometimes intuition will say YES, this is FOR SURE! and sometimes it will say I’m not sure yet…let’s do baby steps for right now.

When I was in my senior year of high school I remember looking at colleges and each one not seeming quite right. Logically, they seemed like they could be an okay choice – but something told me to keep looking. When I did find my college I ended up attending, it was clear that this was the right choice and there was no doubt in my mind.

However, when I first met my husband, I thought,

He’s really nice. I really enjoy talking to him. Is he the one? I’m not sure yet.

It wasn’t clear. My intuition told me to take baby steps. We were friends for a very long time before we started dating. We dated for a very long time before we got married. Each step felt right, but intuition did not clarify everything from the very beginning for me – it just led me to baby steps.


The Role of Action when You are Unsure

I think one of the hardest things about being unsure about something is debating about action versus inaction. If you are stuck in your life in some way you might be thinking, I just need to push myself and make some huge drastic change!

If it feels right with your intuition to make a change like that, then go for it. But maybe you haven’t made a change, because it didn’t quite feel right to do so yet. I don’t think we need to force ourselves to take huge action, if it doesn’t feel right to us. Stay where you are at the moment, and take the baby steps of action as your intuition clarifies your path, slowly but surely.


How to Hear from Your Intuition

When it comes to the bigger decisions, the way I have learned to understand intuition, is that it is often the quiet calm voice, rather than the loud voice of anxiety or fear.

Sometimes if I am feeling confused about a decision or a situation that I am in, I will “dialogue with my intuition.” I know it sounds a little strange, but it has helped me find clarity and comfort.

I will open up my laptop and open a blank word document. I type out the question that is concerning me.

For example, I might type:

What should I do about the situation with my job?

First, anxiety will likely start talking and working itself up. Let this pass. Wait for the quiet calm voice. It may not give details, but it will give assurance. When I “hear” the answer I will type it out. It might look something like this,

You should be grateful for the present now, but also be assured that the pieces are coming together for the future. You should be active and also patient. These may seem like small steps you are taking, but rest assured, you are being led somewhere.

Of course, in my ideal world, I would receive specific details and I would suddenly know the future of my entire life. But, this isn’t how it always works. Sometimes intuition will give you the green light to go, and sometimes you will be in a phase of active patience. Throughout the week when I begin to feel uncertain, I remind myself of what I heard from my intuition, and remain confident in my path.


A Few Last Thoughts

Some people think intuition is the holy spirit or a spiritual force leading us.

Other people believe it is our inner guidance or our wisdom.

Some people think these are all the same thing.

Regardless of what you think, if you can believe that intuition is worth trusting, my hope is that it will help you make decisions without the clutter of overthinking. Help you feel confident in your choices without second guessing. Feel assured if you need to make a leap of faith (or a baby step of faith). And be able to fully trust that a path is slowly but surely being revealed to you, even if you can’t quite see the whole picture yet.

I am not arguing that following your intuition will be easy right away. You might need to take some time learning to hear it and learning to trust it.


Our intuition is like a muscle, we must practice listening to it and trusting its wisdom. When you take the time to ask and keep listening for the answer, being at peace becomes easy. -Lisa Prosen


Will you give it a try?





Journal Questions:

  1. Why do you get stuck in the overthinking loop? What do you think causes it? How do you get out of it?
  2. What is your current relationship with intuition? Do you trust it? Why or why not?
  3. What is a small decision in your life that you need to make right now that you are overthinking? If you stopped weighing pros and cons and went with intuition – what would your answer be?
  4. What is a bigger decision or situation in your life that you are unsure about? Take some time to listen for the calm quiet voice. Do you need to make a major change right now? Or is it a time of active patience and baby steps?
  5. How could you work on “building the muscle” of using intuition and be more comfortable with it?


*For more ideas on following intuition check out podcast episode and intuition mini course by Jess Lively.