“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” ~Zen proverb

Have these thoughts ever crossed your mind?

I don’t have time to meditate.
I want to, but don’t have time to exercise.
I always seem to be running behind.
I wish I could manage my time better.
I wish there was more balance in my life.

I hear them all the time in my mindfulness trainings. Some of these thoughts cross my mind too. Meditation is a habit for me so that’s not a problem. But for other things in my life, I hear myself saying, “I don’t have time for that.” So what’s going on here? I practice mindfulness and all the people coming to class are practicing mindfulness. One would think that we are “mindful” of how we spend our time. Why do we still not have enough time?

Do we really not have enough time?

If we look at our to-do-lists at home and at work, we can confidently say that we don’t have enough time to do it all and have enough time to do the things we want to do like meditate, exercise, friends, and hobbies.

Laura Vanderkam studied 1001 days in the lives of extremely busy women. What she discovered is powerful. It’s not that we don’t have time, but that it’s not a priority. See for yourself how it feels when you say to yourself, “I don’t have time to exercise” and “I don’t exercise because it’s not a priority.” The two statements evoke different feelings and experience in our bodies. The first statement feels helpless and limiting. The second one comes from a place of choice and agency. I am choosing to not exercise because it’s not a priority. And if you say it that way, you may pause to examine if indeed exercise is not a priority.

Vanderkam’s Ted talk gives great ideas to figure out your priorities in life and at work. However, it can still be hard to act on our goals because the brain is sticky and sneaky (read this post on why its hard to change). We are going to look at how the three mindfulness trainings address this issue.

“We don’t build the lives we want by saving time. We build the lives we want, and then time saves itself.” ~Laura Vanderkam

Read this before you start: As you dive into the 3 mindfulness trainings, you may feel like there is a lot going on and there is. Our minds are complex and to bring any kind of change we need to work at it using different practices. My recommendation is to pick one practice that resonates most under each of the three trainings – Awareness, Insight, and Skillful Actions – and play with those. Then come back and read again to see what you are ready to add on to your mindfulness practice.

1st Mindfulness Training: Awareness

  1. Attention to Body Sensations

Let’s go with the scenario that your physical health is a priority for you. Given this is a priority, you may choose to eat and include some kind of movement that would support your goals of being healthy. Training in mindful awareness would help us check in with our body through out the day to examine our physical needs. If I have been working on a project for a while, stopping to breathe and check in with the body can give me important information that will also help me perform better. It is easy when we are engrossed in our work to ignore the body needs. It is essential to stop and examine your body to discover what it needs. Maybe it’s more hydration, nourishment or some movement like walking or stretching in your chair.

  1. What is Important Now

If it’s your scheduled time for workout or eating and you are still immersed in your project, take three breaths. With first breath, collect your mind; with second breath relax the body; and with third breath ask yourself, what is important right now.

  1. Awareness Without Grasping or Resisting

Notice any grasping or desire to work on the project and any resistance or aversion to exercising at that time. Turn to your feelings and where in your body you are feeling them. When you don’t give into your grasping or resistance, see what emerges. If you still find yourself stuck in patterns and not satisfied with your choices. Continue the awareness to create space for insight into what’s really going on.

2nd Mindfulness Training: Insight into What’s Really Going On

Often the mind wants immediate answers and results. Notice any restless with the process. Recognize it may be a function of our need for stimulation or desire to do what is habitual. Stabilizing your awareness, without clinging or pushing away, creates the space to see with clarity what the busy mind can’t see.

  1. Unlabel Yourself & The Situation

See if you are labeling/judging yourself or the situation in any particular way. For example, you may notice judgments – I am too lazy, I am busy, It’s too hard. Unlabel yourself and dive into your bodily sensations at the time. Our bodies never lie. If we stay long enough with our actual, immediate, direct physical sensations in the body, what it needs will rise to the top. In the body there are endless possibilities, which a label, such as I am lazy, takes away from us.

  1. Befriend Your Sneaky Mind

The mind is sneaky and may use self-compassion as a way to avoid exercising – I’ve been working hard on this project and need to take it easy or take a nap or watch Netflix instead or whatever it is you do when you are tired. Befriend your sneaky mind. Know that it is only trying to take care of you and go back to your bodily sensations to listen to your body’s needs.

  1. Contemplating Reality

If your body awareness is not offering clarity, contemplate on the nature of reality.

  1. Contemplate on what has heart and meaning for you. While many of us love our work, it is only one aspect of our lives. Ask yourself, “What makes me happy?” And happy here is not the temporary pleasures in life but what gives your life meaning? What energizes you? What do you need in the long run to do all that has heart and meaning for you?
  2. Contemplate impermanence. Nothing lasts. Once this project is over another one will come and then another. The satisfaction we receive from our projects is impermanent. What is the point of keeping our lives on hold for things that are changing and don’t provide lasting joy?
  3. Contemplate your intentions. Real motivation comes from within. Check in with your intentions for physical health. Why do you want to exercise? Is it for yourself or others? How do you feel when you have good health and vitality? Tap into how the intention makes you feel rather than making it something you have to do or should do.
  4. Contemplate mortality. This is not a morose thought. This is about stopping to remember


    Focus on what matters most by Kusala Bhikshu

    that we are here only for a brief period of time and we don’t know when this life will end. Contemplating our mortality helps us to make better choices while we are alive. What will you do with this one precious life? Before you know it, this life will pass. And when you think back, what will be worth remembering? How do you want to live now, so you don’t have regrets then?

  1. Investigate your thoughts. If none of the above work to provide insight, then directly question your thoughts. For example, if you have thoughts that I don’t have time to exercise, ask yourself these questions:
    1. What are the facts about my situation?
    2. What are the assumptions I am making?
    3. Are they true? How do I know they are true?
    4. What are other possibilities and perspectives?
    5. What small step can I take in alignment with my goal?

Insight training is intended to give us an understanding of the deeper and bigger picture of our lives so we can make choices more intentionally rather than habitually. It’s inviting us to live an examined life that has heart and meaning. It allows us to bring change because we can see beyond the immediate project. Work, challenges and life will not wait for us. In the absence of awareness our habitual mind dictates our choices. When we bring awareness to our minds, we gain agency to choose our life and how we want to spend our time.

3rd Mindfulness Training: Skillful Actions

Sometimes awareness and insight are not enough to act on our priorities. This is where the 3rd training helps.

  1. Skillful Actions All Day Long

Keep the awareness of your priority for physical health and vitality alive through out the day, not just when you get to eat or it’s time to work out. Sometimes we get to it at the end of the day when we are too tired to cook something healthy and work out. What I want to emphasize here is that in order to rewire your brain to make health and vitality a priority, you need to be aware and act on it through out the day. The brain is sticky and wants to repeat old habits. The way to change old habits is to replace them gradually with thoughts, words, and actions that align with your new habits or goals.

  1. You don’t have to feel good to do it.

We may think that when I have energy or the time is right I will do xyz. If you keep repeating old habits, your brain will never feel good about the change. However, often once we do what is needed, we do feel good. Take a moment to acknowledge how it feels when you do what is needed. Only by doing it over time will you rewire your brain to remember that doing this actually feels good. Till that happens simply do it!

  1. Appreciate your genuine efforts and not just outcomes

While we deal with the stuckness and challenges of doing something that is not yet a habit, appreciate your genuine efforts. Often we judge outcomes. And outcomes can take long to materialize. We can lose heart and give up if we don’t see outcomes. Instead, appreciating our intentions to live a wholesome and meaningful life is encouraging. Studies show that self-criticism impedes reaching our goals and self-compassion supports our goals. Feel good for the small steps you are taking regardless of the outcomes.

In this post we explored how the 3 mindfulness trainings can be used to find time for our priorities using the example of exercise. The 3 trainings can also be used to bring any other change you are looking to make. What you may have experienced as a limitation imposed by time, becomes something for you to explore and gain the right understanding that frees you from any limitation.

The three mindfulness trainings work in conjunction to help us know our minds and bring the change we want to see, with more ease and compassion for ourselves.

Simply stopping creates space to explore our reality and expands the time at hand. Try it for yourself and share your experience below!

To learn more about the three trainings click here.

And here is the Ted talk I mentioned earlier!