The concept of “mindfulness” - the practice of focusing your attention on the present moment and to be able to quiet your mind- is everywhere nowadays. Research in contemplative neuroscience suggests that practicing mindfulness has a positive impact on our health, makes us more resilient, regulates our stress response, increases emotional intelligence and strengthens our ability to focus. I recently read an article in which Professor Ellen Langer, from Harvard University, Director of the Langer Mindfulness Institute, and one of the world’s leading researchers on mindfulness, offered three tips on how to achieve mindfulness, which I thought offered excellent advice for people who are facing divorce.
1. Embrace uncertainty. Divorce is a time of immense upheaval and uncertainty. This uncertainty makes people feel scared, uncomfortable and vulnerable. Embracing this uncertainty doesn’t mean you like it, but it does mean that you will refuse to let anxiety, fear or anger paralyze you. Realize that you might not have all the answers today, but that you can and will get those answers by remaining patient and calm while you search for answers. Then, within the space that you have given yourself to live in the uncertainty, begin the process of empowering yourself to address the uncertainty. Read, talk to friends and get help from experts who know what you are going through and can help you to identify solutions. Your ability to control the demons that uncertainty unleashes with a calm, strategic approach will have an enormous positive impact on your divorce and your post-divorce future.
2. Free yourself of evaluations. Often we are our own worst critic. When we are overly critical of ourselves, we rely on others to decide what is best for us and/or we hesitate to make decisions out of fear of consequences or failure. Making decisions can be a major source of anxiety. Divorce involves making many decisions about your life in a short period of time. Be fair to yourself and realize that you can’t know how every decision will turn out. You can only control how you make decisions. Keep your focus on the process of making decisions and seek help from people who will help you to understand and weigh all your options.
3. Broaden your perspective. Divorce conflict is often the result of people falling into the “conflict trap”. Simply put, when a person does something we do not like, we often ascribe bad motives to the other person. Make a conscious effort to avoid this trap. If your spouse says or does something you don’t agree with, try to understand his or her behavior from their perspective before you assign judgment. This skill will allow you and your spouse to communicate and work toward finding solutions to conflict through collaboration, rather than fights.
Only out-of-court divorce methods, like Mediation and collaborative practice, incorporate the elements of mindfulness into the divorce process. These methods are focused on finding solutions and creating a better decision making process therefore help clients dispel the uncertainty and anxiety caused by divorce. In contrast, Courts rely heavily on uncertainty - and the fear it creates - to motivate people to make decisions in divorce. Further, Courts create an environment in which people are prone to fall into the conflict trap, often making an amicable divorce impossible. Mediation and collaborative practice offer people a divorce process that focuses on avoiding the conflict trap through an emphasis on communication and collaboration.