Are you having trouble concentrating?

We asked Ruth Farenga, founder of Mindful Pathway – now Conscious Leaders, to help us find an easier way through the mind fog by learning how to practice mindfulness and create good habits for wellbeing.

Ruth says, “Mindfulness is developing our awareness so that we can respond differently to thoughts and feelings over time. It allows us to respond instead of reacting – giving us choice and freedom over our behaviour (instead of being dragged around by our thoughts). It comes from developing a practice through structure and habits.

If we’re keen to improve wellbeing and productivity, we need to explore how we develop systems that stick so we can work on ourselves each day.”

This 2 minute video explains the science that supports the practice of Mindfulness.

This is a summary of the Q&A.

Q. I’m interested to hear about good ways to make Mindfulness more of a regular habit. Even though I’ve experienced its benefits I still struggle to make it part of my routine.

Ruth Farenga Making it a habit is a BIG DEAL. In terms of habits, we need to understand ourselves and what motivates us. I’m a big fan of James Clear’s work – he says ‘a goal without a system is just a dream’ so if your goal is to improve your wellbeing this will just be a dream without a system in place.  You need to find a system that works for you:

  • Is there a set time of day that you could do your meditation practise?
  • Are you motivated by others e.g. an accountability buddy?
  • What other habits are you doing that you could tag this onto (habit-stacking) e.g. brushing your teeth.

Q. My problem is I tend to turn to it when I really need it rather than making it part of the “normal” days too. I’m a slave to Google Calendar so I find if I remember to schedule it in there, there’s a much greater chance of me doing it.

Q. Is creating a mindfulness habit, or practising mindfulness any different during the COVID crisis compared to in more normal times?

Ruth Farenga For many, now is a more anxious time (it was for me at first at least) so that means we may find meditation harder as the mind may wander more. The important thing to know is that this is OKAY! Despite most things you read, Mindfulness and broader meditation practice is NOT about achieving a state of calm. It’s more about developing an awareness, kindness and curiosity to what is happening in the present moment.

So more than ever, we may need to let go of achieving a state of calm and be more present with difficult sensations, thoughts, feelings and gently bring our attention back each time the mind wanders. In this way we’re building a muscle of awareness.

Q. My favourite time of the day is breakfast so should I associate mindfulness as a second breakfast?

Q. Brilliant idea – seeing it as a treat as opposed to ‘yet another thing to do’ is a great idea. Could it come just before breakfast so you could reward yourself with breakfast after? This is a great way to create a habit!

Q. Do you have any suggestions for quick and easy ways to squeeze mindfulness into our days, so we can start with a small habit and build on it over time?

We need to decide that this will be a priority for us if we want to see any benefits. Adrenaline is addictive and this makes it harder.  I feel a bit like Nike here but ‘just do it’. Try it every day for a month and see how it works for you.

When I first got into Mindfulness I was a SUPER-busy-anxious-stressed-depressed-type so I’m fully convinced that if I can do it, anyone can. Don’t wait until you feel like absolute complete shit like I did. I was fully burnt out which wasn’t fun.

Q. What made you chose mindfulness over other activities as a way to change when you were feeling burnt out?

Ruth Farenga  The main reason was that I don’t like fluffy things so the ‘bells and smells’ stuff wasn’t of interest to me. Also, I was living in Oxford and Oxford University has a whole department for Mindfulness research so I thought, if it’s good enough for Oxford, it’s good enough for me!

I read about the clinical evidence behind the 8 week Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy or Mindfulness-Based Stressed Reduction course (MBCT or MBSR) so I first read a book then did an 8 week course, then repeated it, then went into teacher training on the side. I had no plan at the time, it just felt right!

A big issue is that all of the Mindfulness community (including those teachers who are unqualified) will use the same research to their advantage but it’s really quite specific and lots of us spent 2 years in teacher-development so this is frustrating. This is similar to many disciplines so its always worth checking that any teacher has a Diploma in Mindfulness Teaching and has a supervisor.

Q. Do you have any tips to help children to switch into their observer mode?

Ruth Farenga Anything you can do to model this behaviour is brilliant – you articulate well the observer-mode – this state or mode is something can practise e.g. ‘I’m noticing I’m feeling really angry right now’ is GREAT. We can encourage this kind of language in our households to build curiosity – as opposed to judgement – into our own thoughts and feelings. There are specific resources for children but I’m very much of the thinking that children are often more mindful that we are – we just beat it out of them through our ways/ education system etc.

Jon Kabat-Zinn (founding father of Western Mindfulness) describes it as ‘a wise and affectionate attention’.

Most of us have to learn to give ourselves this kind of affection, curiosity and non-judgement. Our western society is largely set up for judgement and our brains are wired for survival, not happiness so we have to work at this stuff.

Q. If someone wants to start practicing in a group or learn more about this with supervision / coaching, what are the options?

Ruth Farenga My top recommendations for training are – if you’re a self-study type person then have a go using this book – Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman. It’s gold-dust!


Or if you prefer group training check out your local MBCT or MBSR teacher for evidenced-based training.


The Conscious Leaders Podcast

Ruth also publishes the Conscious Leaders Podcast with some very exciting guests who are taking particularly radical or innovative action with the way they lead their people and organisations. They share what’s working and the challenges as well as giving a unique insight into their personal journey and philosophy that has emerged.