Have you heard of mindfulness?
Mindfulness has become a popular buzzword in recent years and although it’s tossed around a lot, many folks are unsure exactly what mindfulness is. Boiled down, mindfulness is simply an approach that we can take towards our daily life.
Mindfulness is an effort to have intentional awareness of what is going on inside of you and outside of you within the present moment.
Mindfulness looks like noticing your thoughts and emotions from moment to moment, and working to observe and understand them without becoming caught up in them. A mindful approach allows us to take in data about ourselves and what’s happening around us with more accuracy. And this helps us to cope and make decisions more effectively.
Sounds a little tricky though! And also, why is this even a thing?
Mindfulness is not a new concept (it's believed to have originated in the Buddhist faith). So why all the buzz with educators, elite performers and celebrities talking about it all of a sudden? Many top companies including Apple, Nike, Google, Prentice Hall Publishing, and HBO have even implemented mindfulness programs for their employees. Mindfulness concepts have also been adapted and introduced in a wide and non-spiritual range of settings including athletics, schools, workplaces, medical settings, the military, and prisons.
Well...regular meditation and other mindfulness practices have been studied extensively and the benefits are vast, both physically and emotionally.
Mindfulness has been proven to help:
reduce stress and lower blood pressure
reduce physical pain,
improve attention and focus
increase cognitive functioning,
regulate emotions like anxiety, anger, sadness, jealousy, etc.
decrease reactivity to frustrations.
Curious? I knew you would be!
Here are some other ways to understand mindfulness:
Mindfulness is about the quality of presence that you bring to your everyday life.
Mindfulness is awareness of your present moment with acceptance and clarity rather than avoidance or distraction.
Mindfulness is a way of living awake with your eyes wide open, rather than acting on autopilot.
Mindfulness is the act of consciously focusing your mind in the present moment to more effective in navigating it.
So how do we get more mindful? Here are 5 easy ways to start:
1. Focus your attention towards your breath on purpose. Because your breath is always with you, it’s the easiest tool for a mindfulness pause. Regroup yourself by stopping and slowly observing the air going in through your nostrils. Follow it all the way to your chest or your belly. Then exhale slowly and notice the air’s path as it exits out of your body. Really observe the intricacy of it and count “in 1, out 2” to keep your focus from wandering. Breath focus is a strategy you can use to take a mental break without others around you even knowing and it’s a great first step to the practice of intentional awareness.
When your thoughts drift away (and they will), just notice the drift and gently shift your attention back to your breath. This drift and shift pattern is exactly the brain muscle you want to work on to increase your focus. The practice of pulling your attention back increases your ability to skillfully control the direction of your thoughts and focus over time. With practice, you get more skilled at directing your thoughts in helpful ways even when they are more intense.
2. Frame your day to be mindful. When you first wake up in the morning, sit up, put your feet on the floor, take a deep breath, and think about your intention for how you want the day to go and how you plan to navigate challenges. Roll your neck a few times to get connected with your body.
Create a mantra to act as a mental anchor for your day. Make it simple and something you can repeat throughout the day as a mindful reminder to re-calibrate yourself. “Today I will focus on being calm.” “Today I will focus on learning one new thing.” “Today I will focus on being kind.” Try to come back to your mantra throughout the day as a purposeful decision to think about something specific. This repeated effort helps you to practice your control over your attention and focus.
3. Set a mindfulness alarm on your phone or computer. Create a reminder for yourself to pause at intervals throughout the day. When you get the alert, ask yourself: “What am I thinking right now?” “What am I feeling right now?” “How am I holding my body right now? Take 10 slow, deep breaths in and out. Focus on relaxing your shoulders and releasing tension anywhere you can feel it in your body. Most people spend nearly 47% of their time on autopilot thinking about things other than what they are actually doing. The more you practice focusing your attention on one thing at a time, the more your brain gets trained to do that with ease throughout the day.
4. Walk mindfully. When you walk down the hall to speak with a coworker, walk to get a drink refill, or walk to use the bathroom, try doing it with focus and intention. Notice the feel of your feet in your shoes, your muscles in your calves, your joints in your knees, your posture. Walk without your phone! When you notice thoughts wandering to your mental tasklist, bring your attention back to your body and the act of walking. A goal of mindfulness is to take an intentional break from the over-processing you do all throughout the day that over-taxes your operating system.
5. Observe your thoughts. When you notice that you have a thought that is future-oriented (and therefore likely to include some anxiety about outcomes), practice redirecting yourself to the current moment. Some helpful questions to ask when your brain is spinning towards future worries are: “What about this situation is still okay right now?”“What are the actual facts that I know right now?” and “What is within my control right now?”
Most of the time, in the actual current moment, things are not that awful. We often make tough things even worse by focusing beyond the now. The regular practice of shifting back to the current moment of now helps improve your perspective on reality and increases your ability to manage the actual moment and not your mentally-created catastrophic one.
The practice of mindfulness may seem like a current fad, but the results speak for themselves. Exercise was a fad too until research showed its immense benefit on overall health and wellness. Start small with a daily mindfulness effort however you can for just one week and see what you notice about the benefits to your brain functioning and focus. Try focusing on your breathing more, or choosing a daily mantra, or setting a mindfulness focus alarm, or walking mindfully or paying more attention to your thoughts. Or try several to see which one is easiest for you to keep up with.
Final thought: The best mindfulness practice is the one you actually do, whether it is once a day or nineteen times per day. Whatever you can be consistent with is the winning method toward mindfulness. Wouldn’t you like to wire your brain for calm and shift the way you perceive yourself, others, and life situations for better and better days? Mindfulness practice helps!
Photo credit: geralt on Pixabay