It’s a busy world, and we are constantly multitasking.
In the rush to do everything, we might find ourselves losing our connection with the present moment—missing out on what we are doing and how we are feeling.
- How did you feel when you woke up this morning?
- What details did you notice on the way to work this morning, if any?
Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment — and accepting it without judgment.
Mindfulness improves well-being.
Being mindful makes it easier to enjoy the pleasures in life as they occur, and helps you become fully engaged in activities, creating a greater capacity to deal with adverse events.
Mindfulness improves relationships.
By focusing on the present, and practicing mindfulness you are less likely to get caught up in worries about the future, regrets over the past, are less preoccupied with concerns about success and self-esteem, and are better able to form deep connections with others
Mindfulness improves physical health.
Scientists have discovered that mindfulness techniques help improve physical health in a number of ways: relieves stress, lowers blood pressure, reduces chronic pain, improves sleep, and alleviates gastrointestinal difficulties.
Mindfulness improves mental health.
Mindfulness meditation can be an important element in the treatment of a number of problems, including: depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder
The aim of mindfulness is to take charge of your busy mind, and move it from worrying into a more relaxed state.
It’s all about focusing your attention on the present moment; bringing awareness to your thoughts, emotions and physical sensations, which allows you to manage your worries better, rather than allowing them to spiral out of control.
Mindfulness can be cultivated through mindfulness meditation, a systematic method of focusing your attention.
Here’s how it works:
Go with the flow.
In mindfulness meditation, you observe the flow of inner thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations without judging them as good or bad.
You also notice external sensations such as sounds, sights, and touch that make up your moment-to-moment experience. The challenge is not to latch onto a particular idea, emotion, or sensation, or to get caught in thinking about the past or the future. Instead, you watch what comes and goes in your mind and discover which mental habits produce a feeling of well-being or suffering.
Stay with it.
At times, this process may not seem relaxing at all, but over time it provides a key to greater happiness and self-awareness as you become comfortable with a wider and wider range of your experiences.
Above all, mindfulness practice involves accepting whatever arises in your awareness at each moment. It involves being kind and forgiving toward yourself.
Some tips to keep in mind:
- Gently redirect. If your mind wanders into planning, daydreaming, or criticism, notice where it has gone and gently redirect it to sensations in the present.
- Try and try again. If you miss your intended meditation session, simply start again.
By practicing accepting your experience during meditation, it becomes easier to accept whatever comes your way during the rest of your day.
The brain is excellent at task-based problems. This is sometimes called the ‘doing’ mode, in which the brain tries to work out the logical steps required to solve the problem.
It’s also called ‘goal’ based, as you’re trying to achieve a specific outcome.
In the ‘doing’ mode your brain continually searches your memories for previous experiences and knowledge, which it thinks might help you complete the current task.
And it does this without you consciously trying to recall past events. This ‘doing’ mode of the brain is very powerful and essential to everyday life.
For example, if you’re worrying about tomorrow’s exam, your brain will default to the ‘doing’ mode.
You brain might try to recall your past exams. It’s trying to help you solve the problem by presenting previous examples for you to consider.
But in this case, it can’t really solve the problem of ensuring your exam goes well. And by presenting examples of previous, nerve-wracking exams could make you more worried.
That can then lead to you asking broader questions like “why can’t I do well in exams”. And so the worry train picks up steam.
In other situations, this ruminating can lead to questions like:
• “why am I always tired or unhappy?”
• “why can’t my relationships go more smoothly?”
These types of emotional issues just don’t lend themselves to an analytically based ‘doing’ approach.
Mindfulness takes a different approach by suggesting that there’s an alternative ‘being’ mode for your brain.
It teaches you how to develop this ‘being’ approach when faced with thoughts which worry you.
The first hurdle is to recognise that thoughts are only thoughts. And they aren’t always good predictors of the future.
In essence, you have to learn to live in the present, not the past or future.
In the ‘being’ mode you aim to take much more notice of your body and of your surroundings.
You might still have the same thoughts swirling around your mind. But rather than focusing on them, you learn to acknowledge them in a compassionate way. And recognise that they are just thoughts.
One approach is to try to see your thoughts as passing clouds. You are still aware of them and acknowledge them. It’s almost as if you are an observer noting the thoughts, but not acting on them.
You aren’t trying to stop these thoughts, and probably couldn’t even if you tried. You don’t need to get upset, disappointed or even angry that you are having them. The idea is to view them in a different way.
And by doing so, you can prevent the downward spiral of increasing worry, anxiety and stress keeping you awake at night.
This is, of course, easier said than done, and it can take time and patience to really feel the difference.
Don’t let that stop you though: the rewards are well worth the effort.
On an informal basis you can also cultivate mindfulness, by focusing your attention on your moment-to-moment sensations during everyday activities.
This is done by single-tasking – doing one thing at a time and giving it your full attention. As you brush your teeth, lock the house, lock your car door, eat an apple, slow the process down and be fully present as it unfolds, being aware of involving all of your senses.