Life is hectic these days. We are the masters of multi-tasking (well, we think we are anyway, more on that in another post) and we are constantly changing our attention from one thing to another on auto-pilot without really thinking about what we are physically doing. The second the alarm goes off in the morning our day has started and we have a million things running through our minds of what needs to get done today. We start stressing about an exam we should have studied more for or feel annoyed about not doing the laundry yesterday and now you have no clean socks to wear today (that's after we press the snooze button four times first!).
Did you ever get in your car and drive to work and think when you get there "how the hell did I get here? I don't remember the journey here!". So much of our day is carried out through auto-pilot that we forget to be present in the moment and we lose our connection with ourselves and others around us. You end up missing out on so many things. Like the fact that the daffodils are starting to appear along the edge of the road on your way to work, or not hearing your baby saying "Dada" for the first time because you were too engrossed in a Youtube video that was supposed to be keeping the baby entertained while you fed them.
One way that you can overcome this lack of concentration and gain more control over your emotions and happiness is by practising mindfulness. Put simply, mindfulness is the practice of being in the present moment and accepting everything around you without judgement. It's about controlling the way you think about the world and becoming aware of your thoughts, feelings and actions.
I see mindfulness as three main factors:
- Living in the present moment
- Paying attention on purpose
- Paying attention without passing judgment on personal feelings or others actions/feelings
The Benefits Of Practising Mindfulness
Every day there are new studies being published on the benefits of mindfulness and the results are fascinating. Some of these benefits include:
Improved Mental Health
- Reduced symptoms of depression
- Can be used to help substance abuse
- Helps to reduce anxiety
- Helps in gain control over eating disorders
- Can help to reduce Obsessive Compulsive Disorder symptoms
- Practising mindfulness can make you less likely to worry about the future or have regrets about the past
- It allows you to make deeper connections with others rather than being distracted by wandering thoughts while in a conversation
- It can make you less concerned about success and societal pressure to conform to a certain way of life
- It increases your self- esteem and confidence
- Allows you to deal with adverse events in a calm way and rational way
- It makes you savour the little pleasures in life as they occur
Improved Physical Health
- Practising mindfulness has been proven to relieve stress
- It can improve sleep
- Reduce chronic pain
- Lower blood pressure
- Treat heart disease
- Alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties such as IBS
Mindfulness is also used by some psychologists and other practitioners to help their clients to accept their past experiences and learn from them rather than avoiding them or trying to forget about them.
So How Do You Practice Mindfulness?
There are multiple ways in which you can practice mindfulness. Before you start, I think it's important to understand that mindfulness is simple but it is not easy. It takes time and patience to learn how to become completely mindful and live in the present. But one thing is for sure, once you master mindfulness it will change your life.
Let's start at the beginning with the basics.
You can practice mindfulness anywhere. It doesn't have to be in a quiet room on your own.
- Sit somewhere that you like that is comfortable so you can relax. Concentrate on breathing in and out. You will become relaxed more easily if you breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth slowly. This reduces your heart rate also.
- Think about your body from head to toe and feel the sensations running through each part of your body. You might feel an itch or tingle, just let them go.
- Become aware of your senses. What can you smell, hear, see, taste and feel? Try to break it down into very specific sensations. You can more than likely hear more than one sound. Can you smell more than one thing? What can you physically feel?
- Each time your mind begins to wander bring it back by concentrating on your breathing. In through your nose deeply and out through your mouth slowly.
Now try practising mindfulness in other daily parts of your life, when you are showering, running, eating etc. Try to stay in the present and fully appreciate what is around you. Mindfulness isn't about giving thanks for what you have or being grateful for the things in your life, but more about acknowledging and being aware of the present without casting judgement on it.
The ability to observe what is going on around you without casting judgement is really important in learning to be mindful. Try to look at your surroundings objectively without placing blame or looking down on others for their actions or feelings. If someone says something that you disagree with, accept that they are entitled to their opinion the same as you are entitled to yours. Feel free to discuss your opinions but don't place a negative judgement on that person just because you don't agree with their opinion.
Being mindful is also about letting go of past emotions whether they are positive or negative. If you are truly present in the moment you will enjoy the positive experience instead of worrying that it will end or comparing it to past positive experiences. Similarly if you hold on to negative past experiences you may feel worried or anxious that this negative experience in the present will hang around forever.
The good news is that negative memories fade faster than positive memories and over time we naturally feel less negative about these memories and they don't seem to be as big a deal anymore.
Think of a negative memory you have (not something morbid or extremely negative but something that upset you slightly at the time). For example, failing an exam when you were 15 in school doesn't seem as embarrassing or terrible when you're 28 as it did when you were a teenager.
One of the most difficult parts of mastering mindfulness is learning to become non-judgemental of yourself and others. We are really tough on ourselves, probably more than we are on others.
Try to be kind and forgiving towards yourself and others but remember that not everyone will be practising the same as you. Practice empathy and treating others well. Focus on the way it makes you feel in the present moment. When you are in a conversation with someone give them your full attention. Recognise if your mind starts to wander or daydream and bring it back to where it should be.
You will need to practice returning again and again to the present moment. Eventually you will build up a resistance to daydreaming and allow your mind to become distracted and it will get easier throughout your daily life.
Some people grasp the concept of mindfulness much faster than others but I believe that everyone can benefit from practicing mindfulness as least twice a week. Just 20 minutes of mindfulness a day can change your life for the better. You will become more relaxed, less anxious and worry less about the past or future.
After all, we can do nothing about the past or future so why give them space in our mind. Concentrate on the present and live your life to the full. We only have today so let's make it the best day yet!