Have you ever wondered why you are feeling a certain way? How about have you ever lost your train of thought? Or have you been overwhelmed with thoughts and feelings? Constantly checking your phone while “engaged” in a conversation with someone face to face. Or still, have you stopped in your tracks and wondered what it is you were just doing? The better question might be: how often do these things happen?
There is a thread that runs through all of these things. That thread is mindfulness. Mindfulness is being aware and present with an ability to focus on specific tasks, thoughts, sensations, and emotions. Mindfulness is a way to better understand what is happening to you and your surrounding environment and to be present for experiences and those you are with. The opposite of that is not being aware or present, and being stuck in your head. Sound familiar? If so, read on. If you can! Do you have the concentration to read through the entire article without being distracted? Do you?
Fearing the future, regretting the past – we all spend time there. But to what end? I’m not saying a person shouldn’t plan for the future or learn from the past. What I am saying is regularly regretting past things or wishing things had gone differently is not helpful. Similarly, fearing what may or may not be coming down the road is not going to serve you well. What will help is controlling yourself and those external measures you can also control while letting go of those things you can’t control.
Mindfulness is a practice. It isn’t something you simply have or don’t have. Of course there is a degree to which you are currently mindful, but that can be improved upon if you so desire. Yes, you can improve your ability to focus and be aware. Since mindfulness is a practice, it could be part of your daily routine, eventually making it a healthy habit (link to healthy habits article). Just like other things such as getting in shape or learning a new skill, don’t expect to become amazing overnight. There isn’t a finish line that you are sprinting towards where you will win a prize if you get there first. This is not a competition. There is simply a path to be journeyed, you don’t know where it ends, but you know with every step you will discover something new.
There are specific benefits related to being more mindful, such as:
- Decreased stress
- Decreased anxiety
- Better sleep!
- Reduced high blood pressure
- Reduced mental fog
- Increased memory
- Improved relationships
- And improved mental acuity
The drawbacks to practicing mindfulness? Just a few minutes of your day...which will lead to gaining focus and the ability to be more productive…so nothing, it will cost you nothing.
So how does one get started? Remember, it is more helpful to create a practice that leads to a positive routine or habit than to win some imaginary trophy overnight. Start small. Start with finding a comfortable position, sitting or laying down, in a quiet, undistracted place and focus on your breath for a few minutes. Simply focus on drawing a deep breath in through your nose, noticing how it sounds and feels to fill your body, and then notice it leaving your body, how that feels and what it sounds like. That’s it. Really. The challenge is to stay focused on your breath and not let your brain take over with random thoughts. You are going to have thoughts, which is okay. The crazy thing is you aren’t even going to realize that you are no longer focusing on your breath at first. At some point you are going to be like, “Wait, what happened?” That is okay, the point isn’t to be free of thoughts, but to try to realize when you are losing focus and then returning your attention to what you are focusing on (your breath, in this case).
Besides thoughts, you will experience sensations in your body. Instead of your breath, you could choose to focus on your physical state. Do you have an itch, is there a muscle twitch, is it warm or cold, and how does that feel? Pay attention to these sensations, but leave it at that – don’t let your thoughts overrun your experience. Notice how your body feels, without judging the sensation or judging yourself – just notice the sensation and move on to the next, always trying to refocus on the sensation if you realize your focus has shifted to something else. Or you could focus on how you are feeling. Are you stressed? Tense? Happy? Bored? Try to focus on the emotion without judging it. It isn’t bad to be stressed, it’s a feeling/feedback from your body trying to tell you something. Similarly, it isn’t good to be happy, it’s just a feeling/feedback. Try focusing on the emotion and how your body feels around the emotion, again without judging yourself, and pulling your attention to your emotion when you notice your thoughts taking over.
This will help with your overall focus and then can also be practiced in other aspects of your life. For example, when eating, try not to distract yourself with media of any kind. Try to engage with your food: What does the food look like? What are the different colors or shapes? What does each bite taste like? The texture? What does it feel like to chew? Paying attention to this is working on being mindful.
Another example is having a conversation. Instead of checking your phone, or thinking about what you have to do later, or what someone else is doing, or what is on the tv, or a past conversation, or (my personal favorite) thinking of what your response is going to be before the other person has finished talking! How about you focus on the person speaking? What are they saying? What is their body language? Can you tell what their emotions are? What does the sound of their voice actually sound like? Focus on the conversation – be mindful of the experience of listening. This is where being present to those around you and to the conversations you are having can help improve relationships.
There are many different things you do throughout the day that have become habits that you are not mindful of. Paying attention to what you are doing, slowing down, and focusing on one activity at a time, is practicing mindfulness. Doing that, along with a daily, specific mindfulness practice will help you with worry, doubt, anxiety, and mental acuity, along with providing many other benefits. Again, starting with just a few minutes a day is great. You aren’t going to be perfect and that shouldn’t be the goal. As time goes by, try to increase the time spent in your daily mindfulness practice to increase the benefits associated with mindfulness.
There’s an app for that. If you would like some assistance with your mindfulness practice, check out this website with app recommendations: https://www.developgoodhabits.com/best-mindfulness-apps/
Some helpful references: