You have a thousand thoughts racing through your head each day. Millions, maybe. Does it mean you are mindful, or is your mind full? If you said the latter, you’d be right on the mark. Having a full and chaotic mind is rarely any good for our general well-being. However, being mindful has been proven to come with a long list of benefits.
What Are the Benefits?
As you would learn from the folks at Mindful.com, mindfulness is actually a basic human capacity for being entirely present. It is awareness at its best, letting us be aware of where we are, what we are and are not doing, and not being overwhelmed by what is happening around us.1)
If you read that and sighed, thinking something along the lines of “Well, that sounds nice”, you’re not alone. And in doing those things, being present, aware and more in control also comes with benefits like:
- Choosing how to handle challenging situations, feelings, or thoughts best
- Being able to respond with calmness and empathy
- Enjoying a greater sense of well-being
- Feeling physically better (lower blood pressure, better sleep, and better digestion are but a few of the physical benefits from mindfulness)
- Improved mental health
So, how do you become more mindful to enjoy all of these side effects? Let’s look at that now.
The experts at Psychology Today describe mindfulness a bit differently, illustrating it as a state of active attention or openness to the present. It is a state that allows the individual to observe their feelings and thoughts, but without labeling or judging them as positive, negative, good, or bad.
Living mindfully, say the psychologists, is living in the moment and awakening (some say reawakening) to the present. This means no dwelling on the past or dreading or anticipating the future. It is intended to become a habit that allows the individual to manage latent emotions that cause problems in both the professional and personal life.2)
These same experts say that mindfulness can be summarized as a form of meditation as well as a therapeutic activity. They describe it as a tool that will allow the individual to develop and sharpen their awareness of their emotional and physical state, without simultaneously being overwhelmed by self-judgment and self-criticism.
That is why it is even being identified as a resource for those who are coping with rejection or social isolation.
Is It Difficult?
Practicing or getting more mindful is not difficult, but does take commitment, focus, and practice. It starts with your thinking about how you experience time.
For example, do you allow feelings of insecurity or fear about the future or the past keep you from existing as fully as possible in the moment? In other words: Are you paying attention to the “right now”?
That is a real problem for most people, and particularly in today’s world of distractions, noise, and constant “to do” lists and pressures. It is why one of the first steps in becoming mindful is to start doing daily meditations.
Mindfulness Begins With Meditation
Meditation is not an hour, or more of sitting cross-legged, breathing in a focused way and channeling your thoughts where you want them to be. That is how millions of people meditate, but there are millions of others who can’t make that happen. That is why the meditation you can use to start getting more mindful and feeling all of the benefits looks like this:
You begin by sitting down and taking deep breaths.
Yes, that is it. Now, don’t get it wrong, you don’t just sit there breathing. You pay attention to each breath. Again, we can turn to the experts from Psychology Today to offer explanations of how such breathing can be done, and they offer steps that include:
- Focusing on each breath
- Focusing on sensations in the moment – scents, sounds, the feeling of breathing, the temperature, and ambient surroundings
- Shifting focus to the emotions and thoughts present in the mind, allowing them to exist without also assigning judgment or thoughts of negativity or positivity to them; they are witnessed as passively as possible
- Sitting with those thoughts and monitoring one’s responses
This is something experts agree will often generate strong emotional reactions, but which must also be seen as a rare chance to identify and then address or resolve the underlying issues and hurdles.
The medical professionals at the Mayo Clinic also make a note of the benefits of this approach and process and explain that modern people often dedicate too much time to problem-solving, planning, negative self-talk, daydreaming, and random thinking; all of which is deemed “draining”. Such habits lead to anxiety, depression, and chronic stress. Mindfulness exercises, this group says, directs attention away from the harmful and instead forces engagement in the actuality, the world around the individual.3)
Other Exercises to Get Mindful
In addition to the sort of focused breathing and meditative work described above, they suggest even more basic exercises, which can be done as you go through the day. These exercises include:
Paying attention and taking time to use more than your sight or sense of hearing to experience the environment. Slowing down to touch, smell, taste and see can instantly enhance well-being and consciousness.
Practicing mindful eating and focusing on how you are eating rather than on what you are eating.
Living in the moment by intentionally focusing attention on all that you do, i.e., “it’s the small things that matter”. Finding joy in simple pleasures is a way of being more mindful during your day.
Accepting yourself by simply treating yourself (physically and emotionally) as you would a close friend.
In addition to this altered mindset, they also suggest a few alternative, but still mindful, meditations that include:
- Body Scan Meditation – Lay on the floor with legs and arms extended, ad palms up. Starting at the top of your head, focus on each part of the body. Be as aware as you can of feelings, thoughts, and emotions attached to each part. If there is tension of any kind, note it and try to release it
- Walking Meditation – Pace out a twenty step area in a place you like. Then begin to slowly walk back and forth those ten to twenty paces in each direction. Walk slowly and be focused entirely on that alone – feet slowly rolling along with the steps, how you are standing, how you are keeping balance. Keep doing the steps, back and forth, heightening awareness with each step
How Often You Should Practice Mindfulness
How often should you be doing such exercises? Realistically, you want to make this a part of your daily existence. It takes at least three weeks to make or break a habit, and as you want mindfulness to be more than a specific task and a genuine part of your psyche, it can take a lot longer than 21 days. Simply start by choosing one of the exercises here. See if it “works” for you over a few days, and do as many during the day as you want.
Soon, you will feel more attentive and attuned to your surroundings, and then you will be able to open the floodgates and allow yourself to become ever more mindful, in control, and at peace throughout your day and night.