Mindfulness is defined by the dictionary as a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations without judgement.
In today’s fast-paced world, getting many things done in the shortest time possible is seen as a benchmark of success. Slowing down and staying focused on the present is seen as unproductive and a waste of time. But practicing mindfulness has been scientifically proven to have benefits. These include:
Improved overall well-being: Being mindful makes it easier to savor the pleasures in life as they occur, it helps you become fully engaged in activities, and creates a greater capacity to deal with challenging events. By focusing on the here and now, many people who practice mindfulness find that they are less likely to get caught up in worries about the future or regrets over the past, are less preoccupied with concerns about success and self-esteem, and are able to form deeper connections with others.
Improved physical health. Mindfulness can help relieve stress, treat heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, improve sleep, and alleviate digestive difficulties.
Improved mental health. Psychotherapists have turned to mindfulness meditation as an important element in the treatment of a number of problems, including: depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, couples’ conflicts, anxiety disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
How to practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is not about sitting cross-legged and meditating for hours; rather, it’s making a deliberate attempt to focus on your present thoughts, feelings, and activities. This means you can practice mindful living in your everyday activities. Here are 7 ways:
- Mindful eating
Mindless eating occurs when you simply go through the motions of putting food in your mouth and your thoughts are somewhere else – i.e. on the tv show in front of you, on the newsfeeds of your social media accounts, or on the difficult emotions that you are trying to comfort through food. When you eat without focus, it can contribute to physical problems like overeating and consuming too much salt or sugar.
Mindful eating is simply pay attention to what you are eating. Really see what is on your plate, so that you can check if you are eating a balanced meal. Junk foods should be taken in moderation, if not kept to a minimum. Don’t gobble everything in one go; chew the food slowly to make it easier for your stomach to digest it. Savor the tastes. Notice when you are getting full so that you can stop. When you become more intentional about what you’re eating, you’ll be better equipped to focus on fueling your body with the nutrition it needs.
- Mindful listening.
When someone is talking to you, give him your full attention. Look at him in the eye instead of doing work, chores, or scrolling through your phone. Accord your companion the respect that you would also like to receive.
- Mindful communication.
When you talk to someone, think before responding, especially if the subject is contentious. Don’t interrupt — wait until they finish talking before responding.
Do not lash out in anger, as it can make the situation worse. Pay attention to how you are feeling, then see if you can give your opinions calmly and rationally.
- Engage in day-to-day activities mindfully.
Do you ever have trouble recalling whether you’ve brushed your teeth already before going to bed? Or do you sometimes forget why you walked into a certain room? Those are signs that you have a lot of things going on in your mind and you aren’t being mindful. The best way to focus on the present is to tune in to the physical sensations of the activity at hand, becoming fully aware of everything you do, and not thinking about anything else.
So if you are brushing your teeth, savor the feel of the warm water in your mouth, of the bristles going around your teeth, or of the minty fresh flavor of the toothpaste. If you are about to go into a room to get something, think about what the object looks like and how it will feel to grasp it in your hands. Don’t think about doing other things if you have not yet completed the task that you originally set out to do.
- Take pauses throughout the day
If you are having a busy day and are moving from one task to the next, it can be difficult to stay mindful. When this happens, try taking mini-breaks throughout the day to practice a few basic mindfulness exercises, like:
- Focusing on your breath – inhale deeply through your nose, then exhale through the nose as well. The length of your inhales and exhales should be the same. Count your breaths; continue breathing in and out in an even manner until you reach one hundred.
- Gentle stretches – chair yoga can be done without having to leave your desk, and it only takes 15 minutes
- Progressive muscle relaxation — work on tensing and relaxing your muscles, one muscle group at a time. With practice, you’ll learn to recognize when you’re tensing up certain parts of your body.
- Do one thing at a time
Many people equate multi-tasking with being productive, but the truth is when your brain is madly shifting from one activity to the next, it is losing attention and not retaining as much information as it should – so it ends up being very unproductive! The next time you are tempted to do more than one thing at the same time, bring your focus to the task that is more important. Put your phone on silent mode or log out of your social media accounts so that you will not be tempted to check every notification that pops up; set a timer for the amount of time you need to work, and it is only when time is up that you can move on to doing something else.
- Accepting yourself
Lastly, the best way to stay focused on the present is to focus on yourself. This means perceiving your experience and simply acknowledging it rather than judging it as good or bad. For example, when you feel pain, whether it’s physical, (such as a painful shoulder) or mental (like depression or anxiety) don’t wallow in despair or blame yourself or others. Simply acknowledge what happened, learn what mistakes were made so you don’t repeat it in the future, then focus on things in the present that can make you happy.
Mindfulness is a “practice” because no one will get it when they first start, and no one can claim that they are living mindfully 100% of the time. It is human nature for the mind to wander and be distracted. But just keep trying and be patient; the goal is not to live mindfully all the time, but to do so more often than not. When you begin to focus on the present, you can start enjoying benefits like decreased stress, improved relationships (with others and with yourself), and greater overall happiness.