In a fast-paced world, our minds are pretty good at keeping up. We multitask. We rush to meet deadlines. We rapidly process complex information. Meanwhile we may have underlying worries about our relationships, finances or health. When our minds race all day long, however, we can miss some of life’s simple pleasures right in front of us.
What is mindfulness?
The practice of mindfulness is a time- tested remedy for a common modern problem: distraction. Mindfulness means focusing your attention on the thoughts, emotions and sensations of the present moment—and accepting them without judgment. Rooted in meditative tradition, the simple practice of mindfulness is something anyone can do at any time to become more engaged in the present.
Benefits of mindfulness
When you learn to slow down and more fully experience the physical sensations of the present moment,
you become more grounded, alert and engaged. You can more effectively break free of worries, fears, hurt feelings and self-criticism. You can attain better physical and emotional well-being, and feel less stress.
How to become more mindful
Engaging in simple actions throughout the day can help you be more present in your life.
- Start with the breath. Although the phrase “Just breathe!” may seem like an oversimplified prescription, there’s wisdom in it. In good times and bad, it helps to focus your attention on the breath as it flows in and out. This enables you to relax and perceive the present moment clearly.
- Pay attention to physical sensations. Fully experience how it feels to have the warm sun touching your skin in the springtime. Stop and deeply enjoy a refreshing drink of water after exercise. Soak up hugs from your children. Sit still outside and listen to various birdcalls and neighborhood sounds. Directing your attention in this way helps ground you to the reality of the present.
- Avoid multitasking. Instead of dividing your attention by doing multiple things at once, focus on one task at a time. This helps you do everything better. Studies show that divided attention causes people to take 50 percent longer to accomplish tasks, while making more errors.
- Get outside and walk. Taking an outdoor walk in a meditative manner is a great way to calm the mind, gain new perspective, and trigger more sensory awareness. Taking walks allows the mind to relax and become more creative. It also helps to collect and organize thoughts and can help sharpen your focus. Doing your walking amidst the green spaces of nature gives you true mental and physical rejuvenation.
- Notice what’s around you. Look deeply at your surroundings as you pass through them. Try to see the world with fresh eyes daily, even when traveling familiar routes.
- If you feel stuck in a rut, try a different route! Strive to take in the sights, sounds and scents of your environment.
- Be attentive in conversation. When someone is speaking to you, don’t let your mind wander or pull you into formulating a response. Listen intently to gain deeper understanding.
- Eat slowly and enjoy. These days it’s common to eat quickly, while on the run or while doing other things—without much enjoyment. Try slowing down. Savor each bite. This not only improves your experience but eases digestion and keeps you from overeating.
- Relinquish the past and future. Consciously slow down and pay attention only to what’s occurring right now. Do not try to plan your experiences, such as, “I’ll be so happy when...” Stop and experience each moment, and accept it for what it is. This helps you see the impermanence of those pesky negative thoughts and worries—which you’ll soon realize do not define you! You also may find that you’re much more grateful for the blessings in your life.
- Mindfully unplug. Set parameters for your use of the cellphone, particularly at home. For example, when spending time with family or friends, put the phone away and look each person in the eye during discussion. This fosters better connections in your relationships.
- Always be ready to start again. If you feel your mind wandering into self-criticism, regret, fear or avoidance, just notice the thought (e.g., “regretting that argument”).
- Gently return to the sensations of the present. Mindfulness is referred to as a practice—and it takes practice to stay in the present moment and stop judging or reacting to your own thoughts. Just let them go!
A key component in retraining your brain to be more focused is learning how to meditate. Research suggests that even a few minutes a day can make a difference in being able to regulate your emotions.
- Find a quiet comfortable place.
- Keep your back straight to prevent feeling sleepy.
- Focus on your breathing and try to relax the mind.
- Take deep breaths in and out while resting your mind.
- If you lose focus, simply re-direct your thoughts back to your breathing.
Mindful people are generally more happy, spontaneous, empathetic and secure. Studies show that the practice of mindfulness affects the brain patterns underlying stress, anxiety and depression. When uncomfortable feelings arise, you can recognize and detach from them more effectively.
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