You may have heard the term mindfulness being used a lot in the world of wellness, this one word that reminds us to slow down, to take a moment and consider things, to not rush through life.
But what does mindfulness actually mean? Mindfulness is the art of being here and now and focusing on every aspect of your current experience. Throughout your day you might do repetitive tasks, like brushing your teeth, driving or getting dressed, when you are performing these tasks the brain sometimes goes into “autopilot” mode, where you are physically doing the task but the mind is thinking about something else and the next thing you know you’ve reached your destination, or you’re dressed. Mindfulness is that act of moving away from “autopilot” mode into “being” mode and it seeks to develop awareness, attention to the present moment and cultivates a non-judgmental, curiously kind mind.
What is mindfulness?
Simply put, mindfulness is the act of paying attention. Attention to thoughts, sounds, sensations of the breath or parts of the body and catching yourself when your mind wanders in order to bring yourself back to the present moment.
"Essentially it is all about staying present..."
Essentially it is all about staying present, not allowing your mind to wander or distracting yourself when you notice uncomfortable emotions arise.
What are the benefits of mindfulness?
· Mindfulness helps you to develop new healthier habits. One of the most common unhealthy habits that can be eased with mindfulness is over-thinking or overly obsessive thoughts.
· It can help you to not “buy into” negative thoughts that can be hurtful to your mental health.
· It can help you to develop skills to break free from unwanted behaviors that are damaging to you.
· Many studies have shown that mindfulness can reduce stress levels
· Boost your memory
· Increases focus and suppresses distracting information
Overall, mindfulness has been shown to increase self-awareness, integrity, boost your intuition and regulate fear.
5 characteristics of mindfulness
One of the key characteristics of mindfulness is the art of observing. Steering the mind away from the never-ending thought loop, or “thinking” mode and towards “being” mode. Being present in the here and now. It encourages you to observe your experience in a more direct and sensual way, instead of an analytical way which results in lots of thinking.
We are naturally wired to think about things rather than experiencing them, so with mindfulness we move away from a thinking focused state of being into an observational experience by observing our thoughts, feelings, and sensations (5 senses) with a gentle curiosity.
Within your mindfulness practice you may start to notice fine details of what you are observing. For example, you could hold an orange in your hand and mentally describe it, describe the shape, colour, texture, smell, etc. You could apply the same exercise to your emotions. If there is an emotion that has come to the surface, instead of distracting yourself, you could try to observe it, notice your thoughts around this emotion, notice if it shows up in your physical body in any way.
The idea here is that you participate in the full experience, try not to exclude anything that arises but rather observe it with curiosity and no judgment. Taking care and attention in every aspect of the experience.
Be accepting of your experience, no matter what arises. One of the many causes of prolonged emotional distress is the consistent attempt to control and avoid our experiences. Shift your attention away from thinking mode and into being mode, don’t try to control your experience and notice how things flow freely.
This is one of the most challenging aspects of mindfulness and just like any new skill it takes practice. Continue to practice with no judgment and gentle curiosity.
Distracting thoughts are natural during any mindfulness exercise; the idea is to try to focus on one thing at a time. The mind has this tendency to chase thoughts, which usually results in more thinking. The idea is that you start to notice when this happens, and when you do, you bring your focus back to a single point, and this is called “being present” and is a skill that needs to be developed. When this happens, and it will, it is not a mistake, simply acknowledge that it has happened and return to observing your experience.
How to become more mindful?
Just like any new skill that you wish you learn, mindfulness takes time to develop, it takes effort, time, patience and practice, and there are many different ways that you can do this. Try out a few of the suggestions below to find one that works for you.