I’m sure you’ve heard people preaching about mindfulness but what does it actually mean? And how do you go about being “mindful”? When I was first introduced to the concept I have to admit I didn’t quite understand the practice right away. Mindfulness is essentially being fully present and in the moment. It’s being aware of what you are doing and where you are and refraining from focusing on plaguing thoughts of the future or past. Sounds simple? You’d be surprised how little we actually partake in mindfulness. We often overthink things so much to the point that we don’t actually live in the present. Instead we are pondering hypothetical questions or over-analyzing our past actions. We may be stuck in analysis paralysis over future decisions or replaying a conversation we had to make sure we said the right things. Always wondering “What if…?” I was the biggest culprit of this for the longest and I had developed some serious anxiety as a result. It was taking a toll on my well-being and my happiness. After I was introduced to mindfulness I had a 360 revolution. I was able to manage my thoughts and thus my anxiety. While planning ahead is necessary and learning from our past is important, a constant stream of anxious thoughts can be extremely harmful to our psyche. These are just a few ways to practice mindfulness, de-stress and enjoy the present.
Mediation is the traditional way to practice mindfulness and it’s a great way to start. I began practicing mindfulness by simply meditating for 5 minutes every morning before I started my day. There are many different methods of mediation and you can test each of them out to see what works best for you. First, set aside a little time where you can be free from distraction and noise (mornings work best for me as I like to start my day in the right state of mind, but many people use it as a method to prepare for a good night’s sleep or maybe they meditate mid-day at lunch to prepare for the rest of the day – your choice!). Reflect on where are you, what you are doing, how your body feels, your breathe, and your current state of mind. The aim is to stay in the present and avoid thoughts of the past or the future. Your mind will inevitably wonder and that’s OK! Just acknowledge the drifting and return your focus onto the present moment. Let all your judgments go, especially those of yourself. It’s simple but not always easy. As with anything, the more you do it the easier it becomes. This improved my mindset tremendously and it’s a method that anyone can adopt.
It’s harder than ever to actually be present, especially when you can be in a room with a group of people while texting, tweeting, and snapping a million others. While our phones are extremely useful in so many ways, moderation is key. Think about how much stress and anxiety we can get from using our phones. Maybe you’re checking your work emails and you see you have a presentation due. You instantly start dreading it even though it’s not due until the end of the month. Or maybe you’re on Instagram scrolling through your timeline when you see a picture of a fitness model’s rock hard abs. You instantly start feeling guilty for that burger you had for lunch. Or maybe multiple friends are blowing your phone up asking about the plans for the weekend. You instantly start racking your brain trying to find something to do. These situations can not only cause premature or unnecessary stress, they take you away from what you are actually doing and/or who you are with at the moment. This world is as fast-pace as ever and it’s so important to take a breath and slow down. One way to do this is to turn off your phone for a while – unplug. I recommend trying a whole weekend without it, but if this seems too tough then just try a day or even just a few hours to start. Use this time to enjoy other people’s company or nature or a good book. It will be difficult at first since we are so used to constantly being stimulated by technology, but you will discover a whole new type of peace as a result.
- Focus on the present
To practice mindfulness in everyday life, start by selecting a situation when you would like to try this practice. For instance, a night out with your significant other or friend is a perfect time to try this. When you’re at dinner, pay attention to every detail of the restaurant. Notice the colors and the background music. Notice the people surrounding you. Simply notice, not judge. Take in all of the ambiance and notice how it affects your mood. Pay attention to the way your partner’s voice sounds and color of their hair. Take your time going through all of the menu items reading each one in detail. Taste each bite of your food and recognize the flavors. Like in meditation, anytime you find your mind drifting simply acknowledge the thoughts and return your attention to the current moment. I find this actually easier than meditation as you have more things to focus on vs when you are simply sitting in silence. You can practice this whatever way you would like – maybe while you are exercising or cooking or shopping. Mindfulness can be and should be used in any situation.
- Set aside time to worry
Although we must escape our worrisome thoughts to practice mindfulness, it’s hard to do that when you have things that you genuinely need to worry about. While too much worry causes anxiety and stress, no worry at all can result in a lack of planning or execution. Yes you heard correct, worrying can not only be good, but necessary. Worrying means you understand the consequences of your actions and you are able to put things into perspective. It motivates you to make a plan and get things done. Worrying about a big work project on your day off is unnecessary but if you don’t think about it all you will be left with no presentation and maybe no job. There is a time and a place for worrying and mindfulness allows you to decide when and where. When worrisome thoughts pop into your head, first assess whether worrying about it now is necessary. Ask yourself, “Can I do anything about this right now?” If not, then set time aside to think on it later. I usually put a reminder in my phone and set a time for it to pop up. Or you can keep a list on your phone of “items you need to think on” and add to it when things arise. Then at your designated “worry” time go through the list and spend time thinking about each. Once you’re finished end the “worry session” with a little meditation. This will help you to regain your mindfulness.
Those are just some the ways I have used to work on becoming more mindful. I would love to hear if any of you have other suggestions. Leave a comment or send me an email. I’m always eager to hear from my readers!