Are you finding yourself overwhelmed, irritable, and having difficulty managing life’s curve balls? Maybe your brain has many tasks, fears, or disappointments running in the background preventing you from focusing on what you are doing right now. Maybe you’ve reflected after a day spent doing things that were supposed to be fun with your family and realized you weren’t fully there because your mind was somewhere else.
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing as fully as possible on the present moment. Your brain naturally gravitates toward things from the past or things in the future, distracting you from paying attention to what’s happening now. Past rumination is most commonly about past hurts or nostalgic wishes which both leave you feeling sad. Future rumination is most commonly anxiety driven, entertaining ways to control circumstances yet to come leaving you feeling powerless. The reality is that you can truly only be in the present moment and it is the moment that is most commonly neglected.
Think about it. Is it usually the present moment that is stressing you out or the thoughts running in the background while you’re trying to do the present moment? In the morning, making toast and eggs isn’t actually stressful if you’re noticing the texture of the bread, the scent of the eggs, the color of the yolk, the sound of the toaster. The stress comes from the long to-do list you’re running through your head or the conversation you’re replaying from yesterday when you wished you’d thought of the excellent comeback you now have in mind.
Most of the time, the present moment is not actually that stressful when we can retrain our brains not to wander to the past and future. Easier said than done, right? I’m not going to lie. This takes repetitive mental exercise, however, your brain is wired to be remolded when you practice new habits. You are made for change. The question is, are you willing to do the work to GET WELL and LIVE WELL by pursuing presence in the current moment?
Beginning a PRACTICE OF MINDFULNESS requires that you embrace a few ideas:
- Mindfulness means NOTICING your surroundings as you observe them through your 5 senses. “I see a red car, I hear my favorite song, I feel cool air blowing on me, I feel the smooth steering wheel, I smell my peppermint car freshener.”
- Mindfulness means LETTING GO of trying to CONTROL what is outside your control. Accept what is happening and think about how you can bring the best version of yourself into that situation.
- Mindfulness means LETTING GO of JUDGING people and circumstances as good/bad. Instead notice and accept behavior and circumstances as they are. Recognize that your response does not need to be determined by whether others are behaving well or badly.
- Mindfulness means NOTICING and NAMING FEELINGS without allowing your feelings to determine your response. “I’m noticing that sadness is surrounding me right now and I can feel it in my throat and in my eyes.” A feeling can just be a feeling when you understand and name it.
- Mindfulness means NOTICING that thoughts and feelings come and go like waves and usually naturally move on if we do not grasp or avoid them.
- Mindfulness means PARTICIPATING fully in exactly what you are doing right now. Let go of ruminating and begin describing your present experience to yourself through your senses. “I have my hands in this warm, soapy water. It feels relaxing and the bubbles are iridescent. It smells like lemon. The sound of the water running reminds me of a creek.” Allow yourself to become immersed fully in the present experience.
- Mindfulness means TENDING to each thing in it’s own time. If while you are focusing on the present moment, you are noticing a repeated invasive thought about a future task, you can set aside a specific time later when you can give the future task your full attention.
- Mindfulness means DOING ONE THING AT A TIME. There is something relaxing about refusing to multitask.
Once you decide you can get on board with the ideas, begin the LIVE WELL practice of mindfulness with the following steps:
- DESCRIBE your moment by moment actions to yourself. “I am getting out of bed, the floor is cold, I’m turning on the shower…”
- NOTICE past/future oriented thoughts. “I am noticing that I’m thinking about my work meeting tomorrow.”
- GENTLY DISMISS past/future oriented thoughts. “Now is not the time to think about my work meeting. I will spend 30 minutes tonight preparing for my meeting. Right now, I am focusing on…..”
- RETURN to describing your moment by moment experience using your senses. “I see a blue umbrella, I smell fresh rain, I feel moisture on my skin, I hear drops of rain.”
- REPEAT the process over and over knowing you are retraining your brain. And at some point in the near future, you won’t have to work so hard at it!
It is most helpful to begin these steps of mindfulness during specific life activities such as teeth brushing, eating breakfast, and driving. After you build momentum in several life activities, you can begin putting your morning activities together to build hours of mindfulness. Keep in mind that it takes about 21 days to create a new habit, then additional weeks to sustain the habit.
I have found mindfulness to be an incredibly life-giving practice. I used to worry about the future throughout the day running numbers, to-dos, and planned activities through my mind. The practice of mindfulness has created a space for me to live and enjoy each day with less background noise. It has become such an ingrained habit that I now notice when the background noise returns and this is a signal to me to explore the imbalance and return to intentional mindfulness practice. Mindfulness has also significantly increased my capacity to GIVE WELL. I am more attentive, calm, and present with my family, friends, and clients without the background noise.
Mindfulness has the potential to reduce stress, decrease anxiety, improve depression symptoms, improve focus, and increase experience of daily calm. Why wouldn’t you want more of that? I encourage you to take the 21 Day Mindfulness Challenge. Commit 21 days to developing this practice and track your progress along the way by journaling how you feel different.