Mindfulness is all over the news. It’s the treatment du jour, and has been found to help people with everything from finding happiness to being more productive. When you are working to change behaviors, like substance abuse or any problematic behavior, being more mindful can be the key to figuring out which behaviors to target, what skills you want to use in a given situation, and having the flexibility to handle whatever is thrown your way.
I won’t spent too much time describing what mindfulness is, there are tons of books on the topic of mindfulness (for an in-depth look at mindfulness, see this Lifehacker article). The definition I am using is being completely in the present moment in a non-judgmental way. What that means is that you work to keep yourself in the current moment, without being distracted by what you have to do next, how you hope things will turn out, or what has happened in the past. The non-judgmental part refers to observing what is happening for you in that moment, and only observing it, without any judgments. Why not place judgments on a feeling (“feeling sad right now is weak!”) or an event (“this is stupid.”)? Because that judgment will pull you out of the moment. As you spend time thinking about what you are judging, you will miss the next moment.
So, how can you be more mindful this week? The following are three tips that can help you to be more mindful throughout your day.
Thank you Fitbit, Nike Fuel band, and the other personal tracking devices that have become so ubiquitous in our society. You all have helped us to be more mindful! How? You’ve increased our awareness of how much we move, of how active we are, and (in some cases) how well we sleep. More importantly, you’ve helped us to recognize the importance of tracking!
When you start to track things, like how much you walk, you become much more aware of walking in general. When you aren’t walking, you become aware of that decision, and the decision becomes more of an internal conversation. Why aren’t I walking? Could I walk right now? Do I want to walk? All of these questions increase your connection to the present moment and your conscious decisions.
Now imagine tracking your moods. Tracking your thoughts for a minute. Tracking positive things that happen for you in the day. Start small by tracking one important thing. By tracking something, you will become more connected to it, and more mindful of it when it happens.
It feels hard to slow down. Even the thought of slowing down can sometimes raise our anxiety. And, slowing down is often the key to getting more out of a moment. When we move quickly or try to multi-task, two things happen that tend to take us out of the moment. One is that we can feel rushed, which may or may not be the state you need to be in (is there really a need to be in a hurry right now?) and we lose the ability to consider all of our options before deciding on how to act. This acting without consideration and awareness can lead to impulsive decisions that we may regret later on (and sometimes instantly). The second thing that happens when we are rushing through every second is that we do not full experience the moment we are in. The tragic thing is that we are often rushing to get to the “moment when I can slow down.” When you pause to think about it, do you ever really get to that moment? How many potentially interesting, emotionally fulfilling, or stimulating moments have you missed because you rushed through them?
Here is an example of how this can cause you to miss out of a whole day! Some days at work can be very long, and all you want to do is get home and relax. You tune out of meetings and imagine your trip home. You get home hoping to relax and are greeted by your young children who want to play. So, you start to play with them, all the while waiting for them to go to sleep so you can finally relax. Sound familiar? In all the rush to relax there is a chance you missed intellectually stimulating conversations at work, you missed the joy of watching your kids laugh and enjoy your company and probably did not even notice your sweet dog waging his tail and wanting to play a little ball. By staying in the moment you can realize that you may not want get to that moment of relaxation, because you are engaged and stimulated and you may feel quite relaxed at the end of being fully engaged in play with your kids and dog.
Malcolm Gladwell famously wrote that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to gain mastery of a subject. Mindfulness, one could argue, requires many more hours to master! That said, we do know that you can see significant increases in mindfulness from even short periods of practice. Here, Daniel Golman talks about how we can practice focusing our attention, and how it can pay dividends with our health.
So, what’s the best way for you to practice this week? Well, you have a few options. First is to practice some mindful meditations. Try searching the web for mindfulness podcasts (here, I did that one for you). Or, if you want, you can download these mindfulness practices. Second, you can try the great app Headspace (http://www.getsomeheadspace.com/), an app that provides you with mindful mediations on your phone. Finally, you can try being more mindful on your own. Try taking a mindful walk, where you just focus on walking. Or mindfully sit at your desk at work, doing one thing at a time. It sounds easier than it is, so give yourself a break if you have a hard time with it.
I hope that this gets you on the road to a more mindful life! If you have some resources that help you be more mindful or that help you to practice mindfulness, please share them in the comments below.