It’s a simple question. But are you able to recognise the difference between the two states in yourself? There is a big difference. And mindfulness and mind ‘fullness’ is a big deal when it comes to you, your health, your well-being and also how you interact with those around you and therefore, the ripple effect you create in your life.
Ask yourself – are you the person who has a mind full of thoughts, worries, fears, anticipations, job lists and tasks to check off? Or are you the person who notices, appreciates and enjoys your surroundings and focuses on your current activity?
Mindfulness and mindful living is an ancient buddhist practice but has been conceptualised in the western world as adapting a different mindset: one that starts with awareness of yourself, and others, without judgement or attachment to outcome. Mindfulness is a practice of inner reflection to gain a deeper understanding of yourself and others.
In his revolutionary book, Eckhart Tolle says, ‘The primary cause of unhappiness, is never the situation, but my thoughts about it.’ Our minds have a natural way of projecting our fears of past situations into our present just as our minds imagine a future that hasn’t happened yet. By living mindfully, we live in the present moment, we can slow down and can break our destructive thought cycle.
Mindfulness contributes to the determination of your attitude. When your mind isn’t so selfishly wrapped up in your own thoughts, you create space for so much more empathy, compassion, kindness; when your mind is free of chatter and distraction, you have improved clarity and focus and therefore, productivity. With a calmer attitude, you can respond to situations rather than react by reframing your thoughts about a situation. This can be summed up by a wonderful quote by Baba Ram Dass: The quieter you become, the more you can hear. – Baba Ram Dass
Mindfulness is also an empowering tool in the self management of stress and anxiety by lowering both blood pressure and heart rate; it is key to restoring the parasympathetic state and switching off our stress hormone responses, lowering cortisol and adrenaline.
So now you know what mindfulness is and why it is important to have a mindfulness practice, you may wonder how you can have a mindful attitude in a very full and busy life. I came up with the acronym MINDFULNESS to give you 11 ways to bring mindfulness into your life.
I covered meditation in my article last month. Meditation is intentional mindfulness where the goal isn’t to control your thoughts, but to stop them controlling you. It is a practice that allows your mind to reset, just like turning off a computer when it overheats from being overworked, you need to turn off your mind when it has been running over time.
Not everyone has the inclination to meditate or you may find times when meditation just doesn’t work. Therefore, here are 10 other ways in which to bring about a state of mindfulness and find calm.
Deepak Chopra says, ‘The best use of imagination is creativity. The worst use of imagination is anxiety.’ By getting creative, you can engage in imaginative thinking; research has found that those who daydream are the most positive and also score highly in mindfulness.
It’s time to get out of your head and enjoy doing something creative by drawing, writing, painting, cooking, gardening… and I am sure you can use your imagination to do something else!
N: Do Something New
Have you ever noticed that when you attempt to do something new, you have to use all your concentration? There is no head space for thought when you are completely focused.
How about going on an adventure and having fun while you are doing it? What have you always wanted to do? Learn to salsa or sky dive? Watch out next month for a new series of articles on ’50 ways to leave your 40s’ by Jo Howell.
D: Ditch the Devices
We are constantly connected to others, to work, to social media through the fabulous medium of technology, however it is arguably one of the biggest hindrances to mindfulness and our ability to connect with ourselves and others. There is a time and place for technology, the art is knowing and being mindful of when that is.
You may feel slight ‘separation anxiety’ from your devices, so just as you would build up to running a marathon, start small and build up to a full day of a ‘digital detox.’ For example, turn off all the notifications from all apps and only look at your phone when you want to, rather than when your phone calls for your attention. I found bookending my day with 30 minutes of phone free time – not looking at my phone until after breakfast; leaving it in a drawer downstairs when going up to bed – and reading a book rather than scrolling emails or social media feeds made a big difference.
F: Feel Mindfulness
It isn’t about being happy all the time. It is about acceptance of the moment you’re in and feeling whatever you feel without trying to resist or control it. Suppression of any emotion can be dangerous and overwhelming; running from your feelings only intensifies it and in the end, will exhaust you. Stop running, take a moment and name the feeling and then find a way to let it go.
Naming your feeling makes it real – anger, sadness, happiness, disgust; digging deeper into the root cause can help you find a solution. Is your anger born from frustration and annoyance or humiliation and betrayal – can you face it and work out how to alleviate those feelings?
U: Understanding Thoughts
Did you know you have over 50,000 thoughts a day?
Being mindful starts with what you say to yourself; being mindful starts with your thoughts. Your thoughts create your feelings, your feelings generate physical emotions; emotions drive your behaviour and your behaviour leads to actions and actions create our reality.
As Mike Dooley points out ‘Thoughts become things, so choose the good ones!’ Why not try a 10 day challenge to not complain or use negative language to yourself and instead, choose kind words and thoughts; notice how quickly your mood and attitude changes.
L: Do the Locomotion
Kylie coined the phrase ‘do the locomotion’ and I use it here to fit with my acronym but what I really mean is – MOVE! The fastest way to quieten your mind is to move your body and participate in some active relaxation.
Movement has been proven to alleviate stress in the body, reduce anxiety and overwhelm, and is often prescribed as part of lifestyle medicine. Even if you aren’t stressed, moving will bring about mindfulness as you focus on the activity at hand and free your thoughts.
However you like to celebrate your amazing body, do that! Dance in your kitchen, walk the dog, go for a run, do yoga…
N: Nature Bathing
One of my favourite ways to bring about a state of mindfulness is a Japanese practice called ‘Shinrin Yoku’ – forest or nature bathing. Bathe and bask in the fresh air and really become aware of your surroundings. By using all your senses you can not only ground yourself but be mindful; feel the warmth of the sun, smell the fresh cut grass, pine needles, hear the birds…
Rather than go for coffee, why not go for take-out and a walk? Take a mindful moment on a park bench or your garden and bathe in nature for 5 minutes each day.
E: Eating Consciously
There is a wonderful proverb that says ‘When walking walk; when eating eat.’ When was the last time you had a meal without the radio, TV on or laptop open? Perhaps you take a working lunch or breakfast on the go? How often do you savour your food? Mindful eating is simply eating and drinking, becoming aware of each bite or sip, using your senses to appreciate the food you are eating.
Try taking at least one mindful meal a day and connect with the wonderful sensation and joyful act of eating.
S: Single Tasking
I used to be so proud of multi-tasking! Do you find yourself taking a conference call, cooking supper at the same time as changing a nappy? Or even toggling between 10 different open windows and projects. Studies show that by multi-tasking you not only take 50% longer to achieve tasks but also make more errors. In terms of mindfulness, multi-tasking is the enemy of focus because it divides your attention.
Mindfulness isn’t just something you practice during a 10-minute morning meditation session. It can be incorporated throughout your everyday life by simply paying a little more attention to your daily activities as you’re performing them. The mindful way is to focus on one task completely for a given period of time, and then take a break before continuing or moving on to another task.
S: Start and End the Day with Gratitude
There is a common misconception that we will only feel happy when we have what we want. But actually, it is not joy that makes us grateful, it is gratitude that makes us joyful.
There is always something you can find to be grateful for in even the most traumatic times, even if it is your breath in and your breath out. By living mindfully, you are more likely to find more and more of those moments to be grateful for.
Try a 10 finger gratitude practice in the shower or find a pretty note book and at the end of each day, note down anyone or anything that has made your day special.
Mindfulness is a practice that will help you move from overthinking to feeling. By being mindful, you can shift your thinking and doing from thought and mind to being heart centred. This is when you become more authentic, you become more compassionate, more empathetic, more patient and a much nicer person to be around.