Mind Full or Mindful?
In today’s busy world it’s important to find the healthy balance, here’s how!
Mindfulness has been around for centuries, originating through Buddhism. It started to become mainstream in the 70’s when a stress reduction program in the US became popular. By the 2000’s it was part of everyone’s language. But what is it? Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. While mindfulness is something we all naturally possess, it’s more readily available to us when we actually know it, understand it and practice it.
We’ve all been there. You are physically in a meeting supposedly paying attention yet your mind is wandering off, thinking about all the things you could and need to do elsewhere. Or the times you are chatting to someone and you start thinking about your evening plans and politely nodding to suggest you are listening when you’re actually not. Let me assure you, you are quite normal and it is just the way our minds are automatically programmed.
A study by Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert sampled over 2,000 adults during their day-to-day activities and found that 47 percent of the time their minds were not focused on what they were currently doing. Even more amazing, when people’s minds were wandering, they reported being less happy. This suggests it might be good to find ways to reduce these mental distractions and improve our ability to focus. Ironically, mind-wandering itself can help strengthen our ability to focus, if leveraged properly.
1. Set aside some time…
You don’t need a meditation cushion or bench, or any sort of special equipment to access your mindfulness skills—but you do need to set aside some time and space. Start small. Plan for 10-15 minutes a day to test it out. Some people have found just 5 minutes a day valuable. Ensure your space cannot be interrupted. And get yourself into a comfortable position.
2. Focus on your breathing…
When our minds are full, our breathing is often fast and short or held for long periods of time without us even noticing. Focus on your respiratory system and breathe in, then out, in, then out, ensuring it is consistent and slower (approx. 5-6 seconds). Concentrate on your breath allowing for the rest of your body to relax into it.
3. Observe the present moment as it is…
The aim of mindfulness is not just quieting the mind, or attempting to achieve a state of eternal calm. The main goal is simple: we’re aiming to pay attention to the present moment, without judgement. Easier said than done, we know. Think about how you are feeling? What is happening to your physiology? You could observe an object near you and really observe what it is all about.
4. Let your judgements roll by…
When we notice judgements arise during our practice, acknowledge them by making a mental note of them, and then let them pass by. Use your breathing to allow ideas or unwanted thoughts to be let go.
5. Return to observing the present moment as it is…
Our minds often get carried away in thought. That’s why mindfulness is the practice of returning, again and again, to the present moment. Don’t judge yourself for whatever thoughts crop up, just practice recognising when your mind has wandered off, and gently focus on bringing it back. Be constantly aware of what is going on around you – your breathing, your feelings, your thoughts.
That’s it. That’s the practice. It’s often been said that it’s very simple, but it’s not necessarily easy. The work is to just keep doing it. Practice and consistency is essential for successful results.
So don’t beat yourself up the next time you find yourself far away from where your mind was supposed to be. It’s the nature of the mind to wander. Use it as an opportunity to become more aware of your own mental experience and practice some mindfulness techniques. This way you will be on high alert at meetings and be present in conversations with your friends.
Collard, P. (2014). The Little Book of Mindfulness. Hamlyn.
Killingsworth, M. A., & Gilbert, D. T. (2010). A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Science (New York, N.Y.), 932.