What is mindfulness? There are multiple definitions that can be found if you were to google mindfulness. The definition that resonates the most with me goes something like “mindfulness is the non-judgmental awareness of your thoughts, emotions, and body that allows you to be present in the moment”.
A great way to think about mindfulness is to take a moment to think about the opposite of mindfulness. Have you ever been on the highway and looked around and all of a sudden had a moment of panic because you weren’t sure where you were? Did I pass my exit? Did I go too far? Then you see a landmark and realize you didn’t miss your exit, whew nothing to worry about. That my friends, is what is called being on auto-pilot. Think about it? You were literally operating a vehicle, probably at high speeds, and your mind was literally not present at all for that experience.
We can find ourselves on auto-pilot throughout the day. Anytime we are lost in our thoughts, our worries, and/or our to-lists we are most likely operating on auto-pilot. We can find ourselves attaching judgment to ourselves and our thoughts. For example: I can’t believe that I forgot to do that today, why can’t I just fall asleep, this is so stupid why do I keep thinking about this, or I am so stupid.
Mindfulness tells us we don’t have to follow every thought and feeling we have. Our minds think that is what they do, and our bodies feel. We don’t have to apply judgment to these things and follow them around town. Mindfulness is the practice of being present to your emotions, thoughts, sensations, and environment without judgment.
Anytime we shift our awareness away from our thoughts and those pesky to-do lists and come out of future or past thinking we can focus on the present moment at hand. We can retrain our brain so that we don’t have to follow every thought, which allows us to live in the present moment.
Why should you care about being in the present? Generally, future thinking is where anxiety lives and past thinking or rumination is where depression lives. Both ways of thinking are not in reality and the only thing they do affect is our present moment. Our present moment is where our life is happening right now.
There are also several benefits to practicing mindfulness such as decreasing depression, improving emotional regulation, reducing anxiety and stress, increasing memory, and improving cognitive function.
I also have a tendency to have a very busy mind that tends to be thinking in hyperspeed. If my brain was a computer screen it would have a minimum of 30 tabs open at all times. I’ve personally found building a mindfulness practice into my day has allowed me the ability to slow down, to pause, and to discern between following every thought I have or allowing myself to shift back to being present.
Mindfulness is very much a practice. It isn’t about being perfect it’s about coming back over and over again practicing being present.
Below are 4 quick tips for practicing mindfulness throughout your day
Breathing is one of the few automatic functions that we also have control over when we choose. We can use our breath as an anchor in the present moment. Allow yourself to draw awareness to your breath and the rise and fall of your chest. When you notice that your mind has wandered to a thought without judgment gently draw your attention back to your breath and the rise and fall of your chest
When you are at a stoplight allow yourself to draw attention back to your environment. Do not fiddle with the radio or your phone. Take a few mindful breaths and look around. Take note of the color of the sky, the cars around you, what do you hear, or smell. Look out your window, look around do you notice anything new.
Go for a walk and take a few deep breaths. Feeling the rise and fall of your chest and the air in and out of your noise. Listen to the sounds around you: your feet hitting pavement, birds, leaves rustling, or traffic. Is it cool or warm, do you feel the sun on your face? Look around: are the flowers blooming, are the leaves falling? Allow yourself to tune into your environment around you.
A mindfulness practice doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be a moment. A moment for a mindful pause. Connecting your feet to the ground, feeling the air moving around you, your heart beating, the flow of your breath, and even taking in what you can see. Letting yourself take a mindful pause can be a great way to incorporate mindfulness into your day in a sustainable way.