Mindfulness: It's Easier Than You Think
Written by: Matt Bradley
The kids are screaming, your boss isn’t happy, and it seems like your spouse is determined to do everything possible to annoy you – you need some of that inner calm everybody’s talking about!
Enter, mindfulness. That state of mind when you’re focused on the here and now. Being mindful is being able to observe your thoughts and emotions without judging if they’re good or bad. Instead of right and wrong, sad or happy, mindfulness is a state of mind where someone can maintain the calm needed to navigate experiences with crystal clarity.
It’s not as complicated or hard as it might seem. Let’s look at the origins of mindfulness, why it’s so popular now, how it helps you, and easy ways to start practicing mindfulness in your daily life.
Who Thought Up Mindfulness?
The roots of mindfulness extend back over two and a half thousand years of the Buddhist tradition. Although Buddhism is religious, mindfulness practice is completely separated from religious practice and is increasingly accepted and used in western society.
This doesn’t mean you can’t also explore other Buddhist concepts and explore this Eastern religion further to deepen your understanding of mindfulness practice. But, mindfulness can be practiced by anyone regardless of religious background.
Western Science’s Approach To Mindfulness
There are two main approaches to mindfulness that have been developed over the last few decades. They are Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), and both are completely secular and can be taught over several sessions.
1. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
MBSR is a program that helps people learn how to calm mind and body so they can better cope with illness, pain, and stress.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was initially developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, to aid people experiencing a broad range of both physical and mental health issues.
Currently, thousands of people have taken their basic MBSR programs, which consist of intensive training in mindfulness techniques that allow students to use their own resources to respond more effectively to pain, stress, illness, and the challenges of daily life.
MBSR training has also been thoroughly developed in hospitals and clinics to help staff, medical students, and patients. Mindfulness is being taught in places as diverse as:
- The inner-city
- Law firms
- Government agencies
The evidence-based research concludes that MBSR is useful in helping relieve chronic pain and fatigue, depression, anxiety, and life stress. Incredibly, there’s even evidence it helps medical conditions like psoriasis and cancer (and others).
2. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy
This form of mindfulness was explicitly designed to help individuals overcome depression.
Mark Williams, Dr. John Teasdale and Zindel Segal have adapted mindfulness to prevent clinically-depressed people from relapsing. They call their approach Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT).
The goal of MBCT is to help individuals who have a tendency toward depression from relapsing. The thought process which makes them vulnerable to depressive relapse is called rumination (repetitively re-thinking negative thoughts). MBCT teaches mindfulness skills that can offer a new way of approaching daily experience. This will help prevent the repetition of negative thinking patterns and feelings that could lead to becoming depressed.
Benefits Of Mindfulness Go Beyond Calmness
Recent studies have discovered that maintaining a mindful state (actively being aware and curious), will enable you to engage better with others, and create the perception that you’re more charismatic and trustworthy. Mindfulness puts you firmly in the present, which can make you more sensitive to changing context and perspectives. This state of mind helps someone even to foresee risks, resulting in fewer accidents.
Another study involving members of an orchestra who are frequently bored by playing the same pieces of music repeatedly, had half of them play using mindfulness while the other half played in a normal frame of mind. The musicians playing mindfully not only enjoyed the experience more, but even the audience showed an overwhelming preference for recordings of the mindful music performances.
A recent Harvard study examined the effects of mindfulness on the brain with neuroimaging, physiological measurements, and behavior tests. Researchers found that using meditation (the foundation of mindfulness), the brain created new gray matter. At the end of the study, there was more gray-matter density in the hippocampus (important for learning and memory) and the structures responsible for compassion, self-awareness, and introspection.
Easy Ways To Be Mindful Every Day
Let’s start with exactly what’s involved in being mindful: Mindfulness is just bringing your full awareness to what you’re experiencing at that moment. This isn’t rocket science, at other times it was simply called “pay attention to what you’re doing.” Expanding on that quote you not only pay attention to what you’re doing but refuse to allow your mind to take over your focus with thoughts, worries or concerns for the past or future. Therefore bringing your focus to the exact current moment that you are in.
While the fine details of mindfulness can be more complicated – if you just learn to focus on the now without worrying about what happened before or what you need to do about things later; you’re most of the way there.
Start With The Little Things
There are many daily activities that we practice mindlessly, that can easily be done mindfully. Brushing your teeth: Instead of going through the motions robotically, try to focus on precisely what you’re doing. Focus on each part of your mouth, how you hold the brush, the movement of your hand and arm.
Meal preparation: Focus on the smells, textures, and taste of the ingredients. Immerse yourself in the process of assembling a meal. When you eat, pay attention to every part of the meal and where you’re eating it.
Getting dressed: Pay attention to all the details involved in getting dressed. From the color of your shirt to the texture of the pants you put on, experience the entire process without thinking about what you were doing before or what you may be doing next.
Mindful Housework: Doing routine chores is a perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness. From cleaning up after dinner to vacuuming the carpet, try placing every part of your attention on that activity.
Work Your Way Up To The Next Step
After you’ve practiced mindfulness on the more mundane and routine activities of your life, it’s time to take the next step: Other people.
Once you’re comfortable being mindful privately, explore mindfulness in your day-to-day interactions with other people to really improve your interpersonal relationships and communication skills!
- Start with eye-contact. When you speak to someone, try to honestly see them. Look at their facial expressions, how they hold themselves (relaxed? Defensive?), and be aware of how what you say is affecting them.
- Use mindfulness to listen carefully to everything people say to you (and how they say it). Try to pick out every nuance and change in mood during a conversation. Make sure that whatever you say is relevant to the discussion by focusing more on what you hear.
- Try being more grateful. Being mindful of other’s actions includes being grateful for the things people do to help you. Did your spouse do the dishes? Then say thank you! Has your mindfulness made you more aware of how well your child is behaving lately? Let your son or daughter know how you feel.
Now that you have the awareness of mindfulness begin exploring it and challenging yourself to remain mindful when your struggling to focus or being reactive. Pull in those wandering thoughts, concerns and feelings by acknowledge them and then put them aside for later consideration when it is practical.