The definition of mindful, according to Merriam-Webster.com is “ inclined to be aware” or “bearing in mind”. So why has it become so popular when it comes to mental health and well being? It would seem that in an effort to be more fulfilled or lead a happier life we would attempt to become less aware of certain emotions or feelings: fear, anger, sadness, envy to name a few. Why would attempting to focus in on these emotions lead to a higher feeling of well-being? The answer; because we need all of these emotions. They each teach us different things about ourselves, about our environments and aide us in achieving our goals. As painful as they may be in the moment; they are not bigger than us, they cannot control us, and if we are mindful of them they may even motivate us.
Learning to lead a mindful life can enrich every aspect of your life and re-engage you with your work, family, friends and partners. How often do you find yourself lost in what I call a “thought spiral”? A thought spiral is that moment where you have jumped from A to Z. Thought “A” arose in your mind, maybe it was “I hear people talking in the other room” a generally mundane and unobtrusive thought. The spiral begins when that thought becomes “ I wonder what they are talking about?” and then continues to morph to “I wonder if they are talking about me” then “ I knew they never liked me” and finally ends up with “Z”: “everyone is talking about me behind my back and it’s all terrible”. This obviously, is one path of a thought spiral, but they happen everywhere: at work, in the car, at home, with the family and with friends. Mindfulness can teach us to pause the spiral. To look at a moment or a thought without judgement of good or bad, just as it is, simply a thought. Imagine if you learned to take notice of the things around you, gain insight with your self, thoughts and emotions. You would be able to take a step back, recognize the spiral and pause it before it seemed to swallow you. This is one way mindfulness can help you take back your life.
Ok, but what else can it do? There must be more for it to have such momentum in today’s world. Of course there is! Do you ever find you have completed a task but can’t remember doing it? Or have accidentally finished that row of girl scout cookies? Or maybe a special event flew by and now seems a blur in your memory? Of course you were there for them and aware to an extent of them: you arrived home safely, you chewed and swallowed the cookies, you know you laughed the whole event through. But the clarity is missing. Mindfulness teaches us to pause, take in the moment be aware of the sights, sounds and smells around us. By redirecting your awareness away from your constant train of thought “I have to do this” “ I should talk to my boss about that” “will he/she call me back” “I remember when…” we can re-engage with our life.
So how does mindfulness work? In many ways, but here are three ways to quickly and effectively make it a part of your day.
- Breathe – leading a mindful life takes practice and dedication, but the best way to redirect yourself is to notice your breath. Find a quiet place, sit comfortably, close your eyes or fix them on a specific spot and notice your breathe come in through your nose and out through your mouth. Feel the coolness on the tip of your nose, and the heat as it escapes your mouth. Allow your thoughts to come and go, notice them but do not judge, bring your attention back to your breath. Practice this for five minutes at the beginning and end of each day.
- Begin to take mental pictures. This is not a license to capture the perfect Instagram or Snapchat. It is actually the opposite: put your phone down, stop where you are and take in your surroundings. The sights, the sounds, the people you are with. Take a photo in your mind, recognize the beauty of the moment.
- Set an alarm. How often is up to you, but set an alarm to remind you to notice where you are, who you are with and what you are doing. Check in with your physical and emotional well being and redirect your thought back to your current task at hand.
This is just the beginning of an enriching mindfulness practice. If you have questions or would like to explore your thoughts, emotions or practice further feel free to reach out!