This is the final part of my chapter on Mindfulness from my book ‘Off the Wall’ which gives some great action points to help you develop a habit of mindfulness. When we are mindful, we cannot be stressed because all our attention is focused on the present moment.
Our conscious mind can only think of one thing at a time while our subconscious mind can process millions of actions per second. Our conscious mind flicks from one thing to another but it cannot focus on two things simultaneously.
When we purposefully focus on the present moment we cannot think about past negative experiences or future fears.
What is Mindfulness?
- Paying attention ‘on purpose’
Mindfulness involves a specific and conscious direction of our awareness. We sometimes talk about ‘mindfulness’ and ‘awareness’ as if they were interchangeable terms. However, to be mindful we have to be purposefully aware of ourselves, not just vaguely and habitually aware. Knowing that you are eating a meal is not the same as eating a meal mindfully.
This purposefulness is a very important part of mindfulness. Having the purpose of staying with our experience, whether that’s the breath, or a particular emotion, or something as simple as eating, means that we are actively shaping the mind.
- Paying attention ‘in the present moment’
Left to itself the mind wanders through all kinds of thoughts – including thoughts of anger, craving, depression, revenge, self-pity, and so on. As we indulge in these kinds of thoughts, we reinforce those emotions in our hearts and cause ourselves to suffer. Mostly these thoughts are about the past or future. The past no longer exists; the future is just a fantasy until it happens.
In mindfulness, we’re concerned with noticing what’s going on right now. By intentionally directing our awareness away from thoughts about the past or future and towards the ‘anchor’ of our present moment experience, we decrease their effect on our lives. We create instead a space of freedom where calmness and contentment can grow.
- Paying attention ‘non-judgmentally’
Mindfulness is an emotionally non-reactive state. We don’t judge that one experience is good and that one is bad, or if we do make those judgements, we simply notice them and let go of them. We don’t get upset about what we are experiencing; we simply accept whatever arises. We observe it mindfully – we notice it arising, passing through us, and ceasing to exist.
“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.” Henry Miller
Benefits of Mindfulness
There have been many studies related to mindfulness, which suggest mindfulness training may:
- Improve memory and academic performance.
In this study, students who did attention-building exercises had increased focus, less mind-wandering, better short-term memory and better performance on exams.
- Help with losing weight and eating healthier foods.
Mindful eating means paying attention to each bite and eating slowly, at the same time being aware of all your senses. Participants in mindfulness studies ate fewer calories when they were hungrier than the control groups.
- Lead to better decision-making.
Some experiments associated mindfulness meditation with being less prone to our tendency to stick with lost causes, because of the time and effort already invested, such as with a bad relationship or a poor job. Studies suggest that mindfulness helps us focus on what is most important.
- Lower stress and help cope with chronic health issues.
Studies showed that mindfulness increased both mental and physical well-being in patients with chronic pain, cancer, and heart disease.
- Improve immunity and create positive brain changes.
Researchers measured brain activity before and after volunteers were trained in the technique of mindfulness meditation for eight weeks. It was found that it increases the density of grey matter in brain regions linked to learning, memory, emotion regulation and empathy. Studies suggested that mindfulness changes our brains.
“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” Maya Angelou
- Remind yourself to take notice of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and the world around you as you go about your daily life. Notice the sensations, the food you eat and the air moving past your ears as you walk. This has huge power to interrupt the ‘autopilot’ and to give you new perspectives on life.
- Pick a time during which you decide to be aware of the sensations created by the world around you. For example, this could be the morning journey to work or a walk at lunchtime. Try new things, such as sitting in a different seat in meetings or going somewhere new for lunch, to help you notice the world in a new way.
- Notice the thoughts buzzing round in your head. Just observe them without trying to change them, like watching leaves floating past in a stream. This takes practice.
- Pay close attention to your breathing, especially when you’re feeling intense emotions.
- Really notice what you’re sensing in a given moment. Notice the sights, sounds, and smells that ordinarily slip by without reaching your conscious awareness.
- An important insight to recognise is that your thoughts and emotions are fleeting and do not define you. This can free you from negative thought patterns.
- Tune in to your body’s physical sensations, from the water hitting your skin in the shower to the way your body rests in your office chair.
In short, mindfulness is about tuning in and being more aware of every experience – to be fully living in the moment.
My final blog of 2020
Well that is it for 2020 – my final blog in what has been the most extraordinary of years. It has been extremely tough for all of us. Many of us lost a great deal of business and some have lost loved ones. We cannot avoid the truth that this has been the most difficult year since the second world war.
However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. There are vaccines already approved and in action and it is comforting to know that every pandemic this world has ever experienced hasn’t lasted for long and has always been dealt with.
As we approach 2021 let’s believe that this will be a great year and that ‘the best is yet to come.’ What we believe often becomes our reality so let’s focus on health, love, kindness, relationships and gratitude for life itself.
Happy New Year to every one of you and I look forward to sending you my next blog on the 2nd January 2021.