We’re all in this crazy and stressful world together — a world that’s moving so fast that you can barely keep up with everything and everyone.
How many times a day do you think, “I need to calm down,” and before you know it, you’re online looking for cheap tickets to the Carribean?
There’s a cheaper way to go about it.
You don’t have to escape or jump on a plane every time you feel completely exhausted or burned out.
In fact, you don’t even have to leave your workplace to refresh your focus and sustain your otherwise great ability to solve problems.
Here’s the key — Mindfulness.
Mention mindfulness to any self-avowed rationalist , and they’ll often end up running for the hills.
After all, isn’t mindfulness all gongs, incense and mysticism?
Don’t you need to wear a robe, chant, and meditate for hours on end?
Don’t you have to shave your head and swear an oath of poverty and chastity?
The good news is that you don’t need to do anything beyond having a willingness to slow down and focus.
A large number of scientific studies show that learning to be mindful significantly boosts our happiness and well-being, which is particularly relevant in today’s fast-paced and hyper-connected world.
Whilst mindfulness has been making plenty of headlines in recent years, perhaps you’re still a little fuzzy about what it actually is?
When you practice mindfulness, you’ll feel better and realize numerous mental, physical, and spiritual beneﬁts.
And it won’t even cost you a cent!
Many people are using mindfulness practices to accomplish amazing things.
You can too.
“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.” — Pema Chödrön
What Is Mindfulness?
Though it’s a popular practice within many religions, mindfulness is not a religion. Mindfulness is a mental training technique that’s compatible with all sorts of beliefs and ideas.
If you were to ask ten different people for a deﬁnition of mindfulness, you’d likely get ten different answers.
Having said that, these two deﬁnitions of mindfulness are very well-respected and commonly quoted:
- “The intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment” — from “Mindfulness Meditation for Substance Use Disorders: A Systematic Review”, Substance Abuse 30 (4): 266–94
- “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” — Jon Kabat-Zinn
In practical terms, mindfulness is simply paying attention to your environment, activities, and thoughts.
Ideally, your only thoughts are of your environment and whatever it is you’re doing. But if you do have other thoughts, the recommended course of action is to simply bring your attention back to the present.
Essentially, mindfulness is all about compassionate awareness. You observe your thoughts and the feelings they evoke like you would clouds in the sky, without criticizing or taking action.
Mindfulness is about the ability to let negativity pass over you like a rain cloud. It grounds you in the present and keeps you attentive to what’s happening right here and now.
The practice of mindfulness has been around for thousands of years, but it has only become a mainstream topic in the West in recent years.
This is largely due to the amazing medical beneﬁts that have been discovered in recent times.
In a 2003 study published in the peer-reviewed American medical journal “Psychosomatic Medicine”, it was found that mindfulness strengthened the immune system — preventing and battling flu, colds and other viruses.
A research paper published in 2008 by Jon Kabat-Zinn and his colleagues showed that mindful meditation can help alleviate chronic pain.
A study carried out by Belgian professor Kees van Heeringen established that participants were much less likely to relapse into depression when they combined mindfulness with antidepressants — the overall chance of relapse plummeting from 68 to 30 percent!
And an article by Norman Farb and his associates in the “Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience” journal, published in 2007, found that mindfulness strengthens and expands the part of the brain responsible for empathy. And empathy doesn’t just mean that you’re more compassionate toward others but to yourself as well — which improves overall well-being.
Understandably, you might be confused about the differences between mindfulness and meditation.
“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).” — James Baraz
The Difference Between Meditation and Mindfulness
To a large degree, meditation commonly involves removing external stimuli. Meditation is most commonly performed in very quiet, subdued surroundings. There’s little light, and after sitting motionless for a few minutes, there’s a minimal amount of tactile stimuli. Thoughts are completely focused on breathing or some other simple object or idea.
With meditation, the goal is to limit thinking and allow the higher functions of the brain to shine through. Removing most of the stimuli makes it easier to concentrate and focus.
Mindfulness is similar to meditation, but different.
Mindfulness is about fully living and engaging in the present, versus allowing your mind to drift off to other things.
The goal is to limit your attention to your immediate environment.
The belief is that it’s only possible to live in the moment — if your thoughts aren’t about your present moment, you’re not really living.
“You might be tempted to avoid the messiness of daily living for the tranquility of stillness and peacefulness. This of course would be an attachment to stillness, and like any strong attachment, it leads to delusion. It arrests development and short-circuits the cultivation of wisdom.” — Jon Kabat-Zinn
Benefits Of Mindfulness
Being mindful is beneﬁcial in so many ways, and these beneﬁts are only recently being fully appreciated in the Western world.
Mindfulness is being taught in prisons, schools, and the workplace.
It’s even being used to treat stubborn mental illnesses with great results.
Its become a truly universal tool.
Some of the beneﬁts of mindfulness:
(#) It’s very relaxing.
Consider that essentially all of the worry and anxiety you experience is either about past or future activities.
If your mind is fully engaged on the present, it’s very difﬁcult to feel bad.
It’s also nearly impossible to think about more than one thing at a time. But it’s still possible to switch back and forth rapidly between multiple thoughts.
If you can control your thoughts, you’ll relax, and feel much better.
Studies have shown that mindfulness training lowers cortisol, the primary stress hormone.
(#) You’ll have greater self-control.
Mindfulness is excellent at removing the negative feelings associated with undesirable tasks. You’ll be able to get all those things done that you currently can’t stand doing — like cleaning out your garage or doing your taxes.
(#) It opens your mind.
If you’re truly being mindful, it’s nearly impossible to be judgmental. Suppose you meet someone new of whom you normally wouldn’t approve. Perhaps it’s someone with a tattoo on their face. Or, conversely, maybe it’s someone wearing a suit and tie. Just imagine someone that wouldn’t appeal to you based on appearance.
In a state of mindfulness, you would notice the tattoo, or suit and tie, but you wouldn’t allow your thinking to go to the next step of judging the person.
In our daily lives, most of us jump to conclusions — and many of these conclusions aren’t even based on our own experiences.
Imagine how many more people you would meet, things you would see, and experiences you would try if you stopped judging others. You’d learn so much more, and your life would be richer.
(#) You’ll sleep better.
Studies have shown that the stress-lowering properties of mindfulness extend to bedtime. Those that practice mindfulness have been found to have less “activation” at night. This is a fancy way of saying they feel less negative emotional upheaval at bedtime. Of course, that helps you sleep better.
(#) Other health beneﬁts.
The practice of mindfulness lowers the incidence of depression in multiple demographics, lessens feelings of loneliness, boosts the ability to ﬁght colds, enhances weight loss success, and decreases the odds of developing mental illnesses.
Mindfulness even lowers blood pressure and increases the tolerance for pain.
The health beneﬁts are outstanding and they’re likely the reason why many are familiar with mindfulness.
(#) It increases attention, regulates emotions, and enhances self-awareness.
With fewer thoughts whizzing through your brain, it’s much easier to focus on the task at hand. And we’ve already touched on how negative emotions are reduced.
Focusing on yourself and your environment will make you more aware of your thoughts and body.
(#) It has a positive impact on behavior.
One study found that mindfulness increases compassion towards others and the likelihood of performing more “do-good” behaviors.
How about that? Mindfulness can help to uncover the wonderful person lurking inside of you.
(#) It lowers your medical bills.
The health beneﬁts derived from mindfulness can greatly decrease your medical bills — because mindfulness practically pays you!
(#) It helps students, prisoners, and those in the workforce.
Students and prisoners both exhibit better behavior. Students have also been shown to increase their standardized test scores.
Mindfulness in the workplace results in using fewer sick days, boosting employee morale, and increasing work output.
You might just start enjoying your job more and feel better about being there!
It’s challenging to think of another activity that provides more beneﬁts, yet costs absolutely nothing.
Mindfulness truly has the capacity to enhance nearly every aspect of your life.
The greatest obstacle to mindfulness is an overactive mind — too much thinking gets in the way.
“As we encounter new experiences with a mindful and wise attention, we discover that one of three things will happen to our new experience: it will go away, it will stay the same, or it will get more intense. Whatever happens does not really matter.” — Jack Kornﬁeld
4 Obstacles Of Thinking
The biggest difference between humans and animals is the capacity to think deeply.
How many minutes each day do you spend without a thought in your head? Even while you’re sleeping, you’re still thinking in your dreams.
When do our brains get a real rest?
Meditation and mindfulness both provide relief to overworked and overstimulated brains.
Our ability to think is amazing, but thinking isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Thinking may be causing you more harm than you realize.
Consider these issues with thinking:
1. The vast majority of our thoughts accomplish nothing positive.
We rarely control our thoughts.
Much of our thinking is simply free-association that distracts us from being productive.
We’re not very disciplined in our thinking, and we fail to use our brains in a way that’s helpful — that wonderful brain capacity is going to waste.
We focus on the past and future. One leads to regret. The other leads to worry. Neither is helpful. Examining the past to reﬂect and make changes is one thing. Ruminating and making ourselves miserable is another.
Taking action to head-off potential obstacles in the future is great.Worrying to the point of being paralyzed is worthless.
2. Thinking becomes an addictive habit.
Our thoughts distract us from boredom and other unpleasant mental states. We daydream when we’re stressed. We worry because it tricks us into thinking we’re doing something about the issue at hand. Even though we know that it isn’t possible to worry a problem away.
3. Thinking can confuse our perspective.
When we let our minds wander away from the present, we lose awareness of our situation because our emotions match the situation in our heads instead of being congruent with reality.
If you’re unable to sleep because you’re thinking about a negative situation at work, it isn’t the situation that’s keeping you awake — it’s your inability to be present that’s causing the negative thoughts.
4. Excessive thinking robs us.
Notice how a child interacts with the world. Sure, a child can think and ponder when the situation calls for it —but children are very connected to their senses.
Children are extremely aware of what they can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. You rarely see a child “zoned out” and living inside their head.
But it’s common to see adults lost in thought — while life is passing them by.
Thinking is our greatest strength but it can also be a major weakness. Intentional, directed thinking is incredibly powerful.
Undisciplined thought is little more than a dust storm that blinds us from seeing the truth.
Carefully choose the times you’re going to let your mind work on solutions.
“Mindfulness has never met a cognition it didn’t like.” — Daniel J. Siegel
9 Steps To Mindfulness
Mindfulness is quite simple, but not easy.
It’s important to get started and begin making progress.
Practice these steps daily and watch your mindfulness grow:
1. Be aware.
This means to be aware of everything in your environment, as well as everything you’re doing and thinking.
Keep your focus on the present moment.
2. Avoid multi-tasking.
Perform one task at a time — you’ll actually get more done, and it’s much easier to be mindful.
3. Be deliberate.
Focus on what you’re doing and perform the next logical step. Keep going until the task is complete.
Be focused on the task rather than getting the task over with.
4. Notice your feelings.
If you think about it, emotions are nothing more than feelings that we’ve learned to label. When your body feels a certain way, you call it “jealously,” “happiness,” “fear,” “shame,” and so on.
Our brains don’t have the ability to actually feel anything. That’s why patients are frequently awake for many neurosurgery procedures.
We rarely notice our bodies unless we’re in pain or ill — this is a mistake. Our bodies are one of the primary ways we experience the world.
Regularly take a moment to notice what each part of your body is feeling.
5. Listen to others.
What do most of us do while someone else is speaking to us?
We think about what we want to say and wonder when we can say it.
See if you can limit your attention to what the other person is saying.
You’ll strengthen your relationships and you might just make more friends.
6. Mundane activities are perfect for practicing mindfulness.
Simple activities make it easier for our minds to wander. It’s easier to allow your mind to drift away while taking a stroll than it is while downhill skiing.
Walking. Most of us walk, but we rarely think about walking. We don’t pay much attention to what’s going on around us. Our thoughts are primarily on whatever it is we’re walking to.
While walking, notice what’s going on around you. Feel the pressure on your feet. Feel the temperature of the air on your skin. Smell the air.
Eating. We’re rarely aware that we’re even eating. Try a little experiment. Take a peeled orange and eat it one piece at a time. Bite into it slowly and really take the time to savor each piece. There’s a 50–50 chance you won’t even be able to ﬁnish the entire orange. It’s richer than you think.
Waiting in line. Maybe you ﬁnd waiting in line to be especially frustrating. Notice the feelings and thoughts that arise while you’re waiting. Try and avoid getting emotionally involved. Be a casual observer instead.
7. Learn how to regain control.
If you ﬁnd yourself unable to be mindful, there’s a great trick to bring your thoughts back to the present.
- List 10 things that you see. It’s preferable for you to list the items aloud. Describe each one with some detail.
- List all the things you hear. Close your eyes and really listen.
- Describe the smell in the air.
- Describe what you’re feeling physically.
- Take a minute to notice your breathing — count your breaths as you feel the air moving in and out of your body.
When you complete this exercise, your mind should be back in the present.
8. Get enough sleep.
If you’re sleep-deprived, it’s much more challenging to focus. Mental clarity and energy are vital components of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a rigorous mental exercise that requires attention, effort, and sleep!
9. Notice the situations where you typically lack mindfulness.
Is it during meetings at work?
When you’re bored during church?
Develop a strategy for dealing with these situations.
No matter where you go, you can learn something about yourself and mindfulness.
There’s no time like the present to begin your journey into mindfulness.
It might seem like a big task, but every task begins with a few simple steps.
Start small, but get started.
All that’s required is focus and persistence.
As with any challenging task, there are several obstacles to meet and overcome.
“Start living right here, in each present moment. When we stop dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, we’re open to rich sources of information we’ve been missing out on — information that can keep us out of the downward spiral and poised for a richer life.” — Mark Williams
Obstacles To Mindfulness
Although becoming mindful can be challenging, you can be prepared if you know what to expect.
Fortunately, all the common obstacles have solutions.
Watch out for these potential barriers to mindfulness:
(#) Slow progress.
While mindfulness is a simple concept, changing your mental habits can be extremely challenging for several reasons.
Your current mental habits are meeting your needs on some level, even if they only make you feel better temporarily. Dropping these habits can result in discomfort, at least for a period of time. But the eventual gains are well worth it.
Practicing mindfulness successfully will take some time — so be patient!
(#) Challenging life circumstances.
The more uncomfortable your life is, the stronger the tendency to “check-out.”
It’s much easier to be mindful when things are going well in your life.
When things are challenging, it’s much more difﬁcult.
Start small with tasks that aren’t too uncomfortable. Adding discomfort on top of discomfort only increases the likelihood of a wandering mind.
Remind yourself that being mindful during challenging times will feel better and greatly boost the odds of turning your life around. Focus on one thing, and much of the mental clutter will likely vanish into thin air.
(#) Attachment to mental pleasure.
Some of us get great pleasure from fantasizing and remembering pleasant experiences from the past, without realizing the cost of this type of behavior.
Wouldn’t it be much more satisfying to create new, positive experiences rather than mentally reliving your past joys? Engaging in this type of behavior accomplishes nothing.
The wasted time and not living in the present only adds to the chaos of life.
When your mind is over-stimulated, it can be challenging to settle down. Although you might be unhappy with your current situation, mentally hopping around to ﬁnd a more tolerable reality isn’t a long-lasting solution.
Create a plan that will solve the source of your worry.
Focus on the ﬁrst step with all the mindfulness you can muster. When that’s completed, move on to the next step. Then, keep going until you’re ﬁnished.
(#) Lack of consistency.
Mindfulness is a bit like exercise. If you only do it once in a while, you won’t see the expected results. It’s important to be diligent each day.
Only regular practice will result in attaining a high level of mindfulness.
Pick a few tasks you do every day and work on your mindfulness with just these activities.
Once you’ve made mindfulness a habit, expand your new skill to other aspects of your life.
Achieving mindfulness seems a bit vague until you’ve actually experienced it. It’s common to believe that you won’t achieve it. You might be concerned that you’re doing something incorrectly.
Rest assured that it’s a simple skill that takes time to develop. You’ve already learned to perform more complex and challenging tasks, such as walking and talking.
You’re almost certain to come across at least a few of these obstacles in your mindfulness practice.
The key is to notice them and take appropriate action.
If you can avoid becoming frustrated, you’ve already won half the battle.
Simply recognize the challenges when they occur, and mindfully work the antidote.
“Mindfulness meditation doesn’t change life. Life remains as fragile and unpredictable as ever. Meditation changes the heart’s capacity to accept life as it is. It teaches the heart to be more accommodating, not by beating it into submission, but by making it clear that accommodation is a gratifying choice.” — Sylvia Boorstein
Summing Up Then…
Mindfulness helps you get a better perspective on your constantly changing thoughts, feelings and moods. A different view of things means you’re better equipped to confront your state of mind and avoid getting caught in negative feedback loops. This forms a great foundation for a happier and fuller life.
The practice of mindfulness is powerful and free. You need nothing, besides yourself, to become mindful. The numerous beneﬁts are supported with scientiﬁc research.
What other technique can be used to help sleep issues, anxiety, hypertension, attention deﬁcit disorder, borderline personality disorder, and insomnia? It can even boost your happiness, conﬁdence, and overall sense of well-being.
Best of all, it doesn’t cost a cent — in fact, it actually saves you money!