You may have heard a lot about mindfulness these days, particularly in some spaces such as yoga studios, but what exactly does it mean? Simply put, it’s the idea of being wholly present in everything you do. This can be challenging in a society that reveres staying busy and multi-tasking. When “doing nothing” is seen as lazy and nobody has time for meditation or can’t go for a walk without headphones, mindfulness might seem simple but is apparently quite difficult for many people.
Being mindful also means focusing on the present. Not worrying about the future or reminiscing on the past is nearly impossible, and that’s not the goal of mindfulness. Instead, mindfulness is the constant, conscious effort to be present. As you notice thoughts about the past or future creeping into your consciousness, acknowledging them and sending them on their way is a positive mindful practice.
“In the moment” is comprised of many things including your feelings, bodily sensations, and thoughts. In other words, “focusing on the moment” doesn’t mean having a blank mind—that’s closer to meditation. Mindfulness is prioritizing the moment and indulging in its full experience. However, many people go to great lengths to stay distracted. They’ll reach for a myriad of screens in order to keep themselves out of the moment, even though those distractions are a poor substitute. It’s a driving force behind our decreasing ability to concentrate and has been linked to anxiety, depression, and feelings of loneliness.
A lack of mindfulness is also linked to a number of addictions from technology to drugs and alcohol. When we’re always looking for an escape, addictions offer an easy and dangerous path. Addictions are, by nature, an unhealthy way to step out of the real moment in favor of a sometimes deadly distraction. This is why mindfulness is such a common aspect of addiction therapy, but you don’t need to be an addict to benefit.
Putting more emphasis on mindfulness within your daily life can improve every aspect of it. Here’s how to get started:
- Accept that being in the moment will happen less often than not. This is particularly true in the beginning. Instead of making it a goal to be in the moment, make it a goal to notice and acknowledge when you’re stepping out of it. This might be via nostalgia, worrying about future events, or purposefully distracting yourself (often with screen time). When you notice that you’re stepping out of the moment, take note of it, and make an effort to let it go. This might mean turning off a screen and, ideally, going outside for a few minutes.
- Spend more time outside without technology. We’re spending less and less time outside, particularly outside time without distractions. A brisk walk around the block, exploring a new local trail, or taking your bike outside instead of a spin class are all great ways to re-connect with nature. Pay attention to the sounds, sights, smells, and feelings.
- Be conscious of how you speak to everyone, including yourself. We often talk to ourselves in terrible ways, much worse than we would a friend or stranger. Part of mindfulness is learning how to be your own cheerleader. This doesn’t mean narcissism, but rather speaking to yourself in a loving, kind, and encouraging way.
Mindfulness, when practiced daily, can improve our holistic well-being. It’s tied to our physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social health. It can help improve focus, concentration, and joy. It helps us slow down, and can help decrease depression, anxiety, and conditions such as high blood pressure. However, before we can realize the full benefits of mindfulness, we need to commit to regular practice and also learn how to say no. Stepping away from activities and people who are negative or don’t enrich our lives can be scary at first. However, most westerners overpack their schedules, which leads to an inability to be mindful. How can we be in the moment when we’re trying to tackle ten things in a small timeframe?
Mindfulness, like meditation, can never be perfected. That’s not the end goal. The end goal is to discover and benefit from the journey towards better mindfulness.