Mindfulness is a term frequently found in the mainstream media and society. There is even a UK All Party Parliamentary Group report on how the UK can become a “Mindful Nation”. The term “mindfulness” is used to describe both a specific state of mind and a type of training.
This blog will help you to gain clarity on the question “What is mindfulness?” and learn how increasing the number of mindful moments in your life can bring amazing benefits to your life.
When we are in a mindful “mode”, we are fully present with what is happening. This makes each experience much richer and more vivid and we can remember more about what has happened.
Being mindful, we can engage with what is going on inside (our bodies and minds) and outside (our environment). Whether it’s listening to a colleague or loved one, engaging in work or pleasure activities, or feeling a pleasant (or unpleasant) emotion, mindfulness is a “super charged” type of awareness that allows us to experience all of life in a present, non-judgemental and non-reactive mode.
Mindfulness can be particularly helpful when
- we need to get a task done effectively
- the task is one that is important
- we are facing a challenging or difficult situation
When we are mindful we are more focused, and less pulled off track by distractors. This means we get our work done more quickly. We learn how to notice more quickly the shifts in our attention to something that is not our priority. Reducing mind-wandering can also make us happier and more content.
We engage more fully and deeply during important interactions with loved ones, meaning we can enhance our emotional intelligence and improve our relationships.
Getting more detail about our experience also helps us to be more efficient and creative in solving problems. This is especially helpful when we are faced with a challenge. If we are lost in a knee-jerk reaction, we are less likely to solve the situation skilfully and promptly.
Why do we need to train?
Mindfulness can also refer to a type of training and there are a variety of ways to train your mindfulness. These include
- formal trainings (for example courses that might be run at work, at your local healthcare centre or in the community, or working through a book such as Williams & Penmans’ Finding Peace in a Frantic World)
- informal practices (starting to weave mindfulness throughout your day perhaps using an app or guidance from a book such as Russell’s Mindfulness in Motion).
- applied practices (where you take a task you are already doing and commit to do it mindfully – see an example of Mindful Listening below)
We all have our own starting points in terms of how distracted, reactive and judgmental we are. This will determine the type, pace and duration of training necessary for us to reliably attain and maintain a mindful state (no matter whether your experience is positive or negative).
If you have a history of significant emotional and relating difficulties, or your present moment is distressing and chaotic, you are advised to start your training gently and perhaps under guidance from a teacher or therapist.
What are the benefits of being more mindful?
If we can enhance our ability to be really present and connected to our thoughts, emotions, each other and the world there are cognitive, emotional and interpersonal benefits. Whether we are writing a report, cooking a meal or interacting with loved ones, being present means we take in much more information. The experience is richer, more detailed and we can recall more of it. This is amazing if the experience is pleasant. It is also helpful if the experience is unpleasant, we have more information to help us understand how to mitigate the unpleasant experience and learn from it.
Developing mindfulness skills takes persistence and patience. We expect we will “get it” right away and that all the results will be positive. These expectations will certainly lead to disappointment. For most individuals, it is relatively easy to become more present (some exercises are suggested below) but the deeper work of developing non-reactivity and non-judgment often takes longer. Mindfulness isn’t about not caring what happens, it is a more subtle engagement with difficulties. You fully accept that you don’t like what is going on, but then commit to act in a way that helps you the most (rather than pulling you into a spiral of reacting).
- If you would like to try a formal practice, try . This improves your musculoskeletal health as you can correct poor postural habits related to the use of technology. It also starts to train your attention to be fully present, by engaging with bodily sensations and
- With spring in the air, a great informal practice is to be mindful as you walk to work, enjoy an urban green space or park, or spend time in nature. Commit to fully engaging with the sounds of birdsong, the smell of cut grass or fresh earth and the feel of the sun or wind on your skin. Savouring this for even a few moments can make a real difference to your day. Capture any moments with your camera to share what you noticed with friends and family.
- Start noticing where your attention goes when you become distracted. Listening mindfully is a great exercise to train your attention to really focus. Try to listen mindfully in the next conversation you have, using the worksheet to help you.
Next month: Some more Top Tips for Mindful Living with a focus on how to commute and compute in a mindful way.
Mindful Listening Work Sheet
Use this work sheet to help you practice mindful listening. This is an applied mindfulness training (as you are communicating all the time). In the next conversation you have, make a firm commitment to just listen. This means prioritising the listening over all other activities.
If your mind is pulled externally (to other sounds in the environment or your phone ringing or buzzing) do your best to release your attention from that source and come back to listening.
If your mind is pulled internally to planning, rehearsing or reacting to what is being said, again, do your best to release from this thinking and get back to just listening.
Like any skill, it will get easier the more you do it, so keep trying.