What is mindfulness, anyway?

mindfulness tips

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Mindfulness…I’m sure you’ve heard that term by now. It’s everywhere.  Mindful eating, mindful sleeping, mindful everything! But…what does “mindful” even mean?  We’re going to talk about what it is, what it isn’t, and how to try out a more mindful way of thinking!

I’ve always liked dictionary definitions, so here it is.  Dictionary.com defines mindfulness as:

  1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
  2. a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

Okay, so…what does that MEAN?

What it is and what it isn’t:

Let’s talk first about what mindfulness isn’t.  Mindfulness doesn’t mean locking yourself in a room and pondering the meaning of life.  Incense, floor pillows, and chimes are not required.

It’s not a passing fad and it’s not some woo-woo idea that promises to make every single part of your life better immediately.

It’s also not meditation…that’s a different concept, but they ARE related.  While meditation usually entails a period of dedicated time and emptying your mind of all thoughts, mindfulness is an all-day shift in your thinking.

And, it’s not magic.  Simply practicing mindfulness won’t magically solve every problem in your life. 

Mindfulness is simply being aware.  Being aware of the sights, smells, sounds, and things around you.  Being aware of your emotions. Being aware of your needs and desires.  Mindfulness is observing and absorbing. Being present in the moment without forming strong opinions or feeling the need to DO something.  

What are the benefits?

There are actually some pretty nice benefits to a mindfulness practice.

1. Mindfulness can make you happier

As you start to become more focused and aware of what is going on around you, you’ll find that you begin to notice beauty in places that you didn’t see it before.  You’ll find yourself smiling at something you may have previously passed by without noticing. You’ll find yourself looking at situations from other points of view. Instead of scrolling through Facebook while you wait in line, you may exchange a smile and wave with a cute toddler in the next shopping cart.  Instead of worrying about the meeting later in the workday during your commute, you may notice that big maple tree at the end of the street is starting to show its fall colors. You’ll notice things that would have been lost during the daily rushing around.  All of those little things will add up and make you feel generally happier.

2. Mindfulness can reduce stress

Overthinkers, this one is for you.  How many times have you found yourself dwelling on something, imagining all the scenarios for how it might play out, including the worst possible outcome?  Did you feel relaxed and calm afterward? I didn’t think so. But if you’re focusing on being aware of life around you in the present moment, your mind will be too busy “noticing” to get caught up in those thought patterns that leave you feeling stressed and anxious.

3. Mindfulness can increase your focus and concentration

Mindfulness literally retrains your mind to focus again.  A lot of us have simply forgotten (or never learned) how to really, truly focus on what we’re doing.  Distractions are such a part of everyday life in today’s society, that concentration and focus can be hard to find.  But a practice of being aware and in the moment will teach your brain how to dial in and stay focused.

4. Mindfulness can improve your creativity

If you’re paying attention to the moments in life, you’ll be amazed how much inspiration you find around you that you may not have noticed before.  Colors, dialogs, patterns…No matter what your creative outlet is, you can find inspiration by simply seeing what is happening around you.

5. Mindfulness can even improve your physical health

Mindfulness can actually improve your health!  Crazy, isn’t it? But along with feeling less stressed, you may notice that you’re sleeping better or not experiencing some of the normal aches and pains you typically do. 

That sounds great, right?  But it may not be as easy as it sounds.  Think about your day. How much of your day was spent mentally multi-tasking?  Eating breakfast while you watch the news, while you think about everything you have to do today.  Driving somewhere and when you get out of your car, you realize you don’t remember the drive at all. Sound familiar?  I know it does for me. (If you’re a regular multi-tasker, check out my post on single-tasking.) It’s become such a habit these days to rush through life constantly distracted, running through our everyday routine like we’re on auto-pilot.  And it’s a hard habit to break.The good news is that it’s not an impossible habit to break, it just takes a little practice.In fact, mindfulness is even called a practice!

Mindfulness for beginners
mindfulness tips

Need a little help getting started?

If you’re new to the idea of mindfulness, or just need a little help getting into the habit, here are a few ideas:

Set aside a little time each day

Just like learning any new skill, it will take practice.  And practice always works better when you do it regularly.  Set aside 5-10 minutes each day to practice being aware and present in the moment.  Notice what you see, what you smell, what emotions you’re feeling. Don’t work on solving problems or think about all the things you need to so.  Just be aware.

Try out a mindfulness app

I’ve used both Headspace and Calm in the past, and honestly loved both.  An app can help teach you how to be mindful. These apps will guide you through the beginning stages of mindfulness and teach ways to realign your thoughts when they wander back into distracted territory.

Add your mindfulness practice to another daily habit

Since mindfulness is truly a shift in the way you think throughout your day, try incorporating mindfulness into another daily habit.  For example, instead of listening to the radio while driving to work in the morning, take that time to be aware of what you see around you, what you hear, and how you feel.  Or during your morning coffee, make it a point to actively notice the sounds coming from the coffee maker, the feel of the mug in your hand, the taste of the coffee. Pick a daily habit that you typically rush through or one where you’re normally distracted and try making a point of doing it mindfully for a few days.

Actively notice when you don’t feel present in the moment

Make a habit of noticing when you have drifted off or you feel like you’re on auto-pilot.  Take a minute. Think about what caused you to lose focus on the here and now. You may begin to notice patterns that you can adjust in the future.  

Mindfulness isn’t hard, it’s just a habit that needs time to form, but I think you’ll find that the benefits are worth the effort!

Do you practice mindfulness?  What have your experiences been?

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