Mindfulness is a tool that has become exceedingly popular over the last few years. But what is mindfulness? And what is it not?!
Let’s be honest; only a few short years ago the general public wouldn’t have been familiar with the term, whereas today it’s something we hear about all the time in a range of different contexts.
But at the same time, it could also be a bad thing because it has been misappropriated in some instances and many people don’t actually really understand what it means anymore.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a better look at what mindfulness is and what it isn’t – and how you can start using it to improve your life.
Mindfulness is often used to describe a type of meditation. Specifically, ‘mindfulness meditation’ is a type of meditation that involves reflecting on the contents of your own mind and how they might be affecting you.
Whereas the point of some forms of meditation – such as transcendental meditation – is to completely ‘empty’ your mind, the point of mindfulness is instead to simply detach yourself from your thoughts and become an observer. This way, you can prevent them from affecting you in the same way and you can also gain a greater understanding of the contents of your own thoughts.
Often this is described as ‘watching the thoughts go past like clouds’. The idea is not to engage with them or let them affect you but simply to observe them and to later reflect on how they might impact on your happiness.
By doing this, mindfulness allows us to take some time out of our stressful day to remove ourselves from our thoughts and thereby get some rest and relaxation.
But it’s not really just about meditation. What mindfulness also means is being constantly aware of your own thoughts as you go throughout your day. Some people will tell you to be ‘mindful’ of your body, or ‘mindful’ of your environment. But really what you should be focusing on is just what you’re mindful of.
Next time you go out for a nice walk with family, or next time you do something else that you should be enjoying, just make a note of whether you’re really focused on what you’re doing and whether you’re actively engaging in it… or is your mind elsewhere? Are you actually worrying about work? Or stressing about other things?
Mindfulness teaches us to be more aware of our thoughts as that way, we can decide that we’re not going to let them affect us and because that way we can then make the conscious effort to refocus and to decide to be happy. Whatever we focus on will determine how we feel, and mindfulness helps us with that.
Mindfulness is not mysticism or linked to religion and it’s not a cure-all therapeutic technique. All this is a tool and better yet, a state of mind. With practice, you can learn to be more in-tune with your own thoughts and that can change everything.
4 Mindfulness Exercises To Try
Now you know what mindfulness is (and isn’t) here are 4 exercises that you can use to become more mindful today.
These are simple exercises as we all have busy lives but take the time to try some of these out over the next 30 days and you will feel better and perform better, and people will wonder what your secret is!
The beauty of this exercise (in fact all of them) is that it can be done either standing up or sitting down, and anywhere you want and at any time.
If you can sit down in the meditation (lotus) position, that’s great, but don’t worry if you can’t; just do whatever is comfortable for you.
All you need to do is be still and focus on your breath for just one minute.
- Start by concentrating on breathing in and out slowly. One breath cycle should last for about 6 seconds.
- Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, letting your breath flow effortlessly in and out of your body. Don’t force it, be natural.
- Let go of your thoughts. Let go of things you have to do later today or pending projects that need your attention. Simply let thoughts rise and fall of their own accord and be at one with your breath. Don’t concentrate on any one thing, just let things flow naturally.
- Purposefully keep an eye on your breath, focusing your sense of awareness on its rhythm as it enters your body and fills you with life.
- Then visualise its path as it works work its way up and out of your mouth and its energy dissipates into the world.
Did you think that you are the kind of person who could never meditate? Well, look at that; you are already halfway there!
If you enjoyed doing this mind-calming exercise one minute, why not try two or three instead?
2. Mindful Observation
This exercise is simple but incredibly powerful because it helps you notice and appreciate seemingly simple elements of your environment in a more profound way. It opens your eyes to possibility.
The exercise is designed to connect us with the beauty of the natural environment around us. This is something that is so easily missed or taken for granted when we are rushing around in the car or hopping on and off trains while we are commuting to and from work.
- Choose a natural object from within your immediate environment and simply focus on it for a minute or two. It could be a flower or an insect, or even the clouds or the moon.
- Don’t do anything except notice the thing you are looking at. Focus and really look at it. Simply relax into watching for as long as you can concentrate on it. Once again, don’t force it.
- Look at this object as if you are seeing it for the first time. What can you notice bout it that you may not have noticed before?
- Visually explore every aspect of its formation, and allow yourself to be consumed by its presence.
- Allow yourself to connect with its energy and its purpose within the natural world.
3. Mindful Awareness
This exercise is designed to cultivate a heightened awareness and appreciation of simple daily tasks and the results they achieve. By doing this we can live in the moment and appreciate everything that we are doing at any given time.
Think of something that happens every day more than once; something you take for granted. It could be something that appears really mundane, such as opening a door.
At the very moment you grab the doorknob to open the door, stop for a moment and be mindful of where you are, how you feel in that moment and where the door will lead you. What is on the other side of the door? What are you about to do in the next room and how can you do it to the best of your ability.
Similarly, the moment you open your computer to start work, take a moment to appreciate the hands that enable this process and the brain that facilitates your understanding of how to use the computer. Wonder at how technology makes things so much easier than before and be thankful for that.
And these ‘touch point’ cues don’t have to be physical ones either.
For example: Each time you think a negative thought, you might choose to take a moment to stop, label the thought as unhelpful and release the negativity. Reframe it into a positive thought. being mindful makes you acutely aware of these thoughts and allows you to overcome them.
Or, perhaps each time you smell food, you take a moment to stop and appreciate how lucky you are to have good food to eat and share with your family and friends. Mindfulness and gratitude are powerful partners.
4. Mindful Listening
This exercise is designed to open your ears to sound in a non-judgmental way, and you can even use this to train your mind to be less swayed by the influence of past experiences and preconception.
So much of what we “feel” is influenced by past experience.
For example, we may dislike a song because it reminds of us of a breakup or another period of life when things felt negative.
And sound is a very powerful evoker of memories, both good and bad.
So, the idea of this exercise is to listen to some music from a neutral standpoint, with a present awareness that is unhindered by preconception.
To do this, select a piece of music you have never listened to before. You may have something in your own collection that you have never listened to, or you might choose to turn the radio dial until something catches your ear.
- Close your eyes and put on headphones if possible for better immersion.
- Try not to get drawn into judging the music by its genre, title or artist name before it has begun. Instead, ignore any labels and just allow yourself to appreciate the journey of sound for the duration of the song.
- Really listen to what is going on during every aspect of track. Even if you don’t particularly like the music track in question, let go of your dislike and give your awareness full permission to climb inside the track and dance among the sound waves without any preconception or judgement.
- Explore the song by listening to the dynamics of each instrument. Separate each sound in your mind and analyze each one by one.
- Home in on the vocals: the sound of the voice, its range and tones. If there is more than one voice, separate them out as you did in the previous step.
The idea of this exercise is to listen intently and to become completely immersed in the composition without preconception or judgment of the genre, artist, lyrics or instrumentation. Don’t think, just listen.
OK, so now you have an idea of what mindfulness is, and 4 simple exercises that you do whenever you want to bring mindfulness into your life. Take the time to do them and mindfulness will enhance your life in many ways, from being more appreciative, more optimistic/positive and more productive; many high earners and high performers practice mindfulness exercises daily so don’t you think that this is something worth doing?