Introduction to Mindfulness – It’s simple but not easy!
You’ve probably seen many different definitions of mindfulness is, and most of them will likely include reference to being aware of your thoughts and emotions, and focusing on the present moment.
You may also have seen mindfulness meditation exercises with instructions like ‘Close your eyes. Focus on your breath. If your mind wanders, return your focus to your breath.’ Sounds easy, doesn’t it?
But at the beginning, it’s far from easy. You’ll be amazed at how much constant chatter goes on in your mind, and how much frustration and judgement there is if you feel like you aren’t ‘doing it properly’ or if you can’t ‘stop your thoughts.’
This is one of the biggest misconceptions of Mindfulness. It’s not about having no thoughts, it’s about accepting that they’re there on the surface, and letting them go without becoming attached to them.
Another misconception is that you have to actually be meditating to practise mindfulness, and of course, you don’t.
Bringing mindfulness into your day to day routine is one of the best ways to become truly mindful. If you can learn to focus on what you’re doing in the present moment without reacting, judging, criticising, worrying, or complaining, you’ll feel far less stressed. You’ll also be able to live a calmer, more fruitful, and enjoyable life, because you’re not rushing around doing everything on autopilot.
Work on being in the moment when you’re doing everyday things, like eating, cooking, talking to others, and working. Even something as simple as washing your hands can be an exercise in being present. Notice the scent of the handwash or soap, the feel and temperature of the water, whether you notice any sensations in your hands-don’t judge, just notice.
Try it. Try to be as present as possible in your everyday life. It isn’t easy. But just learn to watch your thoughts. Notice them, take a pause, and let them go. Then notice how free your mind feels.
Using mindfulness to be your best self
If you were asked what kind of person you would be if you were the best possible version of yourself, what would you say? I bet you wouldn’t say that the best version of you is someone who reacts at the slightest provocation, is prone to road rage, and who regularly feels like they’re at breaking point because life is so busy.
If this sounds familiar, use mindfulness to help you become your best self. Someone who is calm and considered, who gets along with others, and who isn’t on autopilot and stuck on their default ‘doing’ mode.
Mindfulness can be as simple as just learning to take a moment. So before you have a conversation with a colleague, or talk to your partner about the fact that they’ve not emptied the dishwasher for the umpteenth time, just stop.
It doesn’t matter where you are, just stop. Check in with your emotions. Are you angry, frustrated, anxious, or sad? Where in your body can you feel it?
Take a deep breath and sit with the emotion. Don’t try to bury it, or react, just accept this is how you feel. Then exhale, and let it go. Repeat this for however long you’ve got and you’ll feel much more at peace.
Just taking that moment to reflect on how you feel, ground yourself, and restore some calm can improve both your state of mind, the relationship you have with yourself, and the interactions you have with the people around you, whether you’re at work, or in your personal life.
And if you’re still sceptical, here’s what the research has to say about how mindfulness helps you live and work at your best.
- Studies show that mindfulness can cause significant changes to the structure and function of the brain. It improves focus and self-control after as little as 11 hours of mindfulness practice. It also improves creativity and the ability to think outside the box.
- 163 different studies show that mindfulness reduces anxiety and stress.
How to keep the joy in mindfulness-it shouldn’t feel like hard work!
Even with the best of intentions, sometimes things get in the way of your ability to be mindful. You’re only human, so some days, compulsive thoughts, lack of concentration, a lack of time, and a negative mood can take over.
Mindfulness is not something that comes easy to most people, it’s something you need to work on, but it shouldn’t be arduous, or another thing to add to your already never-ending to do list. Here’s how to practice mindfulness and keep it joyful. Hint: It’s not all about meditating!
Try these fun ways of incorporating mindfulness into your life;
Go for a mindful walk
Even just 10 minutes is enough to be of benefit. Go out and be surrounded by nature (if you can.) Focus on what you can see, what you can hear and what you can feel. What colour is the sky? Can you hear the birds singing? Can you feel the breeze on your skin? Now focus on the walking itself. Pay attention to how your body feels with each step. Enjoy being completely present and you’ll notice so many things you never noticed before.
Try mindful colouring
Colouring books aren’t just for children. Focusing your attention on a simple task like colouring in an image will really help you get into a more relaxed state.
Instead of shovelling your food down without noticing, really pay attention to how it smells and tastes, and you’ll find that you really savour it. Try mindfully eating a piece of chocolate, and I guarantee, chocolate will never have tasted better.
This is a perfect exercise to do on your lunch break, or any time during the day when you get a few moments. Close your eyes and just listen. What can you hear? Can you hear insects buzzing? The breeze rustling in the grass? This can instantly bring your full attention to your surroundings and make you feel peaceful.
Join a group or take a course
If you find meditation difficult but you really want to get into a more mindful way of living, you can join a mindfulness meditation class or group. Many people enjoy coming together with like-minded people to learn more about mindfulness. The next step would be taking a mindfulness course, like the mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) course. The courses are generally eight weeks long and they can help you learn how to integrate mindfulness into your everyday life and create lasting change.
Using mindfulness at different times of the day
So hopefully by now, you’ve realised that mindfulness is best achieved by being mindful in the course of your daily life, during your activities and interactions with others. But what types of mindfulness practices are best for different times of the day? Read on to find out!
When you wake up: Try a short meditation
Not much prepares you better for the day ahead than a short meditation in the morning. You can even do it before you get out of bed. There are some fantastic apps like Headspace which provides some short meditation practices for free, and longer ones if you subscribe. Just taking a few moments to be present and clear your mind before your day starts can make all the difference to your outlook and mood.
At lunchtime: Eat mindfully
It can be tempting to bolt your food down, thinking that you haven’t got time to linger over it, but it’s better for your mind (and our stomach) if you take the time to eat slowly and deliberately. Really take the time to notice the texture, smell, taste, and colour of your food, and you’ll find that eating is a much more pleasurable experience.
After lunch: Take a mindful walk
If you can, take a short walk after lunch, and go somewhere where you’re surrounded by nature. Walk slowly and notice how your body feels. Think about all of the muscles and body systems that are working together just so you can walk. Notice the sights, sounds, and smells around you, and notice the sense of calm that takes over.
Before bed: Try a body scan
If you find it hard to wind down at night because your mind is full of thoughts and worries, a body scan is the perfect way to take you out of your mind and focus your attention on your body. Lie in bed and rest with your hands by your side. Starting with your toes, focus your attention on each part of your body, working all the way up to your head. Notice whether there’s pain, any sensations, or tension anywhere. Don’t dwell on it, or judge it, just breathe into it and let it go. Here’s a great body scan meditation to help you wind down and get a restful sleep.
Any time of day: Focus on your breath
It’s amazing how just focusing on your breathing, even for a few moments, can restore a sense of calm, no matter how frazzled you are. Breath in through your nose, pause, and breath out through your mouth, making sure that you breath into your belly. When we’re stressed, we usually take shallow breaths into the chest. Focus on your breath for a few minutes and if your mind wanders (which it will), gently guide it back to the breath. Try this when you’re about to go into an important meeting, stuck in a traffic jam, or in any other situation that raises your stress levels.
Connecting with others mindfully
Do you meditate religiously, feel less stressed and more focused, only to find that you struggle to find that sense of calm when you interact with others who trigger you in some way?
The key is to work on putting mindfulness into practice in our day to day lives, especially when it comes to connecting with others. Here’s how to communicate mindfully with other people and see the benefits at home and at work.
Work on being present
When someone talks to you, do you listen? I mean really listen. Or are you so distracted or busy thinking about what you are going to say that you don’t pay attention to a word they’re saying?
A good starting point for connecting with others mindfully is to notice when you are distracted and not listening. Just like your mindfulness practice, you have to notice when your attention has wandered and bring it back. A good way to do this is to connect to your body. Feel your feet on the floor, notice any sensations in the body, and notice your breath, then draw your attention back to the person who is speaking. You can’t communicate with others effectively if you aren’t present because you don’t really connect with them on any meaningful level.
Think about what you want to get from a conversation
Whether you know it or not, you probably enter into a conversation with someone from a place of judgement. That co-worker who annoys you? You’ve already decided that they aren’t going to have anything good to say and you’re going to feel irritated by them as you always do. When you go into interactions with this kind of feeling, it’s a barrier to effective communication and it creates a lack of trust and respect. Instead, try to enter conversations from a place of curiosity and compassion. Think about how this will improve the quality of the conversation and the issues you could solve. It’s not about you being right and having to tell the other person why they’re wrong, it’s about realising you have different perspectives and being able to learn from each other.
Be mindful when you speak
Have you ever met someone who speaks just because they like the sound of their own voice? Or someone who thinks that whoever speaks loudest has the most authority? To communicate mindfully, it’s far better to think about whether you need to speak at that moment at all, why you want to speak, and if it would be better to simply listen. Try to consciously pause when you speak to let the other person absorb what’s been said. That way, your words can have so much more impact. Doing this can also calm you down, when the conversation is a little heated, for example. If you’re less overwhelmed, there’s less chance of you saying something that is unwise or purely based on an emotional response. Slow down your speech, breathe, and give yourself time to think.
Mindful communication is a great way of using your mindfulness skills in everyday life. It helps us connect with others on a deeper level, communicate more effectively, resolve conflict more easily, and develop compassion, both for ourselves and others.
Mindfulness and Contentment
One of the things I hope you’ve taken from this newsletter is that being mindful doesn’t mean sitting cross-legged and meditating. It’s being able to be mindful in the ordinary moments of our day to day lives that leads to true joy and contentment.
Being mindfully engaged in the present moment leaves no room for sadness, anxiety, or judgment of anything as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’
Here are some easy ways to be mindful day to day:
Doing the dishes
Yes, you can turn the most mundane of activities into an opportunity to be mindful. Feel the warmth of the water, notice the bubbles, and the clinking of plates and glasses in the sink. Really focus on the doing, not rushing through them so you can sit down in front of the TV.
Brushing your teeth
This is something you’ll do every day for a few minutes, so it’s a perfect mindfulness practice. Notice how your feet feel on the bathroom floor, notice the motion of your arm when you’re brushing, how the toothpaste tastes and smells, the sound of the water running from the tap, and the sensation of how clean your mouth feels afterwards.
How many times have you driven your car and been on autopilot to such an extent that you can barely remember the journey? Try to focus on being in the car, and on the actual act of driving. Turn off the radio, feel your back against the seat and check you aren’t gripping the steering wheel too tightly. Focus on all of these things throughout the journey, especially if you find that your mind is starting to wander.
Hands up, who watches TV or reads a book to pass the time when you’re in the gym? Make your workouts mindful and you will notice the benefits for your body and mind. Focus on your breathing and on the muscles that are working to enable your body to do what it’s doing. Modes of exercise like Yoga and Tai Chi are particularly good for promoting mindfulness through movement.
Mindfulness apps and books
So you want to get on, or stay on, your path to mindfulness and it doesn’t hurt to have something to keep you on track. There are plenty of good mindfulness apps and books out there that contain everything from guided meditations to the theory behind mindfulness if you want to know more about how it works.
Here are a few of what I think are the best apps;
It gives you guided daily meditations, and music to help you focus, relax, or sleep. It also has a feature called Sleep Stories, which are calming bedtimes stories narrated by the likes of Stephen Fry to help you wind down. There’s plenty of free content, and there are more features you can access if you subscribe and pay an annual fee.
This is one of the best-known mindfulness apps. It is a great introduction to mindfulness and offers bitesize sessions of three, five, or ten minutes, depending on how much time you have. You’ll find everything from body scans to focusing on the breath.
What I like about this app is that it encourages you to ‘check in’ with yourself before meditating. The app will then suggest a meditation session you will benefit from. There are 30 free sessions available, and many more if you upgrade to the premium service.
If you’re a bit more traditional, and you like to be engaged in an informative book, here are a few I like:
by Mark Williams. Danny Penman
The simple, yet powerful practices in this book are based on Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), and you can get the benefits even if you practice for a few minutes each day. The good thing about this book is that anyone can benefit from it, not just people who suffer from anxiety or depression. It’s for anyone who is struggling to keep up with the ever-increasing demands of the modern world.
by Ed Halliwell
This book looks at how mindfulness can help us recognise and transform unhelpful ways of thinking and habits and live with less stress and more compassion. There’s an emphasis on mindfulness as a lifelong path which can lead to a much more fulfilling life, rather than just a short course or quick fix.
If you would like support and guidance along your mindfulness path, why not join my Mindfulness Facebook group? I also offer a telephone mentoring service that is designed to help support people just like you in their practice.
How can I help you?
I can help you master mindfulness to enhance the wellbeing of individuals at work, and to help organisations build productive, successful teams of individuals who listen to, and support each other. Through face to face mentoring and mindfulness sessions, or via e-learning, we can work together to manage stress, promote workplace wellbeing, deal with anxieties about job insecurity and organisational change, and develop effective leaders who’ll remain calm and make considered decisions even during volatile times. Find out more about what mindfulness can do for you here.
I hope you have found our newsletter both interesting and useful. If there are any topics that you would like us to include in our next newsletter please let me know. If you do not wish to receive further copies of the newsletter contact me and I will remove your details from our database.