Unless you’ve been living under a rock, I’m guessing you’ve heard of mindfulness. Maybe you’ve seen it on the front of a magazine or self-help book. Maybe you’ve heard it on a podcast or seen it floating around the Internet. Or perhaps, by some small chance, this is the first time you’re hearing of mindfulness. Either way, you need to know about it.
First, let’s acknowledged why you need mindfulness. Simple stated, mindfulness has all sorts of benefits. It’s associated with decreased stress, anxiety, and depression. It’s associated with increased focus, attention, and happiness. And it’s linked to an increased ability to self-soothe, regulate emotion, and control impulses. Raise you hand if you’d like even just one of these benefits!
Well if you raised your hand, then you’re in luck. Mindfulness is for you. It’s one of the most important things you can do for your mental and emotional health, and it’s surprisingly simple.
So What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to your in-the-moment experience with an open and non-judgmental approach. We humans spend a lot of time thinking about something other than what we’re actually doing. (We call this habit mindwandering, and it has all sorts of scary consequences.) But mindfulness is the opposite of mindwandering. Mindfulness means focusing your attention on the here and now, paying attention to whatever it is you’re doing in the moment.
If you eat mindfully, it simply means that all your awareness is brought to the act of eating. You focus all your attention on the taste, texture, and smell of the food, biting chewing, and swallowing with thoughtful awareness. If you sit mindfully, you bring all of your attention to the act of sitting. You notice your feet on the floor, your backside making contact with the chair, and your spine, sitting straight and upright. (Here’s a quick video for reference.)
To be honest, mindfulness isn’t complicated. It’s not fancy or high tech. It’s just about focusing your attention. So in reality, mindfulness actually quite simple. But don’t confuse that with being easy. Because as always, nothing good comes easy.
How Does Mindfulness Work?
Mindfulness is about training your brain your pay attention to what’s happening in the here and now. And well, you know how brains can be. Brains get distracted and off track. They get anxious and overwhelmed. So mindfulness is how we bring them back. Over and over. Again and again.
Think of mindfulness as a “muscle.” The more you work it out, the stronger it gets. So every time you practice mindfulness, whether it’s through mindful eating, mindful walking, or mindful breathing, you’re flexing and strengthening your mindfulness muscle. And you know what else is cool? You can practice mindfulness nearly anywhere and anytime, just by bringing your awareness to the present moment and whatever you’re doing.
You might be wondering, “What’s the point of mindfulness? Why do I need this muscle?” And my answer to that is simple. If you’re not actually paying attention to the present moment, you can’t do much about it. You can’t enjoy it or appreciate. You can’t fully participate in it or shape it. And you can’t intervene when necessary, because you don’t have the full picture of what you’re really thinking, feeling, and doing in a moment.
When you’re mindful, you’re less likely to react and fly off the handle. You’re less likely to let things build up and or say things you don’t mean. When you’re mindful, you’re more likely to be calm and compassionate, navigating difficult situations with intention. And when you’re mindful, you’re less likely to be stressed, frantically moving from one thing to the next.
Mindfulness helps you slow down and notice what’s happening. As Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the leading scholars about mindfulness, writes, “If you can be mindful in this moment, it is possible for the next moment to be hugely and creatively different.” Simple stated, mindfulness of what’s happening in the current moment provides an opportunity that we can experience something important, open, and authentic in the next moment.
How to Start Practicing Mindfulness
If you’re interested in mindfulness, if you want to know more, take some time to poke around my website. I’d recommend clicking on the mindfulness tab in the toolbar. I’ve got a ton of easy-to digest-posts on mindfulness, with small ways that you start practicing it today. Below are three of my favorites!