Mindfulness has become a very popular practice for improving wellness, happiness, focus and productivity.
Many major companies including Google, Target, Aetna, Proctor Gamble, Reebok, Starbucks, Unilever, to name a few, provide mindfulness programmes for their employees. And business schools such as Harvard University teach Mindfulness to their students. It is now well-established as an integral part of many therapies for stress, depression, anxiety, addictions, eating disorders and other mental health disorders, and there is a great deal of research showing the effectiveness of such therapies. So maybe it’s worth considering.
If you haven’t already adopted Mindfulness as a practice, why should you consider it?
1. Mindfulness provides us with a tool for calming our minds and remaining focused in the midst of stressful circumstances. Being able to get ‘out of our heads’ when we have begun to get stuck in a groove of worries about the future or regrets or guilt about the past is helpful. It means we spend less time churning ourselves up. Many people find they spend a lot of time doing things like worrying about what other people think about them thinking about what they could have done or ‘should’ have done dwelling on ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’ worrying that others are doing better than they are
Mindfulness gives us the ability to do interrupt such thoughts, and therefore enables us to spend happier times in the present moment instead.
2. Mindfulness helps us to ‘train our attention muscle’ – to improve our ability to keep our attention where we want it to be, and to notice more quickly when our attention has drifted. And it helps us to improve our ability to return our attention to where we want it to be. If you are like most people, you may spend more time mind-wandering than you realize. If you are aware that you can easily drift off into the inner recesses of your mind, getting lost in day dreams or worst-case scenarios then training your ‘attention muscle’ could be useful. The only place we can make a difference to the quality of our life either now and in the future, is in the present moment. Being in our heads doesn’t change a thing!
3. Mindfulness helps us to regulate our emotions – to be less tossed and turned in the ocean of emotional ups and downs. Mindfulness helps us to be aware of our thoughts including our beliefs and interpretations, and our feelings, without getting completely caught up in them. It helps us to avoid becoming overwhelmed by them and means that our emotions are less often going to jump into the driver’s seat of our lives. Mindfulness offers us some really helpful ways of looking at our thoughts and feelings that help us to get caught up in them less often.
4. Mindfulness helps us to be more aware of our bodies, and therefore more able to respond wisely to signs that we are becoming stressed, frustrated, angry, tired etc. Many people talk about not realizing how frustrated or tired or angry or stressed they are feeling until they snap at some-one or say something they regret. Or they work themselves to a point where they reach burnout, without seeing the early warning signs. Being able to be aware of our emotional state, assisted by awareness of our bodily feelings is important to our wellbeing.
5. Mindfulness helps us to reduce the degree to which we judge ourselves, others and life in general. Often people are not aware of just how often they are making judgments, whether about minor things, or about things that are having a major impact on their lives. The more we judge, the more annoyed, irritated, angry, resentful etc. that we feel. On one level, judging others can feel gratifying – we can feel quite self-righteous and that can make us feel quite self-satisfied and powerful . But self-righteousness has a real killer effect on our relationships and tends to create a drama-filled life. Indulge in it at your peril! Cultivating a non-judgmental attitude saves a lot of emotional energy.
6. Mindfulness helps us to be more fully present with others. You may know what it feels like to be with some-one but feel that they aren’t really fully there with you – that they aren’t really listening or paying attention. We tend to feel uncomfortable, not valued and some-what alienated when this happens. Being fully present with the people we care about is relationship-enhancing.
7. Mindfulness helps us to more fully enjoy the moment, and to savour the good things in life. The more we practise mindfulness, the more we enjoy our good moments, and the more good moments we notice. A positive cycle of appreciation develops, which adds greatly to our enjoyment of life. Many people only notice ‘exceptional’ moments as good. How crazy is that – we have a life filled with so many small blessings and everyday wonderfulness, but somehow decide it ‘doesn’t count’ enough to really notice and enjoy. That strategy is fine if you only want occasional moments of happiness! Mindfulness can help us to experience many moments of happiness, wonder, appreciation, gratitude, awe etc. every day.
8. Mindfulness helps us to be more intentional – about how we want to be as a person, the state of mind we want to adopt in any given situation, and how we want to use our time. Intentionality isn’t exclusive to Mindfulness, but as we develop the ability to be more aware of our thoughts, feelings, urges, bodily sensations etc. we are in a position where we have more choices. In an unmindful state we more easily get caught up in thoughts and feelings to a point where we no longer have perspective and are too lost in our own minds to be able to exercise choice – our feelings end up in the driver’s seat of our lives. Reclaiming our driver’s seat through developing mindfulness and intentionality if a very rewarding journey.
A huge pay-off for a small investment
Pilot research on the ‘Mindfulness for Academic Success’ programme developed by Monash University, and which I have been teaching at Massey University indicates that even as little as 10 minutes of Mindfulness meditation a day significantly improved how students handled stress, and 15 minutes a day significantly improved mood.
Isn’t this a small price to pay for a better quality of life?
But even if this investment of time seems too much or too hard to achieve at this stage of your life, many attendees at my workshops report that just applying some of the principles of Mindfulness in their everyday lives, ‘on the go’ also significantly improves their quality of life. They frequently report feeling less stressed and happier through adopting these practices.
And in my experience, doing both regular Mindfulness meditation practice and using these ‘Everyday Mindfulness’ strategies offers much greater benefit than doing only one or the other – a ‘double-whammy’ in a good way.
A penny for your thoughts … (not literally, but you know what we mean – we’d love to hear from you)
I’d love to hear your opinion and learn about your experiences: Please add your comment/s below.
Do you already either practice mindfulness meditation or use everyday mindfulness tools on a regular basis? Is so, any words of encouragement for those who haven’t?
Or have you been introduced to mindfulness in the past but not been able to engage with it? If so, what put you off, or made it difficult for you to integrate mindfulness into your daily life? It would be great if you could share some of your difficulties and then we (myself and other readers) can offer tips and words of encouragement related to these challenges. Of course, often other people’s advice doesn’t fit for us, but equally, often one comment or tip in the midst of many may just be the ‘key’ that helps us to find a way through.
Any and all comments welcome – whether or not you agree with what I’ve written.