Mindfulness is defined by Psychology Today as "a state of open, active attention on the present." For many people that definition is a bit "woo woo." It may conjure images of incense and candles while they sit crossed legged on the floor chanting "oom." Psychology Today goes on to explain, "when you're mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience."
For me, that explanation was the crux of my embracing the concept. Even though I have friends who are really into metaphysics and spirituality, and I agree with theories like the Law of Attraction, I have never been a "woo woo" guy. I always approached the concepts from a practical standpoint that made sense to my logical mind. "Mindfulness means living in the present" sounded like the lesson I learned in my Acting 1 classes, "Be in the moment."
I started to research the concept of mindfulness and discovered the benefits were real and tangible. I also found that you can achieve mindfulness on a daily basis without an ounce of "woo." There are techniques and strategies that are rooted in psychology and neuroscience that will help you "live in the present."
- Meditate. Yes, I know I just got done saying that you didn't need any "woo," but meditation is more about slowing down your breathing and heart rate then it is about "woo." Yes, you may find a spiritual benefit but meditation is used for relaxation and to reduce stress. When you are stressed your thoughts bounce around your brain like hyper-charged Super Balls. Everything is jumbled and garbled. Stress is caused by reliving past experiences and/or worrying about future ones. Your thoughts jump from the past to the future and back again. It's confusing. You do not know what is a true empowering thought and what is a thought produced from fear. FEAR stands for False Evidence Appearing Real. Stress puts lies in your head. You must have a way to return to the present moment so you could think clearly. Remember Psychology Today defined mindfulness as, "living in the present" and meditation can help you do that.
- Breathing. A great way to slow down and return to the present moment is to change your breathing pattern from shallow breaths to deep cleansing ones. This is the main benefit cigarette smokers get when they say smoking calms them down. It's not the cigarette, nicotine is actually a stimulant. People who smoke feel calmer because they are forcing themselves into a deeper breathing pattern while smoking. The next time you feel stressed or the day feels like it's starting to run away from you stop! and take several deep cleansing breaths. This is something you can do anytime and anywhere. Breathe deeply for a few minutes while concentrating on your breathing and you will calm down and return to the moment.
- Questions. The process of thinking is simply asking and answering questions. This process often happens automatically based on your past experiences and how you labelled them. When this happens sometimes your brain will ask questions that return answers that do not serve you. This question and answer session could make you anxious and lead you down the road to worrying about future decisions or feeling guilty about past decisions. Remember living in the past or future is what causes stress and anxiety. You can interrupt this pattern in your brain by asking the questions yourself and setting yourself up for success. When you find your mind straying to less empowering, anxious thoughts, stop! and ask yourself what time it is or what day it is. This will force your mind back to the present moment of today. From there you can ask yourself more beneficial questions such as, "What is great about this situation?" or "What is my ultimate goal in this situation?" or "How can I best achieve my goal while not placing undue stress on myself?" A good idea is to write up a few empowering, living in the moment questions and keep them with you in your handbag or wallet. When you start to feel your thoughts racing to anxious and stressful places just say stop! and read over your list of questions.
- Gratitude. For me this is the most powerful technique for staying in the present moment of now. Being thankful for everything you have will ensure that you are not looking elsewhere for happiness. You will not be living in the challenges of the future if you are grateful for today. I am not saying not to have ambition or not to want more and not to improve yourself. It is okay to want more and to want to continue to grow. In fact, growth and learning is why we are here. But do not discount the blessings of today. I challenge you to write a list of 100 unique things you are grateful for every day. As you do this, you will be reframing your thought process and start to look for opportunities instead of focusing on problems. You will start to feel better about yourself and start living in the moment.
Mindfulness is not just a new agey, metaphysical concept that is practiced by gurus and hippies. If you start to cultivate this thought process you will find that great changes are taking place in your life. You will be calmer, and more relaxed. You will become gentler, and a more compassionate, loving person. You will also become more productive and efficient in all your efforts.
"Be the witness of your thoughts. You are what observes, not what you observe." ~ Buddha