Updated: Mar 3, 2019
What is mindfulness?? According to Jan Chozen Bays, pediatrician and meditation teacher, "Mindfulness is deliberately paying full attention to what is happening around you and within you-in your body, heart, and mind. Mindfulness is awareness without criticism.”
Even when I learned the definition of Mindfulness, I still didn't really know what this meant. I felt confused and like I was "doing something wrong" when I would try to be mindful. I ended up not using mindfulness for a long time after learning about it simply because I didn't know how to make it useful in MY life. It has been a long road on my mindfulness journey, but I am now been able to use mindfulness almost everyday and have noticed the impact this has made in my life. I wanted to talk about some of the reasons I got stuck on my journey and how I was able to work through these. Even though my journey is not finished, I have learned a lot along the way and I hope to help others find ways to make mindfulness a useful part of their everyday life.
First things first, there are many ways to practice mindfulness besides meditating in a quiet room for hours at a time. When I talk about mindfulness with clients that are not familiar with it they seem to always ask me if I want them to sit crossed legged on floor for hours at a time. My response back typically is, "Well, that is one way to practice mindfulness" and we proceed to talk about all the others ways to be mindful. If you have a desire to meditate for long periods of time and have the ability to do so, then this would be a great way to practice mindfulness, but for most of us, this is not something we want to be doing. Maybe I don't have time to sit in a quiet room for hours, but I do have 10-15 min in the morning to drink my coffee while I look out my window and observe what is happening around me. In both cases I would be practicing mindfulness, but the second is much more appealing to me and obtainable in my everyday life.
When I started practicing mindfulness for some reason I had this idea in my head that when I was being mindful I somehow needed to make my mind blank. This idea that I needed to get my mind to do nothing was very discouraging because I felt I could never accomplish this. I have since learned that mindfulness is not your mind doing nothing, but instead practicing turning off the "thinking" part of our mind and turning on the "awareness" part of our mind. During mindfulness, the idea is to bring more awareness to our everyday life and the things around us. We are practicing being in the moment by observing what's around us, how we feel, and what we are experiencing. It is hard to be in the moment when we are thinking about all the things we have to do later or that terrible experience we had a few months ago. So, not a blank mind, but an aware mind.
Turn off the "thinking" part of your mind and turn on the "awareness" part of your mind.
Another important aspect to remember is mindfulness takes practice. This is probably another reason I felt I was terrible at this when I first started. I had the idea this would be very easy and I would see benefits immediately. Let's go easy on ourselves and remember mindfulness is a practice where we learn to control our minds. This is no easy task, especially when starting out. Our minds can often be anxious, scared, sad, distracted and feel like they have a mind of their own at times! With practice and patience we can learn to control our minds and what we are bringing our awareness too. Start off doing only a few minutes of mindfulness a day and see if you can slowly increase this. You might try a new mindfulness technique every day or you might stay with the same one for a week. Do what works for you!
Next, don't get stuck on just one thing. Mindfulness can be used in so many ways! Mindfulness can be a powerful tool for treating anxiety because anxiety is past or future oriented. If you are practicing staying in the moment there is no past or future, only now. When our minds are anxious and scared we are hypervigilant and have a difficult time focusing on anything other than the "threat." We are using the thinking part of our brain during this time. We can use mindfulness to switch our awareness to what is around us and realize that 99.9% of the time we are not in any danger and nothing bad is happening at this moment in time.
Mindfulness can also be used to help us appreciate and enjoy the little things in life. Maybe this is listening to the rain or watching your children get paint all over themselves while laughing until they cry even though there will be a mess you have to clean up or enjoying a concert with thousands of other people or eating your favorite dessert you never allow yourself to have. Either way, these small things in our lives are truly what make us happy so we have to learn to be present in these moments.
Lastly, we can't be mindful all the time. This is not an obtainable goal. There are things we need to plan for, there are scary and sad things that do happen in our lives, there are deadlines and responsibilities we need to fulfill and these things often require us to pay attention to more than one thing at a time. If you can make a goal to practice mindfulness once or twice a day, you are doing a pretty good job.
Remember to take what you learn about mindfulness and modify these techniques to fit into your everyday life. Once you do this you will start to see the multiple benefits of mindfulness in your life and maybe even with the people around you!
Want more information on treating anxiety? Check out my new eBook Conquer Anxiety in Ten Weeks. You will get ten different activities that help you manage your anxiety in a healthy way.