Mindfulness is simply choosing to focus on the present moment with full awareness of judgement.
The element of choice is very important.
We’re choosing to focus on the present moment
Judgement is our tendency to label everything as positive or negative which tends to build up the corresponding emotion. When we become aware of the judgement we can come back to focusing just on the fact thereby neutralizing the emotion.
Here’s an example
Think of a traffic jam. What’s the emotion you feel? It brings up feelings of irritation or frustration because the phrase “traffic jam” has developed a negative connotation.
Now what is the fact?
“I have 5 cars ahead of me, 5 behind me and a few on the side. I can’t move till they move. There are plenty of things that I can notice now – various people around, new car models or trees near the pavement that I may not have noticed before.”
Now notice, what your current emotion is.
After viewing the “traffic jam” in this manner you’ll experience a positive change in your emotions.
How Does Mindfulness Help?
Improving Focus & Concentration
For instance, you’re writing a report. And your mind is going in ten different directions. But you need to submit this report in 1 hour. The mind is like a wild horse. It has a lot of power and can take you where you want to go provided the reins are in your hands. Therein lies the challenge because most of the time the mind is running off where IT wants to go; not where YOU want it to go.
Mindfulness puts the reins of the mind firmly in your hands.
Responding to Emotions Better
We often feel drowned by emotions and find ourselves doing or saying things we later regret, so we assume that emotion makes us weak. Mindfulness helps us to experience the full range and intensity of all emotions while staying strong and remaining in control of our words and actions.
Keeping the Body Youthful
Stress negatively impacts the enzyme Telomerase; the function of which is to slow the aging process. Mindfulness helps in reducing stress which in turn keeps you youthful.
How to Incorporate Mindfulness in Your Daily Life?
There are five ways in which you can incorporate mindfulness in your everyday life.
#1 Formal Time
Devote a certain amount of time to the practice of mindfulness everyday. It can be done through structured exercises such as the ones offered by Jon Kabat Zin, The Free Mindfulness Project or Headspace.
#2 Activities of Daily Life
Have you felt rushed or pulled in multiple directions lately? This happens because we’re not living the present moment fully. Since we’re not consciously present in the moment, time always seems to be in short supply. Your daily life activities can be turned into a mindfulness exercise.
Involve all your senses while doing your daily mundane activities. Let’s say you are bathing. Experience it fully – listen to the sound of water, focus on the visual of the water cascading down on you, notice the fragrance of the shower gel etc.
Draw upon the input of as many of your senses as possible within every situation. Over a period of time, this heightened sense of awareness will become your general pattern and transcend to important activities in your life.
#3 Random Alarm Technique
During the course of the day we often forget to be mindful. Set 5 alarms at certain times of the day. When that alarm rings, drop-in on yourself.
Notice your breathing.
Is it shallow and tensed? Or deep and relaxed? What are you thinking at this moment? What is the primary emotion at this time? Is your mind in the past, present or the future?
This exercise will hardly take a minute or two but enable you to become mindful in your everyday life.
#4 Visual Reminder
Keep visual cues in your office or home that remind you to be mindful every time you look at them. It could be a plant, a wallpaper or pictures of a happy moment.
#5 Olfactory Cues
Smell is a powerful tool which works on the principle of association. Use a certain fragrance in the form of scented candles, essentials oils or a beauty product every time you’re engaging in a planned mindfulness exercise.
Now, this fragrance can be used in your work life to achieve the same state of calm without having to do the whole exercise at that moment. A very effective shortcut! Do remember, that it will take a few iterations for that association to build up.
Precautions to Keep in Mind
- Don’t do any of your planned mindfulness exercise while driving. Be mindful of driving instead!
- While doing the planned mindfulness exercises it is possible that past buried issues resurface in your mind and you may be faced with strong emotions at that time. Don’t get worried. It’s only a natural process. So do it at a time when you have spare time to wind down.
Written by Shilpi Banerjee, Clinical Psychologist at Santulan