The Practice of Mindfulness:
Living in the Moment
1. The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
2. A mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a term that refers to a psychological state of awareness. An individual who is practicing mindfulness focuses his or her attention on the present moment, refocusing thoughts that arise about the past and worries about the future. When observing their thoughts and feelings, people practicing mindfulness do so without judgment. Rather than dismissing or shutting out any feelings and thoughts, these individuals welcome them with curiosity. Thoughts and feelings that naturally arise are merely sensations of the moment; within the next moment they may be completely different.
People practice mindfulness meditation in order to accept reality, instead of attempting to change it to fit visions of how it “should be.” Mindfulness means living in the present moment and awakening oneself to experience.
Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
According to Davis and Hayes (2011), who published an article on mindfulness in the American Psychological Association journal, research has identified the following benefits of practicing mindfulness exercises and meditation.
- Reduced Rumination
- Reduced Stress
- Boosts to Working Memory
- Better Focus
- Less Emotional Reactivity
- More Cognitive Flexibility
- Increased Relationship Satisfaction
- Enhanced Self-Awareness and Insight
problems Stemming From Neglecting Mindfulness
We often treat our thoughts like they are facts. You may have the thought, “No one understands me,” “I’m not smart enough,” “She wouldn’t like me,” or even “I’m a genius.” However, does just thinking these thoughts make them true?
As it turns out, the more persistent certain thoughts are, the more likely they are to become our beliefs. Once manifested, our beliefs are sometimes taken as facts. Whether these beliefs are valid ceases to be of concern.
Often, our thoughts become beliefs that affect the ways in which we react to the world around us, view ourselves, and understand others. For example, an individual who believes “I’m not smart enough” to be factual may develop a low self-esteem, avoid new opportunities that are presented, and become timid around others.
When we start to acknowledge and pay attention to our thoughts, we can then begin to analyze our thinking. By starting to think about our thinking, we allow ourselves to be able to distinguish between thought and fact.
Mindfulness Meditation Tips
- Be aware of your thoughts, allowing them to come and go without feeling like you need to follow them.
- View your thoughts as “mental events” instead of absolute facts. Our thoughts often occur with specific feelings, tempting us to view them as facts. It is up to you to decide whether your thoughts are valid, true, or rational.
- Get into the habit of writing down your thoughts. By allowing yourself a second between having the thought and writing it down, you may have a moment to reflect on its meaning.
- Critically think about your thoughts: Did this thought appear automatically? What could have potentially trigged this thought? Does my thought fit with the situation? Are there alternatives to the thought? Is my mood influencing my thought?
- With particularly difficult or emotionally-driven thoughts, it may be helpful to take another look at them. For instance, after an argument with a significant other, you benefit from analyzing your thoughts after the situation has taken place. Allowing yourself to analyze your thoughts with an open mind may allow for further insight and varying perspectives.
- Sometimes, there may be evidence that supports the belief that a particular thought is a fact. In this case, ask yourself a few questions: What does believing this thought do to me? How does it make me feel? Does it help? If the answer to the third question is no, then choose not to get caught up in it. Decide to simply move on from the thought.
Daily Mindfulness Exercises and Techniques
- Upon waking up in the morning, while still in bed, bring your attention to your breathing. Inhale and exhale five deep breaths.
- Throughout your day, be aware of how your body and mind feel when you transition between sitting, standing, and walking. Take note of the changes in your posture each time you make a move from one to the next.
- Listen to the sounds around you. Be present and awake. Whenever you hear a car horn, a train pass by, a child’s laughter, or a cellphone ring, use that sound as the bell for mindfulness.
- Feel the air on your face, arms, and legs as you walk. Use this time to remind yourself to be present, perhaps taking a few deep breaths.
- Bring your attention to daily routines, such as brushing your hair, tying your shoelaces, shaving your face, or sending emails. Allow yourself to be redirected to mindfulness with each activity.
- Before you go to sleep at night, allow yourself to inhale and exhale five mindful breaths. Let go of all worries or anxieties and be present in the moment.
If you're interested in receiving more information or assistance practicing your mindfulness meditation, carrying out mindfulness exercises, or realizing your optimal mental health, contact Clarity Clinic’s Chicago psychiatry and therapy office today.
Author: Stephanie Ballard, CADC
Davis, D. M., & Hayes, J. A. (2011) What are the benefits of mindfulness? A practice review of psychotherapy-related research. American Psychological Association, 48(2), 198 – 208.