Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.
When we practice mindfulness, we’re practicing the art of creating space for ourselves, space to think, space to breathe, space between ourselves and our reactions.
It’s estimated that 95% of our behavior runs on autopilot. The brain reduces our millions of sensory inputs into manageable shortcuts so that we’re able to function. These signals are so efficient that they cause us to fall back into old habits before we remember what we’re actually supposed to be doing.
Mindfulness is the exact opposite; instead it allows us to be aware of our thoughts by enabling intentional actions, decisions, and willpower. But that takes practice.
The problem is while our intentional brain knows what is best for us, our autopilot brain causes us to shortcut our way through life.
Mindfulness is available to us in every moment, whether through meditations and body scans, or mindful moment practices like taking time to pause and breathe when the phone rings instead of rushing to answer it.
The more you practice mindfulness, the more you will come to understand how your thoughts, feelings or sensations influence each other, as well as your mood and the way you respond to the world.
The goal of mindfulness is to wake up to the inner workings of our mental, emotional, and physical processes.
Mindfulness helps us put some space between ourselves and our reactions, breaking down our conditioned responses.
Here are some ways to put your intentional brain in the driver’s seat throughout the day:
1. Take a Seat
Find a place to sit that feels calm and quiet to you. Somewhere you can really concentrate.
Whatever you’re sitting on—a chair, a meditation cushion, a park bench—find a spot that gives you a stable, solid seat, not perching or hanging back.
Straighten, but don’t stiffen your upper body. The spine has natural curvature, let it be there.
Your head and shoulders can comfortably rest on top of your vertebrae.
2. Set a Time Limit
You don’t need a meditation cushion or bench, or any sort of special equipment to access your mindfulness skills—but you do need to set aside some time and space.
Just like any new skill, mindfulness meditation takes practice.
Start small with just a few minutes each day, and build up to longer periods of meditation as it becomes easier. As it becomes easier you’ll find that you can extend your meditation, and practice mindfulness anywhere.
3. Notice Your Body Sensations
From focusing first on your breathing, slowly move your attention through your body. Start from the top of your head and very gradually move down to your toes.
There is a world of wisdom behind your sensations. Can you feel your aliveness?
Maybe there’s a ‘deadness’ or a heaviness in you.
Notice the feelings and sensations in each area of your body. Do you notice warmth, relaxation or tension.
Don’t judge the sensations, just notice them as you move your attention through your body. Try to let go of any need to judge, understand or change those sensations.
Just notice them. Let them be, and then let them go.
The aim of mindfulness is not quieting the mind, or attempting to achieve a state of eternal calm. The goal is simple: we’re aiming to pay attention to the present moment, without judgment.
4. Create New Patterns
Make easy reminders to help shift into your intentional brain.
For instance, you might come up with, “If office door, then deep breath,” as a way to shift into mindfulness as you are about to start your workday.
5. Return To Observing the Present Moment As It Is
When first practicing mindfulness, whether you are sitting or walking, notice the thoughts that come into your mind, but don’t follow the train of thought. Just notice, be aware of the thought and then let it go, continuing the focus on the present moment.
Our minds often get carried away in thought. That’s why mindfulness is the practice of returning, again and again, to the present moment.
6. Be Kind To Your Wandering Mind
Instead of wrestling with or engaging with those thoughts as much, practice observing without needing to react.
Don’t judge yourself for whatever thoughts crop up, just practice recognizing when your mind has wandered off, and gently bring it back.
Just sit and pay attention. As hard as it is to maintain, that’s all there is. Come back over and over again without judgment or expectation.
That’s the practice. It’s often been said that it’s very simple, but it’s not necessarily easy. The work is to just keep doing it. Results will accrue.
If you are new to mindfulness, then it’s important to be extra patient and kind with yourself.
If your mind is full and a seasoned wanderer, it might push hard at first against any attempt to slow it down or bring it to the present.
Start where you are, and then, with consistency and regular practice, you’ll finish where you want to be.
Thank you so much for reading. I’d love to hear your thoughts below in the comments on how practicing the art of mindfulness has helped implement change your life as well!
If practicing mindfulness has helped improved your life in anyway, then leave a comment on how down below to help inspire someone else who might be in the same position you once found yourself in.