Mindfulness. It's becoming quite the buzzword. But what is it, really? And why does it matter?
Jon Kabat-Zinn, a leader in mindfulness practice and founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, defines mindfulness in his book Full Catastrophe Living as "the awareness that arises by paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally." This can be a challenging concept for us. Here's what I mean:
Have you ever found yourself reading a book, only to become frustrated when you have no idea what you read because your mind was elsewhere? What about social media- have you ever intended to check Twitter or Pinterest just for a few minutes, only to look up after awhile and realize a half hour has gone by? Or have you ever suddenly become aware that you have been holding your breath for awhile, clenching your jaw, or rapidly tapping your foot?
We are on cruise control. When our minds and bodies are out of sync, it is easy to feel scattered and disconnected.
Sometimes we are so disconnected from our thoughts that we find our minds wandering to things that aren't relevant to what we are doing, or trying to focus on. It is exhausting to have so much going on mentally at any given moment- it's like having 15 tabs in your internet browser open at the same time. It can feel cluttered and overwhelming. And because oftentimes our wandering thoughts aren't exactly positive and helpful, this pattern can lead to depression and anxiety.
Mindfulness can help you manage those feelings- instead of becoming frustrated at your anxious mind, take a few moments to slow down and pay attention to your breathing. Acknowledge the thoughts buzzing around your mind, and ask yourself if you need to attend to them right at that moment. If not, allow yourself to let it go and refocus on your breathing.
Before heading straight for the Keurig in the morning, try starting your day with a mindfulness meditation. Begin with just a few moments of deep breathing. Pay attention to your breath. Notice your heartbeat. Listen to the sounds around you. Take note of where your mind goes.
Switch your phone to airplane mode when you need to focus. It is so easy to get distracted by the constant pinging of texts and emails. Try it for 30 minutes the next time you have an important task to complete at work or school.
Be gentle with yourself. Incorporating mindfulness into your routine will take some time. Remember that progress is the goal, not perfection.
Segal, Z.V., Williams, J.M.G., & Teasdale, J.D. (2013). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression (2nd ed.) New York: Guilford.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. New York: Bantam Dell.