What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is bringing awareness to what we are doing, being fully present, and staying in the moment. It’s about being aware of and accepting what is, who you are, and how you feel right now without judgment. Mindfulness is about setting intention for whatever it is you’re doing, not just doing things mindlessly or on autopilot. It’s a practice and a tool to help improve your overall mental health.
Common Misconceptions About Mindfulness
People often think being mindful means being calm or “zen”. While that may be true sometimes, it can also mean being aware of how you are feeling, whatever that emotion may be, and being nonjudgmental about it. If you are feeling anxious, you can still be mindful.
Another common misconception is that practicing mindfulness only happens when you’re doing yoga, meditation, or breathing exercises. The truth is, you can practice being mindful any time – while you’re doing the dishes, taking a shower, going for a walk, dancing, or even working. It’s about focusing on the act that you are doing, and making that connection between what you are experiencing physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Mindfulness isn’t an end goal or achievement. It’s a state of being that comes and goes, and anyone can do it. It’s not on all the time, and it doesn’t have to be. In theory we always want to be that way, but realistically we don’t have total control over our experiences. So we have to work with what we have, adapt to our society, culture, community, and external experiences. The point isn’t to do it 24/7. It’s about the accumulation of experiences over time.
Mindfulness doesn’t only take place when we are intentionally practicing. When you begin to practice regularly, you may notice that you carry that awareness and mindfulness with you into other aspects of your life, even if you weren’t practicing it.
You don’t need a lot of free time throughout the day to practice mindfulness. If the thought pops into your head, that’s a good time to practice mindfulness. What are you doing at that moment? Working? Exercising? Driving? Bring your focus and awareness to whatever it is you are doing. Reflect on how you physically and emotionally feel. Notice your breathing. Is it fast? Slow? Deep? Shallow? Be aware of what you see, feel, smell, hear, and taste (if applicable). Just observe without judgment. That’s practicing mindfulness!
Mindfulness doesn’t have to be a pause or break in your day. It slows you down, but helps you focus your intention to make you more efficient. You can practice while you’re eating, walking, cooking, working – you don’t have to stop doing those things. It’s about being present while doing those things.
Set your intention: what is it that you want to do right now? Move away from multitasking. When you multi-task, you aren’t fully present. Take away the mental chatter by bringing attention to your breath. Pause, breathe, and focus. Is something distracting you? Can you remove that distraction? If your phone is a distraction, put it in a different room. Then bring your attention back to whatever you are doing.
Mindfulness helps you get more out of life with the things you are already doing. It’s not adding more to your plate. It’s about doing what you already do with more intention and awareness, which can make it better and more enjoyable.
10 Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness
- Improves Memory: When you focus on what you are doing, you are more likely to remember it. So often our thoughts are racing, or we are easily distracted by our phones, TVs, or things that worry us. Improving concentration and attention allows you to have more information that goes into the memory bank. Think of distractions as a screen door – if things can’t get past that screen door, they won’t be logged or registered in your brain and you won’t be able to recall them. The phenomenon of being like, “I have no idea what I’ve been doing for the last few hours” is common. When you bring awareness to what you are doing, it’s easier to remember what you did during the day and can help you recall things you’ve done. Mindfulness is a great tool for when you’ve lost your keys!
- Enjoying Nature: Practicing mindfulness is about getting more out of whatever you are doing, such as going on a nature walk. If you are running, talking on the phone, or listening to music, those are distracting you from observing what’s around you. You get more out of it if you put your phone away. Use all of your senses to deeply experience the smells, sounds, sights, and feelings – the wind on your face, bare feet in the sand or grass, the feel of rough bark or a smooth stone. How does this experience make you feel in the moment? What are you emotionally feeling? What are your bodily sensations? When you give yourself the opportunity to focus on what you are experiencing in nature, you get more out of it. The end result is that you feel more at peace, feel more connected with nature, and find a real pause in life’s chaos.
- Better Listening Skills: While you’re in a conversation personally or professionally – practice mindfulness by taking a mental note of what you’re observing, how you’re feeling in the moment, and focus on the thing you’re doing in that moment. Put aside distractions. This includes not thinking about what you’re going to say next – that is a distraction. Planning what you’re going to say next isn’t being present. As soon as you’re in your head or overthinking, multitasking, or distracted, you’re not engaged in the task you’re doing at that moment. You’re not listening fully to the other person. You’re not aware of your body or how the interaction is making you feel. When we stop listening to the other person and being aware of our own feelings, we go into autopilot mode and zone out. Are you actually fully engaged with what they’re saying? After that conversation, reflect on it. Did you get more out of that conversation than you normally would? Are you able to remember more of what the other person said and how it made you feel?
- Higher Productivity: So many of us have the habit of multitasking while we work, thinking we can get more done. But it actually slows you down. You’re trying to get something done and a text or email pops up. Instead of ignoring it, you look at it and then are thinking about that instead of the project or task you were originally working on. If you have music playing in the background, your brain is focusing on two things. Instead of getting that task done in an hour or two, it took you all day. Set the intention to get something done. Put your phone on silent if you can, and focus on the task at hand. Allocate time in the day to respond to emails and return calls, and don’t let those be a distraction while you work. When you are mindful, it leads to being more efficient and can result in higher quality work.
- Reduces Anxiety: Mindfulness isn’t a magic tool that makes anxiety go away. It’s a tool to reduce anxiety overall and when you’re feeling anxious in the moment. When you’re triggered by something or face challenges, reflect on how you feel. What are the physical sensations you are experiencing? Can you label the emotions you feel? Can you recall what triggered these feelings? Allow yourself to feel however you feel without judgment. Remember those feelings will pass and breathe through it.
- Deeper Connection with Self: Through mindfulness, you can learn to be more connected to yourself as you are. When was the last time you gave yourself an hour to think about what you want out of life? So much of our daily lives are governed by schedule, routine, and keeping up with chaos. Practicing mindfulness gives you the opportunity to think and reflect on your needs, values, priorities, and desires. These will help you set goals that are in alignment and gain more clarity about your path in life.
- Helps with Problem Solving: Life is full of challenges, and many times people just mindlessly try to deal with them (sometimes unsuccessfully), or put them aside to deal with later. When you’re faced with a problem, focus on the issue, breathe through it, and give yourself time to think through it clearly. If you need to write down what’s happening and steps to take, do that. Just like with other ways to practice mindfulness, put aside distractions and focus on what you are doing in the moment.
- Improves Sleep: Are you guilty of scrolling through your phone in bed? Most people are. Instead of scrolling on your phone mindlessly while failing to fall asleep, set the intention. Create a bedtime routine. A lot of us go through the chaos of the day and then jump into bed, which prevents down time where you can engage in self-care. Put your phone in a location where it’s not in arm’s reach. Ground yourself through your senses. Take a hot shower, play relaxing music, light scented candles. Mindfulness is about focusing on your physical senses plus having that mental awareness of what you are experiencing in order to separate yourself from the chaos of the world. That chaos disturbs sleep, so we have to actively quiet our minds and reduce the mental chatter.
- Safer Driving: We’ve all driven on autopilot (mentally). You have arrived at your destination, but can’t recall half of the ride or how you got there. When you are less aware while you’re driving, it increases risk. When you’re rushing to get somewhere, it can make you frustrated and increase anxiety, which makes you more likely to get into an accident. You’ll get to where you are going – choose with intention to focus on something that gives you a pause from the frustration and anxiety. Try to be calm and have mental clarity while you’re driving by practicing mindfulness. Put on a song and think about the song. What are you hearing? Take deep, long breaths. Listen to a podcast, song, or audiobook mindfully. The point isn’t to get lost in what you’re listening to, but to engage your senses and awareness. So while you’re listening to those things, what do you see? Are there trees, birds, blue cars? It’s an active approach to setting intentions. Don’t let your emotions control you (frustration, anger, anxiety). Activate your other senses to find stability. How does your body feel? Does your body feel different as you practice mindfulness? How have your emotions shifted? How has your driving changed?
- Long Term Benefits: When you start to accumulate mindful experiences, it broadens your window of tolerance to deal with triggers and challenges you face. When you are faced with those, you can slow down and deal with it, instead of immediately jumping into a state of panic. You might notice that you’ve become more productive in various aspects of your life, and that you are setting goals that are more aligned with your true values and priorities. Practicing mindfulness over the long term leads to reaching a state of inner peace more easily. (Remember, being at peace or staying calm is not constant, but it is a state of being we can actively work towards by setting intentions.)
Easy Ways to Practice Mindfulness on a Time Crunch
Listen to a song: Pick a song you like. What’s nice about this is that the timer is automatically built in when the song ends. Focus your attention on the song. What are you actually hearing? Listen deeply to each instrument, the lyrics, the rhythm. Do you enjoy the music more when you’re present? If you are multitasking – doing something while listening to that song, you probably won’t enjoy it as much. Push out everything else – all of the distractions and mental chatter, and focus only on the song. In that moment, take note of how you feel. Has your mood changed? Have you noticed a shift in your anxiety or anger? How does your body feel? Are you less tense? Do you have more energy? Are you calmer? Do you feel more comfort or less antsy? Are there any changes in your thought process from when you started? Is your concentration better? Whatever is happening, don’t judge it. Just let yourself be fully aware of what is going on externally and inside of you.
While You’re Eating: Before each bite of food, pause for a moment. Think about what you are about to do, and then take a bite. Pay attention as you take each bite. Really taste the flavor on your palette, feel the texture. Don’t talk or watch TV or anything else while you’re eating. Pay attention to your hunger cues as you’re eating. Don’t just shovel the food down until you’re so stuffed you can’t move. Listen to your body and what it’s telling you. When you eat this way, you’ll actually learn to identify different flavors you haven’t noticed before. Practicing mindfulness while you’re eating enhances the experience in the moment.
A collection of better experiences throughout your life
The more of these positive, engaged experiences you have, the better you feel overall. Practicing mindfulness doesn’t have to be dramatic. It’s just bringing more awareness and intention to the things you already do. A collection of better events can positively impact your mood and your life overall.
At first it can be more exhausting when you start practicing mindfulness because it feels like you’re doing more. But with practice, it becomes less about doing and more about being. In our society people want to “do do do” and “go go go”. You’re allowed to have different values and priorities that serve you. If you feel overwhelmed, anxious, or hectic all the time, give yourself permission to slow down, bring awareness to what you are doing, and set intentions for being calmer. The more you practice mindfulness, the less effort it takes.
You Deserve to Enjoy Life!
Therapy isn’t just about treating mental illness or getting you to change your life. It’s also about teaching you how to appreciate and enjoy your life as it is. Practicing mindfulness helps you shift your mindset from “I don’t like my life or myself” to “I accept what is and who I am” so you can go through life confidently and with awareness. If you are struggling with anxiety, low self-esteem, or excessive stress, Dr. Heather Violante can help. She offers teletherapy (online video therapy) to those living in New York and Florida. Contact her today to schedule your free 10-minute consultation.