A practice to quieten our minds & allow us to live in and enjoy the present moment, the past has gone and the future has yet to come, now is the only moment that really matters
Mindfulness seems to have taken hold as a practice supported by both traditionalists and those drawn more to alternative therapies. It is used as a technique to help maintain positive mental health and manage a multitude of stress-related problems. As such, it is recommended and taught to employees by many companies keen to reduce stress levels at work and to promote the well being of their employees recognising that ‘Businesses don’t succeed, People do.’
So what is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is used to describe a mental state of being conscious and aware of what is going on in the present moment, whilst acknowledging and accepting our thoughts and feelings without judgement. It encourages us to adopt an observer’s point of view to our thoughts, giving us the space to label our feelings, let go and choose a more measured response to the situation that is more likely to achieve the outcome we desire.
As humans our ability to think is one of our greatest skills and the ability to think back to the past and learn from those experiences, or to project into the future to plan, can be extremely helpful. However, our inability to control when & how we think sometimes stops us from being calm and content. We can get stuck in the past, going back over and dwelling on events, and drowning in those emotions, as if they are happening now. Alternatively, we can be paralysed about worries and anxieties around events, that may or may not happen, in the future. There are also times when we want to relax, sleep or enjoy some peace & quiet and whilst we can create a physical environment conducive to this, we are often unable to quieten the incessant noise arising from the thoughts in our own heads.
What difference can it make?
Mindfulness can bring about long term changes in mood and well-being, as well as improving one’s ability to deal more effectively with life’s challenges. Studies in neuro-plasticity have shown that regular practise actually influences the way the brain works and how it structures itself. Indeed, the functionality of the hippocampus, the area that focuses on learning and memory, improves, the amygdala, that informs the flight or fight response, reduces in size and the limbic system, that regulates emotions, also improves.
It is a method of mental training that can be practised by anyone, at any age or from any walk of life.
How do we do it?
There are many meditative exercises that can help us achieve a mindful state. These exercises follow two core methods – focussed awareness, channelling attention onto one specific subject matter, and open field awareness, where the mind focusses on whatever comes to the attention of any of the senses, without judgement or attachment to any one particular thing.
However, to achieve the overall objective of leading a calmer and less anxious life we need to embrace being mindful in everything that we do.
Here are two books that I have found helpful to understand how mindfulness can help and how to put it into practise in our daily lives:
Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world by Mark Williams & Danny Penman
This book provides a blend of theory, to help you understand how mindfulness works and how it has been proven to help with reducing stress and anxiety, together with practices in the form of a guided eight week programme of meditation exercises and habit releasers, to help you establish new ways of living mindfully and break down ingrained habits. The book also comes with a CD to play throughout the meditation exercises themselves – invaluable to keep you on track and guide you through each exercise.
If you like to know why something works and explore the evidence of proven successes before you invest time in a new practice, then read chapters 1 to 3, but if you just want to get stuck in, start on chapter 4 and work through the exercises.
I particularly engaged with the habit releasers. I found that challenging my everyday routines made me more aware of my environment and what I was doing at that moment which in turn generated new perspectives for me.
MINDFULNESS pocketbook – Little exercises for a calmer life by Gill Hasson
This book is made up of a series of useful ways to introduce mindfulness practices into everyday life and establish new habits. It is useful as a book of reference to inspire you whenever you need to inject a sense of perspective or calm into a situation – you can dip in at any point or read the book from cover to cover – whatever works for you.
Each chapter covers a different theme together with tips on how to implement the theme in practise.
My favourite themes are the following:
- Bringing out your confidence by being aware of your own negative self-talk
- Having a beginner’s mind by approaching a problem as if you had never experienced it before & believing that past experiences are not an indication of future outcomes
- Spending time with positive people as a means of providing inspiration
- Dealing with rudeness through responding with kindness and knowing when to let go
- Being thankful – use the measure ‘the moment we are content we have enough’
- Managing moments of loneliness by recognising it as an emotional state of mind
Practise mindfulness as often as possible until it becomes an ingrained habit and way of living and, perhaps counter intuitively, when you just can’t find the time for mindfulness because life is just too busy or frantic, that is the time that you are more likely to feel the benefit from doing it. By taking the time to slow down and take stock you will gain a fresh perspective on where you are now and see how your thinking could be slowing your progress.
What opportunities do you have to press PAUSE and be more mindful?