Kabat-Zinn defined mindfulness as, "paying attention on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally." I often go about my day and realize just how much I don’t pay attention to what’s around me. Yesterday, I was worried about getting my work done for a class I’m taking, and I felt incredibly stressed. I started thinking, “What if I don’t finish in time? Why didn’t I start sooner? Why do I always do this?” Eventually, I began to feel bad about myself, as though I was failing.
The power of mindfulness
I’ve found that mindfulness helps me in these moments of self-doubt and worry. I was able to bring my attention back to the present by focusing on what was around me — my furniture, my family, the music playing — and I took a deep breath. It was then that I was able to calm myself and allow new thoughts to enter my mind. My stress and worry turned to, “I will work on this for an hour and then take a break. I can get this done.” By simply taking the time to breathe and be mindful, I was able to allow my thoughts to change to something more manageable.
Making mindfulness a habit
There are many ways to incorporate mindfulness into everyday life, and personally, I’ve found it particularly beneficial when I’m upset. If I’m worried about money, a relationship, a job, I try to take time for myself (even if only for an instant) to indulge in my senses.
I frequently notice that I don’t truly listen to someone before responding, or I drive home and don’t remember the details of doing so. I react with anxiety, guilt or sadness before taking the time to understand what’s really happening around me. For example, I might interpret someone as being frustrated with me, when that person’s really just worried about running late.
By taking a breath or a walk and noticing the feeling of my feet in my shoes, I can “get out of my own head” and into the world around me. It’s only then that I’m able to interpret my world more accurately and be more at peace.
A mindful exercise
Finding a way to incorporate mindfulness into your life might seem difficult, but once you find a way to make it work, it can be very powerful. Try this exercise for a few minutes each day and see how it works for you:
Sit with your feet flat on the floor. Draw attention to your breath. As you breathe in, focus on what your body and skin is in contact with (the chair, the blanket …). You’ll notice your thoughts drifting to something else. Gently bring your attention back to your breath and to the sensations on your skin. Take in the scents and sounds around you. Breathe gently. Observe any difference in your mood, your muscles, your body and your thoughts.