If you are on social media at all, you have probably seen posts about mindfulness or being mindful. You may wonder what that means or perhaps you have googled enough to understand these terms. Although they have grown in popularity over the last few years, they are not new concepts in the therapy world.
What is mindfulness? The short answer is being in your present moment and acknowledging your thoughts, feelings and physical responses. Mindfulness helps you process events, feelings, thoughts and goals. It can help you tune out the distractions around you and prevent you from suppressing those same thoughts and feelings. Some people combine mindfulness with meditation, but they are not the same thing. They can be used together for sure, but they are not defined in the same way. Meditation, by comparison, is more exploring and less a fixed destination.
So what are the basic steps for Mindfulness?
Start by setting aside time. You don't need a special spot, cushion or room, but do find an area with little distractions which will help you focus.
Focus on your present mental state (emotions, thoughts etc). The goal is not to achieve an inner peace or quiet state of mind, but to focus on the present moment as it is.
Try to push away any judgments on what comes up for you. If you start to hear yourself being critical, you will shut down. We are our own worst critics most times, and this can form very damaging narratives in how we talk to ourselves. Let whatever comes up come up, and don't try to critique or change that.
If you are getting distracted, keep returning to the present moment. Our culture has us multitasking constantly. Our minds can become wired this way. Where we can't just be still or be quiet with ourselves. It's okay if you get distracted with the to-do list in your head, but realize that it is happening and return to the present moment. Those list will still be there in 10 minutes...I promise!
Try focusing on or repeating positive elements. For some people this may be praying or thinking over scripture. For others it may be a motivational quote.
Be patient with yourself. This is a new way to quiet the mind, and it does take time to practice. Don't give up if it doesn't seem to connect the first time. Keep trying!
What are the benefits of practicing mindfulness?
To start with, you will be more aware of your thoughts and feelings. We know from research and work with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that our thoughts lead to our feelings which lead to our actions. If we are more aware of how we are thinking and feeling, we can make targeted changes to that cycle. Mindfulness can help you be kinder to yourself. It can also help you be kinder to others. Mindfulness can also help you increase your attention span. Maybe you can hold conversations longer, or maybe you can be more focused on reading a book. Research has shown this also helps with improved sleep.
There are lots of reason to try this exercise. It's a simple one that anyone can try out for themself. As you master this skill,
you can add to it with other coping skills (deep breathing, cognitive restructuring, muscle relaxation, meditation).