As humans, we love simple solutions. We want to lose weight, be happier, have better relationships, make more money, and we want to find the fastest, easiest way to do all of these things.
Mindfulness may be that simple solution.
With that one habit, everything in your life could change for the better.
You might be thinking, “Not that simple. I’ve tried meditation, and I can’t do it.” Good news: meditation and mindfulness aren’t exactly the same thing.
This paper from the American Psychological Association says “…mindfulness is defined as a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment.”
Let’s take a look at how that judgment-free awareness can impact all areas of your life—and at the many simple ways to practice it.
Improve Productivity & Job Satisfaction
What you can accomplish during a work day depends on a variety of factors: your relationship with your teammates, your ability to focus, your love (or lack thereof) for your job, and your concern about how your efforts and decisions will impact the company (or the likelihood of retaining your position). These studies indicated that mindfulness leads to better decision-making; meanwhile, this research outlines how mindful leadership can inspire happier, more productive employees:
To the extent that a supervisor is fully present in an interaction with a subordinate, that subordinate will feel valued and treated with respect, or a sense of interpersonal justice…Moreover, being fully present in an interaction with a subordinate may enable a supervisor to better recognize the needs of the other person, such as what kind of support that person requires.
Reduce Stress, Anxiety & Improve Your Health
Chronic stress can lead to a variety of serious health issues, such as depression, heart attack, skin conditions, digestive problems, and more; as stress builds in your life, you may notice symptoms like these:
- Dry mouth
- Frequent colds
- Back and joint pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Panic attacks
- Weight fluctuation
- Increased substance use
This Harvard Health article quotes Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatrist and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School:
People with anxiety…can’t distinguish between a problem-solving thought and a nagging worry that has no benefit…. You might think ‘I’m late, I might lose my job if I don’t get there on time, and it will be a disaster!’ Mindfulness teaches you to recognize, ‘Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve been here before. But it’s just that—a thought, and not a part of my core self.’
Reducing stress isn’t the only way mindfulness can improve your health. Mindfulness meditation has also been shown to boost immunity.
Enhance Your Parenting Skills
Mindful parenting is both a goal and a practice; we want to be mindful and present as parents, and parenting itself offers numerous opportunities to practice mindfulness: “This is done by developing the qualities of listening with full attention when interacting with their children, cultivating emotional awareness and self-regulation in parenting, and bringing compassion and nonjudgmental acceptance to their parenting interactions.”
Research has shown that mindfulness results in less emotional reactivity in a variety of upsetting situations. From a parenting standpoint, it may mean responding with more calm and patience to a child’s tantrums and undesirable behavior.
Nurture Your Relationships
In addition to decreasing stress (who hasn’t snapped at a loved one because they were stressed about something unrelated to the relationship?), mindfulness increases empathy and compassion, making it easier to manage conflict within the relationship. It also makes you more aware of what’s causing your emotional responses and better able to communicate your feelings to your partner.
Develop Good Habits
Mindfulness and meditation practices have been shown to actually rewire the brain to improve cognition and creativity. Furthermore, mindfulness can be used to battle addiction by revealing and allowing the addict to cope with the underlying issues driving the addictive behavior.
Though we usually think of addiction as involving drugs, alcohol, or gambling, for example (and mindfulness can be a successful part of treatment for those addictions), we can also take a look at other addictive habits and behaviors in our lives: food, caffeine, social media, and more. You can use mindfulness to help you adopt new, healthy habits to replace habits that don’t serve you.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 33 percent of Americans say they don’t get the recommended amount of sleep. Unfortunately, sleep deprivation can contribute to serious health conditions as well as increase your likelihood of getting in a car accident or making a mistake.
Research shows a promising link between mindfulness and sleep. Bonus: a good night’s sleep has a positive domino effect on your health, attitude, and overall well-being.
Increase Your Overall Happiness
Imagine: with better sleep, better relationships with your spouse and children, reduced stress, and a more rewarding work experience, you’d be happier, right?
And that’s not all:
It’s pleasant to actually feel the steaming water on your back during your morning shower…increased focus on the present moment prevents us from spending all our time in the past, ruminating and regretting, or in the future, inventing hypothetical anxiety-provoking scenarios.
Where acceptance and non-judgment are concerned, acceptance may decrease stress by helping us let go of control and accept the facts. So, for example, when the doctor confirms that we’ve sustained a sports injury, we accept that our body needs rest and rehabilitation, rather than injuring ourselves further through denial and continued activity. Non-judgment may make us happier by cutting out secondary emotions (e.g., getting angry because we’re anxious; feeling guilty because we’re depressed)….
With mindfulness, we bring our attention to the present moment. We enjoy each moment for what it is, rather than comparing it to moments we’ve judged as better or worse. We avoid the discomfort of wishing we were elsewhere, re-living difficult past experiences, or imaging negative future experiences that may never come to pass.
How to Practice Mindfulness
It’s not always easy, but it certainly can be simple. You might even be doing it right now: if you’re fully engrossed in reading (instead of clicking back and forth between tabs), you’re on your way! Here are a few more ideas to get you started.
1. Be grateful
Gratitude is a powerful practice that encourages us to notice and appreciate the beauty already present in our lives. Before you go to bed at night, write down a few things you’re grateful for: your family, your home, or a funny cat video that really made your day. Whatever pleases you, write it down.
You can encourage this practice in your entire family by making a gratitude jar: at the end of the day, all family members can think of one thing they were thankful for that day, write it down on a slip of paper, and put it in the jar. At the end of the month, you can read them together.
Make a habit of sincerely thanking the people who make your life easier, both mentally and, when possible, to their faces. This might include a cashier at the store or the driver who slows down so you can turn into the lane.
Your breath is always right here, right now. You can’t breathe into the past or into the future. Therefore, by focusing your mind on your breath, you can help yourself stay in the present moment. Not only that, you’ll cultivate an awareness of your body: how it feels and how it’s affected by your breathing.
Simple deep breathing is one way to practice, but there are lots of breathing techniques to offer variety. Try alternate nostril breathing:
- From a comfortable seated position, inhale and exhale through both nostrils. Sit up tall, even if you need to use a wall or a chair for support.
- At the bottom of your exhale, close your right nostril with your right thumb and inhale through the left.
- Close the left nostril with your right ring finger, and exhale through the right nostril.
- Inhale through the right nostril.
- Close the right nostril with the thumb (still using your right hand) and exhale through the left.
That is one round. Continue for several rounds. Make sure you finish by exhaling completely through the left nostril, then remove your hand and take several breaths through both nostrils.
3. Embrace a routine task
Allow yourself to get fully immersed in a simple task you do every day. Chores like taking a shower, brushing your teeth, changing a diaper, or washing the dishes are easy to do on autopilot. Instead, really pay attention to what you’re doing and what it feels like. Focus your mind on every aspect of the task. (This practice has the added benefit of making the task more interesting and enjoyable, no matter how many times you’ve done it!)
4. Count to 3 (or 10)
When you feel triggered to react, whether it’s to a negative email, a situation in traffic, or a difficult person, pause. Instead of cutting off the car or raising your voice, take a deep breath and count to yourself. As you count, take stock of how your body is feeling. Notice where the emotional response lives: Do you feel a tightening in your chest? A buzzing in your stomach? Heat in your face?
Breathe into that feeling with the intention of dissipating it. Consider who you want to be in this moment. Consider the implications of the response you choose. See the offending person as a human being, subject to mistakes and misjudgments. Then, empowered, choose your response.
5. Seek accountability
A friend, a spouse, or even a professional like a yoga teacher or a therapist can offer additional insight and guidance. Your spouse, for example, could help you notice when you lapse into judgment or negative self-talk, or remind you to put your phone down and engage in the conversation at hand. (This requires a firm agreement from both of you to offer and accept the feedback gently and graciously.) A professional can help you explore the experience of your practice and offer additional ideas and resources for continued practice.
For some of us, simply knowing that we need to check in with someone helps us stick to new routines.
As you practice, stay mindful of the process itself. Are you frustrated because you’re not the Mindfulness Champion yet? (Don’t worry: there’s no such thing.) Do you regret not starting this journey last week or last year? Notice those feelings, then bring yourself back to this moment.
This one. Trust that your practice is working, that every mindful effort is adding up to a life in which mindfulness requires no effort. It will be, simply, the way you live: aware and appreciative, without judgment, of each moment as it arises.
Developing a mindfulness practice is the first step in transforming your life. As you begin to tackle big changes with your newly-developed non-judgmental awareness, we invite you to contact us. We’re here to help you create a plan and stay accountable to it.