The Institute of Science, Technology and Public Policy at Maharishi University has reported that “Leading medical experts estimate that 90% of disease is caused or complicated by stress.”
That is an astounding number. Stress is an epidemic in our country. In a study conducted by the American Psychological Association, 77% of respondents reported “regularly experiencing physical symptoms caused by stress” and 73% “psychological symptoms.”
Are you one of the three-fourths that are plagued with regular stress, overwhelm, exhaustion, burnout or extreme frustration?
I am. Sometimes it feels like an uphill battle that can never be won, but I promise- you do have tools at your disposal. One of my favorites is: Mindfulness.
Now before you start thinking of yoga poses and breathing techniques, let me stop you. Those things CAN be a PART of mindfulness, but it’s not the entire concept. Mindful living is so much more than that!
WHAT IS MINDFULNESS ANYWAY?
I love the definition given at mindful.org: “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”
Does that definition say anything about yoga or meditation? It certainly doesn’t!
Mindfulness is an ability that everyone already possesses. It’s a state of mind. It’s something you can do anywhere, anytime. You can develop and evaluate your mindfulness in different ways (which is what I like to teach about here at V&B), but it’s not a “skill” that only some possess.
Put most simply, mindFULness is really just the opposite of mindLESSness. Having a mind FULL of things that will make you a better person and lead you to a more satisfying life, instead of allowing yourself to make “mindLESS” choices on a whim.
I like to think of it as awareness. Being aware of the things around you so you can act accordingly. Paying attention to the moment at hand. Being intentional with your time, your actions and your thoughts.
It’s about making specific choices based on positive life goals, instead of letting life control your path.
It’s about constantly working toward those goals, while still being kind to your spirit and giving yourself lots of grace. It’s about loving yourself for who you are, but knowing your great potential and pushing yourself to be better. It’s about recognizing the positives you have to offer, but knowing you can be So Much More!
Focus on the Present
We have a tendency to focus on things that occurred in the past and anticipating too strongly the things that might happen. Though joyful memories and excitement for what is to come can be great things, allowing them to take the majority of our mindspace is detrimental to our progress.
Instead, it is far more healthy to focus on the things of the present. Mindfulness is paying attention to what’s happening right now: your actions, your thoughts, your environment. It’s not letting your mind get carried away with thoughts of the past or worries from the present. It’s letting go of anything that doesn’t serve your current goals and refocusing your mind if you get off track. It keeps you grounded in the here and now.
Mindfulness is Internal
Mindfulness focuses on the inner self, rather than the outer.
Being mindful allows us to see into our spirits- to the place that nobody else gets to see. It helps us to dig deep into our soul and pull out the aspects of ourselves that really define us. It’s letting go of how the world sees you, and allowing you to see yourself for who you really are. Your true self.
Being mindful has been huge in my development of self-confidence and self-esteem. It helps me to see that it doesn’t matter what people think if I know the real truth.
Mindfulness is freeing. It’s letting go of what doesn’t serve you and allowing yourself to focus on what does.
Benefits of Being Mindfulness
Mindfulness is not just a “fad” or “new-age trend.”
Incorporating mindfulness into your life has many tangible health benefits, including:
- Decreased stress and increased capacity to work through life’s challenges
- Increased clarity, attention, and brain function
- Lowered anxiety and depression
- Improved general well-being
Mindful.org explains: “When we’re mindful, we reduce stress, enhance performance, gain insight and awareness through observing our own mind, and increase our attention to other’s well-being.”
It’s so easy to get caught up in the struggles and trials of our everyday lives and miss the wonderfully good things that happen around us. Constant pessimism is like poison to our spirits, but stopping to see the positives can provide us with much needed positive energy, which can be incredibly uplifting.
The beauty of true mindfulness is in the huge impact it brings to our spirits. Being fully aware of your mind and your surroundings can help you to see the good within life’s challenges.
It doesn’t erase the difficulties of life; it simply allows us to work through them calmly and realistically, instead of with fear and negativity. It turns them into opportunities for growth and progression, rather than tragedies and misfortunes.
This is quite a different view of mindfulness than merely relying on meditation and yoga, am I right?
Mindfulness is a Choice
“But how can I just ignore all the bad things in my life?”
You can’t. And doing so wouldn’t be healthy anyway. Those negatives influence who you are. They are a part of your past, but they don’t have to define you.
You get to decide what you focus on. You get to choose what you let matter. It’s your choice where you put your energies.
How do I Practice Mindfulness?
Let me be clear: “being mindful” and “practicing mindfulness” aren’t entirely the same.
While, as stated above, you can be mindful anytime, anywhere, “practicing” mindfulness is an intentional action that you must set aside time for.
It can look different for everyone, but for me, I find that spending time each day (usually at night) physically tracking my mindset is very beneficial. This is the procedure I facilitate at Vibrance & Bliss.
In a specific place in my planner I track things like:
- my moods
- water intake (and other health concerns)
- goals & progress: daily, weekly etc…
- intentional routines & schedule
- choosing the right tasks
- small (or large!) daily wins, improvements, achievements & successes
- positive choices
- future goals & improvements
- daily evaluation
It Can Be A Challenge
So I think at this point we agree that being mindful has its benefits, and we have a basic outline of what it entails and how to put it into practice. But does that mean it’s easy?
Living mindfully can be a very difficult thing to do.
Yes, it is relatively simple in theory, but living mindfully requires you to address some things in your life that may be uncomfortable or upsetting.
Though it’s easier to ignore the challenges we face, it is much healthier to deal with and work through them. That’s where mindfulness can help. It takes you out of the negative headspace and helps you see what positives you can draw from the experience.
How do I stay motivated?
So how do you keep on track if you’re feeling the pressure and challenge of mindfully evaluating your day each night?
Just like any new habit or routine, it will take practice and consistency. Do it every night if possible. If you miss a day, no big deal. Just pick up again and keep going.
But always, ALWAYS be kind to yourself. That’s really the most important part. I like to think of it as “giving myself grace.” Don’t beat yourself up over a missed day or two. You’ll zap away all your motivation to keep trying.
Instead, cut yourself some slack. Don’t give up. Realize that perfection will not ever be possible.
Try changing your routine. Perhaps see if a mindfulness app can help your motivation levels. Whatever you can do to improve your consistency, the better you’ll be. If you can see you’re making progress, you’re more likely to stick to your budding routine.
How Positivity Influences Productivity
So why does all this matter? How does being “mindful” help me to get more done?
Have you ever sat down to complete a task and find yourself flooded by memories of a past negative experience? Or maybe you start to worry about an upcoming deadline you’re not sure you’ll hit?
If you’re anything like me, these thoughts probably continue running through your mind and keep you from completing the task, and twenty minutes later you’re feeling frustrated and defeated and your task is at the exact same place you left it.
Sound familiar? Trust me, I’ve been there.
The human mind loves to wander. We are easily distracted, and have a habit of allowing our minds to run over the place. This is mindlessness. You may be thinking of something, but it is certainly not what is going to further your present goals.
This is where mindfulness really shines! Constant and intentional consideration of your desired goals helps keep you on track as your mind naturally wanders.
Mindfulness IS productivity! It is the driving force that helps you get things done!
It allows you to step away from the negative thoughts that destroy your motivation and focus, and into a peaceful place where you feel positive and energized.
We are so focused on accomplishing our goals and tending to our to-dos, taking the time to contemplate life’s intangibles doesn’t always seem practical. But recognizing the boon to productivity that mindfulness provides tells us it’s well worth the “sacrifice.”
What Mindfulness IS:
- Staying in the moment
- Recognizing yourself for who you are, but not being content to staying there
- Addressing the negatives but choosing to focus on the positives
- Tracking areas of desired improvement
What it’s NOT:
- Breathing exercises
- Yoga poses
- Ignoring what’s going on around us
- Obsessing about the past or worrying about the future
HOW DO I DO IT?
Daily tracking the aspects of your life you’d like to see more positive results in: your gratitude, moods, health, energy, goals, routines or
HOW IS MINDFULNESS DIFFERENT FROM MEDITATION?
Whereas meditation is something you DO, mindfulness is a state of mind- an awareness that your life is made up of more than the events in your life. Being mindful is a constant choice, and though meditation can be a great avenue to improve your mental health, it does not define mindfulness.
Why does all this matter? What’s the point?
- Increases your focus
- Improves motivation
- Stimulates work ethic
Simply put, mindfulness allows us to get more done, accomplish more goals, and live a more healthy life. And who doesn’t want that?
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