Many of us have heard of the term mindfulness and may feel like we have a general understanding of what mindfulness is about. Common answers I hear when asking clients what mindfulness means to them are being aware, present, not focusing on negativity, and being in the here and now. What commonly follows their definition is that mindfulness is very difficult to do regularly, doesn’t help them much, or it is a struggle to practice with so many distractions vying for their attention. Being someone who has been practicing mindfulness daily for over a decade, I can agree that it is a challenge and a battle. Just like any other learned behavior or habit change, it takes patience, consistency and determination to establish the habit of mindfulness on a regular basis.
Why is mindfulness helpful? Numerous studies strongly suggest that by practicing mindfulness one can lower anxiety and depression, cope with life stressors more effectively, improve life satisfaction and increase one’s sense of self-esteem and many other synergistic health benefits. While all that sounds good, from a practical standpoint I find mindfulness helps me enjoy each day more fully, the time spent with others and activities I engage in. The older we get the faster time seems to move. By practicing mindfulness, I find I can retain more information and fully experience each moment. My attention isn’t concerned about the past (which is associated with regret or depression) or worried about the future (associated with anxiety and fear).
Mindfulness can be so impactful because it is literally regrooving our brains. By the simple act of thinking differently, we are developing new neural connections and diminishing the use of old connections, thus changing the landscape of our brain. This is a subtle change and something that does not happen overnight. An analogy: look at a picture of yourself 10 years ago, do your notice that you have changed physically? Most of us would notice specific changes in our appearance when referencing a photo but we did not notice these changes happening daily, in the moment. The same thing occurs with cognitive changes because they are so subtle, but when we look back a year or more we may notice we are completely different people.
I’ve trained myself to get in the habit of thinking, where is my mind? By being in the present moment, focused on the task or activity at hand fully and completely, I can plan for the future, handle stress, interact with others authentically, and live a life with no regrets because I am here now, experiencing the moment and nothing else. This mindset helps me reflect on the past and what I have learned as well as plan for the future consciously and objectively, if those are things I need to think about. I am no longer at the mercy of my intrusive thoughts aimlessly dragging me through the mud of regret, resentment, sadness, anxiety and fear.
Next post we will jump into techniques and strategies for integrating mindfulness into our daily life and how to overcome common roadblocks which continue to pull us into fear, anxiety and depression.