In a world where we often wear “busy” as a badge of success and view the world through the lens of our phone camera, it can be hard to truly be present, to engage with life as it is unfolding, in the moment. The ancient practice of mindfulness is a powerful tool to help us to reset and awaken to the present moment.
How would you feel if you had the ability to enjoy your life exactly as it is right now, rather than how you wish it would be?
How would it feel to own each moment rather than to feel that you were constantly responding to your obligations and a feeling of overwhelm, that there was never enough time?
This is the gift of mindfulness, knowing and owning the richness of each and every moment, even in situations where you feel time-poor.
Right now you may have many worries and anxieties that preoccupy your mind. Right now you may feel that you simply don’t have time to learn this mindfulness thing because you are too busy. Right now you may feel drained, time-poor, and overwhelmed. So, let me show you some introductory, easy steps to alleviate those feelings in the shortest time possible. If you feel that would be of value to you, let’s begin.
It’s easy to spend our time reflecting on, or even obsessing, over the past or worrying about the future. While we’re doing that we’re missing out on the very essence of our lives. Life is a collection of lived 'now's and we waste them when we don’t bring our awareness to the present moment. So how do we choose now?
- Stop waiting for a sign or for something to happen.
- Stop waiting for motivation
- Stop postponing happiness
Mindfulness expands every moment and, as it is a practice, is best experienced rather than merely described. You can begin with a very simple practice by just focusing on your breath. We choose the breath because we often don’t notice it, yet we cannot live without it. We choose the breath because it anchors us in the now - we take a breath to stay alive right in this moment. We choose the breath because we can observe it without having to control it.
Mindful Breathing Exercise:-
Sit comfortably in a chair, or on the floor if you prefer. Sit in an attentive state. If you are in a chair make sure your feet or flat on the floor and your back upright and self-supported. Slowly just bring your attention to your breath. Do not alter it. Just observe it. Feel your chest as it rises and then falls as the breath releases. Feel the breath in your nostrils. Feel it filling your lungs and going down into your abdomen. Stay with the breath. Feel it release. Now slow it down a little. Breathe in for a count of 6. Hold for a count of 2. Exhale for a count of 8. Doing this for just 5 minutes will help to ground you in the now and deliver a sense of calm and well-being.
If you find that your mind begins to wander, as soon as you become aware, just label the thoughts “thinking” and release them bringing your awareness back to the breath.
This is a practice you can do anywhere and is particularly helpful at times when you are feeling anxious. When we concentrate on the moment that we’re actually in, that we’re living right now, the worries of the past and the anxieties and ‘what ifs’ of the future dissipate. We open ourselves to embrace a greater sense of wellbeing right now, not when circumstances change but right in this moment. Try it!
If you'd like to download an audio companion to this simple exercise you can do so by clicking the link below.
We tell ourselves that we just want to be happy and then become frustrated by the many obstacles we decide to view in our path to happiness. What we fail to realise is that happiness is just looking at the same circumstances of our lives but with different eyes.
Happiness is not a reward that we we earn through our professional, personal, or economic successes. It is available to everyone no matter their circumstances.
It is not necessarily the reality that shapes us, but the lens through which our brain views the world that shapes our reality
- Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage
Shawn is a renowned happiness researcher, author and speaker. Through his company, Goodthink, he brings the power and impact of his research to companies, schools and even hospitals all over the world and is proving daily that happiness does not follow success but rather happiness is the foundation for success.
Shawn’s, and his peers’, research has shown that 90% of our happiness is predicted, not by our external world, but by how our brains process that external world. Indeed in our careers for example 75% of our success is predicted not by our IQ but by our optimism levels, our social support systems, and our ability to see stress as a challenge rather than a threat.
When we choose to view the world from a positive perspective our brains perform significantly better than they do when they are in a neutral, negative, or stress mode. Our creativity, our problem-solving skills, and our energy levels all rise when our brains are in positive mode. The research also shows that we are a whopping 31% more productive when our brains are operating in positive mode!
So, how then do we gain and maintain this “positive mode” that clearly has so many advantages?
Well mindfulness is a very large ingredient. When we mindfully appreciate the here and now, that we have today and only today. When we release ourselves from re-living past events and re-feeling past pain; when we let go of pre-living potential future disasters and pre-feeling their impact and trauma; when we do this, we open up a lot of head space where we learn to appreciate the here and now. We are looking at our world with different eyes. We open ourselves to experience happiness, coaxing our brains into this bountiful “positive mode”.
To begin to adopt this perspective, take out a piece of paper now and at the top of the paper write this heading;
The People and Things I Love and Appreciate
Below, list all of the people, things, and activities that bring you a sense of joy, peace, and happiness. Take a moment to re-read and bathe your attention in your list.
When you are with anyone on your list, or engaged in any of the activities, or enjoying any of the things on this list, make that a prompt to pause and engage in the experience, mindfully, drinking in every moment, every drop of joy.
This gift is available to you always, not just when you are experiencing moments from your 'The People and Things I Love and Appreciate' list, but also through a Gratitude Practice.
Count to Ten - Gratitude As A Practice:-
When we are counting our blessings, when we are focused on gratitude, a little miracle happens - we cannot be angry, resentful or fearful. So here’s a little gratitude practice that’s as easy as counting on your fingers!
Once a day, focus on the wealth you have in your abundant, glorious life. Count a blessing on each finger. It can be hard to count to ten at first but it will get easier as you practice daily. It’s supposed to be hard because you are learning to appreciate all the little things you’ve previously taken for granted, or not noticed at all. Please don’t ever give up before your ten. If you’re feeling stuck remember that happiness is just learning to see the world with different eyes. What can you look at in your life with different eyes, and be grateful for?
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Tune Into Your Body
The state of your body has an enormous impact on your emotional state. Back in 1980 a groundbreaking experiment by psychologists, Gary Wells and Richard Petty, showed that the judgements we make from moment to moment can be significantly affected by our physical state.
In that experiment (which has been repeated often) Wells and Petty asked the study participants to rate headphones for sound quality. They had them listen to both some music and some speech while wearing the headphones. Some participants were asked to simulate a running motion while listening. One of these groups were asked to do this by moving their heads from side to side and the other group by moving their heads up and down while listening. The third group did not move their heads.
I’m sure by now you’re guessing what the outcome was. When asked to rate the headphones the “nodders” consistently rated them higher than the “shakers” (and higher than those who kept their heads still). Not only that, but Wells and Petty took a further step. As the participants were leaving they were asked whether they would participate in a brief survey about college life. No participant was aware that this was a part of the experiment. During the headphones portion of the experiment they had heard a discussion on the subject of college fees - whether they should rise from $587 to $750 (bring back these college fee levels please!!). Those who kept their heads still during the headphones stage gave an average recommendation of $582. The shakers? $467. And the nodders? Well they were ready to increase the fees to $646!
Don’t underestimate your body when it comes to how your mind will act. Many of us have a very troubled, even combative, relationship with our body. We judge it harshly and typically tune it out. The state of our bodies impacts the state of our minds and we need to become sensitive to its messages. That way we will become better prepared to curate the thoughts that may flood our minds when our bodies are in certain states.
If you’ve ever gone to a Tony Robbins event, or followed his work, you’ll have heard him speak about getting into “peak state”, something he does whenever he needs to perform or undertake a new challenge. That’s not what we’re doing here but it is an illustration of the importance of understanding the connection between body and mind.
Mindfulness Exercise - The Body Scan:-
Once again find your quiet spot and this time you will lie down. Your legs are uncrossed, slightly apart with your feet relaxed and falling to the sides. Your arms are to your side, palms facing upward, slightly away from your body. Place a small thin pillow or a folded towel under your head if you need one.
As before with the breath exercise, bring your attention to the breath. Take three slow breaths to get your centered. Breathe in for a count of 6. Hold for a count of 2. Breathe out for a count of 8. Notice the sensation in your stomach as you breathe. Notice the rise and fall of your chest. Now just breathe normally, without any effort or control.
Now bring your attention to your feet. Notice any sensations in your feet as you bring your focus here. Bring your awareness to your toes, the soles of your feet, the arches, and then the tops of your feet. Gently move your attention from one spot to the next. Don’t search or strive to feel anything in particular. It is a gentle light of attention, nothing more. Stay here for a few breaths just feeling this part of your body in the now. When you feel ready let go of your attention on a out breath and move to the ankles
The Body Scan continues in the same way, bathing each section of the body in your awareness, not naming or judging, just bringing your focus and awareness. Through your lower legs, your knees, notice where your legs meet the floor. Note the feeling against the floor. Stay with this awareness through a few slow breaths. Again, on an out breath, let go of your attention and move up to your thighs, your hips, your pelvis.
Continue in this way throughout the whole body, turning your focus to each part in turn and then moving on, always on an out breath. At times you will find that your mind will wander. This is normal. Do not judge or chastise yourself. Simply label the thoughts ‘thinking’, letting them go and bringing the awareness back to the body.
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The more you do this practice the more sensitivity you will develop to changes in your physical state and the better prepared you will be to manage and curate the thoughts that may arise when your body is in a depleted or non-optimal state.
In each moment of our lives we can choose a mindful path. We can choose not to re-live the past or pre-live an imaginary future. We can choose the beauty, magnificence and glory of now, in all its perfect imperfection. We can choose to let go of grasping and resistance and to be fully present in this 'one wild and precious life ' as poet Mary Oliver put it.
Wishing you peace, joy, and happiness on your mindful path in life.
In loving sisterhood,
Eimear Zone is an entrepreneur and founder of feminist brand and social enterprise, PEBBLE + ROSE. She writes on feminism, entrepreneurship, and mindset management. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and IG @emtczone
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