Mindfulness is the intentional practice of bringing your attention to the physical sensations, thoughts or emotions of the present, in a non-judgmental way. (In other words, without labelling those experiences as good or bad.)
Research has shown that mindfulness can reduce anxiety and stress, improve working memory as well your ability to cope with physical pain. Moreover, it has also been shown to improve metacognitive awareness – which is your ability to think about your thoughts and watch them like an outside observer.
In doing so, we are able to observe any thoughts, emotions or physical sensations from a distance, and create a buffer between these experiences and any reactions you might have, effectively cutting off unhealthy habitual patterns of thinking and behaving before they spiral out of control.
This is why mindfulness is not just one of the most useful standalone practices for supporting basic mental hygiene, but also an essential prerequisite skill for using the tools of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – psychology’s gold standard, evidence-based treatment for most mental health issues.
Most often mindfulness is practised as a silent, seated meditation, with a focus on the sensations of the breath and the body for a prolonged period of time. But mindfulness can be practised for any amount of time, or in conjunction with almost any activity, as long as you are focusing on just one thing in the present moment (no multitasking!)
Try mindfulness by tuning in to savour the present moment during your first sip of coffee in the morning, taking time to notice the water run over your body in the shower, eating your favourite food, or enjoying an intimate moment with a loved one.
Don’t worry when judgments come up (and they will), just notice and let them go. What’s key is to not fall into the common trap of judging yourself for judging. We strive to do this from a place of acceptance – embracing whatever thoughts and feelings show up without trying to push them away, or cling to them, but merely observing them without any agenda for control.
We’re also aiming for something called “beginners mind” – almost like you are an alien being transplanted into your body, exploring it for the first time with openness and curiosity.
Read the follow-up articles on Stronger Mind to deepen your understanding of how to practise mindfulness, acceptance, specific exercises and more. This is all you need to know to start incorporating mindfulness in your day-to-day life.
In fact, before you move on with your day, pause and notice the sensation of your next few breaths, or perhaps just savour some pleasurable sensation that is available to you, even if it’s just for a few seconds.