You’ve probably heard about mindfulness. You may associate it with meditation, or a spiritual practice. You may even wonder what exactly is mindfulness? Simply put, it is being present.
According to Dr Danny Penman, a qualified meditation teacher and an award-winning writer and journalist in an article he wrote for Psychology Today, “Mindfulness is, quite simply, full conscious awareness. It is paying full conscious attention to whatever thoughts, feelings and emotions are flowing through your mind, body and breath without judging or criticising them in any way. It is being fully aware of whatever is happening in the present moment without being trapped in the past or worrying about the future. It is living in the moment not for the moment.”
One of the joys of mindfulness is that you can do it anywhere! You don’t need to sit in silence for hours, chant mantras, or even close your eyes. Mindfulness means bringing your complete attention to the present, where you are right now, not distracted by memories of the past or anxieties about the future. Right here, right now.
Here are some great mindfulness techniques you can use to stay grounded and present no matter what time of day or where you are.
You can use the 3 Breaths technique to anchor your awareness firmly in the present. It’s so easy you can do it right now as you’re reading this. Simply bring your attention to your breath – breathe in slowly and gently, following the path of your breath with your mind. Feel it deep in your belly. Then breathe out slowly and gently, again paying attention to the movement of your breath. Can you feel a subtle energy shift, a calm peacefulness? That is how mindfulness feels.
You can do this anywhere at any time, and no one will know that you are practicing mindfulness.
Check in with your senses
If you’re finding it a little tricky to access your inner peace or you find your mind is distracted, try the Five Senses Check-in. Make a conscious decision to disconnect from distractions and focus your awareness on what you can see, feel, hear, smell and taste. This simple exercise will ground you in the present moment anytime you feel stressed or harried.
Take every opportunity that comes your way to practice mindfulness. It’s especially good to use times when you might feel frustrated and impatient, like waiting in line or while you’re stuck in traffic. Put a half-smile on your face and watch your breath. Be aware, and just follow the breath in and out. Don’t try to control it. In no time, you’ll feel your frustration melt away and you will find yourself at peace.
Use mindfulness to create space
No matter how busy you are, you can use mindfulness as a stealth tactic to build some more space into your day. Before you send an email, take time to breathe and notice your breath, then read the email again and decide if you want to send it. As you’re walking along, look up and really notice the sky, the leaves on the trees, are flowers budding or blooming? Smile at other passers-by and notice their reactions.
Choose to ignore or switch off all your devices for a while. Instead of jumping in with a reactive response, sit back and really listen. Give the other person your full attention and respect, and you’ll have a more meaningful and productive conversation.
Mindfulness and Happiness
You may have thought mindfulness was only about being calm or helping you deal with stress. But did you know that mindfulness can help you lift your mood and become a happier person more of the time?
It’s easy to get stuck in a negative mindset and stay focused on the things that aren’t working in your life. Your self-talk can become all about your weaknesses or failures. Negativity becomes your habitual way of thinking. Mindfulness can help you turn that around and get into a more positive thought pattern. As a bonus, mindfulness also has positive health benefits by reducing stress and enhancing your resilience and mental capacity.
Here are three ways mindfulness can help you out of the negativity spiral and into a happier state of mind.
Stay in the now
Practicing mindfulness can help you refocus your attention on the here and now instead of anxious fast-forwarding to future problems or brooding over past mistakes. Mindfulness slows you down and reconnects you with what is happening at the moment. You can notice and appreciate the good things that are in your life right now. Being mindful can also help you stop being reactive and instead be more thoughtful in how you respond to people and situations.
Be more connected
Mindfulness brings you into a deeper connection with yourself and with others. It gives you time and mental space to work out what matters to you, and what are your values and beliefs. You learn that happiness lies in knowing yourself and being comfortable with who you are.
And when you are your authentic self, you can connect honestly, openly and straightforwardly with other people. Relationships can become more profound and more heartfelt.
Enhance contentment and gratitude
One of the beautiful effects of mindfulness is the release from the hamster wheel of consumerism. You stop investing in externals for your happiness. You realize money, external approval, worldly success, and possessions no longer hold sway over your self-worth.
Mindfulness focuses your attention on what you can control. Living an authentic life, attuned and aligned with your values encourages and supports your inner well being. Your happiness becomes self-sufficient.
Cultivating mindfulness can open your mind to feeling gratitude for where you are and what you have right now. ‘You are enough’ is not just a slogan, it is an affirmation that you can be your best you, and live the life you want.
Mindfulness and Creativity
Did you know that mindfulness is useful not just for keeping you calm and focused, it can also stimulate your creativity and open up your thinking? If you’re interested in reaching your creative potential, here’s how mindfulness can give you a boost.
Understanding the Creative Process
To understand how mindfulness can boost your creativity, it helps to look at the creative process. It can be a delicate synchronization of four steps:
- Information gathering and idea stimulation. This is the blue-sky stage where you research and fire off as many ideas as you can. Your brain needs to be in free-roaming mode here, with your cognitive control network stood down to let you get on with it.
- Incubation. Once you have as many thoughts and ideas down on paper as you can, your brain can get on processing and mulling over options for the next stage.
- Stage three is inspiration. That Eureka moment when you make connections and get creative insights.
- The final stage is the verification or testing phase when your critical brain can analyze and evaluate.
Different parts of your brain dominate different stages of the creative process. Stage one relies on divergent thinking, which is freewheeling and non-critical. The incubation stage is taken care of by the brain’s memory organization area. The inspiration is controlled by your brain’s salience network, which is basically an early warning system for great ideas and making good choices. The verification stage is where you can allow the cognitive control network to get analyzing and critiquing.
But it’s essential to keep these phases in sequence and in balance. If any of these stages get side-lined, say if your Inner Critic jumps in at Stage one or two, your creative process is in danger of falling apart.
Mindfulness and the Creative Process
Mindfulness can help with each stage of the creative process. It boosts divergent thinking necessary for brainstorming, it calms distracting thoughts allowing the incubation of all your brilliant ideas. Mindfulness also strengthens the salience network, so that bright spark of creative insight doesn’t get lost in the crowd. Finally, mindfulness promotes cognitive function, helping you analyze and evaluate your project during the final phase of the creative process.
As well as assisting with the mechanics of the creative process, mindfulness meditation will help you develop self-compassion and non-judgment. Because not all creative projects work out, and that’s okay. Mindfulness will help you develop insight into your own creative process and how you can reach your creative potential.
We’ve talked a lot about mindfulness and its benefits in this article. I encourage you to make time every day to become present, and practice mindfulness. Take small steps every day to practice and you may be surprised to realize one day, that it is now your natural state of being.
Find your purpose – find your joy!