Mindfulness is the ability to be present in the moment. Whatever task you are engaged in, wherever you may be, when mindful you are 100% present and focused. Your thoughts do not wander to other issues. You do not “multitask.”. You don’t think about the past or fret over the future. You are focused on the present.
It’s as easy as licking the back of your eyeball.
While it might be difficult in this age of constant distraction to focus, that does not mean we should give up the effort. The rewards are too worthwhile. Before we discuss how to be mindful, let’s make sure we know why we would take on such a challenge.
- Being mindful lessens our stress and anxiety, as we address only one thing at a time rather than trying to solve all our problems at once.
- Being mindful improves our productivity. Yes, it’s true! When you do one task well and fully before moving to the next, you will finish your task list sooner than if you tried to “multitask.”
- Being mindful improves our ability to listen to others which in turn supports positive relationships.
- Being mindful keeps you safe when lack of attention could mean injury to yourself or others.
- Being mindful limits our enslavement to modern distractions.
So how do we achieve mindfulness?
1) List your compulsions and devise strategies to neutralize them
If you are the sort who can never put down their smartphone, it’s important to consider the impact it is having on your ability to engage with the real world around you rather than the digital world that lives inside a phone. If you find yourself playing with your tech every time there is a moment’s pause in the day, realize you are separating from actual experience. Put your phone in a zipped bag or backpack and only engage with it when you have an actual need to communicate.
The same can be said for the prevalence of food and drink. It’s a constant now, seeing people walk with a beverage in hand or a snack. We mindlessly consume thousands more calories a day than we need to sustain ourselves, and we eat and drink with no mindfulness towards the enjoyment of the meal. Consumption has become more of an oral pacifier than either an energy refueling or a conscious respite in the day. Treat meals as an opportunity to fill up on healthy foods and pause the activities of the day in meaningful downtime.
These are two examples of modern compulsions that distract us from being aware and mindful. It’s important to think carefully about what pulls you away from being focused and present, and create a strategy to push those distractions aside.
2) Focus on the breath
Just as if you were sitting on the floor with your eyes closed in meditation, being mindful at work, school or in the grocery store can begin with focusing on the breath. Be silent and take a full breath. Feel the air increase your lungs and allow it to center you. This is the starting point. When you find yourself faltering, return to the breath.
3) Engage the senses
Use all your senses to take in the sights, sounds and smells of your environment. Give your full attention to the here and now, and the information provided in the experience. Feel the sun’s warmth, hear the wind, see the trees, smell the outdoors. Be completely present with all your senses.
4) Now I am…
Make a conscious statement either aloud or in your mind. “Now I am…” and fill in the blank with what it is you pledge to achieve in that moment. Now I am listening to this lecture. Now I am knitting this scarf. Now I am taking my daily walk. Now I am consoling a friend. Whatever activity or effort you are engaged in, declare it and commit to it until the effort is truly complete. If you go off course, return to the breath.
Understand being mindful is a skill requiring time and practice to build. You won’t go from a flitty, distracted, stressed-out mess to a centered Zen master in a day. Concentration, focus and persistence are not part of the modern way and every part of our advertising-driven society is fighting for your attention. Fight back against the distractions to ensure an existence that embraces the here and now.