Mindfulness might be something that you only started hearing about in the last year or two – and although it did originally start out as a bit of a midway point between laziness and meditation, used by Silicon Valley techies, 2014 was christened the “year of mindfulness” amid a storm of headlines acknowledging it as a cure for everything from depression to IBS. Beyond the hype, what does mindfulness actually mean? Well, it’s a way to “tune in” to your inner voice, to focus on the present moment that you’re in right now – for example, if you’re watching television, are you actually watching it? Enjoying it? Or are you just mindlessly, brainlessly watching it? Can you describe what the actors are wearing? Doing? If you can’t, then why are you watching? The whole point of mindfulness is so that you can enjoy, and if not enjoy, to be aware of what is going on around you – it can improve relaxation, sleep, attention and if practised daily, using meditation techniques or apps, can even reduce the symptoms of some anxiety and depressive disorders.
This awareness that comes from practising mindfulness techniques is something that’ll absolutely astound you the more and more you do it. When you pay attention to how much you pay attention you pay – if that makes sense – you’ll soon come to realise that half the time, your brain is off somewhere else entirely.
So how can you become more mindful? These 13 techniques will help – but you don’t need to use each and every single one of them, all in one go. You know what they say, slow and steady wins the race. Try to add one extra technique once a week or once a fortnight and you’ll soon get there.
Take a Walk
Duh. Sounds so simple. I know, I know. Take a walk, right? If only we had more time in the day, more hours in the week, more days in the year… ah, but we all have excuses, right? Tell you what, could you spare ten minutes tonight? Go outside. You don’t need to move quickly, you don’t need to be going anywhere, you just need to move your body. Studies have shown that getting out into green spaces can put the brain into a meditative space. If you like, stick your MP3 player on, use an app like Escape From Zombies (if that’s your kinda thing) – or, the most effective path to mindfulness – to just put your head up, shoulders back, and take in the world around you.
Turn a Boring Task into an Opportunity for Mindfulness
You won’t become mindful by practising for ten minutes a day through a mindfulness app. But you will become mindful if you do it over and over and over again by practicing on even the smallest of tasks – sitting in a chair, out shopping, queuing at the checkout till, feeding your baby – start small, then build up gradually until you’re able to be mindful in even the most stressful situations. It’s all about getting used to focusing on the moment, rather than everything going on around you.
If the idea of meditation is a little bit much for you, or you don’t think you’d quite be able to sit with your own thoughts for too long, start with creating something instead. Studies have shown that it’s not what you create, but rather the process behind it that makes you feel so relaxed – and that’s what’s important. Art, drawing, charcoal, painting, music, even gardening, beer brewing, cooking – something that involves shutting off and just letting your mind focus on being creative. Whether you’re good at it or not makes no difference.
Nothing fancy here – when you breathe in and out, tell yourself, “this is my in breath, this is my out breath”. The very act of saying those words in your head will help to quiet all of those swirling thoughts in your head, and if you’re feeling anxious, it can help to slow your breathing and reduce any physical symptoms of anxiety.
DO NOT MULTITASK
Notice how that’s in big bold letters? That’s cause it’s really, really important. Multitasking used to be super, super important and super, super trendy. But that doesn’t mean that it’s good or necessary or efficient. In fact, mindful people unitask, if you like. Focus on one task at a time, get it done, get it done well instead of attempting to get loads of different stuff done all at the same time. Remember, do one thing well, not lots of things badly.
Put That Phone Down
If you travel by train or bus, it can be tempting to just sit on your phone for the duration of the journey – but in doing so, you could miss out on a ton of interaction with fellow passengers or even seeing pretty views on your travels. One way to cut down on usage is to decide never to check your emails first thing in the morning or after 5 pm, or by sleeping in a different room to your phone. If you do use your phone after 5, keep it out of the bed, put a bluelight filter app on it to improve your circadian rhythm (sleep/wake cycle) and think about setting up a theme on your phone that automatically shows you the relevant apps to use dependent upon the time of day – i.e. commute, work, evening, nighttime. That way, you won’t be tempted to check emails, because you’ll only be shown things like the Kindle app or the Play store.
Seek Out Adventure
Once you’ve been practicing mindfulness for a little while, you’ll hopefully be a little more open to adventure. Once you are, you’ll find that seeking adventure will immediately awaken your senses – it all depends upon what that means for you. It could be going somewhere new on holiday, hiking alone, mountain climbing, ice skating – whatever feels adventurous to you and that makes you feel more alive is ideal. Just remember to focus on everything around you – the feelings, the colours, the sights, the sounds. Live in the moment, and for goodness sake, put the camera away. Take a few photos to remember the trip and then PUT IT AWAY.
Get into Nature
There’s going for a walk, and there’s getting into nature. If you live in the city, you might be out of luck, but getting somewhere with jaw-dropping scenery pretty much guarantees mindfulness as you have no option other than to take in the beauty of the nature around you – beach, forest, mountains, countryside – whatever takes your fancy. Get out into it every few weeks and you’ll soon find yourself feeling more relaxed.
Accept Your Emotions
There’s a bit of a misconception that mindfulness is all about feeling happy and holly all the time. That couldn’t be further from the truth. We all have negative thoughts. 1 in 3 of us will be diagnosed with a mental health condition. We all have angry, anxious, negative, harmful thoughts, often every day. That’s fine. Sometimes we can let those thoughts go, and sometimes they deserve a little more thought. Mindfulness is about accepting those emotions, letting yourself feel them, not feeling guilty for having those emotions, and remembering that happiness and sadness can coexist – and that happiness cannot be a constant.
You can, of course, be mindful without meditating, but it sure helps. If you’re new to it, try an app.
Cut the Junk
We often give advice about junk food, which should be common sense by now, so I won’t go into it too much here, but we tend not to talk too much about junk literature and TV. But mindless reality TV, for example, just is no good for your mental health. Likewise, triggering TV – for example, documentaries about tragedies or genocide. Look for things that will make you happy. Consume things that will make you feel good or that will make you learn something. Not everything has to be highbrow, of course, but it at least has to keep you focused or make you ask a question. If it doesn’t, what’s the point?
Laugh at Yourself
We’re all guilty of taking ourselves incredibly seriously, which is fair enough – it’s easy to get embarrassed and you’re absolutely not to blame if something has happened that dents your self-esteem. But you gotta learn to laugh. Shake it off, as Taylor Swift would say.
There’s nothing wrong with daydreaming. Studies have shown that daydreaming and fantasizing – when it doesn’t take over your life – can make you more mindful and more creative. Let your mind wander, when you’re not trying to focus, of course, and just see where you end up – you mind be surprised as to where your thoughts take you.
Let us know how you get on, folks!
Happy mindfulness xo