Mindfulness can mean a great many things depending on who you ask. Essentially this is a tool and like any tool, it can be used in numerous different ways.
Specifically, mindfulness can be used to change what we focus on and to change the way we think. Too often we don’t pay attention to what’s going on inside our mind and that makes us victims of our emotions. We can be in a beautiful place doing fun things with friends, only to find ourselves thinking about work and getting stressed – not actually enjoying the situation we’re in.
Likewise, we can have everything we could possibly want in life and not be happier. And it all comes down to what we choose to focus on.
This is why you can use mindfulness, among other things, as a brilliant tool for making yourself happier and more at ease with your life.
Sometimes this is referred to as a ‘gratitude attitude’. All that effectively means, is that you’re putting yourself in a state of mind where you’re focussing on the things you’re grateful for and you’re happy for. And one very easy way to do that is simply to take a time out at the end of each day to write down those things and to think about them.
Try and end every day by writing three things that you’re thankful for and reflecting on them. Where possible, try to make these different things each day and avoid repetition.
Sometimes these will be obvious things: like your health, like the people you love and like the fact that you have access to food. Focusing on the people you love in particular is a great way to be more grateful to people and this can end up actually improving your relationship with them.
But at the same time, you’re also going to think about those smaller silly things. Maybe you’re grateful for the delicious cereal you’ll have tomorrow? Maybe you’re grateful for the fact that there’s a new film coming out that you’re very excited about? These are all legitimate things!
Now try to carry this over into your daily life. Each time you think of something you don’t have, or that isn’t the way you want it, try to think as well about the things you’re grateful for and what you do have. Don’t have that big flat screen TV? Well just be grateful you have a computer that can watch pretty much any film you can dream of on demand.
Likewise, you should try and think about language and the way you talk – which can have a big impact on your gratitude as well as on the way that other people think about you. For example, trying to stop complaining is something that is very worthwhile. The next time you find yourself saying anything negative, try and follow it up with a positive point that counteracts it. You’ll feel happier and people will think of you as a more positive person they want to be around!
Is negative thinking clouding your happiness? Mindfulness may be able to help. Scientific studies have confirmed that we all hardwired with a ‘negativity bias’ – an evolutionary function that was once necessary for our survival. This means our brains are built with a greater sensitivity to unpleasant news and a tendency to embed negative experiences more strongly than positive ones.
As Dr. Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist and author of Hardwiring Happiness , puts it: “ The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.” B ut the good news is we can break this bias. Studies have shown that mindfulness can help to rewire the brain and increase our capacity for happiness and wellbeing. Read on to find out how…
Mindfulness short circuits negative thinking
In mindfulness, we learn to be on close terms with the nature of the mind. As we hone in on our present moment experience and observe our mental activity, we become more skillful at noticing when our minds are getting caught up in negative and discouraging patterns of thought. In observing this, we can choose to break the circuit and shift to a self-compassionate mode of thinking that is supportive and nurturing instead.
Mindfulness promotes gratitude
Gratitude is a powerful antidote to negative thinking. To be mindful means to be aware of what is happening around us, and within us – and this is the first step towards being grateful for what we have. Cultivating an awareness and appreciation of the things that are going well in our lives and developing a daily gratitude practice prevents negativity from clouding our vision and reinforces positive connections in the brain that increase our capacity for happiness. It’s simple and transformative.
Mindfulness rewires the brain
What we think, feel and do all sculpt our neural networks. This is neuroplasticity in action – the brain‘s ability to constantly change throughout life and rewire itself in response to our feelings, thoughts and experiences. Research has shown that every time we use a particular pathway of thinking – either positive or negative – it increases the likelihood that we will do it again.
Happily, m indfulness can be used as a tool to dislodge deep-rooted negative thinking patterns over time and chart new pathways in their place, which are more positive and nurturing. By bringing mindful awareness to everyday positive experiences, noticing when something feels good and actively taking in that feeling, we can weave the experience into the brain.
The more we establish and exercise these pathways for happiness, the stronger they become.
Mindfulness builds inner contentment
One of the greatest gifts that mindfulness can bring to our lives is a sense of inner happiness and calm. It is often said that states of anxiety and depression stem from our ways of thinking – if we’re anxious, we’re spending too much time thinking about the future and if we’re depressed, we’re ruminating too frequently on the past.
Of course, there are other factors to consider here – both biological and environmental – but the simple act of staying present keeps us more centred, teaches us acceptance and gives us a greater appreciation of life. In mindfulness, we also train ourselves to observe the world more objectively – which gives us the power to see things as they are, not as we are.
This allows us to respond to situations and interactions without projecting our own mental model onto them, and frees us from the tendency to live in our own minds.
View our range of mindfulness courses and workshops.
Mindfulness is a way to ground yourself in the present by paying attention — moment by moment — to your feelings, physical sensations, and outside environment. Mindfulness exercises and techniques can help us develop nonjudgmental acceptance of our thoughts and feelings. Instead of trying to change things, rehashing the past, or imagining a future, we remain in the moment.
Benefits of Mindfulness
Many people find that practicing mindfulness brings them peace, purpose, and a renewed sense of happiness.
A few of the most common benefits of practicing mindfulness include:
Improved well-being. Mindfulness supports acceptance and gratitude for where you are in your life. Being mindful makes it easier to enjoy the pleasures of life and stay engaged in what you’re doing as you do it. When unpleasant circumstances show up, you’ll be able to handle them in a calmer, more effective way. You’ll likely find it easier to release your worries and let go of unwanted, repetitive thoughts.
Improved physical health. Scientists have found a link between practicing mindfulness and reduced stress, lowered heart disease, lowered blood pressure, reduced chronic pain, better gut health, and improved sleep.
Improved mental health. Mental health care professionals have found mindfulness to be effective in the treatment of such mental disorders as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Helpful Mindfulness Exercises and Mindfulness Techniques
You can practice mindfulness by following a few easy steps.
Pay attention. It’s common for people to go through most days on autopilot, following a routine. Life is busy, and it can be hard to stay in the moment. Mindfulness reminds us to take a break and pay attention to all the experiences life offers. For instance, take time to enjoy the warm water on your hands as you wash them, or take more time to taste delicious food as you eat it
Live in the moment. Life is busy, and it can be hard to stay present in the moment. Bring yourself back to the present as often as you can. If you catch your mind wandering, gently accept what you’re experiencing, take a breath, and bring yourself back into the now.
Accept yourself. One of the biggest themes of mindfulness is non-judgmental acceptance of whatever is happening in life. This doesn’t mean we have to love our circumstances, but accept it for what it is, with faith that even the worst things will pass.
Focus on your breathing. Breath work is about bringing conscious awareness to each breath, feeling it as the air enters your nose, down to your lungs, expanding your diaphragm, and releasing as you exhale.
You may also try much more structured mindfulness exercises, such as:
Body scan meditation. Lie on your back. With legs extended, arms at your sides, palms facing up, slowly and deliberately focus your attention on each part of your body. Do this in order, from head to toes or toe to head. Be aware of any emotions, thoughts, or sensations associated with each body part.
Sitting meditation. Sit comfortably with your feet flat on the floor, hands on your lap, and your back straight. Focus on your breath moving in and out of your body, as you breathe through your nose. If thoughts or physical sensations interrupt your meditation, note the experience before returning your focus to your breath.
Walking meditation. Find a quiet place about 10 to 20 feet in length. Begin to walk slowly and focus on the experience of it. Be aware of the sensation of standing and the subtle movements that help keep your balance. When you reach the end of your path, turn and then continue walking, maintaining an awareness of your sensations.
How Often to Practice Mindfulness
The beauty of mindfulness is that it can be practiced any time, anywhere. You can be at work, at home, or even socializing with friends and family. All you have to do is bring your attention back to the present moment, grounding yourself with your breath and paying attention to the sounds, scents, and activities happening around you.
If you’re interested in trying a very structured mindfulness exercise, like sitting meditation, it helps to find a space where you can be alone, without distraction or interruption. Many people practice structured mindfulness practice of this type in the early morning before starting their daily routine.
You can choose how often and how long you practice mindfulness, but most people find the more they do it, the more benefits they experience. You may start to notice things you didn’t before, learn to master your racing thoughts, or perhaps feel happier and more at peace.
Limits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness exercises and mindfulness techniques can be incredibly helpful. Just be aware of what you are focusing on and how it’s making you feel. You may not be able to control what’s going on around you, but you can control where your attention goes.
It’s also important to consider that while mindfulness can be a powerful tool for regulating and shifting your emotions, it’s not a substitute for professional mental health treatment. Also consider talking to a licensed mental health professional.
HelpGuide: “Benefits of Mindfulness.”
Mayo Clinic: “Mindfulness Exercises.”
mindful: “Five Science-Backed Reasons Mindfulness Meditation Is Good for Your Health.”
After reading this article, you will be able to:
(1) define mindfulness and how it relates to stress reduction and happiness, (2) identify ways to integrate mindfulness practices into your daily routine, and (3) locate available resources for practicing foundational mindfulness exercises.
Every time Rob walks outside a building he tries to pay attention to how the air or sun feels on his skin. He focuses on listening and thinks, “What can I hear? What colors can I can see? How is my body feeling?” When he can’t get outside, in between meetings or on his way to the watercooler, he tries to pay attention to the sensation in his feet as he walks. He finds moments throughout his day to spend a minute or two just trying to be mindful. What’s going on here?
Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as, “awareness that arises from paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
Mindfulness is not stopping our thoughts, making our minds blank, or forcing relaxation. It is a practice of attending to our experiences as they unfold with friendliness and curiosity.
In the case study above, my colleague, Rob Davies, is using simple awareness techniques to incorporate mindfulness into his everyday routine. Over time, these practices have been shown to reduce stress.
Why is mindfulness important?
The last four decades of studies demonstrate that mindfulness in medicine improves quality of life for both the patient and the healer.
Happy patients. Regular mindfulness practice, as a complement to standard medical and psychological treatments, can play an important role in managing and reducing stress and symptoms of numerous conditions: pain, gastrointestinal distress, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and addiction.
Happy providers. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress and burnout for medical providers. It promotes skills for patient-centered care and results in more highly rated medical care.
Happy workforce. Mindfulness has been shown to promote four real benefits for employees: stronger focus, staying calmer under stress, better memory, and civility.
Happy brain. Regular mindfulness practice improves executive functioning and emotional regulation (and has been shown to actually increase gray matter in parts of the brain that are responsible for these functions).
Figure 1. Three skills cultivated by mindfulness. Adapted from Posner and colleagues (2015).
Happy life. Mindfulness contributes to well-being. It helps us to be present for our lives, which allows us to enjoy pleasant experiences, to gain perspective for responding to unpleasant experiences, and to be more at ease with life’s ever changing nature. Most importantly, mindful awareness enables us to live in accordance with our values, being and becoming the person we want to be.
How to practice mindfulness
As we have exercises for the body, there are exercises for the mind and heart, formal and informal practices, to cultivate mindful awareness. These practices below can be done individually or as a group.
As with other forms of exercise, it is important to tune in. If you experience moderate to high levels of discomfort or emotional and/or physical distress, please stop and consult with a qualified or certified mindfulness teacher, mental health provider, or medical practitioner.
Becoming more aware of where you are and what you’re doing, without becoming overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around you.
- By Mindful Staff
- December 12, 2018
Mindfulness is a natural quality that we all have. It’s available to us in every moment if we take the time to appreciate it. When we practice mindfulness, we’re practicing the art of creating space for ourselves—space to think, space to breathe, space between ourselves and our reactions.
When we practice mindfulness, we’re practicing the art of creating space for ourselves—space to think, space to breathe, space between ourselves and our reactions.
- You don’t need to buy anything. You can practice anywhere, there’s no need to go out and buy a special cushion or bench—all you need is to devote a little time and space to accessing your mindfulness skills every day.
- There’s no way to quiet your mind. That’s not the goal here. There’s no bliss state or otherworldly communion. All you’re trying to do is pay attention to the present moment, without judgment. Sounds easy, right?
- Your mind will wander. As you practice paying attention to what’s going on in your body and mind at the present moment, you’ll find that many thoughts arise. Your mind might drift to something that happened yesterday, meander to your to-do list—your mind will try to be anywhere but where you are. But the wandering mind isn’t something to fear, it’s part of human nature and it provides the magic moment for the essential piece of mindfulness practice—the piece that researchers believe leads tohealthier, more agile brains: the moment when you recognize that your mind has wandered. Because if you can notice that your mind has wandered, then you can consciously bring it back to the present moment. The more you do this, the more likely you are to be able to do it again and again. And that beats walking around on autopilot any day (ie: getting to your destination without remembering the drive, finding yourself with your hand in the bottom of a chip bag you only meant to snack a little from, etc.).
- Your judgy brain will try to take over. The second part of the puzzle is the “without judgment” part. We’re all guilty of listening to the critic in our heads a little more than we should. (That critic has saved us from disaster quite a few times.) But, when we practice investigating our judgments and diffusing them, we can learn to choose how we look at things and react to them. When you practice mindfulness, try not to judge yourself for whatever thoughts pop up. Notice judgments arise, make a mental note of them (some people label them “thinking”), and let them pass, recognizing the sensations they might leave in your body, and letting those pass as well.
- It’s all about returning your attention again and again to the present moment. It seems like our minds are wired to get carried away in thought. That’s why mindfulness is the practice of returning, again and again, to the breath. We use the sensation of the breath as an anchor to the present moment. And every time we return to the breath, we reinforce our ability to do it again. Call it a bicep curl for your brain.
While mindfulness might seem simple, it’s not necessarily all that easy. The real work is to make time every day to just keep doing it. Here’s a short practice to get you started:
- Take a seat. Find a place to sit that feels calm and quiet to you.
- Set a time limit. If you’re just beginning, it can help to choose a short time, such as 5 or 10 minutes.
- Notice your body. You can sit in a chair with your feet on the floor, you can sit loosely cross-legged, in lotus posture, you can kneel—all are fine. Just make sure you are stable and in a position you can stay in for a while.
- Feel your breath. Follow the sensation of your breath as it goes out and as it goes in.
- Notice when your mind has wandered. Inevitably, your attention will leave the sensations of the breath and wander to other places. When you get around to noticing this—in a few seconds, a minute, five minutes—simply return your attention to the breath.
- Be kind to your wandering mind. Don’t judge yourself or obsess over the content of the thoughts you find yourself lost in. Just come back.
That’s it! That’s the practice. You go away, you come back, and you try to do it as kindly as possible.
Mindfulness: How to Do It
Mindfulness meditation practice couldn’t be simpler: take a good seat, pay attention to the breath, and when your attention wanders, return. Read More
- Mindful Staff
- October 18, 2019
A 5-Minute Breathing Meditation To Cultivate Mindfulness
Reduce stress, anxiety, and negative emotions, cool yourself down when your temper flares, and sharpen your concentration skills. Read More
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Mindfulness is a powerful process to help us center into the present moment, raise our spiritual vibration, and feel happier, more peaceful, and more fulfilled with our daily lives.
While a lot of people think that mindfulness exercises are private, internal affairs that are best practiced in silence and solitude, there are actually a number of really great activities you can draw on to help expand the presence of your group.
3 Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness in Groups
Whether you’re using these exercises as icebreakers for new acquaintances, strengthening coworker connections, or sharing a positive moment among old friends and family, there are many reasons you should practice raising your awareness in the company of others.
Firstly, working in a group helps to enhance the exercise by increasing everyone’s awareness that they are not alone in their practice. When it comes to mindfulness and meditation, a lot of people struggle to center their focus and quiet the mind, and they often feel they are doing something “wrong” when they can’t immediately tap into a higher sense of stillness, peace, or joy.
Working in a group, one comes to understand that everyone struggles with something. The challenges you go through in your own practice are very similar to the challenges that everyone else faces. Working together, and sharing our experiences, helps to bring this knowledge to the forefront, and allow us to realize that – more often than not – we’re all doing better than we think we are.
Just as importantly, as you share these experiences with others, it creates a strong, positive connection with each person involved. This is because mindfulness and meditation practices cause our brains to relax and release a series of “happy hormones” that create positive vibes.
When you share this experience with another person, you create a subconscious mental bond with that individual, and expand the love and understanding that you each hold for the other.
The Blindfold Game
For this next game, it’s best to split into small groups of people, either in partners or groups of 3 or 4.
The game is to take turns blindfolding each other. Then, have the guide pass the blindfolded person an object to hold.
Have them focus on the different qualities of that object.
- What is the weight of the object?
- What shape is it?
- How does it feel in your hands?
- Are there multiple textures to it?
Don’t worry about identifying what the object is. The aim is simply to bring more awareness to the sense of touch, which we often take for granted in our day to day lives.
Spidey Senses is one of my favorite games to teach mindfulness to kids, but it can also be fun for groups of any age.
Your mission: pretend you are Spiderman.
You have just been given heightened sensory perception. You can see colors and details like never before. You hear even the slightest, most distant sounds. Subtle aromas suddenly come to the forefront of your attention. You are now aware of the softest touch.
Take 2-3 minutes to explore your new senses in as much detail as possible. Then go around the group sharing what you noticed.
5 & 6: Happy Place Visualization and Chakra Visualization
Another really great exercise to use to increase mindfulness is to leverage the art of visualization.
Two of my favorite practices for this are what I call a Happy Place Visualization, and a Chakra visualization.
Lastly, as I mentioned above, one of the best ways to practice mindfulness in a group is simply to sit and meditate for a few minutes.
You can do this whether or not you have an experienced guide with you, since there are tons of great recordings you can choose from.
I do usually recommend that most beginning group meditators use some sort of guided technique, as sitting silently can be uncomfortable for some in your group who do not have a lot of meditation experience.
It is much easier to relax and go with the flow when you have a guide to help you through the process — whether in person or on a recording.
You can try one of these meditations from Quiet The Mind, our 30-day Introduction to Meditation:
How to Practice Mindfulness Throughout Your Work Day
Tips for increasing focus and awareness and decreasing stress at work.
You probably know the feeling all too well: You arrive at the office with a clear plan for the day and then, in what feels like just a moment, you find yourself on your way back home. Nine or ten hours have passed but you’ve accomplished only a few of your priorities. And, most likely, you can’t even remember exactly what you did all day. If this sounds familiar, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Research shows that people spend almost 47 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing. In other words, many of us operate on autopilot.
Add to this that we have entered what many people are calling the “attention economy.” In the attention economy, the ability to maintain focus and concentration is every bit as important as technical or management skills. And because leaders need to absorb and synthesize a growing flood of information in order to make good decisions, they’re hit particularly hard by this emerging trend.
The good news is you can train your brain to focus better by incorporating mindfulness exercises throughout your day. Based on our experience with thousands of leaders in over 250 organizations, here are some guidelines for becoming a more focused and mindful leader.
First, start off your day right. Researchers have found that we release the most stress hormones within minutes after waking. Why? Because thinking of the day ahead triggers our fight-or-flight instinct and releases cortisol into our blood. Instead, try this: When you wake up, spend two minutes in your bed simply noticing your breath. As thoughts about the day pop into your mind, let them go and return to your breath.
Next, when you get to the office, take 10 minutes at your desk or in your car to boost your brain with a short mindfulness practice before you dive into activity. Close your eyes, relax, and sit upright. Place your full focus on your breath. Simply maintain an ongoing flow of attention on the experience of your breathing: inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. To help your focus stay on your breathing, count silently at each exhalation. Any time you find your mind distracted, simply release the distraction by returning your focus to your breath. Most important, allow yourself to enjoy these minutes. Throughout the rest of the day, other people and competing urgencies will fight for your attention. But for these 10 minutes, your attention is all your own.
Listen to a guided breathing exercise:
Once you finish this practice and get ready to start working, mindfulness can help increase your effectiveness. Two skills define a mindful mind: focus and awareness. More explicitly, focus is the ability to concentrate on what you’re doing in the moment, while awareness is the ability to recognize and release unnecessary distractions as they arise. Understand that mindfulness is not just a sedentary practice; mindfulness is about developing a sharp, clear mind. And mindfulness in action is a great alternative to the illusory practice of multitasking. Mindful working means applying focus and awareness to everything you do from the moment you enter the office. Focus on the task at hand and recognize and release internal and external distractions as they arise. In this way, mindfulness helps increase effectiveness, decrease mistakes, and even enhance creativity.
To better understand the power of focus and awareness, consider an affliction that touches nearly all of us: email addiction. Emails have a way of seducing our attention and redirecting it to lower-priority tasks because completing small, quickly accomplished tasks releases dopamine, a pleasurable hormone, in our brains. This release makes us addicted to email and compromises our concentration. Instead, apply mindfulness when opening your inbox. Focus on what is important and maintain awareness of what is merely noise. To get a better start to your day, avoid checking your email first thing in the morning. Doing so will help you sidestep an onslaught of distractions and short-term problems during a period of exceptional focus and creativity.
More on Mindfulness at Work
Watch videos from our conference Mindfulness & Well-Being at Work, including a keynote by Dr. Richard Davidson.
Rhonda Magee explains how to apply mindfulness to the workplace.
How mindful are you? Take our quiz!
As the day moves on and the inevitable back-to-back meetings start, mindfulness can help you lead shorter, more effective meetings. To avoid entering a meeting with a wandering mind, take two minutes to practice mindfulness. You can do so while you’re walking to the meeting. Even better, let the first two minutes of the meeting be silent, allowing everybody to arrive both physically and mentally. Then, if possible, end the meeting five minutes before the hour in order to allow all participants a mindful transition to their next meeting.
As the day progresses and your brain starts to tire, mindfulness can help you stay sharp and avoid poor decisions. After lunch, set a timer on your phone to ring every hour. When the timer rings, cease your current activity and do one minute of mindfulness practice. These mindful performance breaks will help keep you from resorting to autopilot and lapsing into action addiction.
Finally, as the day comes to an end and you start your commute home, apply mindfulness. For at least 10 minutes of the commute, turn off your phone, shut off the radio, and simply be. Let go of any thoughts that arise. Attend to your breath. Doing so will allow you to let go of the stresses of the day so you can return home and be fully present with your family.
Mindfulness is not about living life in slow motion. It’s about enhancing focus and awareness both in work and in life. It’s about stripping away distractions and staying on track with individual, as well as organizational, goals. Take control of your own mindfulness: Test these tips for 14 days and see what they do for you.
This article was originally published on Harvard Business Review. Read the original article.