If you look up any ways to reduce stress, increase happiness or even increase focus, you’re likely to land on a vast collection of pages promoting “mindfulness.” Is that just more rainbows and lollipops to help you pretend life is a bed of roses? Actually… no. There’s some serious science behind this movement and we’re here to break it down beyond the rainbow.
Because anyone looking for practical tips on improving their life is bombarded with a collection of fluff, it’s not always easy to sort out what really works. One you see the reasoning behind mindfulness, it’s easy to see why it’s so important, and not just another trend in “positive thinking.” From reduced instances of stress and depression to cognitive, memory and focus improvements, the science behind mindfulness is proven. We’ll show you the details and how to put them to use below.
See the Facts Associated with Mindfulness and How to Use Them.
What is Mindfulness?
I’m a DIYer from the ground up. No matter how much I care about you, if you have a 10 minute conversation with me, I’ve probably mentally remodeled my entire kitchen, built an in-ground pool and solved a few of my organizational issues around the home by the time we’re done… and you won’t even know it. In that time, I’ve also raised my blood pressure, have no idea of the details of what you’ve just said and have been unable to appreciate the sun shining on my face. In fact, I may even be resentful that I had to sit so long without being physically involved in the projects I mentally completed.
That was my everyday method of living life until a few years ago, when I learned about mindfulness. But this goes way beyond my personal experiences.
Mindfulness is a simple premise, not such a simple activity. It’s all about being present in the here and now, focusing on one thing at a time, you know, so I actually remember what you said during that 10 minute chat better than I remember how many sheets of plywood my kitchen floor needs.
In this fast-paced time we live in, multi-tasking, even mentally, is not only encouraged, but you’re also seen as a failure if you can’t do it well. And believe me, none of us are doing it as well as we think we are, because we aren’t just avoiding being present during that 10 minute conversation. We’re doing it during every other portion of our lives. Even if I was remodeling the kitchen, you can bet my mind was on some other project, always.
The Path to Here and Now
The human brain is an amazing thing, just as efficient as we let it be. The pathways inside our brains develop over time in order to be even more efficient. So, when you’re in need of that information you use on a daily basis, it’s easy to access because your brain developed a pathway to it. Sort of like putting a file in your Favorites. It’s front and center.
But most of us aren’t pulling one file at a time. Instead, we’re pulling multiple files and our brain knows it. That means when you’re in a situation that leaves any room for the mind to wander off, it will, because you’ve built the neural pathways that take it directly to “Here’s a Chance to Get Some Things Done” rather than “Here a Chance to Really Pay Attention to What I’m Doing.” It’s like sitting putting a kid in the middle of a dumped out toybox and asking them to clean their room. They’ll end up sifting through the toys for hours, instead of cleaning. But, if you ask them to put all the blue objects in a pile, you’re forcing them to be mindful. You’ve created a new path.
You’re not consciously taking yourself to the multi-tasking room. You’re just on the same route you’ve traveled for years. To be mindful, you’re going to have to not just create a new route, but shut the door on the old one. When your brain goes to open that door, you have to guide it back to the task at hand. Sometimes, that’s a simple matter of putting your hand on something around you to remind yourself where you are and what your brain should be focused on. Other times, it can be an outright battle of wills as your brain struggles to create new pathways. But why, what’s the point?
The American Psychological Association has done numerous studies on the benefits of mindfulness. They evaluate stress levels, focus, cognitive abilities, effects on depression and even memory capacity, all of which benefit from mindfulness.
First, it’s important to understand the link between stress and depression. Stress leads to depression, and for good reason. If you’re always focused on the things you have to get done in the future or that weigh on you, how could you not end up depressed? Your entire being is focused on the fact that a utility bill is due, but your focus neither hinders nor assists in paying it. It just takes up so much space that you don’t even notice the smile on a child’s face, the smell of a fresh flower or anything else that can be missed in a moment. Mindfulness pulls you away from those stressful situations, reducing your chances of being depressed or anxious.
Cognitive abilities, focus and memory capacity also improve with mindfulness. The more you practice, the better you get. Remember, it’s easy to go to the “multi-tasking room” in your mind, because you’ve done it for years. It stands to reason if you start building pathways that allow you to focus on one thing at a time, it’s almost impossible not to get better at it. And because you’re creating new pathways with new information, you’re better able to focus on that information because it’s the only thing in that “room.”
Now, we’re not going to tell you all the cool way your brain works how being mindful can improve them only to leave you hanging. There are some really simple methods to get you on the track to mindfulness, so you can start reaping the rewards.
- Respect the task at hand. No matter who you’re talking to or what you’re doing, it should be important enough to deserve your undivided attention. Remind yourself of that when you start to drift off.
- Use a physical reminder. Some people can do this without a token, some can’t. The idea is to get yourself back in touch with the physical world around you. You can fidget with a rock in your pocket or simply put your hand on the surface in front of you. Either way, use it to remind you of where you are and your mind should be.
- Keep designated spaces. Let’s say you love to gather around the kitchen table for a cup of coffee with friends. That’s a warm, friendly space. Don’t use it to write your bills out, because you may be reminded of your bills when you sit down with friends. Instead, keep your bills in a dedicated space and if need be, devote a corner of your countertop to all things bill related.
- Practice gratitude. Look, you just can’t go wrong with gratitude. Not only does it take your mind away from the worries of the day, but allows you to become more aware of the things that you DON’T have to worry about, improving your outlook and attitude all at once.
- Surround yourself with mindful people. This is a biggie. We all have gossipers, complainers and people who just never seem to have anything good to say at all. And those may be people you care about. So, help them to be mindful. When they start on a negative rant, point out something good about the location or change the topic to something else.
We know that many of you are tired of the same old “think positive,” and we get it. Life really isn’t a bowl of cherries. On the other hand, if you’re not being mindful, you could be causing yourself ongoing issues that are pointless. Stewing on the same topics doesn’t change them at all. When you’re ready to put your focus on them, you will, and then it’s easier to find the key to the issue, because your focus is on it, not everything else.