How mindfulness can help create a calmer, focused and happier version of you.
It's 8.25pm on a typical Wednesday evening. I have just finished my working day since being up from 5:20am this morning and have made plans to meet my fiancé for dinner, wanting to spend some “quality time” together.
However, sitting opposite him in the bustling restaurant, I find that in between our conversation I am mindlessly picking at my food and sipping my wine (FYI: I only had one glass). My thoughts are racing with what I need to do once I get in… sort and pack my bag so that it's ready for tomorrow; organise and prepare my meals for the next day; sort out washing that still needs to be put away; contact so and so about setting up a date to finalise my business plan; remembering to add a few actions points regarding my business; email so and so …
Clearly my mind was elsewhere and in complete overdrive. Thoughts were coming through left, right and centre. I felt tired and overwhelmed by all that I still needed to do. I had fooled myself into thinking that if I kept my to-do list running through my head, I would have a sense of control over it all – when ironically, it is actually the opposite.
I recall getting home and feeling that something was missing. I found myself thinking, “How much of that ‘quality time' was actually quality? How much of that meal did I actually savour, taste and allow myself to enjoy? How much of that time did I actually appreciate spending with my beloved other half, really listening to what he was saying and engaging in the conversation?” I can honestly say, not much at all. That makes me feel pretty sad.
What benefit does the continuous multi-thinking, over thinking and endless mind-chatter actually provide? A feeling of calm, control and clarity? Or a feeling of overwhelm, stress, exhaustion and ______ (feel free to add your own input here)? Now, I am certainly not saying that multi-tasking and smaller amounts of stress should be avoided and I most definitely agree that they do have their benefit in certain situations. What I am referring to are the continuous and persistent thoughts that race through our minds at any given time. The emotional and physical responses which go along with them hijack us of experiencing and appreciating the present moment.
I am consistently working on my own personal development and creating what I like to call “MY best ME.” I started to read about mindfulness and how slowing down and paying attention to the here and the now, one is able to develop greater clarity, self awareness and have a sense of inner peace. I also attended an insightful seminar with Susan Grandfield on Mindfulness, who provided simple yet effective strategies that I could start applying to aid me in becoming more mindful. This was certainly something I craved, especially when I was finding myself juggling a full time job as a teacher, part time group exercise instructor and being in the process of becoming self-employed as a Life Coach.
Mindfulness has its origins in ancient meditative practices and in the teachings of Buddhism.
However, it does not have to be religious. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, (founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School), “Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally”. He also states that it is becoming more mainstream – with healthcare, schools, education, the military and businesses all starting to recognise the importance and benefit of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is when we switch off from autopilot where our mind and body are disconnected and get back into a state where we are completely in the present moment. Susan states that it is about taking us from ‘human-doing back into human-being'; re-establishing the mind-body connection, being aware of our surroundings as well as what we are experiencing internally, of acceptance of thoughts and of letting go. The key to being more mindful is not to completely clear our minds of our thoughts (which I tried to do and failed hopelessly), but to accept and acknowledge them as they pop up and then making a conscious choice to ‘let them go'. Now, I'm not going to lie, this does take some practise!
Initially, the more I tried to pay attention to the present moment, the more distracted I was becoming. Susan provided a great analogy, comparing our thoughts to trains that pass through a station. They come through, we acknowledge them, and we allow them to pass. By doing this, I noticed that I started to feel a sense of calm and stillness by not giving the thoughts the energy they needed to persist.
By becoming more mindful of being in the present moment, I am better at managing my time; prioritising my actions and I have a sense of empowerment over my thoughts and emotional reactions attached to them. Small things that initially may have upset me and caused me to react in an emotional outburst, now happen less often, as I now know those are simply ‘trains' passing through the station and I do not necessary need to hitch a ride on each one of them.
However, I guess that one of the best things to come from all of this and I am by no means an expert (yet), is that it is teaching me the value of simply experiencing the NOW. Using all my senses to fully engage in the moment, especially when spending time with loved ones and making those meaningful connections. I am now happy to say (and I am sure that he is too), that I am much better at appreciating my meals and quality time with my fiancé, placing all my focus on the present moment because in the end, that is all we are truly guaranteed – right here, right now. I am still in my transformation process and have yet a way to go, but I want to ensure that I am a happier, healthier and more mindful version of me.
Tips on how to start becoming more mindful.
S is for Stop: just take in the moment, accept it for what it is and engage with your senses. Notice what you are doing as you are doing it.
T is for Take a breath: centre yourself and bring your attention to the present moment, here and now.
O is for Options: recognise that thoughts are simply thoughts , you have a choice and don't need to react to them.
P is for Practice and Patience: Adapting the skills to become more mindful does take time, notice when you tend to zone out and practice bringing more awareness to that activity.