Can mindfulness help you live a happier life? And, if so, how do you easily integrate it into your daily routine?
We’ve compiled an overview of how mindfulness works, as well as several ideas on mindfulness meditation and relaxation techniques that you can use right away to combat stress in your daily life. Keep reading to learn more and take our mindfulness quiz.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness refers to being completely aware in the present moment. It is sometimes referred to as being in your body rather than in your head. More simply, it involves observing what is happening in the here and now both externally – sights, sounds, etc. in one’s environment – and internally in the form of physical sensations, emotions and thoughts. Meditation is often associated with mindfulness, but there are many other ways to practice mindfulness.
How to Know If You Could Benefit from More Mindfulness in Your Life
Mindfulness can help you find greater peace and happiness in your life if you experience any of the following:
- You often experience anxiety, stress or worries.
- You feel like you’re always chasing after happiness and yet it’s always out of reach.
- You often dream of the day when things will be different.
- You feel like you’re constantly being jerked around by other people, society or life in general.
- No matter how hard you try, it’s never enough.
- Even when you try to reject or avoid the people and situations causing you stress, you still can’t find peace.
- You indulge in behaviors that you know aren’t good for you, yet you do it anyway.
How Mindful Are You Now?
Take this quick quiz to get an idea of where you stand now in terms of your mindfulness aptitude.
Afterward, keep reading to learn practical mindfulness tips to help you manage thoughts, emotions and cravings in your daily life.
How Mindfulness Works
No matter where you are on the mindfulness scale, reading more about this practice (and way of life) will undoubtedly benefit your everyday life. Want to know more about the specifics of mindfulness? Continue reading.
The First Part of Mindfulness: Present-Moment Awareness
Mindfulness involves centering your awareness completely in the present moment. Most people spend significant time worrying about what happened in the past – what other people said or did, what they should have done differently. They also overthink or worry about what will happen in the future.
Thinking about the past and the future is a natural mechanism the mind uses to learn from past events and anticipate what will happen next. However, it’s easy to overuse this instinct and spend too much time worrying – or trying to avoid whatever it is that’s making you worry.
Focusing on the present moment, completely immersing yourself in the experience of where you are and what you’re doing right now, is a way to quiet the worrying mind and bring a sense of calm.
Of course, it’s easy to see how being fully in the present moment can be calming if what you’re doing is a simple, everyday activity. But, what if the present moment is a stressful situation? Surprisingly, mindfulness can help you take difficult circumstances in stride – so you’re not overwhelmed by them, and so you can take more deliberate action rather than reacting rashly in the heat of the moment.
The Second Part of Mindfulness: Acceptance
Another important aspect of mindfulness is non-judgmental observation. It involves accepting (or, as some people say, surrendering to) the reality of what is. We are constantly judging the people and circumstances around us – and ourselves – and this leads us to 1) label things as good or bad, 2) compare ourselves to others, and 3) obsess over what someone “should” be doing (but isn’t).
Mindfulness practices teach us to observe what is happening without judgment, in order to have a clearer perspective on the situation. Accepting something without judgment doesn’t mean you accept it as OK. It simply means that in that particular moment, you’re not judging. From this place of calm, you can decide how you want to respond, and then make a deliberate decision.
For example, let’s say a co-worker is talking rudely to you at work. You know that this person just failed to get a promotion and is in a bad mood, and they’re taking it out on you. Someone without mindfulness experience would most likely react defensively by being rude in return, or silently stewing about it for hours, perhaps even looking for a way to get back at the person.
With mindfulness awareness, you can accept each of your thoughts and feelings in the moment and allow them to pass on, then choose how to act. The experience might go something like this:
- Thought: She’s being rude to me. Really?!
- Realization: Oh, she’s probably still upset about getting passed over for the promotion.
- Emotion: Anger – because she is unfairly taking her anger out on you.
- You accept that your anger is a natural response to being treated unfairly. You give the anger a moment to flash through your body, then it dies out when you don’t give it any additional fuel.
- Take a breath, and release your irritation as you
- Thought: How do I want to respond? I can tell her it’s not cool to take her anger out on me. I can express sympathy with her about the lack of promotion, then ask her not to take it out on me. I can simply ignore her comment and walk away. I can just raise an eyebrow and give her a “not cool” look.
- Action: Make a decision and act on it. (It’s totally up to you. The important thing is that you have options that aren’t going to get you into trouble.)
When emotion goes up, reasoning ability goes down. You know this from personal experience, anytime you’ve regretted something you did in the heat of the moment. Mindfulness helps you get back to a neutral emotional state as quickly as possible so that you can use your full intellectual capacity to deal with the situation at hand.
Mindfulness also allows you to enjoy the good experiences in your life more fully.
How Can Mindfulness Pave the Path to Happiness?
Mindfulness gets you back in touch with:
Your body: Your body is great at giving you warning signs of trouble – if you’re listening. It is also your doorway to experiencing life fully. The more you pay attention to it, the more you will find your body to be an ally in your life.
Your emotions: Life is an emotional roller coaster. But, when you accept that emotions are fleeting, that they always move on and change, you can become better at managing your emotions so that you stay in control rather than being at the mercy of your feelings and reactions.
What’s good in life: Remember a time when you were young and innocent and enjoyed life’s simple pleasures? You can reclaim that feeling now, even as an adult with a lot resting on your shoulders.
The things that don’t change: Some things – sunrise, sunset, breathing, etc. – are constants in our lives. Focusing your awareness on the reliable parts of life provides a much-needed a sense of stability.
An acceptance of what does change: Even when you’re not happy with change, being able to accept that what happened happened is the first step in allowing yourself to move forward.
Who you really are: Life often sends you the message that you’re not good enough, that you should be more or less _________. By focusing on who you truly are in the present moment – your real body, real emotions, real thoughts, real beliefs, real desires – you become grounded in a truth that provides strength to make the choices you want, rather than reacting to what everyone else wants from you.
What You Need to Practice Mindfulness
What does it take to be capable of putting mindfulness to work in your life? There’s just one requirement: Be human.
That’s right, mindfulness doesn’t require any special skills, talent or a degree. In fact, it’s our natural state of being. If you observe very young children, this is how they experience life. To them, it’s all about what’s happening now.
Worrying is something we learn to do in reaction to bad things happening, with the goal of preventing more bad things from happening, but we can take it too far. Mindfulness practices are like hitting the reset button that takes you back to a centered place.
Mindfulness is easy to learn, and if you “fall off the wagon” and start thinking about the past and future, moving your attention back into the present is easy as well. There’s no need to judge yourself, because no one is grading you on this. When you realize you need to return your attention to the present moment, that’s the right time to do it.
You can’t fail at mindfulness. Everyone who practices mindfulness moves back and forth between being in the present moment and thinking about the past or future. Success is simply being able to control where your attention is at will. The more you practice, the better you get.
Common Types of Mindfulness Practices
Be present: This is the simplest form of mindfulness. Focus on how your body feels right now. Move your attention to each part of your body. Notice the temperature, your environment, sights, sounds, smells, and the rise and fall of your chest as you breathe.
Awareness meditation: Sit comfortably, and focus on your breath. If your mind wanders, simply shift your focus back as you notice it, without judgment. Observe your emotions, but don’t judge them.
Walking: As you take a walk, stay focused on your body and surroundings. This is different from when your mind wanders – which can also be valuable, but that’s a different state of mind.
Exercise: Yoga is commonly practiced for mindfulness, but really any sport where you focus on your body’s actions in the moment is beneficial. (Hint: When playing a competitive sport, don’t allow yourself to dwell mentally or emotionally on that shot you just missed. Let it go and refocus on the action you need to take now. This is especially important in fast-moving sports, where worrying about past or future performance will cause your present performance to suffer.)
Routine work: While washing dishes, sweeping or doing yard work – anything of a routine nature – focus on sensory input as your body does the work it can do automatically.
Guided meditation: Listen to a recording where the speaker leads you through a visualization activity. The objective can be to calm you, or to lead you through experiencing and releasing emotions. Look for these audio tracks online, at your library, or at a local bookseller.
The Next Step: Healing Practices
Mindfulness is specifically about keeping your focus on the present moment without judgment, yet it naturally leads into moments of reflection that then lead to awareness and inner healing. Here are a few practices that you can add after – or in combination with – your mindfulness practices.
Gratitude: Each day (or multiple times a day), think of one thing you are thankful for. When your day is going poorly, try to find a silver lining to give you something good to hold onto. Gratitude is a great way to disrupt negative thinking and keep it from spiraling down into a bad mood.
Reflection and/or prayer: Depending on your spiritual beliefs, you can pray in a manner associated with your religion, or you can simply use quiet time to reflect on important questions – such as what you really want in life, how you might achieve it, and where you might turn for assistance.
Emotional Clearing: It is a good idea to do this with the help of a professional therapist, coach or counselor who is experienced in helping people clear emotional trauma and limiting beliefs.
Mindfulness in Addiction Recovery
If you’re looking to recover from drug or alcohol addiction and you want a program that utilizes mindfulness as part of its approach to healing, look no further than The Treatment Center of the Palm Beaches. We offer mindfulness meditation and yoga among our many holistic therapies, and we work with you to build a customized path to recovery, with dual diagnosis, 12-step, faith-based and many other unique programs available.