What is Mindfulness?
The Google dictionary definition of mindfulness is “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique”.
The act of focusing your attention can be achieved in many different ways. It can be as simple as being more conscientious when you are chewing your food, while noticing the flavours, textures, smells and how you are enjoying it. Or being outdoors and really noticing the colours, sounds, and environment you are in while noticing how you are feeling. The act of focusing can also take you into an even deeper awareness within yourself and how you are thinking and feeling in the moment. This latter practice is the most transformational tool I have encountered.
A common struggle people share is the challenge to focus their mind for any extended period of time. As a person with a very active and busy mind, I hear you, and I have some tools to share with you so that you too can overcome your own monkey mind.
How to Focus the Mind?
Start with this 3 step process: Pause, Observe, and Focus/Re-Focus
Step One: Pause
You need to make time to do this. The things you feel are important are the things you make time for. Make this important! Schedule it in your day planner, just like you do any other thing on your to do list. I found it best to do it when I do other personal care habits so it becomes a ritual like brushing my teeth. Morning and bedtime are great times to pencil it in. Other good times are during a lunch break, or just before leaving work to come home to your family. Most important thing is to schedule it and at a time that works for you.
The second part of the Pause step after making the time, is that you are learning to “pause your thoughts”. This leads to the second step “Observe”.
Step Two: Observe
Now that you are sitting, lying or even walking and holding the intention to be more mindful, you will begin to simply observe. Start with your breathe. Notice your breathing. After observing your breathe for 10, 30 or 60 seconds, observe your body. Notice how your body feels. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a good observation practice where you start at one end and become aware of each body part, simply noticing it and then letting it go out of your awareness as you move to the next. This, again, can take a few minutes to complete.
It is not uncommon for your mind to move to different thoughts when you are doing this exercise. No worries! This will be dealt with in step three. Depending on the thought, you will either focus or re-focus as described in the next step. But for now, you need to learn how to observe your thoughts. This is where I think people get thrown off. Stick to the 3 step process and you will master this. Your job here is to observe, so notice what the thought is, how it is making you feel. This is elaborated on in step three. Sometimes you may need to spend a little time observing that thought. Other times you will find it easy to imagine it in a cloud, allowing it to float away. Some of your biggest Aha moments and insights will actually come from those very thoughts.
Step Three: Focus/Re-Focus
During this mindfulness process you are in fact focusing your thoughts the entire time. When you were observing your breath or doing the PMR you were focused on that. You can focus your thoughts in other ways as well. For example, you can bring visualization or imagery into the practice. Focus on a scene that makes you feel very calm and relaxed. You can also focus on a positive word or phrase, or even a situation that evokes a good feeling.
Now this is where those thoughts may come in again. No worries! You can use them to your advantage. First, focus on the thought. Yes, I am actually suggesting that you let yourself focus on the thought. Observe it, notice it. What thoughts find their way into your mind? Is there a pattern to the thoughts? Are these the same old thoughts that always come up? Are they negative or positive? If there was a message interwoven through these thoughts, what would that be? Your thoughts tell you so much about your unconscious state of being, and can be used to help you in all areas of your life. Being mindful of where your thoughts lie, the very thoughts that drive you, even if you are unaware of, is a powerful resource to draw on.
This brings us to the re-focus part of the process. You can do one of two things when you are aware of the thoughts that are arising. You can let that thought out of your focus by going to another focus (the cloud, the imagery, your breathing, the PMR). Keep refocusing the thoughts in this way each time another thought enters. Just accept the process of the thoughts coming and going, without judgement that you are not doing it correctly or that it is not working.
Or you can work with that thought using those observation questions to help you stay aware and focused. Once you have observed that thought, you can then re-focus that specific thought. For example, the thought that finds its way into your mind is one of worry about the future. Your re-focus is directly going to address that thought of worry. Re-focusing the worry to a story about why you have no need to worry. Observing how that is working and continuing in this manner until you feel good.
Why Bother Doing This Mindfulness Practice?
This 3 step process will become easier each time you do it. It may take practice, as most things in life do. Following these steps will begin to translate into more inner calm, which will transfer into your day to day life, allowing you to be more mindful. Taking time to go through this 3 step process will create an inner driven life, so that you can be the best version of yourself and enjoy all aspects of your outer life.
Using a guided visualization is another good tool to help you get better at being more mindful. Go to the meditation tab on the website and use Day 1 through 7 to help you ramp up your mindfulness practice.