Staying Focused on the Present
You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this. – Henry David Thoreau, author and poet
Many of us spend a lot of our time thinking about the past or the future. We might wish that our lives were different in some way, we may regret something that we've said or done, or, we might silently brood on the behavior of those around us.
Even when we're happy, we might sometimes worry that it won't last, or that we're not happy enough, or that we're missing out in some way.
Think about how often you slow down, focus on the present moment, and enjoy what you're doing just then.
Mindfulness is an important practice in our hectic lives, and developing it offers many benefits for your health, well-being, relationships, and career. In this article, we'll look at what mindfulness is, why it's useful, and how you can develop this important habit.
What Is Mindfulness?
The Oxford Mindfulness Center defines mindfulness as, "The awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, with compassion, and open-hearted curiosity. Through cultivating mindful awareness, we discover how to live in the present moment, rather than brooding about the past or worrying about the future."
Put simply, when you demonstrate mindfulness, you're aware of your thoughts, emotions, and actions. It means being fully present in every situation.
To experience mindfulness, try this simple exercise. Clear your mind and focus on your breathing. Pay attention to how it feels, listen to the sound that it makes, and watch your chest expand and contract. Try to do this for at least one minute.
This short meditation exercise demonstrates mindfulness. It's about paying attention to what you experience in each moment.
In life today, practicing mindfulness can be a challenge. We are constantly distracted by smartphones, social media, increasing workloads, and relationship demands. However, mindfulness gives us the ability to be fully present in our busy daily lives, and to enjoy the richness of our everyday experience.
Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness offers several important benefits.
First, it helps you to live in the moment. When you develop mindfulness, you pay attention to what's around you right now, instead of focusing on the past (which you can't change), or the future (which you can't fully predict).
Studies have found that mindfulness is associated with higher emotional intelligence (EI). When you have high EI, you're aware of your thoughts, feelings, words, and actions, and you understand their effect on others. This self-awareness means that you pay full attention to others, you don't say things that inadvertently hurt them, and you're able to appreciate things as they happen.
Mindfulness also contributes to a greater sense of well-being. One study found that an increase in mindfulness led over time to a decline in mood disturbance and stress. Another study concluded that mindfulness helps people develop empathy, and that it increases altruistic behaviors.
This practice also has a positive effect on your brain. Researchers have determined that mindfulness increases the density of your brain's gray matter in regions linked to learning, emotional regulation, and memory.
Mindfulness can also benefit your body. In one paper, researchers found that participants experienced positive effects, including a significant increase in antibodies associated with immune function, after eight weeks of mindfulness meditation.
Finally, mindfulness can improve your personal and professional relationships. When you're fully present in a situation, you can respond to people with empathy, compassion, honesty, intelligence, and thoughtfulness. This builds trust, develops objectivity, and increases understanding.
Stress can cause severe health problems and, in extreme cases, death. While these stress management techniques have been shown to have a positive effect on reducing stress, they are for guidance only, and readers should take the advice of suitably qualified health professionals if they have any concerns over stress-related illnesses or if stress is causing significant or persistent unhappiness. Health professionals should also be consulted before any major change in diet or levels of exercise.
How to Cultivate Mindfulness
You can cultivate mindfulness by using the strategies below.
Many of us spend a large part of our day thinking about the future or the past, and we often carry out routine tasks automatically. Our minds can contain endless streams of thoughts observing and judging the world around us.
Instead of letting your thoughts distract you, take time to observe the people, objects, and situations around you. Don't focus on what you think – instead, pay attention to your surroundings.
Mindfulness is about being present in the moment. Make a conscious effort to slow down and pay attention. Think about what you feel, hear, smell, and see.
Focus on completing one task at a time to the best of your ability. Multitasking can leave us feeling unfocused, and it can reduce the quality of our work. Instead, pay close attention to each job you do.
Pay Attention to Routine
Another way to cultivate mindfulness in your life is to choose one activity that you do routinely, and to think about it differently. For example, this could be filing paperwork, washing dishes, or raking leaves.
Instead of letting your mind wander, pay attention as you do the activity. Feel the paper between your fingers, experience the sensation of warm water on your hands, or listen to the sounds of the leaves as you rake them.
Try to focus on this routine for at least five minutes. You might find that you enjoy the activity more as you do it, and you may feel more positive once you have completed it.
Accept Your Feelings
How many times a day do you judge your own thoughts and feelings? For example, you might think, "I shouldn't feel this way," or, "That's a terrible thought."
Part of being mindful means not judging your thoughts and feelings as "right" or "wrong." Instead, accept what you think and feel, and try to remain objective.
One of the best ways to develop mindfulness is to practice meditation for a few minutes each day.
Don't try to achieve a certain state as you sit. Your mind will likely be busy with plans, daydreams, and memories. Don't judge your thoughts, or yourself, when you get caught up in this endless stream of thinking – just redirect your attention to the present moment. Focus on your breathing, think about the way your body feels, and concentrate on what you can see and hear.
With mindfulness meditation, your goal is not to "stop thinking." Rather, you are aiming to be present with yourself. Over time, the awareness you develop during meditation will transfer to the rest of your day.
Mindfulness involves being fully aware of your thoughts, emotions, and actions. It means being present in every moment and paying close attention to what is going on, instead of focusing on the past or future.
You can develop mindfulness in several ways. First, be aware of your thoughts and feelings throughout the day. Next, spend more time focusing on others. Concentrate on one task at a time during your day, and focus on working steadily and thoughtfully through your tasks.
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