Updated: Aug 28
You may have heard a lot about mindfulness over the past couple of years. It's a great life skill that for many people is a key part of how they manage difficult emotions or difficult experiences. But what is it? And how can I start bringing it into my life? There are different ways of describing it. Jon Kabat Zinn (one of the most famous teachers of mindfulness) describes it as:
"awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally".
That's a nice definition but what does it mean?
Well, the first important thing is this: If you are awake you are paying attention to something.
This is just a fact of your brain. Too much of the time we pay attention to things (emotions, grudges, painful memories) that cause us suffering. Mindfulness is the skill of bringing your attention where you want it - not where your brain wants it.
You could also say that mindfulness is anything that isn't thinking.
People - especially smart people - often believe that they can think their way out of their problems. This is occasionally true if the problem is a very narrow, technical problem. In all other cases, THINKING IS A NIGHTMARE - especially under conditions of high emotion (anger, anxiety, depression). In those cases thinking tends to become rumination - the circular, emotional, tumble dryer type of thinking that resolves nothing. Mindfulness allows people to step away from this thinking - or rumination - and to OBSERVE rather than THINK. Mindfulness can be observing, participating, or experiencing. Observing mindfulness practice (e.g. stop for 60s and just pay attention to all the sounds you can hear around you). Mindfulness doesn't have to be meditating - Anything can be done mindfully. We can pick any activity we do during our day and apply these principles to it. For instance, we can eat mindfully by taking a deep breath and paying all of our attention to the sensations, the flavors of the food. Some people find this helps with unhealthy eating. We can do the dishes mindfully by taking a breath and playing close attention to the sensation of the warm water and the satisfaction of cleaning. Whenever you take a breath and bring yourself out of your head and into the room you are being mindful. Mindfulness Meditation. A good way of getting good at bringing mindfulness into a daily experience is by regular formal mindfulness practice. This means setting aside a period of time (any period from a couple of minutes to even an hour) to meditate. Longer periods are better in general but anything is good. Mindfulness is a muscle - and like any muscle it needs practice. Don't be discouraged if it's hard at first - It's supposed to be. Like any new skill it takes practice. Remember these things when you are being mindful:
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention intentionally
Like a muscle: practice makes it stronger
It doesn't have to be meditation. It can be paying close attention to anything you are doing - like washing the dishes or taking a bath.
It is a key emotional regulation skill.
If it’s hard it doesn’t mean you are failing - Every time you get distracted you learn more about your mind and how it has a tendency to think, and to ebb and flow.
Here are some famous people explaining how it helps them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFf5q3TuuPA And here is Kobe Bryant explaining why it was so important for him: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LdrVVJPlUK4 Here is a guided mindfulness practice with Jon Kabat Zinn - one of my favorites: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9Z4t9ZiUzM Here are some more popular guided meditations: https://www.mindful.org/the-top-10-guided-meditations-from-2019/ There are loads of free mindfulness resources online - check youtube for guided sessions or download one of the many apps which can help you start practicing.