It’s a given that when we practice something, we get better at it. Our brains are made to adapt to different stimuli. Mindfulness can be practiced in small ways every day such that you will get better at it. If you really wanted to learn a foreign language, you wouldn’t practice one day a week. You would practice every day. It is the same way with learning mindfulness, which is to say learning to be present in the moment and take it nonjudgmental view of things.
By learning to be mindful and more in the moment, you’ll be more fully engaged in whatever it is that you’re doing — talking to a friend, reading a book, playing golf, and so on. Too often we are not really present when we are here.
One important benefit of mindfulness is that it will enhance your connections in your relationships. It is much easier to connect with people, to gauge their emotions and react appropriately to their body language and tone of voice, when we are fully present.
When we learn to become more aware in the moment, we will not be subject to the incessant stream of thoughts that often fill our heads. An incessant stream of negative thoughts can give rise to corresponding negative emotions – such as sadness, anxiety, and depression – which will have a negative impact on our well-being. Is very challenging to become mindful in the midst of strong negative feelings. If you only try to be mindful in your most challenging situations, it is unlikely you will be able to “catch yourself.” When I say this, who is doing the catching? The conscious and “real” you is doing the catching. You are not the current of negative thoughts – you are the conscious presence that becomes aware of those thoughts and feelings. The key is to practice mindfulness daily so that you will be able to use it naturally when you are in challenging situations.
It is often helpful to associate mindfulness with some type of cue that you encounter on a daily basis. This can serve as a signal to check in with yourself – become aware of your breathing, any tension in your body, the stream of unconscious thinking that is going on in your head, the emotions that you are experiencing, etc. You can also be mindful, that is to enter the present moment, by tuning in to nature – the songs of the birds, the scent of spring flowers in blossom, the shape and movement of clouds, and so on.
Here are some potential cues that you might try using to practice being more mindful:
- Every time your cell phone rings
- Before you make any call on your cell
- At every stop light
- When you wash your hands
- When you take a drink of anything (not just alcohol!)
- When you get onto your computer
- When you log on to any website
- When you check your email
You might think of other cues that you could use that are more fitting for you. The key is to associate something that you do several times per day with mindfulness – use it as a cue to take inventory and be in the moment. As you do this, you will become more adept at it. Then, when you need it most because it’s a challenging situation, you will start “catching yourself” and become aware of your negative thoughts and behavior patterns. Once you become aware of these, then you have some space to start changing those patterns and go a different direction. You cannot go a different direction unless you become aware that you are heading down an old direction to begin with!
Give it a try. With daily practice, you will start to experience the difference.