The word mindfulness has been banded around quite a lot (you just need to scroll through Instagram!). It might make some of us roll our eyes, but mindfulness is basically living in the present. That might sound weird at first (of course we’re in the present!) but for many of us, we aren’t fully present – our minds are often elsewhere. Worries about the future or the past can prevent us from living in the moment and enjoying the here and now, so we end up chronically stressed or tense.
While ‘negative’ emotions are normal and useful (they can alert us to something that isn’t right in our lives), we sometimes devote too much mental energy towards things beyond our control. So much so, that we can’t ‘switch off’ or appreciate what’s right in front of us. The good news is you can train your brain to be more mindful. Here are few simple techniques to get started.
1. Mind What You’re Eating
No, we don’t mean only eating steamed vegetables! But actually focusing on what you’re eating. Shovelling food down when you’re watching Netflix or chatting on the phone means you miss out savouring the taste and smell (eating too fast isn’t great for your digestion either). It can also leave you feeling unsatisfied, which means you end up grazing at the fridge a few hours later.
2. Focus on Each of Your Senses
When we’re spending the majority of the day staring at screens, other senses such as touch, taste and smell get forgotten about. But focusing on all five senses (or as many as we’re lucky to have) can really help us connect with the world around us and stay in the present moment. Devote a portion of the day to just being aware of what’s going on around you. You could be sipping a cup of coffee, enjoying its taste and smell whilst listening to the birds outside. On a summery day, you could be looking up at the sky or enjoying the sun on your skin. Put some effort and attention into your current surroundings and you’ll be amazed at the peace they will bring you.
3. Take Brief Pauses Between Tasks
When you wake up, don’t immediately reach for your phone. Take time to do some gentle stretching before hopping into the shower. Breathe and reflect before scrolling through your social media feeds. Plant your feet on the ground as you sit in your chair before you open your laptop. Taking mini ‘time outs’ before each action can help you feel more grounded and relaxed.
4. Do Ten Minutes of Mindful Exercise
Meditation is a great method of calming racing thoughts (and there are plenty of apps offering guided sessions). But if it’s really not your cup of tea, there are other ways to focus your mind on the present. This could be walking, reading a novel, yoga – or even gardening. Anything that makes your mind focus on the single task in hand – even just for ten minutes a day – can train your mind to stay in the present and not wander. (Try switching your phone off so you don’t get distracted.)
5. Observe Your Thoughts & Emotions
Repressing thoughts and emotions can be an impossible task, and leave you feeling like a ‘failure’ when this doesn’t happen. It’s important to remember that you are separate from your thoughts and feelings. You can listen to them, but it doesn’t mean they’re a reflection of how things are. Simply being aware and observing them as passing clouds without judgement can stop them spiralling out of control. (E.g. Instead of “I’m feeling low, therefore life is terrible” you can see it as “I’m feeling low, but this feeling will pass”.)