Updated: Jun 22, 2020
Mindfulness is one of the newest and hottest topics of the internet. There's so much content out there, I can understand being totally confused. I mean, how do you even sift through all the information to get to what you need?
In this blog post I'm going to tell you what the experts know about mindfulness, and give you some tangible tips for how you can integrate mindfulness into your very busy life.
I know that in the era and landscape of #COVID-19, mindfulness is probably pretty low on your priority list. It almost feels like putting a band-aid over a fiery car crash, kinda like this:
But mindfulness has SO many tangible benefits. To name a few, mindfulness can:
- Lower anxiety (helpful in a pandemic, yes?)
- Lower stress
- Improve focus (helpful when you're on zoom calls all day with x1000 more distractions at home)
- Improve sleep (getting to sleep and staying asleep)
- Help you manage chronic pain
- Improve relationships
- Increase self-acceptance
- Increase self-compassion
- It's even shown to cause physical changes, like lower heart rate, lower muscle tension, slower breath rate, and activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (the system that calms you down)
I don't know about you guys, but that sounds like exactly what I need in a global pandemic.
Ok, let's talk about what mindfulness actually is because if I'm being honest with you, mindfulness has a misguided reputation. Most people think it's being "zen", on your yoga mat, clearing your thoughts and meditating. It can totally be those things - but it's not really, not at it's core, that.
Mindfulness is very simple. It's focus on the present moment. That's all.
When people think of mindfulness, they most often think of meditation, which is the practice of mindfulness when sitting or standing quietly. Mindfulness practice is more of what we will refer to in this post, which is repeated effort of bringing your attention to the present moment without judgment.
But now for the big question: how do you actually do that? In the words of Marsha Linehan (famous therapy developer, researcher, and psychologist), there are certain skills that help us learn what to do, and a set of skills that help us learn how to be mindful. Here's the what and how of mindfulness in #DBT (although this is not a comprehensive list).
What skills: Observe and describe
Mindfulness is about staying in the present moment, and in order to do that, we need to be able to observe and describe our inner experience and surroundings. The observe skill is to simply notice. What do you notice inside your body? What are the thoughts and sensations you are experiencing? Observe them almost in a detached way - what you're noticing isn't good or bad, it just is - see if you can observe sensations, emotions, and stimuli without getting caught up in evaluations. To describe is then to put words on. Describing is how we narrate our experience. For example, we might say "I'm noticing that I'm feeling sad" or "I feel tension in my neck and shoulders." Again, we are noticing and describing the experience in a way that is objective, describing what is, without evaluating our experience as good or bad.
How skills: One-mindfully and non-judgmentally
We practice observe and describe by using one-mindfully and non-judgmentally skills.
We can't be mindful if we are doing multiple things at one time. When we multi-task (which is honestly just switching really fast between tasks), we split our attention so we aren't putting our best effort forward. Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone while you were trying to read? My guess is that you probably didn't read anything, or hear what the person was telling you. In order to fully engage in our experiences, we need to do things one at a time. That might mean pausing the TV and turning towards your partner when they ask you a question in the middle of a TV show. Or not scrolling through the internet when you take the dog for a walk. Remember, mindfulness is like going through life with eyes open. When we multi-task, we miss things and aren't able to be fully present in our lives.
It's hard to observe and describe things as they are if we are judging - this is why the non-judgmentally skill is so important. Our brains are wired for judgments - it's how we make sense of the world. Some judgments can be helpful for quick decisions (helpful for me to know to sit on a chair and not a dog), but certain judgments get us into trouble (yes, this includes positive judgments!) Often, judgments capture our interpretations of things, rather than the facts of how things actually are. Often we act on these interpretations rather than the facts themselves- this can lead to self- and other-criticism, jumping to conclusions, and more intense negative emotions. Positive judgments are also unhelpful - If we tell ourselves we are worthwhile, we can always be worthless. If we say we are the best at something, then if we aren't the best we are the worst. It's so easy to fall into the trap of judging, rather than being descriptive.
In mindfulness, not judging means:
not trying to speed things up or slow them down
not trying to hold on to the moment, instead just letting it happen
not wishing things were different or wanting to change things, but accepting things as they are
not labeling experiences (thoughts, emotions, situations) as good or bad - they just are
taking an "observer" role - "I'm noticing that I'm feeling sad" is a lot different then "why do I feel sad? What's wrong with me?"
not judging your judging!
Avoiding judgments and instead labeling things in objective, descriptive terms takes a lot of practice! Don't get discouraged if it doesn't come naturally to you at first. Practice makes better!
How you can integrate these skills into your life
Now for the big question, how do you actually integrate these skills into your life? We all lead very busy lives, and so sometimes we just don't have the time to sit and meditate. When that happens, it's really helpful to pair mindfulness with everyday tasks that we already complete daily. This increases mindfulness as a habit, and allows us to take much-needed pauses during our busy days. These pauses can help us increase focus, increase relaxation, and help us prioritize and problem-solve tasks.
Think about routines or daily tasks that you already do. Is there a moment that you can take to pause and be mindful? If you did, what would that mean for your day? For example, what might a mindful pause in the morning be like for you? Might it give you clarity, focus, structure? How does that compare to rushing out the door in the morning feeling frazzled and unfocused?
Tasks like washing the dishes can be a daily mindful activity. As you wash, notice the sensations that you experience. How does the water feel on your skin? What sounds do you notice? Do you smell a certain scent of soap? What is the water's temperature like?
Another idea is to take a deep breath in your car every time you stop at a stoplight. Or as soon as you arrive home, take a deep breath or a few moments to be mindful before going inside. These actions can take about 2 minutes per day, and make a really big impact on your focus and well-being.
What are other ways you can think about incorporating mindfulness into your day? The best way to be mindful is the way you're likely to practice!
If you have other tips or questions about mindfulness, feel free to comment below or share!
"Wherever you are, be there totally." -Eckhart Tolle