We live in a world swallowed with worries, doing the washing and work, I think most of us are guilty of tuning out everything and going on auto-pilot. From getting out of bed to buying a cup of coffee, millions of things escape our attention - it's always the little things that makes life worthwhile. As an antidote, practising mindfulness is the answer.
Mindfulness is a “mental state or attitude in which one focuses one's awareness on the present moment while also being conscious of, and attentive to, this awareness.” (Oxford English Dictionary).
Mindfulness helps us to live in the present. It is something that we all have within us; an awareness that knows everything is happening around us, and how we interact as a result. By paying more attention to the little moments, we can switch off our autopilot setting and take part in a grand narrative as the main character. If you feel the whole autopilot analogy, there's a great song by Mai Lan called 'Autopilot' which is a beautiful musical backing track to my words.
Anyway, through practising mindfulness you can make small changes in your mindset that can have a big impact. Whether that be more confident, optimistic, less stressed or being more grateful, let's begin your journey today. Continue reading for seven steps on how to practise mindfulness in celebration of Mental Health Awareness Week.
Gratitude takes form in a myriad of ways, which I will run through, and whichever way it's about remembering how fortunate we really are. Everyone is at different points in their lives; I recognise how practising gratitude might be a little more difficult for some more than others. But it's not a comparison or a contest, it's taking the time out of your day to appreciate just one thing that you have. This is where the how comes in.
My recommended method for anyone who likes snazzy stationery is writing in a gratitude journal. You don't even have to buy one, just rummage through your desk and find an old notebook. You can look up some questions if you'd like, such as "list three good things that happened today" or just begin writing anything and everything gratitude wise that comes to mind. I advise setting a time in the day you'd like to do this. That way you can build up a routine and make sure you get your daily dose of gratefulness.
If this isn't your style, there are plenty of apps out there that function exactly the same. Even better you save paper and can practise gratitude on the go. Speaking of on the move, get in contact with someone that has made a positive impact on your life and thank them. This message of appreciation could be in any form: text, phone call, direct message, email, letter or in-person. Stuck on who? Well, you could thank anyone. Think of a friend, parent, guardian, family member, co-worker, partner - anyone who deserves some appreciation. Don't worry about spilling your heart out. It doesn't have to be a soliloquy from Romeo and Juliet, just state thank you and your reasons why. A little kindness like this will be sure to make someone's day.
Appreciate the Everyday
This kind of resonates with the last point, but this is more focused on the things that tend to go unappreciated in life. I challenge you to choose five things, any objects or even people. The purpose of this is to give gratitude to the mundane or insignificant things in life that often get overlooked or forgotten about. Things such as your parent cooking you a meal every day, the sun coming up each morning or the production of your favourite biscuits (mine are custard creams). Again this is the autopilot mode that we often engage in coming into fruition.
Those things I listed may seem rather trivial, but noticing them has a huge power to interrupt our roboticness. Through mindful appreciation, we enable ourselves new perspectives on life. So, ask yourself, How do these things work? How do they benefit your life? Do they allow the world to function? Get your phones out or some lined paper and jot down five things to appreciate by the end of the day.
Change Your Language
Whenever you feel is best for you, but ideally as soon as you can, take notice of your language. Think of the words you use when you speak them. Try to think of them before you do like you're choosing something from a menu - you want to nourish your subconscious with a healthy literary diet. What I mean by this is to avoid using words that have negative implications. For example, if you're heading out to meet a friend, don't think “I better leave soon otherwise I'll be late”, as the subconscious could register a negative message in your mind. You might think about how leaving later is bad.
But if you think, “I will leave soon to be early,” this is likely to be registered as a positive thought. So try to exchange all the negative words, for example, can't, don't, shouldn't with positive alternatives. Let's nourish our thoughts with optimism and allow our actions, emotions and outcomes to follow suit. If you would like to know more, I recommend reading Mind Over Mood by Greenberger and Padesky.
Meditation and Yoga
This isn't for everyone, but one of the best ways to practice mindfulness is through meditation. This practice focuses on being in the present, your breathing your thoughts, your feelings, your body whilst sitting in silence. Notice and refocus if your mind begins to wander. There are many resources out there, such as Insight Timer, Calm or Headspace, the latter is a favourite of mine, in case you need a little assistance in your meditation journey. These apps have teacher-guided recordings for you to enjoy whenever, wherever. It can be weird at first, becoming the next Buddha, but see whether it works for you.
If not, many people also find that yoga helps them to concentrate on their breathing and focus on the present. I personally prefer yoga as it can double as a workout, and who doesn't want to get mindful and fit simultaneously? Likewise, with meditation, there are apps and myriads of yoga gurus on Youtube to find someone you like (I recommend Cat Meffan). For anyone who works for the NHS, they have a free yoga app service so be sure to check that out!
Going through a global pandemic, in particular, has allowed us all to reconnect with nature again if we already hadn't. Now I'm recommending you do it again. Locate anywhere green, either a park, a forest, a nature trail or just a couple of trees and immerse yourself. Sit down or stroll and be aware of the natural world that surrounds you. Discover the different types of leaves, notice the bird sounds, the cloud cover, the wind on your face, the sun burning the back of your neck or the mud sticking to your shoes. It's easy to forget nature's grandeur with everything our modernistic age has to offer but take the opportunity to remember. Take the opportunity to be in nature and let your mind wander into appreciation.
Stay in the Present
It's hard to stay in the present I know. We have films and television to transform us anywhere, phones, laptops and tablets that shift us into someone else so yes it's damn difficult. We have the past and future looming over us too. Though by not giving the cold shoulder to, particularly, the pain in our lives, we can learn to remain open to all the possibilities in every situation. This increases our chances of healing and becoming better people in all the struggles we have or will face again. As much as I like the ignore it and bury it route, dealing with the hard stuff is ultimately most healthy. Until we have it's going to be even more challenging to be in the present and enjoy our lives. As mentioned, you can practice mindfulness anywhere, but it can be especially helpful to take a mindful approach if you notice that you feel trapped, reliving past problems or pre-empting future worries.
Tips For Mindfulness
- Pay attention – it helps to acknowledge as much as you can. For example, when you watch a film, make an effort to pay attention to how it makes you feel.
- Notice – when your mind wanders, which is natural, notice where your thoughts have drifted to. See if you can spot a pattern.
- Be aware and accept – be aware of any emotions you're feeling or the sensations in your body. Try to notice and accept them without any judgement.
- Be kind to yourself – remember that mindfulness is difficult to do and our minds will always wander and escape the realms of self-improvement; I know mine has. But try not to be self-critical. Mindfulness is a journey, and by reading this post you're certainly on the right track!
- Set aside regular time to practice - I recommend beginning a “formal” practice by setting aside some time free from distractions or other activities to be fully in the present and mindful. From a few minutes to an hour or longer, the “formal” practise can support and strengthen your ability to practice “informally” throughout the day. If you do struggle to find time, which is common today, then you can always choose an activitity that you can incorporate mindfulness into each day.
- Be patient - Mindfulness isn't a competition. Don't feel the need to set yourself ambitious goals. It can take awhile to get into the mindfulness groove and be comfortable doing it. So take the listed above activities slowly and focus on building something sustainable.
These are all of my tips. Now remember, the three t's: time, thankfulness and trying. By time I also mean, it's time to get started! So re-read this list if you need to, make any key notes and switch off the autopilot. Mindfulness plays a key role in our mental health so this is an empowering journey for your whole body as well as those around you.