Most of us spend a lot of time feeling pain, guilt or regret about our past and anxiety about our future. We can get so wrapped up in this past and future thinking that we don’t even enjoy the present moment we are living in.
Mindfulness is a form of self-awareness that helps brings us back to the present moment. It is taken from mindfulness meditation which is based on Buddhist meditation principles. It the past decade or so it has become very popular, especially as part of dialectical behavior training which has been successful in treating borderline personality disorders.
The basics of mindfulness helps us to pay attention to the present moment and disengage from the mental clutter and chatter that is almost always filling our minds.
How many times have you found yourself at a party, in a meeting, on a date even playing with your kids and yet while you are physically there, mentally you are somewhere else. You are in your head, dwelling on your past, thinking about the future and not living in that very moment. We have so much going on in our lives today that it’s hard to live in the present.
We are with our spouses, but thinking about everything we have to do at work tomorrow so we aren’t really hearing what they are saying or we are doing a task we do regularly, but are just going through the motions and not really paying attention to what we are doing (which is one reason accidents happen).
I have to admit that there have been many times when listening to a client that my mind will wonder. I’ll start thinking about my past, I’ll start thinking about what I have to do later that day and before I realize it, I’ve missed a good portion of what that client was talking about (it’s bad I know, but it happens… therapist are human too). I have to fight with myself sometimes to stay in the present, to not allow the clutter and chatter in my brain to take me anywhere else, but to remain in the here and now which takes practice.
As a matter of fact, during group therapy, being in the present and being mindful are two of my 10 rules. Often times when one group member is talking, some of the others will drift off to their own issues, their own regrets over the past and anxieties about the future to the point that they can’t offer support and encouragement to the group member who was speaking because mentally they weren’t there.
Here I’ve listed 10 ways to help you start being more mindful and to start living in and enjoying the present moment today.
One Minute exercise: sit in front of a clock or look at your watch for exactly one minute and focus all of your attention only on your breathing and nothing else. Sounds simple, but your mind will tend to rebel and try to fill itself with all kinds of past and future thoughts. Resist it, focus simply on your breathing for one minute. Once you have this down pat you can start extending it by another minute up to five minutes or even longer!
- Take a shower. Showers can be relaxing and can be a mini vacation away from everything and everyone else. Feel free to use your imagination and picture yourself standing under a tropical waterfall.
- Speaking of water, sticking your hand in some warm water and concentrating on the sensation on your skin is not only a great way to bring you back to the present, but it is also helpful for de-stressing because it brings your brain a sense of comfort. If you aren’t near any warm water try rubbing your hands together to get a similar affect.
- Listen to music, calming music preferably and music you’re not familiar with is best, but really listen to it, not just the words, but the sounds of the instruments and the rhythm of the beat. Even familiar music can sound new again when you truly are present with it.
Mindful Eating: Most of the time when we eat, we aren’t really paying attention to what we are doing. We are distracted by our mind, the television or anything else. In mindful eating, you sit down with no distractions, paying full attention to every bite you select and put into your mouth being aware of its color, how it smells, how it taste, the different textures, how it feels in your mouth. You may be surprised at how your food actually tastes different once you slow down and focus on it and possibly, how little of it you actually need to fill full. If trying this for an entire meal is too hard, try doing it for the first two bites of each meal.
- Mindful Walking: This is similar to mindful eating accept you take a walk and allow yourself to only focus on what is happening right now. How the ground feels beneath your feet, how the wind and/or sun feels on your skin, on how the leaves look and sound on the trees, even observing other people. It’s also good to pay attention to your breathing as you walk to help keep you present and centered.
- The acronym R.A.I.N. is used to describe a more advanced technique for when you are feeling unpleasant emotions where “R” stands for recognizing when a strong emotions is present, “A” is to acknowledge the emotion (instead of denying or running from it), “I” is to investigate where the feeling is coming from by checking in with your mind, body and feelings, and “N” is to non-identify with what’s there, meaning to not allow the emotion to define you or control you, but to understand that it is just another passing emotion that doesn’t have to control you. RAIN is about staying with your emotions and then letting them go, not dwelling on them or doing things to try to escape them, but acknowledging them and then allowing them to leave. It can be challenging to stay with your emotions and still let them go which is why this and the next technique are both considered advanced, but once you practice and can use them effectively, they can be life changing.
- Most of the time before we know it, our minds are racing, we are thinking about the past, the future, anxious, and just going through the motions of our daily routine. This is when we need to find time to S.T.O.P. which means to Stop what you are doing, if only for a minute, Take a breath and pay attention to your breathing, allowing it to flow in through your nose deeply and out through your mouth fully. You can try imagining breathing in a cloud through your nose and blowing it back out through your mouth. Observe your thoughts, feelings and emotions. Know that you can observe them, but they are just thoughts, feelings and emotions, that doesn’t make them facts they are not permanent. Often times recognizing, observing and letting thoughts, feelings and emotions go will work much faster than any psychotropic medication can in alleviating anxiety and depression. Lasting proceed with something supportive and positive such as talking with a friend or exercising.
- Un-tunnel your vision. A lot of times when we are stressed it’s because we are focusing on a single point that eliminates or obscures all other options. Try extending your arms all the way out until you form a “T” and then wiggle your fingers. Slowly bring your arms back in until your fingers are insight and then extend them again. Repeat this. Playing with your peripheral vision can help your brain to remember to expand and to remember that their are other options and possibilities other than that single point it’s currently focusing on that’s causing you stress.
- Come up with your own ways to be mindful and in the here and now! There are so many different ways we can practice being in the moment and there is no better way than finding something that works best for you.
A lot of our discomfort comes from worrying about the future and beating ourselves up about the past, but the past is gone and the future has not happened yet. Living happens in the moment we are in right now so taking some time to remember that and appreciate the present will definitely make our entire life experience richer.