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Is your Mind Full or are you Mindful?

On a daily basis we’re overloaded by information at every turn. And all the while, we’re trying to think and act innovatively and quickly. The trouble is, this bombardment means that making smart decisions is getting harder and we’re getting increasingly stressed in the process.

Mindfulness could offer a solution. It can help you to focus on the here and now and be open to new sources of information without feeling overwhelmed.

Research suggests that mindfulness can also:

–  Help reduce stress and anxiety

–  Boost energy and creativity

–  Increase your overall sense of well-being.

This is why organisations like Google, European Central Bank, LinkedIn and NASA have invested in mindfulness programmes.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness describes a state of consciousness in which individuals attend to ongoing events and experiences in a receptive and non-judgmental way. It has roots in Eastern spiritual, especially Buddhist traditions.

Mindfulness increases awareness of your experiences – in a mindful state individuals are purely noticing what is happening without evaluating, analysing or reflecting upon it. It helps us to focus on the here and now, rather than allowing our thoughts to drift to the past or the future.

Why does it matter?

Being mindful helps us to train our attention.  Our minds wander about 50% of the time, but every time we practise being mindful, we are exercising our attention ‘muscle’ and becoming mentally fitter. 

We can take more control over our focus of attention, and choose what we focus on, rather than passively allowing our attention to be dominated by that which concerns us. Ellen Langer, a Harvard Psychologist, suggests that this ultimately helps you to navigate changes at work or home, by adjusting automatic behaviours, taking new perspectives and being more tolerant of uncertainty.

5 steps to achieving mindfulness:

The good news is that we’re all able to become more mindful. And you can start straight away. Here are some simple steps to increasing your mindfulness:

Choose an activity to do mindfully throughout the day – e.g. drink a cup of tea, take a walk, or wash the dishes. Be in the moment while doing this – what can you see, hear, smell, touch, or feel? Simply notice what other thoughts and sensations come to mind, then re-focus on your chosen activity.

Focus your attention on your breathing. When thoughts, emotions, physical feelings or external sounds occur, simply accept them, giving them the space to come and go without judging or getting involved with them.

During mindful activities, describe what’s happening rather than judging whether it is good or bad, something you like or dislike. It is as it is.

Have a long-term vision of what you hope to achieve from mindfulness, but remember that mindfulness is process-oriented rather than goal-oriented. Mindfulness is the journey itself – you can only be in the present moment now.

It’s about practice not perfection! You may try an exercise or meditation and think “I can’t focus at all” or “that was a bad meditation” but remember that the mind is bound to wander – that’s ok and part of being mindful. Over time your attitudes will change and mindfulness exercises become easier. As Jonathan Kabat-Zinn, renowned professor at the University of Massachusetts, says, “You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”

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