Feel less anxious but healthier & happier within 30 days!
Get FREE tools to increase your personal wellbeing:
How to Stop Being Stressed & Anxious in only 10 Minutes a Day
What is Mindfulness?
Why do we need Mindfulness?
How to Implement Mindfulness in your Daily Routine
The Benefits Backed by Science
Mindfulness. Everybody seems to be talking about it. It apparently improves productivity, working environments, relationships, communication, life itself… Seems to be the cure for everything. But what exactly IS mindfulness?
Since mindfulness is one of the core topics of my blog, it only seems logical to write an introduction about it - for all those, who don‘t know what it is or only have a vague idea about it (do I need a disclaimer here? I'm not sure... anyway: I‘m not a medical adviser nor a guru ;)).
So, here's the thing: I'm not only a writer and marketing person, but also a book lover, interested in all kind of different philosophies on how to lead a good and happy life.
Since I'm also an enthusiastic researcher (yes, really! I had to do A LOT of theoretical research during my time at university - and not many people know that about me haha), the following text doesn't just reflect my opinion about and experience with mindfulness but I went the extra mile and looked for relevant studies and scientific evidence (a lot of links coming your way if you read further).
A Short Definition
If you google mindfulness so many definitions pop up. My own short definition is this one:
'The practice of training one‘s mind to pay attention to the present moment gently'.
Although mindfulness can be traced back thousands of years to mostly Eastern religious and spiritual institutions and is one of the core principles of Buddhism, Hinduism and even Stoicism (who would have thought?), it gained more popularity in 1979 through Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn.
He researched the effects of mindfulness meditation on chronically ill patients and its effects on the human brain at the University of Massachusetts (UMASS).
After observing significantly positive results, he developed an 8-week program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which is being taught at UMASS until today.
Stripped down to its most essential meaning, mindfulness can be translated into the following: To be fully present in the moment and to focus on the here and now. Sounds quite simple, doesn‘t it? Why is the world making such a huge fuss about mindfulness then?
The Wandering Mind
In todays modern world, we're constantly distracted: By our permanently blinking smartphone, by the very annoying notifications on our laptop, by the TV, screaming kids, big city traffic noise and above all that - the chatter in our mind. Our mind, which loves to wander off, jumping from one thought to another to another. We‘re often daydreaming or thinking and worrying about the past and the future.
'What if I would have done that differently?', 'What if I don‘t get that promotion?' - Those thoughts are not only pointless, they also prevent us from enjoying the present, the here and now. Instead, we‘re always on edge, already somewhere else in our minds, barely noticing the beauty that derives from the present moment.
A recently conducted research at Harvard University describes that about 47% of the time we're awake our mind is wandering and that this behavior also increases unhappiness.
The multitasking curse
Additionally, multitasking has helped to decrease our already rather short attention span and has led to less productivity in the workplace and in our private lives. Instead of focusing on only one task, we often throw ourselves into working on various tasks at once, only to finish them mediocre or not at all.
Take constant e-mail notifications while you're working on a budget sheet with a tight deadline. It is SO improbable that you get into flow mode while being distracted by mostly unimportant messages and hence more likely to make mistakes within your excel sheet.
Or take eating lunch in front of your computer: Have you really finished that super important presentation diligently, while stuffing a sandwich into your mouth? How did that sandwich even taste?
Our short attention span, our craving for instant gratification through social media, our fast paced information society has led to a high level of stress and frustration for a lot of people.
Another negative factor of being always on edge and stressed is, that one feels guilty, if there is suddenly free time, let's say, on the weekend to chill out. Instead of relaxing, a lot of people panic and bring more work upon themselves.
Have you ever had that guilty feeling while being in a spa instead of enjoying your massage there? Or could you truly relax and let go of your anxiety?
Mindfulness will help you to slow down in your everyday life, to take one step at a time and to take things easy. The practice of mindfulness helps you concentrate on one specific thing at a time and to make intentional choices and thoughtful decisions.
This leads to a state of mind, where you can enjoy what you have, rather than looking for something better or different. The goal is to be present in a calm way and doing so gently without feeling guilty.
How to be Present
I know, I know. That sounds all good, but what exactly can you do to be more mindful on a daily basis?
Start small, it's all about being in the moment and experiencing it to the fullest. You could cook mindfully by paying attention to what you're preparing and how; later on, you can eat your food mindfully by savoring each bite.
Doesn't this piece of [insert delicious meal] taste amazing? You could listen to music mindfully by only doing that: listening to the music and enjoying the melody, getting lost in the lyrics.
What if your mind is wandering off and you start daydreaming while working? By noticing this, you're already being mindful (high-five!).
My personal go-to strategy is to breathe deeply and to be aware of my breathing whenever I feel distracted.
I also ask myself: Am I distracted?
When I find myself drowning in a mess, I also breathe deeply in and out 3 times to get centered again. It helps to slow down and to take a step back of the situation, especially if you're e.g. about to overreact to an insult or your kid's tantrum.
Take a short break to think.
Hit pause and reevaluate.
The Conversation with Yourself
Start asking yourself: Why am I feeling what I'm feeling? Why am I angry? Why am I sad exactly? Start a conversation with yourself and dig deeper. Pay attention to and acknowledge your thoughts, feelings and body sensations as they come, without interpreting or judging them. Only observe.
Being non-judgmental towards yourself and others will be a task, you will find hard. For sure. Our society is prone to judge everybody and everything constantly. We also compare ourselves to others all the time. Try to get rid of old habits and old thinking. Let go. Instead, be kind and compassionate with yourself and others. You'll feel better.
It takes practice to be mindful. An excellent way of practicing is meditation. If you‘ve never meditated before, don‘t be afraid of trying it.
Start with guided meditations. There are a lot on youtube, which are easy to follow. I love meditation apps such as Headspace, Calm or Mindfulness. Those also help to develop the habit of daily meditation and all of them have free content to get you going.
You can start with 5-10 minutes per day each morning before heading off or in the evening before going to bed. You only need to find a quiet spot to sit relaxed.
... What About Yoga?
Another great way to make space for mindfulness is yoga. I started with Yoga in 2010 and have never regretted it since, although I was biased before (e.g. yoga is just for hippies, yoga isn't really a workout... yep, that was me). The breathing techniques, the movements and holding poses introduce you to mindfulness in a super subtle way. And it's a lot of fun, if you have a great teacher and friendly yogis around you.
If you've never done it before, please do yourself a favor and try it. Maybe there's a cute yoga studio right around the corner of your office or home? There are different yoga styles and different teaching methods.
You have to try different yoga instructors until you find someone you feel comfortable with. I once had a teacher that showed us how to fold our hands correctly. For half an hour. Yeah, I left, so who knows, maybe he used the complete 90 minutes for hand folding. I'll never know.
If you're a beginner however, I suggest, you go and visit a course until you've learned the basics; this way you won't hurt yourself when doing some poses for the first time.
There‘s a ton of benefits linked to being more mindful and yes, those have been scientifically proven. Knock yourself out:
- You‘ll have a better connection to your body and health.
- Your general awareness is raised.
- Increased personal calmness & tranquility.
- You‘ll feel self-sufficient.
- Increase of personal loving kindness.
- Significant reduction of anxiety.
- You‘ll feel empowered.
- Significant improvement of sleep.
- Improved attention.
- Emotional regulation.
- Better working memory.
- Improved control and focus.
- Less relapse in depression.
- Better pain management.
Yep, really. All these things can happen by practicing mindfulness in your everyday life. I mean, maybe not ALL of the above and certainly not right away, but trust me, you'll see some sort of positive results in the long-term, once you decide to be more mindful in your daily routine.
Just understand: It's not a quick fix to any problem you're struggling with. Practicing mindfulness is a longer term approach, a sustainable way to a happier and healthier lifestyle.
How do you know, if your succeeding with your mindfulness practice? Well, most important of all, being mindful is a never-ending journey and not a competition with an ultimate goal. You'll feel the difference after a while.
Maybe you notice that you reacted calmer than usual in a stressful situation. I for example noticed a major difference in my behavior while going out: Crowds, drunk people and loud music often annoy and stress me. The other night, I was much calmer in the middle of a tiny bar that was about to burst with drunk people and super loud music. And I was aware of it 🙂
Maybe your focus has sharpened. Your attention span increased. Hopefully you feel happier and less anxious.
Some final words: Take joy in the little things in the present, be grateful and never take anything for granted. By being mindful throughout the day, every day, you‘ll navigate through your sometimes hectic yet joyful life easier. Don‘t forget that your life is just waiting to be lived!
If you have 10 minutes to spare, watch this insightful and entertaining TED Talk about mindfulness by Andy Puddicombe, one of the founders of Headspace and a former buddhist monk.
What are your thoughts on mindfulness? Have you ever meditated or do you do yoga? How often and do you enjoy it? I‘d love to hear your story, share it with me in the comments section below 🙂