7 Tips for Becoming More Mindful
Clinical Psychologist and Entrepreneur in Residence Dr. Lauren Hazzouri offers a prescription for maximizing the moment—right now.
Mindfulness is an intention to be present. While the benefits of mindfulness have been well-documented for decades, learning to be mindful is paramount for everyone in today’s quick-paced, multi-tasking, over-scheduled society—for #WomenWhoWork, it’s especially key. Mindfulness is defined as maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment. Although mindfulness is rooted in Buddhist meditation, it has become an American buzzword and part of our daily practice, thanks to Jon Kabat-Zinn and his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, launched in 1979. Since then, researchers have had a field day documenting the many physical, mental health and social benefits of a mindful state of being. Research suggests that after just eight weeks of intentionally practicing mindful behavior, physical benefits begin to become evident. For example, your immune system will be better able to fight off illness, and you’ll also find you sleep better, eat better and live a healthier life, in general. In addition, research shows mental health benefits for those who practice mindfulness, citing an increase in positive emotion and a decrease in negative emotion and stress.
The social benefits include things like improving relationship satisfaction—helping partners feel more optimistic, relaxed and connected. In the workplace, mindfulness enhances focus and our ability to attend to the task at hand, an undeniably valuable skill. Finally, for all of us moms, mindful parents report being happier with both their parenting practices and their relationships with their children, who are found to do better socially than their peers who aren’t lucky enough to be raised by a mindful mom. Ellen Langer, who has been studying mindfulness for 40-plus years, describes mindfulness as “the process of actively noticing new things.” I know it seems counterproductive, when the goal is to focus. How many of us try NOT to notice things around us—chatty coworkers, distracting emails, screaming children, texting spouses—in an effort to meet a deadline or accomplish a task? I’m with ya, which is the very reason that Jon Kabat-Zinn’s explanation resonates most with me. He explains that mindfulness is “about living your life as if it really mattered, moment by moment by moment by moment.” Of course our lives matter—and this moment matters, too! So, let’s not waste our time being scattered.
Use these seven tips to maximize this moment RIGHT NOW.
1. Watch your thoughts
We give our thoughts too much power! Thoughts only have power or value if we give it to them. Think about it: these shoes are horribly uncomfortable... kids believe in the tooth fairy... I’m never going to get this presentation done with that stupid construction crew clambering that damn jackhammer outside my window! Each of these are thoughts with the same value—none! But much of the time, we get caught up in having a fit over the clambering construction crew, and we’re off to the races. The goal is a practice I call “thought watching.” Watch your thoughts in much the same way you watch the cars drive by, as you sit on your front porch. There’s a red Buick, a black Cadillac, and look at that, a grey Honda Accord. Watch them. There’s no need to jump into the passenger seat and go for a ride. The same goes for your thoughts. Watch them pass—no jumping in, no judgement, no problem.
2. Focus on the here and now
Use your senses—sight, sound, touch, taste and smell—to get present. Look at the project at hand: the black and white words, the icons across the bottom of the screen. Listen to the buzzing of the hard-drive, the conversation between coworkers at the desk beside you. Feel the keyboard as you type and observe what it feels like to sit on your desk chair. What fabric is on your chair? Is it smooth? Taste the mint in your mouth, really taste it, savor it. Smell the coffee permeating from the kitchen. Being in this very moment, instead of worrying about how you’re possibly going to complete your work on time to make it to the bus stop to grab the kids for art class, will decrease stress and increase productivity. Get present—and awaken to now.
3. Accept what is
Lean in to that clambering jackhammer outside your window! Don’t try to block it out, or change it (replaying the scene in your head when you run outside and scream at the construction crew to stop with the noise, you have an important deadline to meet!!). Accept that in the same way you have work to do, so does the crew. And, yes! It’s frustrating, but being frustrated won’t kill you. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. You have it in you to accept what is and move toward your deadline. Promise.
4. Get in the flow
Flow, a term coined by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, is the result of being so engaged in an activity that your awareness of time disappears, and you are almost one with what you are doing. I’m sure you’ve heard an artist talk about losing herself in her art. She's describing flow. To achieve flow, you need to be able to do three things: engage for an ample amount of time on one task, focus wholeheartedly and with intensity, and finish the task to completion. Ready, set, flow!
5. Set aside mindful time
Researchers have found that within minutes of waking up, our fight or flight system is already engaged. Why? The minute we wake, we start to worry about all that we must accomplish today. Instead of following suit, make a choice to start your day off right. Rise and shine! Take a few minutes to focus on your breathing, feel what it’s like to be in your body, observe the mattress underneath your back. When a thought about the day ahead attempts to distract, watch it pass, again, like a car.
6. Take breaks to breathe
It makes it easier to attend to the task at hand if you go into it feeling centered. I suggest taking two minutes to breathe; focus on your breath, be still and feel that you’re alive before you pass go. In addition, leave several minutes at the end of your meeting to unwind from task one and ready yourself to dive into task two. Being a psychologist, I have the benefit of booking every hour but working in 50-minute increments, allowing several minutes to write my note on each patient, take a minute to breathe, let go of the last session, and ready myself for the person walking through the door next. Each time someone comes in, I am committed to being fresh and new for them. They deserve that. Consider every hour a fresh start. You deserve it, too, and the bonus is it’s easier to get in the zone when doing your day a little bit at a time. Breathe, dive in, do, repeat!
7. Get the app
Get help from leading experts in the field! There are many apps available to assist you in mindfulness, visualization, breathing exercises and meditation. Gaiam’s Meditation Studio app launched on iTunes and quickly made the "Best New Apps for 2016” list. Download it and enjoy guided meditations led by the country's top experts. There’s no reason to go it alone. Download your way to focus and awareness.
Following these helpful hints will allow you to get the most out of your minute, your hour, your day, your life, yourself. I don’t think that any of us can ask for more than that!
Graphics: Ben Wagner