Being mindful, thinking mindfully

Q I have friends who highly recommend mindfulness meditation as they say it quietens their minds and has done wonders for their worrying thoughts and mental health. However, I am not one for meditation and would like some ideas of how to incorporate mindfulness and mindful thinking into my everyday life. What do you suggest?

A Every moment of every day presents as an opportunity to think mindfully and live mindfully. However, as humans, we tend to spend a lot of time lost in our thoughts (especially negative thoughts) and unfortunately, this way of thinking can contribute to worry, as well as depression and anxiety.

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is “the awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally”. Although meditation may not be for you, mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve mental health and general wellbeing. If you later consider adding mindfulness meditation to your daily life, there are many apps you can download to your phone to start some simple mindfulness activities such as the Headspace app.

So, keeping in mind the principles of mindfulness stated by Jon Kabat-Zinn, here are some tips to incorporate mindful thinking and mindful being in your day to day life:

  • Practise mindfulness during routine activities – instead of completing activities like washing the dishes, eating breakfast, having a shower or mopping the floor on autopilot mode, put all your focus and your senses on the task; in particular, the sight, sound, smell, texture. Deliberately think about these aspects of your task.
  • Feel your feelings – it’s okay to not feel good all the time. Whatever emotion comes up for you, acknowledge it, name it and accept it. Tell yourself “it is what it is” and try one of the other strategies to help you manage emotional challenges when they arise.
  • Go outside – spending times outdoors in nature can relieve stress and improve energy levels, memory and attention. Which part of nature appeals to you the most? Being by the beach, river, forest, a beautiful garden? Pick one, and truly take in your surroundings using all your senses. It’s okay if your mind wanders – this is natural. Let your mind go where it wants to, but bring it back to what is in front of you.
  • Go for a walk – some of us use walking time to clear our heads or solve problems. If this is your intention, that is ok, but you might be missing a mindful opportunity. When you go for a walk, just walk; and try to think about the present moment, the ground under your feet, the houses you walk past, the plants you see, the animals you hear etc.
  • Create a healthy relationship with your mobile phone – when you are in the company of others, keep your phone in your bag – unless there is an important reason you need it out. Do not get distracted by Facebook or the internet when you are with friends. Otherwise you are missing the point of just being with friends. Focus on the present moment and the experience of conversation.

By practising daily mindful habits, you are training your brain to be more open, flexible and non-judgemental. It is impossible to be mindful and in the moment 100% of your day, and this would not help us achieve our goals. We do actually need a little stress in our lives to move us into action.

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Tanya Russell

Tanya Russell is CatholicCare's Counselling Team Leader and a registered psychologist.

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