Mindfulness is really simple. You are already having mindful moments during the day and, if you practise it, you get better at it.
Everybody seems to be talking about mindfulness these days. It’s all throughout healthcare and business. Our kids are learning it in school. Novak Djokovic is using it to stop himself from crumbling under pressure. So what exactly is it?
Mindfulness is being fully engaged and present in each moment of our lives. We all know the experience of being fully in the moment when we are doing things we love, and the feelings of well-being and relaxation that come from this. This is mindfulness, and research shows it leads to improved well-being, enhanced work/study performance and better relationships.
Have you noticed there are times that your mind is anywhere but in the present…maybe when you are overwhelmed with work, worrying about something or reacting to something someone said? Researchers have found that most people spend about half their lives distracted from what is actually happening.
When we are in this ‘default mode’of mind wandering and mental chatter, we tend to get caught up worrying, dwelling or reacting. This is because, when the brain was evolving, we had to constantly be on the lookout for very real threats to our survival. These days, there are less sabre-toothed tigers around, but we still have this negativity bias wired in to our brains. Have you ever noticed how your mind is really great at finding ‘problems’–worrying and obsessing about things? This is why.
Luckily, mindfulness offers a solution. Anything we practise, we get better at. So if we practise focusing our attention on what is happening in the present, noticing when it wanders and gently bringing it back, we get better at doing this. We literally ‘come to our senses’and spend more time focused and present, and less time distracted and stressing ourselves out. This is ‘mindfulness meditation’.
When we do this, we rewire our brain for better well-being and performance, strengthening key areas like the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. We can also cultivate qualities like curiosity, gentleness and self-compassion –and these get hardwired in, too.
A growing body of research shows that mindfulness leads to:
• Better physical and mental health
• Improved concentration and memory
• Enhanced productivity
• Better communication and relationships.
There are several ways you can practise mindfulness and rewire your brain, starting right now. These include :
• Daily meditation. Start with 5 to 10 minutes. You may like to use an app such as ‘Smiling Mind’.
• Bringing mindfulness to everyday activities, e.g., tasting your food (put your phone away!), really listening when you are communicating, paying attention when you are commuting, etc.
• Stop trying to multi-task. The brain can only focus on one complex task at a time and you are attention-switching, not multi-tasking.Focus on one thing at a time and notice the benefits for your stress levels, productivity and enjoyment.
To recap, mindfulness is really simple. You are already having mindful moments during the day and, if you practise it, you get better at it.
Dr Richard Chambers is a clinical psychologist and internationally-recognised expert in mindfulness. He consults to a growing number of businesses, educational institutions and community organisations interested in using mindfulness to enhance wellbeing and performance. Richard also works at Monash University, spearheading a university-wide mindfulness initiative.
Richard helped develop Smiling Mind, a free mindfulness app with 1 million downloads, and the popular Mindfulness for Wellbeing & Sustainable Performance free online course. He has published two books, Mindful Learning and Mindful Relationships and a number of journal articles.
Richard is also actively involved in research studies at Monash University, The University of Melbourne, Orygen Youth Health, LaTrobe University, Sydney University, UNSW and Charles Darwin University.
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