Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present in our lives. It lets us understand how our mind works and allows us to be more intentional with our actions, thoughts, and words.
Today, we have so many things competing for our attention, it can be hard to be truly “in the moment.” A Slack message, a social media notification, an email – all these distractions can pull us out of a state of focus and even wear us down emotionally. When we aren’t in touch with our mental well-being, these and other small inconveniences pile up and up until we are crushed beneath their weight.
By practicing mindfulness, we can train our minds to be more resilient, reclaim our well-being, and just live for the moment, according to Cory Muscara, Former monk and bestselling author. In a recent Hone webinar, “How To Be Present In An Unpresent World,” Muscara shared his top tips for being more present and mindful in our modern lives. We’ve put together his key takeaways from the event below.
This post will explore what mindfulness is, why it’s worth cultivating, the research supporting it, and basic techniques that you can integrate into your life. Here’s how to stay present in today’s overly-demanding world:
Mindfulness: A Workout for Your Brain
There’s a lot of research supporting the benefits of developing mindfulness. In fact, quite a few studies suggest that if you practice mindfulness for as little as five minutes per day, you can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as see an increase in joy, creativity, productivity, focus, concentration, and memory. That’s as good if not better than medication!
We’re finding that areas of the brain responsible for stress and anxiety actually start to shrink, while the areas responsible for working memory, concentration, focus, and empathy for others actually start to grow. This research suggests that the brain is like any other muscle in your body. If you wanted to grow your bicep, you’d go to the gym and do sets of bicep curls. Mindfulness practice, like meditation, is an exercise for the brain. Every time the mind wanders and you bring it back, you could think of that as like a bicep curl. We’re often frustrated by thoughts moving through the mind, but those thoughts and distractions and the different emotions that arise become opportunities to train the very things that you’re interested in—the ability to be patient, focused, present, and grounded, even amid the chaos.
5 Daily Mindfulness Practices
Practicing mindfulness can seem like an intimidating, obscure concept, but it’s more simple than you’d think. Plus, you don’t have to spend hours meditating to reap the benefits. From breathing exercises to mindset shirts, here are five different mindfulness practices to try, so you can find what works best for you and start investing in your mindfulness today:
When many people think of meditation, they have this idea that you have to clear your mind of all thoughts, but that’s not necessarily true. Try to use meditation as a way to be more aware of the thoughts moving through your mind, like if you were watching clouds pass through the sky. Just watching another thought pass by. Focus on your breathing to keep yourself in the moment and keep your mind from wandering – you can even place one hand on your belly to feel the breath moving through your body more vividly. You can even try an app, like Mindfulness.com, to follow daily guided meditations and connect with a mindfulness coach.
Just remember, meditation isn’t about feeling good. Sure, sometimes it leaves us feeling more grounded or at peace, but meditation is really about increasing your awareness of why you’re feeling what you’re feeling. While it will eventually make you feel good, sometimes being present to that discomfort can be uncomfortable. We have this opportunity to reset and relax some of the tension in the body and sometimes there’s a lot that we’ve been holding in the background of our awareness that can surface and be uncomfortable. Reconnecting with ourselves and cultivating a depth of presence in our life can help us hold the full complexity of life.
2. 4-7-8 Breathing
This practice was created by Dr. Andrew Weil and has you breathe in for four seconds, hold the breath for seven seconds, and then exhale for eight seconds. It can be a bit challenging to exhale for a full eight seconds, but that’s the point. This practice forces you to focus on your breathing and clear your mind. You can even try this to help you go to sleep because it lowers your heart rate and can help you fall asleep quicker. Try it before bed, first thing when you wake up, or anytime that you’re feeling stressed.
3. Take Five
The “Take Five” exercise was actually designed for kids, but it’s so simple and effective that everyone can benefit from it, regardless of age. Take your right hand and hold it up in front of you, so your palm is facing away from you. Then, put your left index finger and hold it by your wrist. Next, slide your pointer finger up your thumb while inhaling through your nose. Pause your finger briefly at the top of your thumb before sliding your finger down to the base of your right hand’s index finger and exhaling out of your mouth. Breathe in and slide up the index finger. Back down, exhale. Continue to slide up and down each finger, while breathing in every time your finger slides up and exhaling as it travels back down. back down to the mouth. Slide up the pointer finger, inhale. Back down, exhale. This exercise can help reduce your stress, reground you, and make you a bit more present.
4. Shifting your mindset from a “What if” to a “What is.”
This is more of a cognitive hack than an exercise. We’ve all fallen victim to the “What if…” mentality. We get so caught thinking about the 1,000 different ways things can happen. What if no one likes me? What if I forget to wear clothes on stage? What if I don’t get the promotion? What if I fail?” Sometimes the “What if” mindset can be useful because it can help us mentally prepare and get ready to take action, but most of the time, it doesn’t serve us in a positive way. When you find yourself caught up in the “What if” mindset and it’s not serving your best interests, try to shift your “what if” to a “what is” mindset.
Instead of focusing on the future, focus on the here and now and make note of everything that is around you. Feel your feet on the ground, see the roof over your head, feel your body breathing, etc. When we drop into a “What is” here practice, we see that this moment is not the catastrophe that you mind is making it out to be. It helps us reground ourselves in the present, step out of the story of our minds, and connect with what’s happening in this moment.
5. Listen to understand, rather than listen to respond.
The last thing to share is a simple technique that you can utilize when communicating with other people to bring mindfulness into the conversation. Oftentimes, when we’re listening to someone’s story in conversation, our mind is already thinking about what we’re going to say before the person is even finished saying the thing that we’re trying to respond to. One of the greatest gifts you can give to someone is giving them your full attention and listening to them with awareness, compassion, and curiosity.
All humans have a deep need to be understood and heard, and while you might not always get that from other people, you can offer it to others. The more we offer that gift, interestingly, the more it starts to come back to us. This technique is fantastic because you don’t need to have a deep meditation practice. In the next conversation you have, just listen to understand rather than to respond and notice how it transforms the quality of your presence and your curiosity in the conversation.
Just remember, mindfulness isn’t a skill you can develop overnight. You need to practice consistently to reap the benefits. Make a commitment to yourself and stick to it and you’ll see the benefits in no time.