31 Jan

Mindfulness is a hot topic these days (check out the Time Magazine cover story for Feb.2014)  Many people are unfamiliar with the term, but probably recognize the behaviors.

Scientists define mindfulness as the experience of paying close attention to our present in an open and accepting way, or directly knowing what is going on inside and outside of ourselves moment-by-moment.  FYI, this would be the opposite of scarfing down a piece of stale chocolate cake you didn’t really want – just because it’s there, or letting your brain run wild creating a fictitious negative scenario about some jerk at work.

In our uber busy worlds our brain is most often projecting forward or rehashing backwards.  We’re considering what isn’t yet done, how an event will go or what went wrong with the last event.  None of those thoughts help us to be effective in this moment or even in the next moments.

Mindfulness is about learning to direct our attention rather than living in our heads.  “It is our ability to pause before we react,” Dr. Siegel explains.  “It gives us the space of mind in which we can consider various options and then choose the most appropriate ones.”

Mindfulness is a skill that can be learned.  It is not difficult to do it, it is difficult to remember to do it.  The challenge with being mindful, or fully present, has everything to do with the autopilot narrative, or storytelling, going on in our brains (see Oct. 31, 2013 post).

Research has found that people who can stop and be aware of their internal experience (thinks about what you’re thinking about) heal more quickly from operations and skin disease, are less anxious and can decrease recurrence of depression by 75 percent.  Basically they are physically and mentally more healthy.

Dr. Yi-Yuan Tnag’s conducted a study where two groups of 40 individuals underwent training for twenty minutes per day for five days.  One group was trained in an integrative body-mind technique (mindfulness), the other in relaxation.  The mindfulness group had almost 50 percent greater immune function on average and cortisol levels were also lower.  Mindfulness apparently is more than just relaxation.

So, how to become more mindful?  One, pay attention to what you are thinking!  Switch off your autopilot.  Thoughts are simply “mental events”, they do not need to control you – you don’t have to believe all of your thoughts!

Two, take time each day to practice being mindful:

  • At least once a day, pay attention to what you are eating.  What is the texture and taste, what does it look like, smell like and taste like?  We tend to ‘think’ about food more in the past and future than we actually experiencing it in the present.
  • Pick one activity a day and stay fully present – possibly driving to work, taking a shower, walking the dog.  Turn the autopilot off and notice what is going on around you.
  • Believe it or not, breathing is critical.  Practice breathing slowly and thoughtfully (see May 2, 2013 post).  The best is if you can take 15 min. once a day and literally just pay attention to your breathing and nothing else.  If that is too daunting to start, take 60 seconds and breath deeply while focusing on your breath.  Do this at the beginning and end of each day, meeting, meal or when you feel stressed, it changes the physiology of your body and your brain!

Your choice for today…RIGHT NOW make a note or do something that will remind you to practice being mindful today and tomorrow!

Additional resources to consider.  Your Brain At Work book report.  There are tons of on-line resources, here is one example:  http://www.get.gg/mindfulness.htm

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