Being mindful means paying close attention to what’s happening in the moment. Put simply, mindfulness is about being present.
It means noticing what’s happening inside your mind and in your body. (Your stomach hurts when you think about doing your taxes.)
And it means being aware of what’s happening around you. (Flowers are blooming on your route to work.)
In that way, mindfulness is about observing. You notice your life with a little distance, instead of reacting emotionally.
The opposite of mindfulness is being on autopilot. That’s when you do things without any thought or consideration.
You’re on autopilot, for instance, when you back out of your driveway and head to work on a Saturday when you meant to go to the park.
How Do You Know You’re Doing It Right?
You can focus on the present anytime, anywhere: in your car, standing in a line, or at work.
Try “single-tasking.” That’s doing one thing at a time and giving it your full attention. It can be on something as common as flossing your teeth or eating an apple.
Here’s how to be mindful when you have a few minutes to yourself and don’t need to concentrate on a more pressing task (like driving):
First, pause and focus on your body. Notice what you see and hear. Also, check what you smell, taste, and feel. Don’t label these sensations as good or bad. Just let them go.
Then narrow your focus. What do feel in your body? Notice subtle sensations like an itch or tingling. Give each part of your body a moment of your full attention. Start with your head and move to your toes.
Next, be more intent on your breath. Where in your body do you feel it most? Rest your attention there.
Ask yourself, “How am I in this moment?” Acknowledge your thoughts and emotions. Spend a few moments with them, being with things as they are. Allow your feelings to be present without judgment.
When your mind wanders (and it will), simply return to your breath. There’s no need to beat yourself up for losing focus.
Why Practice It?
Being mindful helps you notice when you’re on autopilot. That lets you change what you’re doing in the moment, rather than regretting it later.
Let’s say you find yourself eating a bag of chips in front of the TV — your evening pattern. Being mindful can help you break free from the autopilot trance and take a moment to make a different choice. You could trade the chips for carrots, or decide to skip TV and take a walk around the block instead.
Mindfulness can keep you in touch with your goals and hopes. Focusing on the moment keeps you from reacting quickly and doing what you usually do without thinking about it — like feeling stressed and grabbing a king-size candy bar.
Mindfulness and Mental Health
Learning to be in the present moment can help you take a step back and better manage stress or cope with serious illness.
Mindfulness can also help ease anxiety and depression. Many people who practice it say they relax more easily, have a greater enthusiasm for life, and feel more self-confident.
Mindfulness can also help you:
- Be fully engaged in activities, which can help you connect more deeply with others
- Pay more attention to your automatic thoughts and whether they help you feel better or feel worse
How You Can Use It to Lose Weight
You can also use this practice to help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
With food, you have multiple chances to be mindful:
- Do a gut check to see if you’re really hungry before you eat.
- Focus on each bite, savoring its flavor and texture.
- Notice if what you’re saying to yourself is helpful.
- Do another gut check to see how full you are. That way you can stop eating when you feel full instead of mindlessly cleaning your plate.
Exercise Your Mind
Want to exercise more? Mindfulness can help you enjoy activities. That, in turn, will make you more likely to stick with them.
How do you exercise mindfully?
- Tune in to how your body feels. Are your muscles tense? Do you feel antsy?
- Does the activity you’re doing make your body feel good while you’re doing it?
- If the exercise targets a certain body part, how does that part feel while you’re doing it?
- Notice your thoughts about how you’re moving. Are the thoughts encouraging?
When you focus on your body, it can motivate you to move more throughout the day. You might also be more appreciative of your body and be kinder to yourself.
Want to be more present in your daily life? Just put your mind to it!