Do you always feel like there are at least six things you should be doing? Over time, rushing from one task to the next and to the next can take a toll. The busyness and stress of life can make you feel like you’re about to explode.
Mindfulness can be a powerful antidote to that kind of feeling. When you practice being present you improve your ability to resist distraction. Your mind becomes stronger and better able to resist the things that divide your attention. You’re left feeling more relaxed, more focused, and less frantic.
In order to realize the benefits of mindfulness practice, it’s important to have the right mindset and approach.
Here are 9 tips to help you practice mindfulness the right way.
1. Remember: It’s OK If You’re Not Relaxed
Mindfulness meditation isn’t a relaxation exercise, it’s an attention exercise. It’s OK if you don’t feel more relaxed after a session of mindfulness meditation. Relaxation is sometimes a byproduct of meditation, but it is not the goal. Rather, the goal is to train your mind to rest in the present moment.
2. Take a Nonjudgmental Stance
When practicing mindfulness, try to maintain a nonjudgmental attitude toward whatever comes up in your mind. Your job is simply to observe what you’re experiencing–not to control or shape it.
3. Look for Quick Practice Opportunities
If you don’t have a big chunk of time available for daily meditation, you can still be mindful throughout your day. Consider practicing mindfulness for part of a walk down the street or take a brief mindfulness break when you’re at your desk at work. The three-minute breathing space exercise is a simple way to include more moments of mindfulness during your day.
4. Be Patient
If you’ve tried practicing mindfulness before and felt like it didn’t “work,” that doesn’t mean it’s not for you. Instead, it’s possible that you were expecting to see results too quickly. Mindfulness is a practice that has its effect over time–often over weeks, months, and years.
5. Understand That Control is Not the Goal
If you meditate and feel like you can’t get control of your thoughts–welcome to the club! This experience is common and normal and does not mean you aren’t good at meditating. “Successful” meditation does not involve eliminating thoughts. It involves cultivating an increased awareness and familiarity with our minds and the thoughts that endlessly present themselves. Human minds have an inherent tendency to wander; becoming more aware of that tendency is one of the goals of practicing mindfulness.
6. Be Kind to Yourself
Throughout your efforts to practice mindfulness, try to be gentle with yourself at all times. You won’t get anywhere with the process if you don’t. Pay particular attention to frustration that may arise if your attention isn’t doing what you’d like. Remember, your job is to gently refocus your attention to your breath and senses, not to admonish yourself for the distraction.
7. Don’t Take Your Thoughts Personally
Don’t believe everything you think! In your mindfulness practice, notice the difference between having a thought and believing that thought. You are not your thoughts, and If you believe your thoughts every time they arise, this distinction gets blurred. So when you practice mindfulness, just observe the thoughts.
8. Accept Whatever Comes Up
The present moment is reality; it’s good to have a healthy relationship with that reality. Mindfulness practice helps us take this important step. Practice accepting whatever you’re seeing, hearing, and feeling.
9. It’s All Temporary
When practicing mindfulness, regard emotions and thoughts the same way: both are passing phenomena to be observed as they come and go. And make no mistake — they all come and go. Consider thoughts and emotions as if they’re twigs or leaves floating down a stream as we sit safely nearby. Try to simply notice them without passing judgment.
Now that you know how to practice mindfulness, all you need to do is decide when you’ll do it! Practicing for a few minutes a day is a good place to start — ten or less if you’re a beginner. Whether you’re doing sitting meditation or practicing mindful eating, try to make it a daily habit. Each day before you practice, quickly review the list above to get into the right mindset.
For further guidance, consider seeking out a mindfulness or meditation group near you or check out our mindfulness page.
The author would like to acknowledge the contributions of meditation instructor Jane Stevens to the material presented here.
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