The term “mindfulness” has become something of a buzzword. However, given the many proven benefits associated with being mindful, learning how to foster this mental state is time well spent. Mindfulness is a form of awareness incorporating four characteristics:
- Being aware of our feelings as they are happening.
- Remaining in charge of our emotional reactions to events and people.
- Immersing ourselves in the present, rather than thinking about the future or past.
- Increasing our capacity for connection, empathy, and other pro-social behaviors.
Much of the time, most of us exhibit a mental state called “monkey mind.” It’s the opposite of being mindful and resembles attention deficit disorder. Studies show many professionals experience over 50 significant interruptions daily. What’s more, on average, they access their smartphones over 1500 times a week. The result? A Harvard study shows we are mentally distracted about 47% of time. That’s a problem, because monkey mind is correlated with irritability, worrying, increased errors, diminished emotional intelligence, hurry sickness, and burnout.
Of all the self-care approaches behavioral science has examined, mindfulness appears most effective at reducing monkey mind. Research shows mindful people experience greater well-being and life satisfaction, enhanced emotional intelligence, and less mental and physical damage from stress. What’s more, they are more emotionally responsive rather than reactive, meaning they feel more in charge of their attitudes, moods, and feelings, and less at risk for emotional hijacking.
With solid neuroscience demonstrating its value, cultivating mindfulness is increasingly encouraged in workplaces. There are three primary methods:
- Mindful Moments: This brief but powerful breathing technique, sometimes called a “brain reboot” or “coherent breathing,” can be practiced just about anywhere, takes about one minute, and rapidly induces a state of calm, focused awareness. Take six deep belly breaths, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through parted lips. The exhale should be longer than the inhale. Repeat often throughout the day.
- Mindful Habits: This involves remaining mentally present during normal daily activities, such as walking, bathing, eating, driving, and so on. Focus on the sensory inputs/sensations accompanying the activity.
- Mindful Meditation: This simple, powerful method requires as little as five minutes daily. Over time, mindful meditation creates a new default mode in the brain characterized by calm, attentive awareness of the present moment. With regular meditation, this mental state generalizes, replacing monkey mind as the brain’s default mode. Sit in an upright, centered posture, drop your shoulders down, relax your face, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing (use the same method as in Mindful Moments). Your thoughts will distract you. Whenever they do, just return your focus to your breathing. Continue for at least five minutes. Meditation apps can help, such as Insight Timer, Calm and Headspace.
Being our best requires showing up, mentally and emotionally. Mindfulness gets us there.