Learning to Be Mindful

One thing I began to do a few years ago was select a mantra for the year. No, not a novel, but just a few words- or even one word to guide me through the upcoming 365 days. Over 2018, the mantra I chose even evolved a bit to two words, “Be still.” There were a few challenging times last year where I needed reminding of that and to this day I still wear a bracelet with those words on it.

As 2019 approached, anticipation filled me as to what to choose as my guiding word(s) for this year. Every New Year brings with it a new slate and endless possibilities. How on earth was I to capture everything I had in my mind for it? Inside, however, I think I already knew.

On one of the few days this past December, I went for a glorious hike with my family. As I hiked up the mountain, I’d stop every once and a while to listen. The sounds were different depending on where I was- a trickle of water from the prior day’s rain descending through the rocks, an animal scampering through the leaves, a dog barking or the sound of a train in the distance. Regardless of the sound, I listened. I checked my breath and noticed the change in my heart rate or increased feelings of warmth. In short, I was present in those moments; I was mindful.

Managing work and raising two teenagers can leave a person distracted and overwhelmed. It is easy to become lost in thinking about what could have been done better and managing the minutia of the current day and future. Mindfulness gets lost.

But it can’t get lost. It is too important. I knew this was an area I needed to focus on: being mindful.

Learning to be mindful is about having a state of awareness of your experience but without being overly reactive. It is also actively being present for your spouse, your kids, your friends, your coworkers and, in my case, my clients. It is being so actively aware of the present moment that you listen to what your body is telling you, without being distracted by an internal dialogue of judgment.

In future posts, I will go over the sciency stuff related to mindfulness in more detail, but until then, you may be wondering… how do I learn to be mindful?

The good news is that being mindful is something that already resides in you; it is just a matter of learning to develop that skill.

How to develop mindfulness:

  1. Make a plan. You don’t need a lot of time, 5 minutes or less will do, and you don’t need a special place or gear. You just need a plan to train your mind.
  2. Observe. Wherever you are, take a moment to observe the moment using your senses. What do you notice?
  3. Ignore the inner judgy voice or the ongoing dialogue of what else you should be doing. The voice will come, the trick is to acknowledge it and let it go. I visualize these elements being put on clouds as I acknowledge them and then watch them drift away. You do what works for you; this is perhaps the hardest part of the process.
  4. Return to observing. Once you let those interruptions pass, you return to observing the present moment.
  5. Rinse and Repeat. This is a process of observing, acknowledging wandering and sometimes judgy thoughts, and returning to observe the moment.

It really is that simple to incorporate into your world.

You can take a few moments during a lunch break or even while waiting for your kids to finish up their sports, dance or other extracurricular activity. Now although it is “simple” to incorporate into your day, I have to say… it isn’t necessarily easy to do. If you are like me, those wondering thoughts will come crashing through and sometimes I have a hard time getting them up onto the clouds to drift away fast enough. Becoming more mindful, like any other training, is where practice comes in. The more frequent you do it, you begin to change the structure of the brain, and it will become easier to do.