Have you ever experienced driving someplace, ultimately unable to recall the journey to your destination? Or, you open a bag of popcorn or chips and realize shortly after that all you have left is an empty bag in your hands. How often do you find yourself asking, “Where did the time go?”
These are common experiences when you’re living in a state of “autopilot” – where you’re going through the motions of life but not present. Instead, your attention is caught up in your wandering mind.
Many of us have been conditioned to this way of living and there’s no reason to feel shame or guilt if this is your current way of life. Research out of Harvard University shows that people’s minds wander about 47% of the time and all that wandering is causing us to be unhappy. (1)
Take a quick moment here to check in with yourself and see if any of these apply to you.
Are you constantly…
- in a state of doing, pursuing, and achieving?
- rushing to check off the next thing on your to-do list?
- feeling overwhelmed?
- feeling sick or less than 100%?
The problem is when you’re caught up in doing and striving you’re not living. This is when anxiety, stress, and depression begin creeping in and we start to experience physical symptoms like chronic fatigue, high blood pressure, aches and pains, and frequent colds.
If only there were a way to slow down and connect to your life in a more meaningful way. Well, my friend, I’m here to tell you there is. It’s called mindfulness. And it’s a game-changer.
So, What Is Mindfulness?
Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “the awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” You’re able to observe your experience as an impartial witness – without believing them to be the truth or taking them personally.
Mindful.org defines the all-purpose definition this way –
“Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” (2)
Furthermore, mindfulness is a quality that every human possesses, you just have to learn how to access it.
How Do You Practice Mindfulness?
Cultivating mindful awareness can be done through proven techniques, particularly seated, walking, standing, and moving meditation; short pauses we insert into everyday life; and merging meditation practice with other activities, such as yoga or sports. (2)
However, an informal practice can be applied to practically anything and everything in your daily life. Practically anything you do with full awareness and without judgment can be considered a mindful practice. Petting your dog or cat, washing the dishes, or driving can all be considered a mindful practice when you bring your full attention to it.
Here’s a 6-minute guided meditation practice for you to try that focuses on the awareness of breath while reducing stress and calming the mind.
How Can Mindfulness Help You?
I’m not suggesting mindfulness is a standalone treatment or a cure-all. But thanks to numerous research studies on the effects of mindfulness in the past two decades, we now know that mindfulness offers many benefits. I’ve outlined several below.
Benefits of mindfulness practice :
Increases a person’s resiliency to stress and stressful situations, as well as the ability to regulate emotions.
According to neuroscience research, mindfulness practices reduce activity in our amygdala and increase the connections between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. These parts of the brain help us to be less reactive and recover better from stress. (3)
Mindfulness is good for your heart.
A recent study published by the American Heart Association concluded that there is enough evidence to suggest mindfulness as a complementary treatment for coronary disease and its prevention. (4.)
Sharpens memory and increases focus and attention.
Mindfulness meditation can reduce mind wandering and improve your ability to solve problems. Moreover, studies have shown that improved attention can last up to five years after mindfulness training. (5)
Improves health and boosts immune response.
Several studies show that mindfulness could play a role in fighting cancer and other diseases. Suggesting that mindfulness meditation can have disease-fighting powers through our immune response. (6)
Reduces stress and anxiety. And helps people cope with pain and depression.
Researchers reviewed more than 200 studies of mindfulness among healthy people and found mindfulness-based therapy was especially effective for reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. Mindfulness can also help treat people with specific problems including depression, pain, smoking, and addiction. (10)
May reduce cell aging.
Scientists are optimistic about the positive effects of meditation on aging. This is because it has been found to lengthen telomeres (the ends of DNA strands), improving chromosome function. (7)
Develops compassion and empathy.
A study published in 2013, in Psychological Science, suggests that training in mindfulness meditation significantly increases compassionate behavior. And, practicing loving-kindness meditation for others increases our willingness to take action to relieve suffering, studies have shown. Making our compassion more effective and improving emotional intelligence. (8)
Improves relationship quality.
“Mindfulness helps partners to regulate their responses and more fully accept one another,” research suggests. (9) Furthermore, mindfulness is linked to better relationships with your kids. Studies have found that mindfulness practice can lessen stress, depression, and anxiety. Mindful parenting is also linked to more positive behavior in kids. (3)
By now you probably have a good idea of whether or not mindfulness is something worth exploring. Again, I’m not suggesting that it’s a silver bullet. It won’t cure bipolar disorder or major depression. It’s recommended those with complex mental (and physical) conditions work with their doctor or mental health provider on a treatment plan, which may or may not include a mindfulness practice.
If you’d like more info on the science behind the power of mindfulness, check out the video below.
And here’s a fun Happify mindfulness video narrated by Dan Harris, author of 10% Happier and ABC news anchor, explaining why mindfulness is a superpower.
As you can see, in many ways, mindfulness is a superpower. It’s a form of fitness for our minds, making them stronger and more resilient. And, it’s one of the most powerful things you can do for your well-being.
(2.) What Is Mindfulness?