Your Brain on Mindfulness
When we permit ourselves to choose one thing at a time, we decrease our stress levels and gain control of our attention, which in turn helps us to feel more peaceful, focused, and in control of our lives. This is what mindfulness is! Focusing on one thing at a time.
The more aware we are of what our brain is focusing on, the more aware we are of unhelpful thoughts or difficult emotions; the less likely we are to make a bad day out of a bad five minutes. Mindfulness can help us capture these thoughts and emotions, resolve them, and move forward. This, in turn, can improve work relationships with less irritability, and increased focus.
Focusing on just one thing isn’t easy. The ability to hold a thought in our brain is not something we are innately born with. It is a practiced behavior. The same can be said for allowing a thought to come into our mind and then leave without causing a stir. It’s a practiced skill of mindfulness, built over time.Think about it this way: Were you great at your favorite sport, a musical instrument, or a core skillset you needed for your job when you first started? Probably not. It took a lot of practice, questioning, feelings of inadequacy, and perhaps a lack of confidence. But now, after you practiced for days, weeks, months, or years, you are able to engage like it is second nature. Our brain’s ability to do this is called neuroplasticity, and it’s that concept that allows our brain to be trained in mindfulness.
How to Practice Better Mindfulness
- Observe. You can observe your thoughts, your breath, your feelings, and the world around you. We practiced observation in the earlier grounding exercise. What do you notice about your immediate environment? Can you detect the details? Can you discover something new? On your next walk outside, look up at the sky and try noticing the clouds. When was the last time you paused to look up and appreciate those fluffy, weird white things? Simply giving yourself a moment to observe your environment has enormous mental benefits.
- Describe. In addition to observing our surroundings, we can also practice mindfulness by learning to describe our internal and external environments. Describing thoughts and emotions is the first step to managing them. Learning how your body reacts to emotion, and describing that sensation, helps bring your mind into the present and manage stress more constructively. Naming and describing difficult situations and the resulting emotions helps head off negativity before it becomes a rooted problem.
- Participate. Reading this article is an act of mindfulness. You’re trying to give it your full attention. It’s probably hard, and that’s okay. Finding more intentional ways to participate in your everyday life is a great way to practice mindfulness. When you are working on a big project, try muting notifications, closing chat, hiding your phone, and focusing completely on the task at hand. When you’re cooking, just cook. Turn off music or television in the background. Ask your family to wait elsewhere. Smell the food, taste the food, and experience the sounds and sights of cooking. When you’re cleaning the dishes, notice the smell of the soap, the sensation of the plates and sponge. You don’t have to set aside extra time when you’re starting out with mindful practices.