Have you ever driven to a destination only to realize you don’t remember getting there? Ever eaten lunch at your desk while multi-tasking, only to look down and be surprised to see your plate is empty? Paused to look at your life and thought “how did I get here?” and “how do I now choose my own path”?
According to a study published by the Harvard Gazette, people are often thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy. Sound familiar?
The average person is on autopilot 47% during waking hours.
So, how do you WAKE UP,
REIGNITE your fire
and become more PRESENT in the NOW?
With mindfulness, of course. For some of you, that just got very woo-woo and sounds like new age speak. Just for you, I’ve included examples of scientific data to back it up!
What is Mindfulness?
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), mindfulness means “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally.”
It sounds pretty straightforward and it is. Mindfulness is not about understanding these concepts intellectually. It is about practicing this philosophy and choosing to incorporate a habitual pattern into your daily life.
Techniques and Tools for Mindfulness
16 Seconds to Clarity
4 seconds: Breathe in deeply and slowly
4 seconds: Hold your breathe on the inhale
4 seconds: Exhale slowly and fully
4 seconds: Hold your breathe on the exhale
This is a great exercise that can literally be done anywhere – in the middle of traffic, during a heated debate with a loved one or just reconnecting with nature on a walk. Consider using this quick technique in preparation for an important discussion or to refocus yourself while in a meeting. The clock on your computer can monitor the seconds and provides a way for you to look like you’re diligently working, when you may just be getting your calm on!
2-minute gratitude practice. Daily habit to give thanks and provide a reminder for all the good. The more specific the thoughts, the bigger impact will be felt. I like to make sure I include 3 types of gratitude:
- current appreciation right now in this moment: it may be as simple as the ability to breathe! That is not a given for everyone and it truly is a gift.
- recent experience that you pause and appreciate: example “I am so grateful that my mom cooked amazing enchiladas for me tonight. I truly appreciate someone spending time to consider me. Plus, that hot sauce was super yum-my!”
- celebration of where I am now in reference to a previous milestone: we are so often looking ahead to the next goal, its easy to forget to pause and congratulate ourselves. Maybe think back to where you were 1, 3 or 5 years ago and enjoy a peek at how the journey has gotten you right here and now.
- Get comfortable. There is no prize for twisting yourself into a pretzel-like position. Sit in a chair, with your back against the wall, in lotus position – if that’s right for you!
- Make it a habit. Same time everyday. Start with 2-5 minutes everyday. Once you’re able to maintain that for 2 weeks, increase the time, if you’re like to.
- You will have thoughts. How cool! Can you allow them to drift by like clouds and not judge?
You can practice silent meditation, focusing on the inhale and exhalation of your breath or maybe you prefer to repeat a mantra, such as “I am” or a the equivalent Sanskrit phrase “So hum”. There are plenty of guided meditations, as well and I include some suggestions in Meditation Basics.
The Science Behind the Practice
New research is practically released daily with so much research happening real-time in schools, hospitals and scientific labs. The underlying concept for those who are curious is that when we quiet the mind via breathing techniques, gratitude exercise or meditation, the amygdala begins to shrink – with significant changes documented in as little as 8 weeks ¹.
The amygdala? That’s the part of our brain responsible for our “Fight or Flight” response. We’re a pretty resilient species and the amygdala really helped us thousands of years ago when we were being chased by dangerous predators, like tigers in the wild. Even though that’s not the case for most of us anymore, our innate wiring hasn’t caught up yet, so when that emergency email comes in from your boss, the amygdala still triggers that ol’ tiger reaction! Fun stuff, right?
What’s really interesting is that not only does the amygdala begin to shrink, so we no longer REACT as spontaneously, at the same time, the pre-frontal cortex, which is associated with brain functions such as awareness, concentration and decision-making, becomes thicker. And that’s a good thing! So the final result is more RESPONDING and less reacting to situations.
¹ Dispositional Mindfulness Co-Varies with Smaller Amygdala and Caudate Volumes in Community Adults. Published: May 22, 2013.