Mindfulness comes in many forms based on traditions people follow. Sometimes, it comes with a spiritual framework; sometimes, it’s associated with meditation or yoga. But at its core, mindfulness is paying non-judgmental attention to your experiences, sensations, and thoughts in the present moment while fully accepting them for what they are. In a way, mindfulness is turbocharged observation.
There are tonnes of articles and studies on the concept of mindfulness and how it benefits us, like this one. Is it worth the hype? Mostly. First, we’ll focus on how you can correctly practice mindfulness in daily life to zap back into the current reality and prevent mind-wandering. And then, we’ll also look at the problems of using mindfulness techniques.
In typical scenarios, when a person wants to work on their mental health status, mindfulness will most likely create improvements. Most of the improvements are seen in the quality of life, relationships, thinking, focus, and mental clarity. One reason for this is that mindfulness is about training your attention to look for information from your mind and the environment with purpose, non-judgment, and acceptance. This information is all sensations, thoughts, emotions (good and bad), and behaviors.
In this post, we’ll focus on the exact ways to practice mindfulness in everyday life. Here’s how you can implement mindfulness into your routines.
- When should you practice mindfulness?
- How to practice mindfulness in daily activities
- 3 Structured techniques to practice mindfulness
- The problems of practicing mindfulness
When should you practice mindfulness?
An ideal mindful state is “living in the moment” and staying connected with the current reality, whatever it is, with minimal mind-wandering. Mind-wandering occurs when one’s attention is directed inward with no control. But mindfulness is attention directed outward (and sometimes inward) with complete control. This attention can re-connect people to their present moment. Mindfulness is ideal in moments when that connection with reality is weak because of strong negative emotions. It is also a good way to train your attention through practice if you experience frequent mind-wandering.
- When you are overthinking.
- If your mind wanders off too much causing stress.
- Just before you feel a psychological discomfort growing.
- When you are having an anxiety episode.
- When you are spiraling into unwanted thoughts.
- When you can’t break out of anger or panic.
- As a routine exercise to improve the mindfulness “skill.”
- As a goal-directed daily self-care exercise to improve wellbeing and focus.
- When you want to relax and freshen up.
- When your overall attention and concentration capacity is low and other thoughts hijack your focus.
There is a general perspective to adopt while practicing mindfulness: “you are not your thoughts; you are just observing them from afar.” When you feel your thoughts define you, particularly the negative ones, you may be experiencing thought-action fusion. That’s a type of cognitive distortion, and cognitive defusion techniques might help you overcome them more than the mindfulness techniques listed here.
How to practice mindfulness in daily activities
In day-to-day contexts, being mindful also implies paying attention to the consequences of one’s actions after paying attention to the actions themselves.
- Bathing: Bathing is an excellent time to get in touch with your body and notice it for what it is. Non-judgmentally accept and acknowledge the shapes, textures, and bathing sensations.
- Eating: Mindful eating is a popular approach to enjoying and experiencing food. Notice the different tastes and mouth-feels. Notice the smell. Pay attention to your portion sizes. Notice the physical act of eating. Understand how you feel when you eat something.
- Sex: Mindful sex is a great opportunity to have a shared mindful experience at the physical and emotional levels. It is likely to improve your sex life and improve other valuable elements of a relationship – trust, understanding, acceptance, chemistry, etc.
- Sports: Physical activities have a number of movements that we rarely noticed. Practiced movements are often automatic. Learn to observe your movements and monitor your breathing to experience an immersive mindful state.
- Cleaning: A lot of cleaning demands attention, so being mindful while cleaning could be easier than mindful sports. Use your existing attention to observe and notice dust patterns, wipe marks, and hand movements.
- Conversations: Mindful talking and Mindful listening is about paying close attention to what you are saying and what you are hearing. Focus on the words, voice, tone, changes in vocal pitch, pauses between words, body language, facial expressions, etc. While speaking, pause and purposefully choose what you want to say.
You may extrapolate from these and also apply mindfulness to hobbies like playing musical instruments, texting, social media, etc. Remember – mindfulness is in about paying non-judgmental close attention to all sensory information and thoughts in a context.
Mindfulness during eating, cleaning, and bathing can reduce mind-wandering, which usually occurs more during habitual activities.
3 Structured techniques to practice mindfulness
These techniques are ideal emergency and routine techniques to calm down and regain control of your mind. You can implement them whenever you feel distressed.
1. Mindfulness grounding technique
The quickest mindfulness technique to snap out of anxiety or panic and re-attach with the real world is the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. This technique “grounds” you in your current reality – away from mental chaos. More on that here.
- Notice 5 things you can see
- Notice 4 things you can hear
- Notice 3 things you can touch or are touching you
- Notice 2 things you can smell
- Notice 1 thing you can taste
Duration: 2-5 minutes.
2. Mindfulness meditation technique
- Choose a comfortable sitting position with a healthy posture.
- Close your eyes.
- Sit upright but don’t stiffen-up
- Slowly breathe-in and breathe-out
- Focus on your breath for a few rounds, feel the air and body’s movements
- One by one, notice all the sensations around you.
- If your mind wanders, don’t worry. Let the thoughts occur and observe them. Don’t suppress them.
- After observing them, regain your attention and focus on more sensations.
- If you are out of sensations, visualize a stream of energy entering your fingers, toes, and nostrils with each breath. Notice the energy exit as you breathe out.
- If you feel like moving, don’t suppress the urge but take a deliberate decision to perform your movement.
- Continue slow breathing as you reach the end of your meditation session.
- Slowly open your eyes and slowly engage with the world around you.
Duration: 5 to 20 minutes
3. Mindfulness breathing technique
- Choose a comfortable sitting position with a healthy posture.
- Close your eyes.
- Sit upright but don’t stiffen up.
- Slowly breathe-in and breathe-out.
- With every breath, notice the flow of air and the expansion and contraction of the lungs.
- Notice the fluidity of breathing as you continue for a few minutes.
- Slowly open your eyes and engage with the world around you.
Duration: 2-10 minutes
The problems of practicing mindfulness
Mindfulness is often seen as a panacea for well-being. However, just like hunting for happiness and showing too much empathy have downsides, mindfulness also has downsides. Mindfulness can create its own set of problems, and you may have to judge for yourself if mindfulness has more rewards than risks.
1. Blindly accepting the current status can undermine personal growth.
Mindfulness is based on the principle of non-judgmental acceptance of experiences. While non-judgment can block spiraling negative thoughts, it can make people passively accept their current state for what it is. If the current status quo is negative and people desperately want to make changes, blindly accepting their negative state is counterproductive. It may make people take less responsibility for their own growth. The passivity is responsible for keeping people unhappy when they accept their unhappiness as their default mental state. Improving well-being requires useful changes and adjustments, which we call “adaptation.” On the flip side, blindly accepting a positive mental status can potentially protect people from unnecessary self-critical behavior. For example, successful people may want to blindly (non-judgmentally) accept their personal effort to counter the impostor syndrome.
2. Mindfulness may lower empathy for narcissists.
Paying attention to what others are saying, listening intently, learning their experiences, and acknowledging their perspectives are key components of empathy. It may seem logical that paying better attention to details can increase empathy. However, research suggests that mindfulness meditation might not increase empathy for most people and even make it worse for narcissists. One explanation for lower empathy in narcissists is mindfulness may reinforce a self-centric perspective that may create a barrier to acknowledge others’ perspectives. This may cause extreme frustration in those who practice mindfulness correctly but can’t find more empathy in relationships. Focusing on breathing might not be enough to invoke a mindful state of mind in all people, according to the researchers. This is in line with the more cognitive notion of mindfulness which has more to do with attention than any cultural or body-centric context of mindfulness.
3. Highly independent, self-focused people may become less helpful after a mindfulness session.
In a previous article, we looked at 3 levels of identity. The first level highlights individual-level traits like personality, likes/dislikes, job/career, personal attitudes, skills, etc. The second level focuses on relationships and the third level focuses on “larger-than-life” aspects of identity like oneness and spirituality. Any level can be the dominant form of identity. Typically, the first level is dominant for self-focused people, and the second level is dominant for relationship-focused people. More on that here.
A new study (currently unpublished as of May 2021) suggests that those with a dominant self-focused identity (aka the relational independent self-construal) are less likely to help others after a short mindfulness training session. However, in the study, the mindfulness session made those with a dominant relationship-focused identity more helpful toward others. This is consistent with the idea that self-focused people will further highlight their personal experiences and sensations after being mindful while placing themselves at the center of their experiences. But, relationship-focused people may pay a lot more attention to other people’s experiences in relation to their own, making them more compassionate/helpful toward others.
- Mindfulness is a form of deliberate non-judgmental attention to sensory and mental experiences in the present moment. It is most commonly practiced by noticing breathing patterns in a relaxed state and acknowledging immediate sensations in the present reality.
- Mindfulness can be practiced by paying close attention to all forms of behavior, thoughts, sensations, and feelings in almost all daily activities.
- There are downsides to practicing mindfulness, like blindly accepting a negative mental state or reducing baseline tendencies to be helpful.
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Hey! Thank you for reading; hope you enjoyed the article. I run Cognition Today to paint a holistic picture of psychology. My content here is referenced and featured in NY Times, Forbes, CNET, Entrepreneur, Lifehacker, 10-15 books, academic courses, and research papers.
I’m a full-time psychology blogger, part-time Edtech and cyberpsychology consultant, guitar trainer, and also overtime impostor. I’ve studied at NIMHANS Bangalore (positive psychology), Savitribai Phule Pune University (clinical psychology), and IIM Ahmedabad (marketing psychology).
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