Mindfulness is defined as the state of being aware of something or bringing one's attention to experiences occurring in the present moment. The term "moment" is the key word. Mindfulness is all about living in the moment. It is a skill that can be developed and sharpened over time with practice, focus and repetition.
Mindfulness can be achieved in countless ways, with meditation and yoga being two of the most popular. While mediation and yoga may not be for everyone, all people can certainly benefit from mindfulness. So if you’re not into extended stretching or chanting quietly to yourself, how do you achieve mindfulness in our fast-paced, high-stress world? And, the more important question may be: what is the ultimate goal of achieving it?
Being mindful can help you achieve more with less. In a state of mindfulness, you are able to process things more efficiently. Mindfulness will make you feel better, both mentally and physically.
Self-Regulation and Mindfulness
While emotional intelligence consists of five components (self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, social-awareness and social regulation), it is the self-regulation component that is most pertinent to achieving mindfulness.
Self-regulation is the technical name for having self-control. It is the ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods and the propensity to suspend judgment and think before acting.
Knowing what you are feeling helps you to regulate the responses to those feelings. Ask yourself: what could or should I do about what I am experiencing? Why should or shouldn’t I do this? How can I express what I am feeling appropriately?
Clear or Red Glass
As a way to illustrate how we are feeling, we can measure our feelings in relation to having either a "clear" or "red" glass (or any shade between the two). The goal is to have a clear glass. A person with a clear glass simply performs at higher levels.
A person with a red glass has decreased cognitive performance. They tend to overgeneralize. Often they will respond defensively.
The red-glass effect can make a person perceive small stressors as worse than they actually are. The person can become easily aggravated and may struggle to get along with coworkers in this state. From a purely physical perspective, they have less oxygen available for critical brain functions. People simply can’t perform at their best when their glass is red.
As the red (anger) begins to dissipate, the person becomes more intrinsically motivated. Cognitive function improves, including creative thought. The person is more willing to take on difficult challenges and risks. They quickly become better collaborators and are more engaged.
Five quick ways to increase mindfulness in a busy world
- Go for a walk
Fresh air and physical activity are individually beneficial but together are wonderful for the body and mind. Let the first few steps of your walk help you eliminate any mental baggage you are carrying so you can open your mind to let positive, uplifting thoughts enter. Think about places you love, whether it’s places you’ve been or want to explore. Think about something important you want to accomplish and begin to visualize it as a reality.
With each step you take, you’ll get further into the positive mindset and, before long, you’ll realize that all that stress that you were carrying when you started your walk is long gone. Accomplishing a worthwhile cardio exercise while ridding yourself of unwanted stress is an added bonus.
- Deep breathing / Stretching
Pausing and stretching slows you down and resets the mind. Practicing the pause, as it’s often called, is consciously slowing down to eventually go faster. Think about a car operating in first gear. It works hard to attain a relatively slow speed. The driver needs to pass through first, then second and third gear, to get to fourth gear where the car operates efficiently and powerfully. The mind and body work exactly the same way. We need to change our own gears in order to operate efficiently.
Stretching helps move blood into different parts of our body, bringing oxygen with it, while helping muscles eliminate acids that build up over time. We feel re-energized and invigorated when we stretch, ready to take on the next task.
- Focus on positive thoughts
Find the positive right now. The past has already happened and the future is yet to come. And, in this moment, both are entirely irrelevant. Think about how you feel right now. What do you see, hear, smell? Mentally take note of your surroundings. Think about things that make you happy. It’s hard to feel stressed while thinking happy thoughts. Start to think about what you want to achieve next and picture what it will look like when you achieve it. This is the conscious practice of being mindful.
- Listen to Music
Much like duct tape, music can fix just about anything. Most of us will agree that music makes us feel better but few people realize why. Music stimulates dopamine in the brain; a chemical that creates positive moods. So not only can music help replace negative self-talk with great sound, it can physiologically put you on a path to instant happiness. This writer is powered daily by music and finds music to be the ultimate “pick me up,” far superior even to caffeine.
- Download a Mindfulness app
Some people have an app for everything. And yes, you can use apps to achieve mindfulness too. Popular apps on the marketing include Headspace and Calm which run the gamut on helpful hints, programs, background sounds and much more to help you move toward a state of mindfulness.
It’s important to take your emotional temperature many times throughout the day. Think about how you feel and why you feel that way. If you find your glass is more red than clear, take a deep breath and focus on getting back to a clear state. Most importantly don’t say or do anything that you may later regret.
The more self-aware you are, the more you can self-regulate. Having good self-regulation skills leads to higher emotional intelligence, a trait found in many successful people. Achieving a state of high emotional intelligence takes practice and discipline - is just like anything else worth having. Being able to reach a state of mindfulness is a great tool to help keeping mental control regardless of what situation may arise.