You’ve Heard the Buzzword, But What Is “Mindfulness” Really?

This is a Guest Contribution by Michelle Mannering

Mindfulness seems to be everywhere- magazine covers, office lunch and learns, and even in schools.  The name seems to entail sitting in a beautiful, serene place and meditating for hours on end (which does sound appealing to some). 

But mindfulness doesn’t involve going anywhere different or doing anything special.  It simply refers to being aware of what you are doing in the moment and focusing only on that thing.  It’s challenging your brain to avoid distraction and be aware of your thoughts, not letting them spiral in a million different directions.  We tend to flip flop between the past and the future and as a result, neglect the present.  Which, when you think about it, is somewhat futile seeing as the present moment is guaranteed to be more certain than any future moment.  So what do you to be mindful?

In the chaos of a typical morning, think about what may go on in your mind while brushing your teeth.  You may have a lapse and wonder if you have already brushed your teeth, which then leads you to wonder about something you may have forgotten.  Brushing your teeth may remind you need to see the dentist, which reminds you also need to make a doctors appointment, which then reminds you of something that needs to go in your daughter’s backpack. 

You get the idea.  Now think about it this way.  You take a few deep breaths before you brush your teeth.  Then, you focus only on what is going on in that moment, the sound of the water, the taste of the toothpaste, the color of the sink, how your feet feel on the floor: whatever your senses are telling you.  When the thoughts about the forgotten appointment creep in, acknowledge them, and then return to being in the moment.  That’s it.  After only a few moments you have reset yourself, and will be better equipped to tackle the rest of your day.  You can try this at any point during the day: while waiting in line at the store, after going to the gym, when you park your car, or when you first wake up.  You can even try to incorporate short bursts of it into your day a few times.

Life isn’t about sunshine and lollipops.  And the goal of mindfulness is not to give you a pair of rose-colored glasses to look through.  The goal is to help teach your brain to slow down and acknowledge the present instead of the constant rewind or fast forward it seems to operate in.  It’s kind of like shutting off your iPhone when you don’t know what else to do. 

Mindfulness allows you to reset your mind and get out of the negative thinking loop.  Your mind is going to wander, and that’s OK- it’s how you bring your mind back in a way that is nonjudgmental.  No beating yourself up about the past or worrying about the future, just peacefully focusing on the present moment.  It can be hard for some people to get started in practicing mindfulness (I’m looking at you people who thought the tooth brushing example sounded nutty).  Some helpful apps to check out are Headspace, Aura, Mindfulness Daily and Calm.  

We’re all just trying to live our best life, right? Mindfulness isn’t a new idea, and so there is plenty of research out there to support how it lowers stress and anxiety, increases productivity, helps attention in the classroom/workplace, and increases life satisfaction. 

Give it a try.  One moment a day may lead to two and so on.  Pretty soon you may find yourself thinking don’t worry, be mindful.  

Michele Mannering, PhD, is a licensed psychologist in Charlotte, NC.  

425 S Sharon Amity Rd
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Charlotte NC, 28211
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