Mindfulness - What Does the Buzz Word Really Mean?
Have you ever ...?
Driven to work, turned up at your office, and realised you've got no recollection of the journey there?
That you were on autopilot the whole way? You don't remember the turns you made, don't remember changing gears, you were just lost and ruminating in thought?
Or have you ever sat down to eat something and ‘woken up’ a few moments later to an empty plate, with no recollection of actually eating your meal?
These examples are the opposite of mindfulness. They're what you could call mindlessness, or being on autopilot. It's estimated we spend around about half of our lives on autopilot. Meaning we spend about half of our lives not present for the everyday moments. Half of our lives MISSING our lives.
So what is mindfulness then?
Watch my video below or read on for an introduction what the mindfulness buzz word is all about.
One of the most famous definitions of mindfulness comes from Jon Kabat-Zinn, who's widely regarded as bringing mindfulness to the West. He defines mindfulness as:
Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.
That's a lot of words: can you break that down for me?
So mindfulness simply means noticing or awareness. It means noticing what's happening right now. Noticing your moment to moment experience without becoming overly judgmental or reactive to that experience: without judging the experience as good, bad, or otherwise.
So what does this mean in a practical sense?
Let’s say you're driving to work ...
Driving mindfully means taking in everything you can see. Noticing the quality of the morning light. Noticing how many cars there are on the road. What the weather might be doing. Noticing what you can hear: maybe the radio's playing, maybe you can hear the early morning birdsong. Noticing what you can smell ...
It also means noticing your thoughts, feeling, and emotions.
So if you're driving to work and you realise you're running really late? A mindful response is to notice how being late impacts your body and mind. And choosing to react wisely to the situation rather than reacting blindly. So maybe you choose to turn on a fun song because there's nothing else that you can do but sit in the traffic jam. Maybe you choose to take deep breaths to calm yourself down because you know you're going into a big meeting or presentation that you need to be relaxed and clearheaded for. What it doesn't mean is flying into an anxious rage.
And if you're eating a meal ...
Eating a meal mindfully means truly appreciating your meal. Noticing the the flavours and temperature of the food as it hits your mouth. The textures and colours of the food on your plate. It means truly savouring and appreciating every bite. Not wolfing down a block of chocolate, getting to the last piece and thinking, "I really wish I appreciated that a bit more".
It also means paying attention to when you're not appreciating your food. Maybe you're full? Maybe you just don't like that particular food or drink? Maybe you're eating out of boredom? Habit? Or to distract yourself? To procrastinate?
Mindfulness simply involves noticing everything there is to notice about your moment to moment experience.
The thing about mindfulness is that it’s a practice.
It's not so much a skill that you learn and check off your to-do list or that you put on your CV 'I'm mindful'.
It's a way of being in the world, and it's a practice. It’s something that we need to continue to work at for the rest of our lives.
But the good news is that you can't get it wrong. As long as you practice and pay attention to your experience just as it is, than you’re doing it perfectly.
What mindfulness is NOT...
A very common misconception is that in order to be mindful, you need a clear, calm mind, or to stop your thoughts.
So if you’re one of those people who has a very busy mind, join the club! But you can still practice mindfulness.
We think between 60,000 to 80,000 thoughts everyday. That’s a lot of thoughts! And I'd love to say that we could stop those thoughts or even control them, but this is simply not possible. But what we do have control over, however, is our actions.
We always have control over how we react in a given situation, irrespective of what's going on in our minds.
This is the real gem that mindfulness provides us, an awareness of what's happening in our minds - the good, the bad, and the ugly: without judgment of those thoughts or feelings or emotions.
Once we've got that, we're able to choose our response wisely.
There's a lovely catchphrase that mindfulness helps you to respond rather than react. So that’s what we're aiming to do. To respond wisely rather than to react blindly.
P.S. If you're keen to dive deeper into your own mindfulness practice or any other realm of your life that may be holding you back from living your best 'Be More You' life, I offer free 30 minute discovery sessions so you can learn more about what working with me would look like.