When I first heard about mindfulness training, the first thought that came to my mind are Zen Buddhist monks who want to live an exotic lifestyle alone in a monastery.
I found out through study, life experience, and talking to really successful and intelligent people that mindfulness is one of the most powerful tools we have to become more productive, increase our income, and make a bigger impact.
So what is mindfulness and why is it important?
Mindfulness is a mental state that you can achieve by focusing your awareness entirely in the present moment. To better understand this, let’s think about a common activity—driving.
Driving a car requires you to pay attention to the road, to other cars on the road, and to the signs on the road. If you are paying attention and focus fully in the present moment, you’re going to be a much safer driver. It’s important because it allows you to get to where you want to go without getting into an accident.
Another analogy to understand mindfulness is sports. If you’ve seen great a great athlete choke and start performing far below their potential, you know that these athletes are not being mindful. They choke and mess everything up because they are not able to translate their skills into action—often because they become distracted with thoughts or emotions. The only way you can sustain high levels of performance in sports or work or personal life is by being mindful and staying present so you can meet the challenges of life head-on.
There are some basic steps that you may take to start you on the road to mindfulness in every area of life.
Life is full of distractions. Someone could send you a text message while you’re driving, or you could be listening to the radio when you hear a news flash about your favourite basketball team losing the playoffs. Those distractions take away your attention from the road. To be more focused and to avoid those distractions, you can simply turn off your cellphone or the radio.
However, there’s another source of distraction that seems to always be there no matter who you or or what you do—the mind. Your mind works 24 hours a day proving you with a non-stop train of thoughts. We are constantly bombarded by thoughts about the past and worries about the future—it’s part of the human condition.
Unlike cell phones and email, your mind is one distraction you can’t simply turn off. But you can train it. By constantly reminding yourself that you need to be present, you will gain awareness of disruptive thoughts and you can pull yourself back to the present moment.
This is the essence of mindfulness training, and the benefits have been proven again and again. Meditation and mindfulness training have been proven to improve immune function, increase productivity and make us happier.
2. Find Your Flow
Find something that gets you into the zone, also called a flow state. Flow is when you are so involved in the task at hand that time seems to fly by and all distractions, including the mind, seem to fall away. There’s a great book about this called Flow by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi.
As a writer,I can write hundreds and sometimes thousands of words in what feels like the blink of an eye. Time flies by and I’m completely unaware of worries about the future or concerns from the past. Because writing is something I love to do, I become engrossed by what I’m doing and I automatically transcend into the flow state. It’s a spiritual experience that provides indescribable peace and contentment.
While in the flow state, you are so focused on what you do that you don’t have time to think of the past arguments or future anxieties and this ensures that you stay in the present moment. So do something you love to do. It’s a great way to help yourself stay present and mindful by focusing on a single activity.
3. Make Mindfulness a Daily Routine
Find one thing in your day right now where you have stress, anxiety, worry, fear or challenge. Stop thinking about what happened in the past that is causing the stress and avoid thinking about the potential effect that this will have on your future. Calmly pull yourself back into the present moment and focus on what’s in front of you. Let go of the things that you cannot control and focus on what you can do at this moment.
If you’re like me, I think you’ll find that at least 99% of the time, the things that you are worried about or anxious never actually happen. All that energy we put into worries and anxiety over the future is wasted!
Practice being mindful once a day and keep doing it every single day. See how this impacts your life. If you are confronted with the same situation that’s causing you problems or emotional disturbances in your life, just try to be present and don’t think about what happened in the past and what could happen in the future.
4. Love Yourself
There have been many books written about meditation and mindfulness. For thousands of years humans have looked for answers on how to improve our overall state—how to be more productive, more successful, and happier.
A lot of people have battled with negative emotions and bad experiences and all these apocalyptic concerns for the future that they are so anxious about. And you know what, they didn’t win their battle overnight. Understand that. Accept that. Reading one article, watching one video or reading a book about mindfulness will not make you an expert of it. It takes time to learn, study and practice mindfulness.
Being mindful is not about following rigid traditions where you have to go out in nature, sit down and meditate alone for hours under a banyan tree. It’s not about sitting in a lotus position with perfect postures and hands in salutation. It’s really about simply being present. You’re saying to yourself, “I am here, right now. I want to focus right now on what I’m doing, what I’m experiencing,” rather than worrying about the future.
It’s not easy. Your journey to attaining mindfulness is unique to you. So, be kind to yourself, be patient with yourself, and don’t beat yourself up for not achieving mindfulness or flow states or enlightenment immediately.
Mindfulness is not about achieving a specific outcome. There’s a great quote by Lao Tzu:
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”
In my experience, when you stop hurrying from one place to another and learn to be truly present in the moment, you will find that everything you need to accomplish will happen naturally. It turns out you don’t need to be stressed out, anxious or constantly listening to your thoughts in order to be happy, fulfilled and successful.
Mindfulness is not just a state but is also a tool that you can use or practice in everything that you do in your life. If you can be here, mind and body, then you can focus more on the work that you are doing or the task that you need to finish. You’ll be more productive. If you are here with your family or friends or peers, and you are available mentally, then you would be able to build better relationships because you can participate in the current experience. No one enjoys a conversation with someone who is lost in thought and not paying attention.
If you bring this attitude of mindfulness to everything you do in your life, you’ll find that all your worries and anxieties will disappear and all your problems that you’re angry about or afraid of will be resolved. Your experience of the present moment will change and you will become a different person.
Start Today on the Path of Mindfulness
Take a moment to just be present.
Rest your mind.
If you want to live life to your fullest potential, I don’t know of anything else that will help you more in every area of life than practicing mindfulness.