“Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment." Jon Kabat-Zinn When I first heard the word mindfulness it sounded like new age nonsense. I couldn’t understand how it could help with everything from decreasing depression to increasing concentration to effectively manage pain. But when I began to practice mindfulness, it became very clear how beneficial it could be. The fact is that the benefits of practicing mindfulness are endless. But you can’t just read about it. You have to try it. In this on-going series about improving your life with DBT Skills, this week’s topic is mindfulness.
Here are a few ways mindfulness is helpful:
Mindfulness gets us out of our heads and into our lives. So many of us have a tape playing in our heads that is chockfull of criticisms, judgments and worries. (I’m stupid, I don’t deserve happiness, nothing will every get better). Mindfulness helps us stop believing the negative messages in our heads, stop comparing this moment to any other, stop thinking about what should be and just be present in this moment. This is particularly important for those who struggle with depression because those negative messages can spiral into an episode of depression.
Mindfulness helps us focus on one thing at a time. I know multi-tasking is all the rage. We are texting while listening to music while watching TV while talking on the phone. Our attention is so divided and superficial that we are not really experiencing our life. When we focus on one thing in the moment we are much more engaged, much less distracted and much more effective.
Mindfulness helps us accept reality as it. When we fight again reality we are fighting a losing battle and ultimately creating more suffering for ourselves. Mindfulness teaches us to stop fighting that which we cannot change.
So the question is how to you practice mindfulness? Like any other skill we learn in life, mindfulness is best learned step by step. Observing and describing are the teaching steps that get us to the goal of participating.
1. Observe: The first step is observing, just noticing your experiences right now...notice sensations in your body. Notice smells, tastes, textures, sights, thoughts, feelings, anything that may be part of you current experience. Just notice without judgment.
2. Describe: Now put words to your experiences. The idea is to clarify what you have noticed to yourself and to others. Stick to the observable facts, and stay away from judgments.
3. Participate: Once you have practiced observing and describing your experiences its time to participate. Throw yourself fully into the moment. Participate completely and unselfconsciously, if you’re eating just eat, if you’re dancing just dance. If you watch children at play they are always participating. They are not worried about how they look, or what they are doing later they are completely engaged in the moment.
Try the simple mindfulness exercises:
Taste something mindfully (a mint, gum, a cup of tea).
Play with play dough or silly putty mindfully
Notice your thoughts mindfully (watch them float by like clouds, don’t become attached to any of them). Remember thoughts aren’t necessarily truths.