The relentless chaos of everyday life can be stifling and keep us stuck in a whirlpool of negative emotions. The harder we try to reach the ideal state and control the uncertainty in our lives, the easier it is for us to feel frustrated, helpless and restless. Over time, we may become a slave to our hidden fear and anxiety, which in turn trigger negative behaviors.
Without identifying the maladaptive emotions and behaviors in us, we continuously trap ourselves in a vicious cycle that undermines our happiness and well-being.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Through mindfulness, we can be aware of our existence, where we are, what we are thinking and doing. This practice allows us to tune into our internal rhythms and master our emotions. Learn more about mindfulness to find calm in today’s world.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is an innate human ability to be fully present and to nourish a moment-by-moment awareness of our experience — including our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment — without the interference of judgment.
By suspending judgment, which is believing there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in any given moment, we can approach our experience, including what we sense in the present moment, with natural curiosity and true acceptance.
Initially, our attention may drift away to obsessing over the past or imagining the future. The rule is to snap back as soon as our mind takes flight so we won’t get carried away by the pressures of our everyday life or overwhelmed by the surroundings.
Benefits of mindfulness
Below are some other benefits of mindfulness:
- Reduced negative rumination:
Greater mindfulness training can lead to a reduction in depressive symptoms, reflective rumination and negative emotions.
- Reduced stress:
Mindfulness enables us to separate ourselves from stressful thoughts, as we acknowledge them as mere thoughts and watch them unfold in a movie-like manner. By processing emotions differently in our brain, mindfulness can serve as an emotion-regulation strategy that allows us to experience emotion selectively.
- Improved working memory:
Working memory capacity, which is used for managing cognitive demands and regulating emotions, can be enhanced through mindfulness training.
- Enhanced focus & productivity:
Mindfulness meditation practice enhances attentional functioning and even cognitive flexibility. Meanwhile, as mindfulness takes away unrelated task effort and thoughts from the task, it can increase our information processing speed. Altogether, these will give a big boost to our productivity.
- Less emotional reactivity:
By enhancing attention to the present moment, mindfulness meditation minimizes unnecessary processing of negative stimuli. This leads to better cognitive function and reduces potentially harmful effects of negative emotions.
- Higher relationship satisfaction:
Mindfulness meditation enhances our ability to respond to relationship stress, along with our ability to express and communicate our emotions with our partners.
Types of mindfulness practice
Mindfulness is inborn, but it can be further cultivated and embedded in our day-to-day life through proven techniques. Most people merge mindfulness practices with other activities, such as yoga and sports, but there are simpler, less time-consuming ways. Below are two common examples:
1. Merging daily activities with mindfulness
We can blend mindfulness practice with many of our everyday activities. For instance, mindful walking. First look for a quiet place to walk, outdoors or indoors. You can make it a formal ritual in which you immerse yourself entirely in the sensory experience of walking with full awareness of your breath; or just an informal application that focuses your attention on daily chores or seemingly humdrum routines that require you to travel back and forth. Either way, you get to engage with the world around you.
Mindful walking gives us the much-needed break from the digitalized world. You will find yourself feeling and seeing your surroundings in a whole new light.
Besides walking, sitting, standing and moving share similar mechanisms when it comes to cultivating mindfulness. If walking is the easiest way to practice mindfulness, eating will definitely be a blissful experience. Through eating mindfully, it takes a step beyond simply satisfying our need for nutrition, by allowing us to listen deeply to our body’s needs and wants. Ask yourself: Are you responding to your body’s hunger signals? How about your emotional wants, your cravings? These would be some food for thought as you dive into mindful eating.
It is estimated that 95% of behavior is run automatically by our brain based on heuristics or mental shortcuts that save us energy. However, these default brain signals can urge us to relapse into previous behaviors before we are aware of what we meant to do.
The root of the problem comes down to the faster routes in the brain, which usually shortcut the executive control. Shaping our behavior beforehand can therefore allow us to be mindful when we need to be. How so? We can slow down the automatic thinking process by adding obstacles, while fixing the barriers in the executive control process. By refreshing the triggers regularly, we can bypass the faster route and train the executive control to be the one in charge of the activity. Of course, we can always spice things up by adding variety and humor to the triggers to increase the intensity of rewiring between the new stimulus and the activity. In short, the intentional action to shift into mindfulness can strengthen our executive control.
In this case, mindfulness emerges as the perfect antidote. We can regain control in our experience instead of running on autopilot. As every action then becomes a deliberate choice, we can be far more intentional with our decisions and how we manage our life. It will come naturally to us after we repeatedly train ourselves in taking charge over the brain. Every time we have new and deliberate experiences, neuroplasticity is stimulated more frequently, which activates our brain’s gray matter for better control of intentional actions.
Principles of mindfulness
Several components of mindfulness have laid a solid foundation for cultivating compassionate awareness of one’s experience.
1. Pay attention
In today’s fast-paced world, you may find it hard to slow down and observe things in the surrounding environment. With mindfulness, you can unplug and disconnect from digital devices and take the time to experience your environment by opening all of your senses. For instance, as you walk, take the time to feel the steps you take with your different senses if possible.
2. Live in the moment
You may try to bring an open and accepting attitude to everything you do. Finding joy in simple things can bring gratefulness and satisfaction to your life. Treat every moment as well as you would treat a good friend. You are your own best friend. So, treat your time well.
3. Focus on your breathing
Breathing is a crucial part of mindfulness. If we can focus on our breathing, we can regulate our emotions. To quiet down negative thoughts, find a calm place to sit down and take a deep breath. If you go back into fray and find it difficult to focus, close your eyes and try again, focus on your breath as you inhale and exhale. Simply sitting and breathing for just a minute can make a huge difference. If you lose focus, try to redo the whole process until you calm down.
Give mindfulness a try!
Mindfulness is an instinct, it does not require us to bend over backward to do more, we don’t have to change who we are and become something else. However, we can exercise and train these universal, inborn qualities to be present, starting with being aware of our body through simple practices, to recognize and nurture a better self.
Mindfulness is a way of living. And surely, this evidence-based practice is trouble-free and low-cost, something we can all do. By bringing more mindfulness to our daily routine — our meals, commute, relaxation to name but a few — we can bring more awareness and caring into everything we do. Think of it as a life-long compassionate journey with ourselves, with others and with the world. So why not just give it a try?
Check out some organizations in Hong Kong that provide mindfulness training services below.
Jockey Club “Peace and Awareness” Mindfulness Culture in Schools Initiative
Facebook: JC PandA
Tel: 3917 5176
With mindfulness, we should intend to cultivate our awareness with an attitude that is non-judgmental, open and accepting, while paying close attention to the present moment.
This article was independently written by Healthy Matters and is not sponsored. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.