How Mindfulness Can Improve Your Life
We have over 6,000 thoughts a day. If we let them, these thoughts clutter our minds and divert attention from our intended tasks.
Mindfulness is achieved when we are able to focus our awareness on the present. Learning to be mindful is about teaching ourselves how to manage and control our thoughts. This means being willing to stay in the present moment and not getting caught up in our thoughts or worries about the past or future. Mindfulness teaches us to look at our thoughts before acting on them, to stop judging our thoughts, and starting to understand why our thoughts are what they are. This gives us the space to decide if these thoughts are serving us and, if they aren’t, to change them.
There are many different ways we become distracted. It may be going on Facebook instead of doing what we are supposed to be doing (procrastination). It may be doing things we don’t need to do until later (pre-crastination). It may be worrying about yesterday, being distracted by things going on around you, or worrying about tomorrow.
“Clearing your mental clutter isn’t as simple as eliminating a possession. You can’t ‘throw away’ a thought and expect it to stay gone. In fact, like a never-ending game of Whack-a-Mole, your … thoughts have a way of popping back up as soon as you slap them down.” (S.J. Scott and Barrie Davenport, Declutter Your Mind)
Mindfulness trains us to redirect our thoughts back to the present moment. When these wayward thoughts enter our minds we say, “Now’s not the time for that.” Then we turn our attention back to the present.
Taking control of our thoughts helps us to work to our potential. When we do this we can feel good about our efforts, and know we did our best regardless of the outcome. As soon as we realize we’ve become distracted, we need to refocus. Get back on track, stop worrying about fixing the past, and start improving this moment.
During our focus on being less defensive and being okay with being wrong this month, we have noticed an interesting connection between being wrong and being mindful. Error blindness is a significant impediment to learning from our mistakes and if we aren’t able to keep our mind in the present (be mindful) we are much more likely to be blind to our mistakes. We need to work on seeing our errors or we’ll be doomed to continue to make the same ones over and over again. We need to slow down and learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Being mindful is not an easy thing to do. It doesn’t just happen, it takes a concerted effort. We have been working on this skill as part of our work on improving our executive functioning abilities and even after many months working on this we still find some days are drastically better than others. It’s really hard to keep focus when there are so many things calling for or demanding our attention each day. There are shiny things all around us but we need to learn to slow down, remember what we were doing, and bring our focus back to the present. These distractions can be thoughts about something we need to do later that pulls us out of a conversation or the dishes left on the table that need to be cleaned up as we are taking care of the laundry.
Mindfulness is about being deliberate in all we do. It is about being present with each other and making sure we are not only listening to the conversation but participating. This is hard, and sometimes when things get hard we check out. Our brain just leaves and we need to be aware of these times so we can refocus and stay engaged. It is a struggle but we don’t want to live our life on autopilot not knowing what is missing from our lives.
As we have been practicing to be more mindful, we have come to really appreciate the serenity prayer. It teaches us that we need to learn to accept things we can’t change, and focus on the things we can. We can have the courage to be a force for change in the world as we live one day at a time and enjoy one moment at a time.
God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
— Reinhold Niebuhr, Serenity Prayer
Too much of our time is lost living on autopilot but now is the time to make a change. Get out of “the thick of thin things” (Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). Find time each day to sit and ponder what you need to start doing and what you need to stop. Our lives are full of distractions and only we can choose to separate ourselves from them. We don’t want to end up like Emily in the play ‘Our Town’. After her death Emily comes to realize she spent so much time caught up in the busyness of her life that she failed to notice how beautiful her life really was. Slow down and look around, you will be amazed at what you find and what you are able to accomplish.
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