“Being mindful in a busy and often chaotic world is hard. You won’t get it straight away, and there will always be moments where it just feels too difficult (I have those too!). It takes time, it takes practice. The more you incorporate space to be mindful into your routine, the easier it will get.”
Have you ever reached your destination after driving but have very little memory of your journey? Maybe you were busy going through your to do list for the day in your mind, or thinking about a conversation you had with someone the day before? Yet somehow you knew to stop at the red traffic light or the crossing…how amazing our minds can be! We call this our ‘autopilot,’ and it allows us to attend to multiple things at once. Can you imagine if we had to pay attention to every single thought that comes into our mind…there are about 100,000+ of them in a given day…we wouldn’t be able to get much done beyond thinking!
So, our minds can do this incredible thing where we can think and do automatically without having to pay much attention. Another benefit of this ability to be mindless is related to performance pressure…have you ever tried to concentrate so hard on something, for example a presentation at work or school, where paying that much attention to how you are coming across has ended up making things worse? What about daydreaming – have you ever had a really good idea when your mind was drifting?
If being mindless is so handy, why be mindful?
There are some benefits to being more present focused too, especially if we operate in a mindless way for the majority of our time. Mindfulness means to be aware of our here and now, in an open and non-judgmental manner. Increased ability to be mindful has been linked to improvements in the management of stress and emotions, our memory, connectedness to others, and overall wellbeing.
We live in a busy and rapidly changing world, full of judgements and expectations; and it can be hard not to get caught up with and consumed by these. When we operate largely mindlessly, we can struggle to connect with the things that bring us meaning in life, find ourselves caught up in rumination cycles of unhelpful thoughts, and/or struggle to connect with our emotions in a healthy way that enables us to make positive change.
If you notice some familiarities here, that might be a sign to learn how to be more mindful. It takes time and practice, but it is possible!
Ok so how do I do it?
We can develop our ability to be mindful in different ways. You may have heard of mindful meditation as this is a common way, but it is also important to recognize that meditation isn’t always everyone’s cup of tea.
A great place to start to strengthen your ability to be mindful is to do things you already do but in a more present-focused way. E.g., brushing your teeth, having a shower/bath, your morning commute, or eating.
To do these activities more mindfully, you might like to focus on your five senses as you do them – what can you see, hear, smell, taste, and how does it feel in terms of sense of touch. For example, when you are having a shower – focus on the sound of the water as it falls, the temperature of it against your skin, the smell of the soap and the sight of the bubbles…
You can implement some quick and simple strategies to ‘ground’ or ‘anchor’ you in the present moment whenever you feel overwhelmed. Some of these include:
Meditation is a great way to learn how to be more present, and often it will take time and practice. If you are new to meditation, you might like to start with a brief 3-minute mindful breathing exercise, before moving on to longer meditations. You can often find some good mindfulness meditation recordings online; and you might like to try a few different ones to see how you experience them.
What if my mind is too busy?
It is important to note that even when trying any of the above, it is expected and normal for your mind to wander. In fact, the moment you notice it has wandered is an example of being mindful – you have become aware of what is happening in that present moment! The key is not to expect your mind to stop wandering, but rather to notice when it does, and then use this awareness to gently guide your attention back to what you had chosen to focus on. Some days you may need to do this a hundred times, other days less – be open to how you are in that moment and try to catch any judgements before refocusing on something of your choosing.
Being mindful in a busy and often chaotic world is hard. You won’t get it straight away, and there will always be moments where it just feels too difficult (I have those too!). It takes time, it takes practice. The more you incorporate space to be mindful into your routine, the easier it will get.
When might I want to get some extra help?
If you notice that your mind is often consumed by unhelpful thoughts and judgements, perhaps ruminating or racing in nature, you struggle with emotions that arise, or generally find it hard to pause and focus on the here and now – then you might like to consider psychological therapy to help you manage these experiences.
An assessment with one of Sage’s mental health professionals can help identify areas of need and develop a treatment plan that may incorporate some of what is described above, but with extra guidance and additional tools alongside this.
Written by: Dr Gurveen Ranger
Clinical Psychologist at Sage Clinics