What is a mindfulness practice and why is it important? The VIA Institute on Character* says, “Mindfulness is about seeing things as they actually are—with openness rather than bias, acceptance rather than judgment and curiosity rather than disinterest. It’s a practice that allows you to clearly see and experience the present moment.”
Why the heck am I talking about mindfulness here? Making space for mindfulness allows you the bandwidth to reflect, get clarity, and be in control of all you can be: it creates opportunity for learning, growing, and creating lasting change. In the areas where I help people, whether they’re trying to get and stay organized, accomplish more, or just make the most of life, mindfulness is a huge game changer.
For a long time, I thought mindfulness meant meditation or some other activity you had to work at regularly to get good at and achieve a certain state of enlightenment. I pictured monks sitting on hilltops in uncomfortable seated positions for months at a time. Or, spending a lot of money to go on silent retreats in the Berkshires. Sure, you can do those things, but the truth is that mindfulness is way more accessible than that. It can take many forms, and you may already be doing things that can be part of a mindfulness practice, even if you don’t yet think of it that way. (Don’t let the idea of “a practice” scare you off. It sounds very formal to say one has a “mindfulness practice” – a big obstacle for me initially – but it’s actually quite literal. It just means you’re making regular time to “practice.”)
The key to mindfulness involves being “in the present” without perspective or judgment. It’s a time when you are not thinking about what has happened or what will/might happen; you’re just truly attending to what IS happening. You may be on your way to mindfulness when you engage in:
- Non-screen time (!)
- Listening openly, with curiosity
- Listening to music
- Just attending to your thoughts – recognizing your self talk, catching yourself ruminating in an unhelpful way, etc. – and letting those thoughts go.
- and, yes, meditation – really the best way to see the benefits.
Practicing mindfulness enables you to recognize the distinct connection between your thoughts and your emotions, and how much of our behavior and sense of what we can do is guided by what we are saying to ourselves. Some of the benefits of a mindfulness practice include:
- Improved sleep – and getting back to it when we awaken in the middle of the night.
- Deeper relationships
- Better self-perception and self-awareness
- Improved or changed perceptions of others and their motivations/intent
- Feeling better about things you have no control over
- Recognizing what you DO have control over, and developing agency over those actions.
Mindfulness/meditation can reap big benefits for people with chronic pain, illness or undergoing cancer treatment. I recently heard testimony of a woman going through cancer treatment who found that meditation enabled her to distinguish her thoughts and anxiety of her treatment symptoms from the symptoms themselves. She discovered a big improvement in how she felt when she was able to separate her worries and dread of them from her actual, physical experience. One could imagine how for her, being in the moment was way preferable to living in the imagined future. That is true for most of us.
What benefits of a mindfulness practice have you experienced or could you imagine?
*I am in no way affiliated with the VIA Institute on Character, but they are “a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing the science of character strengths to the world.” They provide a free survey to help you identify your strengths, which are always good to be aware and make the most of. Mine are Hope, Love of Learning, and Curiosity.