Mindfulness can be an elusive concept. It is openly discussed in pop culture, and yet a lot of people struggle to understand what it is. I love this topic and the practice; yet even I have a difficult time finding the words to describe what mindfulness succinctly. In simple terms, mindfulness is the practice of focusing your attention on purpose. Mindfulness is about no longer letting your thoughts and urges bully you; you choose what to focus your attention on. The concept is that you control your mind/thoughts instead of letting them control you. Mindfulness has been around for thousands of years and is a component of all spiritual practices.
Mindfulness is a skill and thus requires practice. There are six core mindfulness skills according to the Dialectical Behavioral Therapy model, which are broken into “what” and “how” skills. The “what skills” (what you need to do in order to be mindful) are to observe, describe, and participate. The “how skills” (how to be mindful) encourage us to be non-judgmental, effective, and one mindfully in the moment. Observing is about noticing your internal and external surroundings in a curious manner. Describing encourages factual statements that everyone would agree with (note this requires you to be non-judgmental and thus becomes effective in reducing anger and gossip). Participating requires you to get out of your head and into the moment, targeting the anxiety that people often feel in new and/or social situations. In order to be effective in the what skills, you need to apply the how skills. Using them together allows more time between a trigger and a response which reduces anxiety, depression, obsessions, and maladaptive behavior patterns such as self harm, substance abuse, and aggression.
Examples of mindfulness practice are limitless, almost anything can be a mindfulness practice if done with intent and focus. Taking a walk is a practice if you open your eyes, take in your surroundings through all 5 senses and block any other thoughts from entering your mind. Eating is often done mindLESSly; however eating mindfully-with no distractions and full awareness has been shown to reduce binge eating and overall meal enjoyment. Art, dancing, building, meditating, breathing, applying lotion, showering, listening to music…all can be done with full awareness and can increase your ability to live in the moment fully, thus reducing depression and anxiety. Adult coloring pages have exploded in popularity in recent years as a method to practice mindfulness.
If you need to plan, as is essential in life, mindfulness would tell you to sit down with pen and paper and plan with your full attention. Take that time to worry, think and make decisions; then return to the here and now. Mindfulness would also tell you that if you need to feel sad, you should reminisce and be sad as is justified; then return to the here and now. The goal is to keep strengthening the “muscle” that allows you to keep coming back to the present moment.