Oftentimes our lives can feel incredibly overwhelming with everything we have to accomplish throughout the day. From preparing your kids for school in the morning, going to that yoga class you nervously signed up for last minute, getting the groceries to feed your family, and remembering to turn in the report your supervisor asked for yesterday, we can become terribly distracted and lose focus on what matters most in our lives. Regardless of whether our lives are filled with tasks such as these or we have all the free-time in the world to do what we please, being mindful in the present moment is often an extremely challenging feat that people are not able to accomplish.
John Kabat-Zinn states that mindfulness is “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally” (Purser, 2015). With roots grounded in Buddhist practices, purposefully practicing mindfulness has been shown to help reduce the stress we constantly experience throughout our daily lives. Mindfulness has often been equated with engaging in meditation and while this may be the case in some instances, you do not have to meditate to be mindful. Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment, on purpose, and without judgement, which can be done in many ways. These three components of mindfulness sound simple in theory, but truly being mindful comes with challenges. Even as a counselor who teaches others how to be mindful, I find the practice of mindfulness to be a tricky concept that requires lots of practice and patience. With time, mindfulness can become a beneficial tool for managing stress and negative self-talk that everyone experiences.
One mindfulness activity that I often find helpful when I am feeling stressed, pressed for time, upset, or disengaged from my peers is what I call a “mindful minute.” This minute can be completed anywhere you are while doing practically anything. I find myself completing mindfulness minutes while walking to work, sitting on the redline during my evening commute, and eating my breakfast in the morning.
When practicing a mindful minute, I take several seconds to bring awareness to my breathing, making sure to take deep, slow, and purposeful breaths using my diaphragm. I knowingly turn my awareness to all of my surroundings, whatever that may be. Sometimes, my focus gravitates toward what I see while other times my focus is on what I am hearing. I may notice the clicking sound the train makes as I walk under the bridge or the swiftness of the people who cross the street to get to work. It does not necessarily matter what we focus on, as long as we do it purposefully and without judgement. Instead of walking past an alley and thinking “that smells awful,” it might be helpful to bring your awareness to the differences in lighting that you see as you pass or the change in temperature that you may feel as you walk into a shadow.
By mindfully observing our surroundings for just one minute, we can practice being mindful and also become more present to the world around us. This can be helpful when we need to focus at work, interact with our peers, and calm our nerves. I implore you to practice a mindful minute. Take sixty seconds before you turn on your computer at work or after you put the kids into bed to practice a mindful minute. If you feel like mindfulness may be helpful for you, counselors here at Symmetry Counseling would love to help you understand and effectively implement this practice into your life.
Purser, R. (2015). The myth of the present moment. Mindfulness, 6(3), 680-686.