You hear a lot about mindfulness and mindset these days, and, sure, maybe you’ve felt that you’d like to be more mindful, more aware, even more alive. Yet where to start? And is effort in this area a good use of your time? Read on to see why mindfulness DOES matter.
I recently had the opportunity to hear the Tibetan monks from the Drepung Monastery talk about meditation and consciousness. They began with the concept that we all not only seek, but truly need, inner joy and happiness—and yet we tend to look to externalities to satisfy those inner needs. Money, material things, relationships. Life is therefore full of suffering because externalities are constantly presenting us with challenges and problems.
The monks pointed out that if your mind is full of joy, if you have some inner peace, then even when things do not go as you wish in the external world, you can handle it. Even a traffic jam can put you in a bad mood if you let it… but if your mind is more centered, even full of joy, you have the ability to put frustrating situations into perspective.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? But most of us are not planning to live a monastic existence, so before we go any further, let’s define mindfulness for the modern age.
Mindfulness is a state of being fully aware, awake and alive, noticing and being present in the moment at hand. In other words, it means living intentionally, and not as if on “autopilot.” Jon Kabat-Zinn, a founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and a molecular biologist who teaches mindfulness meditation as a technique to help people cope with illness, pain and stress, points out that practicing mindfulness means “giving up coercing, resisting or struggling” and instead “allowing things to be as they are.”
Training the Mind to be Mindful
Our day-to-day existence can easily be consumed by a steady stream of background – and even foreground – anxieties, worries, fears, disappointments and dreams. We can spend entire days at work wishing we weren’t there, feeling bitter that we are there, and imagining how we would make our exit if we won the lottery tomorrow.
If you’ve never really considered the strength of your cognitive awareness, the chances are that it’s not too strong. And with good reason. Unlike a fitness or strength-training regimen, we’re not generally taught (at least in western cultures) how to cultivate our own awareness.
And yet the one true choice that we have in life is how we react to our circumstances and to situations that confound us. You can change how you react (and how your mind reacts) to difficulty and stress.
Just as you have the ability to train your body to run a 5k, 10k or even a marathon if you wish … you can build the muscle of your mental awareness to be more positive, so that you can meet the everyday challenges of life with a calm mind rather than an angry or an anxious or a stressed-out mind.
We know, for instance, that in order to have a healthy physical body we need to do things like exercise regularly, eat well and get sufficient sleep. In just the same way, we need to exercise mentally. Simply put, a mind that has been trained to be calmer, happier and more at peace is going to react more positively to inevitable challenges.
This doesn’t require you to give up your life or live a monastic existence. If we are even slightly more mindful, studies show that we can benefit in big ways such as keeping stress in check, getting better quality sleep and even avoiding illness.
Clearing your mind can also lead to deeper thinking according to a study in Psychological Science.
Mindfulness, inner strength and awareness can improve the daily quality of our lives but in order to experience it, we must cultivate it. When we don’t train our mind for more control of our own thoughts and emotions, it is difficult to have any influence over our reactions, our focus and attention – and ultimately how we perceive and experience our lives.
In short, a clearer mind allows us a fuller experience in the present moment. Compare this to carrying around a to-do list or other mental load which consumes some of our mental resources and diminishes our ability to fully experience the present moment.
When your mind is calmer, you are better able to put things into perspective. You’re able to wear the “positive glasses” to see the more positive side of your life and your experiences. This may include feelings of love, compassion, passion, connection, tolerance, forgiveness.
In contrast, if you’re wearing angry or sad or selfish “glasses,” things are going to appear more negative. We live in an abundant world but when our internal mindset is weak, everything is more difficult, even our small challenges and problems. This is how we can benefit from a more peaceful, centered mindset.
So this brings us back to meditation and mindfulness. Again, the concept is pretty simple:
- A healthy mind equals a more positive mind.
- A mind that is grounded in the positive will tend to put a more positive filter on any situation.
- A mind that is more clear will give us the space to be present and more fully alive in the moment.
- A mind that is centered does not allow us to be so easily knocked off balance.
- And the mind, like any other muscle, can be exercised and trained.
Studies back this up: Research in the past decades suggests that mindfulness practices can help you manage stress, reduce anxiety and depression, and even cope with serious illness. Many who practice mindfulness techniques report an enhanced ability to relax, more enthusiasm for life and even improved self-esteem.
Mindfulness Against All Odds
Finding time for mindfulness, even a few minutes of silent meditation or listening to our own inner voice, can be a challenge. This is especially true in our culture where we tend to place great value on how much we can do at once and how quickly we can do it. And yet building the mindfulness muscle can change your life—and more mindfulness at work can change your work life.
Mindfulness is not about pretending challenges are not there. Avoiding or hiding pain or discomfort doesn’t fix or change it. Whenever you settle down then it’s still there. Many of us stay very busy, and this allows us to avoid looking at what is making us uncomfortable or unhappy, but when we wake up in the morning, the same problems, the same challenges are there.
Each and every one of us has the full potential to change our own awareness to better serve ourselves every day.
So, the final decision is ours. If we want to be able to respond with a calm, centered alertness to challenges throughout our day, we can benefit from cultivating the muscle of our own inner strength, our awareness, our mindset. When this is not strong, then even the smallest of challenges or difficulties can throw us off, upset us, cause anxiety, depress or stress us out. Mindfulness does matter.
If you enjoyed this post and want to learn how you can incorporate mindfulness into your day, contact me directly to see if you qualify for a complimentary strategy session.
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