Mindfulness = Madness?
Mindfulness is a word that’s almost overused nowadays. Everyone is talking about it as THE thing for a happy life: Be more mindful, forget your worries, become serene, relaxed, and happy. There are coaches and classes for more mindfulness, and it is often named as solution when someone complains about being stressed out or depressed.
So what is it that makes mindfulness so special?
This practice is supposed to make you more aware of the present moment. When taking a walk, for example, it means you’re taking in your surroundings, listening to your steps on the ground, feeling the wind on your skin, instead of walking while thinking about that work project you’re dreading and then coming home without having a clue where you’ve just been. Its goal is to make you more observant, which helps you to get to know you better.
But! Isn’t it exhausting to be even more aware of everything?
As an overthinker, I was totally intrigued when I heard about that tool named mindfulness that could possibly help me stop the thoughts spinning around in my head. When I learned more about it, however, I wondered: With my tendency to overthink and analyze everything, I am already pretty closely in touch with my emotions and my behavioral patterns. Is it really necessary to put even more focus on that?
This question arose when I observed myself in my daily life. Sometimes I would overreact, then realize that I just overreacted and get mad at myself for it. “Ugh, stupid me, why couldn’t I just keep calm?” Then, I would realize that I just judged myself and I would get mad again. So, I started to doubt if all that mindfulness stuff is really that great for me if it leads to me observing myself even more and then beating myself up for behaviors I found “wrong”.
Here’s the key: No judgement!
Mindfulness is not about overanalyzing everything. It is not even about analyzing in the first place. It is about being present in the current moment, about noticing what’s going on. There is a huge difference between noticing and judging, believe me!
“But of course, I am present in the current moment, where else would I be?”
Does that sound familiar? Well, the thing is, most of us are somewhere else entirely when we are on our way to work, when we are on a train or shopping for groceries. Usually, we are somewhere in the future or in the past. Very often, we reminisce about stuff that has happened to us before, something we can’t get over. Our brain tends to remind us of embarrassing events, that one time we failed, or a painful loss. On the other hand, it creates different scenarios for the future: What horrible things could happen if you don’t do this or that now, what if you made a wrong decision or what would happen if you lost a certain person.
Both sides, being caught in the past and in the future, have something in common: it makes you passive. The past is gone, the future is not here yet – there is nothing you can do about it. Of course, it is something different if you notice that you have made a certain mistake in the past so that you can avoid it now. Or if you worry what would happen to your family if something happened to you, so you decide to get a life insurance. But do you see the difference? In both scenarios you are active. You are actively doing something to avoid a mistake or to take care of your family. Even realizing that you’re about to make a mistake, though, requires a certain amount of mindfulness. You won’t notice when you’re completely stuck in a different time. If you learn from your past, that’s great – that’s what it’s for! If you take action to reach something you wish to attain in the future, that’s great – that’s called goal setting! Both learning and setting goals take place in the present. Just losing yourself in memories or daydreams about the future doesn’t.
So why is mindfulness good?
To stay with our previous example for a moment, let’s start with the fact that it makes you active. The present moment is the only time where you can do something, the only time where you can make a difference. You will stay passive and not achieve anything if you let your mind wander in different times.
Letting your mind wander while your body is doing something entirely different (remember the example with the walk from earlier?) is stressful for your whole system. When you are actually doing what you are doing, without being distracted by thoughts, memories, or plans, you don’t need that much energy. When you practice mindfulness regularly, you can develop a higher resistance towards stress and more concentration.
With the higher concentration and stress resistance, there also comes higher productivity and increased happiness. Mindfulness is a great counterpart to our fast-paced life, where a lot of people are mentally already in their next meeting while having lunch.
3 quick tipps to develop more mindfulness
Experience your food in a new way: No hasty wolfing down with your phone in your hand! Take the food into your mouth and before chewing, just feel: the temperature, the texture, the taste. Then, start chewing thoroughly, paying attention to how that feels and how the temperature and the texture change during the process. When you have swallowed your food, notice how you feel now.
Write down your highlights: Make it a habit to write down three great things about your day every evening. This way, you’ll train yourself and your brain to pay attention to awesome moments. This increases your mindfulness and also your happiness.
The classic: Meditation! If you can’t see yourself taking your mindfulness practice to your everyday life yet, just start on a cushion. Just five minutes a day are enough for a start, however, you should practice regularly. It is better to meditate for a short time every day than for a whole hour once a week. There are several types of meditation. Try some different styles and find out what works for you. You don’t have to stick with one style – if you feel like it, switch it up! By regularly training your mind to realize when you’re drifting away and then coming back to the present, you will soon find yourself more mindful in everyday situations as well.
How is your relationship with mindfulness? Are you already close friends or rather awkward around each other? Let me know if you already practice mindfulness and how you feel about it!