Ever stood in a room trying to remember why you were there in the first place?
Opened your phone to look up something and few hours later you are deep into reading 129th comment made by a complete stranger on a random social media post?
We’re all guilty of mindlessly running on autopilot, and it really is the thief of our time and energy.
Let’s delve a bit deeper to understand this automated behaviour.
Any action we perform is influenced by the sensory input from our surroundings or internal cues; what we see, smell, hear, feel and remember. This sensory information is analysed, assimilated and processed by our central nervous system as it sifts through numerous possible pathways it can then execute an appropriate response.
Do you recall the details from your last trip to the shops? What song was playing? What color shirt were you wearing?
Now think back to your first kiss, winning an award or a painful experience from childhood.
How come we miss so much information in our day-to-day activities but remember others quite vividly?
When you don’t know what to look for, you don’t see it!
Our central nervous system is equipped to select the best response that uses the least number of resources and energy required to perform the actions. As we continue to practise and learn various skills over time, the response pathways become automated and the outcomes more or less predictable aka sensory blindness.
Attention is a limited resource. It’s diverted to the task deemed most important and it’s easy to miss out on other details. Only when external cues and triggers that we’re primed to look for change and draw our attention do we become vigilant of the surroundings and take action. For example, braking when the red traffic light comes on.
Minding your mind
Sensory blindness and selective focus extend to our habitual behaviour as well. We typically don’t allocate much meaning to our day-to-day experiences, so we don’t record as much data and our brains have less information to tie into the process of forming memories.
Self-awareness is simply being aware: of your feelings, emotions, reactions, thoughts, behaviours, triggers, habits, likes, dislikes, weaknesses, strengths and how you live life in a moment.
Mindfulness is being self-aware of the thoughts that are often burdened with judgments, opinions and preferences, recognising them to be exactly as they are, observing them with kindness and non-judgement.
So do I have to just be happy all the time?
A big mistake is to think mindfulness requires you to clear and cleanse the mind of all thoughts and exist in unceasing state of positive mindset. Rather it simply means to turn one’s attention intentionally towards what is happening in the moment and embrace it with curiosity and openness.
A lot of time is spent accumulating good or bad thoughts, developing attitudes and making decisions as a result of the mind’s projections, memories and judgments drawn from past experiences. But how often do you stop to examine what is truly happening within your mind, body and surroundings.
During a lived experience, the mind often begins to journey into the past or future, thinking about ways to pass on this experience to others or judging and evaluating how good or bad the experience was against the expectations. We are quickly removed from allowing ourselves a mindful experience. Physically we are going through the motions, but our mind is elsewhere and the more we do this, the more challenging it is to apprehend the actuality of the present moment.
How to apply mindfulness to daily life
Everyday activities provide plenty of opportunities to practise mindfulness. Grounding attention in the moment not only enriches your ongoing experiences but also allows you to be present in the now rather than going back into past or into the future. Mindfulness can help you feel kinder, calmer and more connected.
Start with consciously listening more
How often do you truly tune in and listen to others, and yourself? How about we practise mindfulness in listening this week.
Self-awareness is a foundation of mindful listening. Listening to yourself is the first step in being a good listener. Feel your sense of presence and extend it to the other person with the intention to listen openly with interest and empathy.
Recognise your own opinions, biases, feelings, and judgment and bring your attention back to genuinely listen. Reflect back, ask questions, affirm, acknowledge and only then introduce your own ideas and feelings.
Good listening will sweeten the experience of your interactions with others and is an excellent exercise to get you in the habit of being mindfully in the moment.,
Meditation is a way of practising mindfulness and regular meditation practice is one of the best ways to help us develop mindfulness in our daily life. A daily meditation practice offers enormous benefits for living a connected life.
So where to start?
Small steps: Begin with a short 5-minute meditation session. At the beginning it may feel like sitting and doing nothing, with your mind wandering all over the place. That’s fine. All you need is to set aside some time and space.
Awareness: Feel your breath, and notice the rise and fall of your belly. Notice your posture but don’t stiffen the spine, let it be in its natural curvature. Notice what your arms and legs are doing, and position them where it feels natural. Soften your gaze and let whatever appears before your eyes to be there. Notice how your body feels right now. Notice your thoughts and emotions.
Intention: What motivates you to meditate (less stress, sleep better or cultivate self-love)? It will help you stay committed and the benefits will reveal themselves. The goal is to pay attention to the now, on purpose and non-judgmentally.
Kindness: Don’t judge yourself for whatever thoughts crop up. Make a mental note of your judgments and let them pass. Recognise when the mind has wandered off and gently nudge it back.
Be in the moment, and be present to cultivate life’s small delights!